Sensational Seychelles

Sensational Seychelles

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Picture perfect beaches, deliciously decadent food and incredibly rich culture: why you should add traveling to the Seychelles to your bucket list.

by Nicole Danielle Warr

If I had to try to count the times I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, or said to Luke our photographer: “We’re in the Seychelles! Can you believe it?” I would fail hopelessly. At some time or another we’ve all pictured that dream holiday where all you plan to do is sip cocktails and soak up the sun on an island surrounded by coco palms and warm, turquoise water lapping at your toes. Some of us even have those tropical island wallpapers as our computer’s desktop as inspiration. Like many of you, I never thought I would have the opportunity to experience this but with the correct planning, your dream tropical island holiday can become a reality.

Waking up at 4am in freezing 6°C weather to catch the 6am flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg was painful, but knowing that in just a few hours I’d be in 28°C weather was a good enough reason for me to get out of bed. The flight from Johannesburg to the Seychelles is only five hours, which is something that appeals to many and flying with Air Seychelles is a comfortable experience. The staff is friendly and efficient and as far as airline food went, it was the best I had ever had. Five hours on Air Seychelles is just the right amount of time to watch a movie or read a few chapters of your book. Although, I found it rather challenging to do either as I kept thinking about what the next few days were going to be like, what I was going to experience and who I was going to meet. My head was in the clouds – both literally and figuratively. As the plane made its final descent into the Seychelles, I opened my eyes to the colours of burning orange and bright pink refracting through the windows. It was one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. Not too bad for my first Seychelles experience.

We stayed at the magnificent five-star Constance Ephelia Resort on Mahé, the main and largest island of the 115 islands in the Seychelles group. From the moment guests step into the resort they are treated like royalty. Our three-bedroom villa had its own private pool with frangipani trees, and comfortable chaise longues scattered under the surrounding gazebo. The lounge was right opposite the pool and was equipped with a flat-screen TV, Nespresso coffee machine and (my favourite part) no doors – only curtains, like something from a movie. Knowing that I had the option of swimming in our private pool or walking the twenty steps from our villa over the soft, white sand to swim in warm, bright blue sea felt as if I was in heaven. The staff at Constance Ephelia are friendly and helpful and take great interest in knowing that you are enjoying your stay. Even though the resort has a high occupancy, one never feels crowded at all and there’s no need to worry about racing to get a table for breakfast or a chaise longue on the beach. I also loved how eco-friendly the resort is, as they operate with electronic cars, recycle all water bottles, have their own water purification plant and make sure that all the surrounding vegetation and wetlands are preserved.

There are a variety of different activities on the resort to choose from, such as trail hikes, kayaking, zip lining, rock climbing, private yoga classes, squash, gym, spa treatments, tennis, snorkeling, and tortoise feeding (they have a 110 year old tortoise named Dusty). We tried the trail hike which is situated on the resort’s perimeter. We first hiked through a forest, then climbed down old steps to a surreal-looking secluded beach and then hiked again through a jungle. Once we reached the top of a steep hill, the tour guide showed us how to break open a coconut (it’s not for sissies, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy). There really is nothing more refreshing than sipping coconut juice with endless sea views in front of you. 

There are five restaurants on the resort: Corossol 'Live', Helios 'Mediterranean', Adam & Eve 'Asian Cuisine', Cyann 'Signature Cuisine', and Seselwa 'Cuisine des Iles', and it was here that I had the pleasure of enjoying some of the best food in the Seychelles. 

At Seselwa, we devoured a Creole themed buffet, with root bake, breadfruit soup, pork loin, lamb, beef fillet and more on offer. Local Seybrew beer or fruity cocktails with local Takamaka Bay rum make a great accompaniment to these dishes.

Because I particularly have a soft spot for Asian cuisine, my favourite was definitely eating sushi at Cyann, as well as authentic Asian dishes at Adam & Eve. At Cyann you look out over the surrounding pools with tall palm trees and the beautiful Port Launay National Marine Park further down. The sushi chef Jester blew us away with his unique style of making sushi. A mango, cream cheese, cooked salmon roll with raw salmon on the outside. A Mexican roll with salmon, avocado, onion and cream cheese topped with spices. Not to mention that he is very generous with portion size and caviar. A highlight for me was Jester teaching us the basics of how to make sushi. My portions did not look as polished as his, of course, but they still tasted delicious.

