Re­treat to na­ture in the Sey­chelles

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - BRITAIN -

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

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