Retreat to nature in the Seychelles
Ican’t think of the right way to ask, but I’m perturbed by the button labelled “enema”. We’re standing in the lovely grey-green quartzite bathroom of a vast villa at Zil Pasyon, Six Senses’ new sybaritic retreat on the island of Félicité in the Seychelles. Despite the insanely beautiful view through the wraparound picture windows of chrysoprase-coloured waters, we stand huddled in the corner. That is, my husband and I and Andrew, our GEM (Guest Experience Manager), who is enthusiastically showing us the functions of the hi-tech loo.
Andrew takes the control panel off the wall, wielding it like a games console as the lavatory gently gurgles, spritzes, blow dries and deodorises with alarming animation. While I know integrated wellness is at the heart of the Six Senses concept – and is one of the reasons that readers of Telegraph Travel voted it the best hotel group in the world in 2016 – this is not what I was expecting.
My husband is entranced. Gadgets in the lavatory – it couldn’t be better. Sensing a kindred spirit, Andrew launches into a lengthy explanation of the digital lighting system, the villa’s photovoltaic solar panels and the hotel’s reverse osmosis plant and crystal water refinery, which produces all the drinking water. Meanwhile, I creep off to hang my feet in the infinity pool and admire Cocos Island, one of the archipelago’s best snorkelling spots.
But just like a good girdle is a woman’s best friend, so the technology at Zil Pasyon is nature’s subtle shapewear, allowing the resort to deliver all the trappings of a luxury lifestyle while keeping its footprint feather light. Instead of changing the island’s unique features, the Six Senses mandate on Félicité is to enhance it in all the right ways, restoring the ecosystem’s integrity rather than re-engineering a landscape into a pastiche of itself.
Take the ocean-facing villas, for example, with their low-lying lateral layout, Balau-wood cladding and chic interiors reminiscent of Christian Liaigre’s soigné style. They are nested so discreetly in the treetops that fruit bats almost graze the shingle roof tiles like silent stealth bombers locked on the super-sweet mangue dauphiné (Dauphine mango). There are just 30 of them in all, along with 17 residences on the 652-acre island, which is the fifth largest in an archipelago of 115.
Likewise, down at the Grand Kaz (the main plantation house), nonendemic tropical flowers have been banished in favour of lemon-grass borders and a thick mat of coco grass that abuts the silvering pool deck like a green raffia rug. The surrounding structures include the open-sided Ocean Kitchen with its front-row view of sun-stunned Cocos Island, the Island Café, a Chef ’s Kitchen, a cool terracotta-tiled Wine Cellar, a boutique and first-floor library in the eaves of Pti Kaz (the “Small House”) and the sultry Lakanbiz bar, which is lined with travelling trunks and barrels of ageing Takamaka rum like a super-stylish pirate’s lair.
The whitewashed walls, giant beanbags, rope swing chairs and comfortable, contemporary styling give the impression of effortless simplicity. But creating Zil Pasyon has been anything but simple. I find this out the next morning talking to Steve Hill, the island ecologist, as he strides through the nursery and orchard in his sweat-stained Crocodile Dundee hat.
For nine years Steve and a team of 15 men have been bushwhacking their way through a tangled mass of invasive coco plum, wrenching them out by the roots and clearing the way so that more delicate endemic species can re-establish themselves.
The rarest of them all is the Vateriopsis seychellarum (iron tree), of which there are only 41 mature individuals left on Earth. If any of Steve’s saplings survive it will be of inestimable environmental value. Behind him, stretching over three valleys, hundreds of juvenile bigarade, bilimbi, banana, avocado, custard apple, papaya and passion fruit trees stand amid millennia-old granite inselbergs, as if we’d arrived in Eden during the soft launch.
While it is still early days, Steve and Edouard Grosmangin, the general manager, share the same messianic vision for the resort, with plans to seek special environmental status for the island and extend the boundaries of the Ile Cocos Marine National Park to include Félicité’s enviable beachfront, which already attracts a population of nesting hawksbill turtles.
This long-term commitment means returning guests will bear witness to the reintroduction of rare birds and the emblematic giant tortoise, as well as the rehabilitation of a unique, ancient ecosystem, which is saying something when we live, as we are told, in the age of a sixth mass extinction. “Watch this space,” Steve concludes resolutely, “this will be Nature’s own island.”
More venally, though, this botanical garden furnishes chef Richard Lee with a highly unusual larder. A modest Brummie whose CV includes an impressive history of Michelin-starred kitchens and previous Six Senses properties, I worried that dinner might suffer from the dull pall of “international dining”. I needn’t have.
While the menu at the Island Café is undoubtedly more familiar, including very well-executed surf-and-turf and dainty fruit parfaits and the like, the Ocean Kitchen is a tour de force of tropical ingredients and Creole flavours – the result of months spent scouting the beach shacks of nearby islands La Digue and Praslin.
If the food, architecture and environment are anything to go by then you can expect great things of the spa, which will open in February 2017. Situated on the wilder eastern side of the island, the hammam, yoga platform, saltwater pool and five treatment pavilions are wedged between great granite boulders and linked by Robinson Crusoe rope bridges. Here you can indulge in an integrated wellness plan incorporating bespoke nutritional plans, meditation, fitness coaching and yogic sleep.
If truth be told, I was rather dreading my exile to this private island paradise. For where others long to escape the crowds in self-imposed exile, I get antsy just thinking of the hours of tedious isolation that await, when I’ll be weighed down by the monotony of my own company or trapped bickering in enforced romance with my husband.
But Zil Pasyon, embraced as it is within Seychelles’ inner islands, just 20 to 40 minutes from 10 of its neighbours, is far from isolated. Instead it feels both connected and
At Six Senses Zil Pasyon, the environment is as important as the architecture and the food, says Paula Hardy
The Zil Pasyon retreat, above, on Félicité island in the Seychelles; one of the bathrooms, right; and a bedroom, below
The spa treatment room, left, which opens next year