travel The laid-back luxe of sey­chelles’ hid­den gems

With idyl­lic sandy coves, fas­ci­nat­ing wildlife and the most lux­u­ri­ous of is­land ho­tels, the Sey­chelles ar­chi­pel­ago has it all

Condé Nast House & Garden - - CONTENTS -

There can be lit­tle doubt that sey­chelles is the In­dian ocean’s most beau­ti­ful is­land na­tion. only the most per­verse could find fault with its white sandy beaches, el­e­gantly arch­ing co­conut palms and thick forests fringed with warm, shal­low la­goons the colour of spar­rows’ eggs.

one thou­sand six hun­dred kilo­me­tres off the east coast of africa and just a few de­grees south of the equa­tor, the 115 edenic is­lands are al­ways warm and some­times hot. any vari­a­tions in tem­per­a­ture or pre­cip­i­ta­tion are down to the cur­rents, as well as the wind and her at­ten­dant waves; con­di­tions can, and do, change with thrilling speed and spon­tane­ity.

a to­tal of 43 In­ner Is­lands hud­dle around the cap­i­tal on Mahé, all but two of which are granitic and fes­tooned with colos­sal boul­ders weath­ered into fan­tas­ti­cal pleats and folds. a cou­ple of hun­dred kilo­me­tres south lies the ami­rantes group, the clos­est of the sey­chelles’ outer Is­lands, with the stu­pen­dously re­mote Far­quhar and aldabra atolls fur­ther still.

sey­chelles is res­o­lutely French, thanks to its eigh­teenth-cen­tury colonis­ers, strangely an­glophile (it be­came a crown colony af­ter the napoleonic wars), but proudly cre­ole, with the pop­u­la­tion an in­trigu­ing mix­ture of all the char­ac­ters to have washed ashore since the sev­en­teenth cen­tury. This has in­cluded French ex­iles, african slaves, and In­dian and chi­nese mer­chants.

Tourism ar­rived late in sey­chelles. an in­ter­na­tional air­port opened in 1971 and in­de­pen­dence fol­lowed in 1976, but the coun­try still pre­served its aura of shy egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, en­cour­aged by its so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment. small guest houses ser­viced the needs of mostly French beach­combers and south african fish­er­men. Things only changed in the late nineties, when the coun­try opened up to for­eign in­vestors and ho­tels started sprout­ing on Mahé and Praslin, and on the pri­vate is­lands it is now known for.

The first of th­ese, Fré­gate, owned by the ger­man in­dus­tri­al­ist otto hap­pel, opened to guests 20 years ago. To­day, the is­land is forested with indige­nous trees and tra­versed with walk­ing trails, thanks to its orig­i­nal land­scaper, steve hill, and to the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who have nur­tured it over the decades. Their work is also cred­ited with sav­ing the sey­chelles mag­pie robin from ex­tinc­tion. The project was funded by prof­its from the re­sort which is scented with frangi­pani and coloured by bougainvil­lea. Its 16 vil­las are built on a steep slope that si­dles down to a wide, quiet beach. There is also a huge hy­dro­ponic farm grow­ing fresh pro­duce that is the envy of ev­ery­one in this land-strapped na­tion. The rest of the is­land is left largely to the free-roam­ing gi­ant tor­toises, mil­lions of gi­ant mil­li­pedes, sleek white fairy terns and fat blue pi­geons.

north Is­land opened a few years af­ter Fré­gate, but swiftly su­per­seded it in the glam­our stakes. Its sta­tus was sealed when the duke and duchess of cam­bridge chose it for their hon­ey­moon in 2011. now owned by a rus­sian with deep pock­ets, the is­land is still mar­keted by Wilder­ness sa­faris, the south african con­ser­va­tion out­fit that set it on its star-span­gled tra­jec­tory in 2003. It is lim­ited to its orig­i­nal 11 beach­front vil­las, de­signed by sil­vio rech and Les­ley carstens in a style that they de­scribe as ‘haute cou­ture robin­son cru­soe’. The re­sort re­tains the bo­hemian qual­ity of a laid-back sa­fari lodge.

Fré­gate and north may have set the stan­dard, but two new ar­rivals are giv­ing them a run for their money. six senses zil Pasyon opened two years ago on Félic­ité Is­land, a dra­matic out­crop of dark gran­ite. Its 30 vil­las are se­creted in the land­scaped grounds (again by steve hill) and, as you might ex­pect from the well­ness-fo­cused six senses group, the glass-fronted spa is a show­stop­per, bal­anced on rocks high above the pound­ing surf. Félic­ité is not overly blessed with beaches, but guests are free to visit those on nearby La digue and Praslin, which are con­sid­ered to be among the most beau­ti­ful in sey­chelles. Th­ese day trips con­nect zil Pasyon with the out­side world, quite un­like any of its ri­vals. More re­mote is the new Four sea­sons re­sort foursea­sons.

com/sey­chelles­desroches/), which launched in March on desroches, a co­ral cay a 35-minute flight from Mahé. There has been a ho­tel on this far-flung outer Is­land for 30 years, but the new own­ers de­cided to start again. The new ho­tel is re­mark­able, with 40 smart beach vil­las set in big, palm-shaded gar­dens, with su­perb ser­vice as well as out­stand­ing cui­sine from chef olivier Barré. But the se­cret in­gre­di­ent is un­doubt­edly desroches it­self, which is sta­tioned on the lip of a sub­merged atoll with no earthly neigh­bours in sight. out here, the night skies are mirac­u­lously clear and the In­dian ocean – like the lim­it­less hori­zons – is un­fath­omable.

above a villa with a pri­vate pool over­looks the beach on the is­land of fré­gate op­po­site page, clock­wise, from top left the pi­azza restau­rant on north is­land; a four-bed­room villa at six senses zil pasyon; a two-bed­room pool villa; fré­gate is home to gi­ant tor­toises; the is­land cafe at six senses zil pasyon; the pool villa's bath­room; a beach on desroches; in­side a villa at the new four sea­sons re­sort on desroches

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