With two Michelin stars under his belt and his experience with cooking for royalty, the chef at Adam & Eve cooks a variety of delicious Asian dishes for guests to enjoy. Try the golden fried prawns, the crispy chicken with sweet and sour sauce, the peppered beef or the roast chicken with szechuan pepper sauce while you listen to the sounds of trickling water, Asian music and the chef weaving his magic over the wok.

Apart from our accommodation being on Mahé, we also had an opportunity to discover what makes this particular island so unique. Situated on one of the highest points of the island, the Mission Lodge was once the site of a school for liberated slave children and the ruins of the school are still there. It offers the most exquisite views of Mahé, where all you see around you is beautiful green mountains and blue sea, and all you hear is the breeze in the trees and the birds chirping away.  

The Seychellois are proud of their country and find joy in sharing their culture and heritage. Their friendliness and hospitality towards us did not go unnoticed.

Another interesting place to visit is the bustling city centre of Victoria. This is where you’ll find the local market where fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, spices and touristy souvenirs are on offer. We bought vanilla pods at the ridiculously cheap price of Rs50 (about R40) for five (we love making our own crème brûlée here at home).

Island hopping is a must-do for at least one of the days that you spend in the Seychelles. The two main island destinations to visit from Mahé are Praslin, which is the second largest island in the Seychelles with a population of 9000 and La Digue, which is the fourth largest island in the Seychelles with a population of 3000. We took an hour boat ride on a Cat Cocos catamaran ferry from Mahé to Praslin, then another 15 minute boat ride from Praslin to La Digue. Mahé to La Digue via Praslin in Economy Class costs about Euro 56 each (about R733) one-way. If you’re the type to get sea sick (the deeper water can get quite choppy) I recommend buying a Business Class ticket for Euro 69 (about R900) where you sit upstairs in the fresh air. (Visit www.catcocos.com for more information on tickets and schedules.)

Praslin

When I and my fellow catamaran passengers approached Praslin Island, our cameras clicked away at the sight of the lush green vegetation and surrounding bright turquoise water that literally took our breath away.  

Our tour guide Giovanni and driver Michael from Creole Travel Services took us to Vallée de Mai nature park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s filled with tall Coco de Mer trees which are endemic to Praslin and Curieuse islands. They bear heart-shaped fruit which can grow to 40-50cm in width and weigh about 15-30kg. Here you might spot some interesting lizards and birds and if you are extra lucky you might see the rare Seychelles Black Parrot which is also endemic to the island.

You cannot visit Praslin without having a swim at Anse Lazio Beach, one of the top ten beaches in the world. The water was so clear and the temperature so perfect that I could hardly believe it.

La Digue

This island is a favourite among many local Seychellois as well as foreigners working in the Seychelles. Apart from the island being pure paradise, it’s only 10 square kilometres. When we arrived there, a kind lady from Creole Travel Services met us with refreshments and asked us to follow her to the city centre, a mere 50 steps away. Here we each got given a bicycle and a map and were told we had two and a half hours to explore. We threw our bags into our bicycle baskets and off we went. Bicycles are the main mode of transport there but every so often you’ll see an ox-wagon. Great beaches to visit on La Digue are Anse Source D'argent and Grande Anse.

Despite not having ridden a bicycle for nearly ten years, I quickly got the hang of it again. I felt so free as we cycled around the island among all the palm trees and turquoise water, without a care in the world. Of course I got a bicycle with squeaky brakes and whenever I decided to slow down or stop, groups of tourists and locals would turn around to look at me. I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face. 

Getting there

- Air Seychelles flies from Johannesburg to the Seychelles three times a week.

- Flights are cheaper than you think. It’s about R5802,00 return from Johannesburg to Mahé Island in the Seychelles, including taxes. (Visit www.airseychelles.com for more information.)

- Seyunique, South Africa’s top tour operator in the Seychelles, offers special packages at unbelievable prices. They also offer assistance in planning your perfect holiday there. (Visit www.seyunique.co.za for more information.)

Where to stay

Constance Ephelia Resort is a luxury, five-star, family-friendly accommodation in Mahé, Seychelles. The resort offers seven different types of accommodation, from luxurious Junior or Senior Suites to the breathtakingly beautiful Family or Hillside Villas. There are five restaurants to choose from on a half-board and full-board basis, all with different themes every evening. Trust me when I say you’re in for a real treat. Enjoy relaxing by the pool, at the spa or the gym, or sipping on a cocktail overlooking Port Launay National Marine Park while your kids play at the Children’s Club. (Visit epheliaresort.constancehotels.com for bookings and more information.)

Getting around

 With over 30 years of experience, Creole Travel Services is the most dynamic and prestigious destination management company in the Seychelles. They offer an array of services from ground handling and hotel reservations to planning excursions like island hopping from Mahé to Praslin and La Digue, boat cruises, tours of Mahé, snorkeling, trips to the legendary Vallée de Mai and Mission Lodge as well as private tours. They are even able to organise your wedding in the Seychelles! Drivers and tour guides from Creole Travel Services are extremely punctual, knowledgeable and ever so friendly, which makes the experience even more enjoyable than it already is. (Visit www.creoletravelservices.com for bookings and more information.)

Need to know

- There are no visa requirements to enter the Seychelles.

- A valid passport, return/onward ticket and sufficient funds for the duration of your stay are required.

- The temperature rarely drops below 24°C or rises above 32°C. All but the remotest southern islands lie outside the cyclone belt, which makes the Seychelles a year-round holiday destination. Read more about the weather here: www.seychelles.travel.

- Tap water is drinkable on Mahé and Praslin. However, just to be safe, always carry bottled water with you.

- With regards to the currency, R1 is roughly Rs0, 84 (Seychellois Rupee).

- There’s no risk of contracting malaria or yellow fever in the Seychelles. Nevertheless, there are health clinics on the islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue as well as dispensaries on each of the islands offering accommodation.

- Seychelles has three official languages: Creole, English and French.

- MasterCard/Access and Visa Credit Cards are widely accepted.

- Seychelles is GMT +4.

- Although the internet access is poor, the best and cheapest way to keep in contact with your family back home is by making use of the resort’s Wi-Fi. There are internet cafes in Mahé, La Digue and Praslin.

Where to eat

In Mahé

Corossol, Helios, Seselwa, Adam & Eve and Cyann at Constance Ephelia Resort are incredible. (Visit epheliaresort.constancehotels.com for bookings and more information.)

If you’re on a half-board basis at Constance Ephelia Resort (which includes breakfast and dinner) why not try some local cuisine in the city centre? The most famous restaurant is Marie Antoinette where they’ve had the same menu for 20 years and offer popular Creole dishes such as chicken curry, tuna steaks and batter-fried parrotfish. A meal here will cost you about Rs240 (about R200).

Kaz Zanana Restaurant is a beautiful, quaint restaurant in Victoria that offers delicious burgers, chicken wraps, fish and rice and, my favourite, mixed fruit sorbet. A meal here will cost you about Rs250 (about R210).

In Praslin

If you’re planning to do some island hopping and happen to visit Anse Lazio Beach, one of the top ten beaches in the world, a nice place to eat is at Bonbon Plume. Here you can enjoy fresh fruit cocktails, octopus salad with crispy bread, delicious chicken curry with steamed basmati rice and red snapper fish with Creole salsa. A meal here will cost about Rs280 (about R230). The best part? You sit at a table with your feet in the sand and the surrounding coconut palms shade you from the sun as you stare into the bluest, most crystal clear water that you’ve ever seen. 

In La Digue

There’s a lovely little pizza restaurant on La Digue called Pizzeria at Gregoire's which is good value for money and is very popular with tourists and locals alike.

What to pack

- Mosquito repellent. If you don’t want to get bitten by mosquitoes, apply repellent to your skin at least twice a day.

- Apart from the obvious clothing items such as bikinis and boardshorts, most of the five star resorts in the Seychelles have dress codes for the evenings – no sarongs, shorts, bikinis, t-shirts, vests, sandals or slippers. Therefore it’s best to pack in some pretty dresses and a pair of summery wedges among the swimsuits and casual wear. Smart casual sums it up.

- Sunblock and wet wipes. Wet wipes are very useful after a hike and also help to remove sea spray after a boat ride.

Some friendly travel tips

- Always take out travel insurance (medical and baggage insurance). It’s better to be safe than sorry. Some packages can be as cheap as R400 and this is definitely more cost effective than a hospital bill.

- If you’re meticulous with packing (like myself) and have a fear of leaving something behind, this online checklist is amazing.

What to take home with you

I couldn’t leave the Seychelles without buying vanilla tea for myself and my family. You can buy this anywhere there really, although we bought ours in the duty-free section at the airport for a reasonable Rs30 (about R50) for 100 teabags. Another unique item from the Seychelles is Takamaka Bay rum. We paid Rs188 for a bottle (about R155) at duty-free, which was cheaper than Rs210 at one of the stores in Victoria, Mahé. 

Although I have so many photographs to keep as memories, it’s not quite the same as having an actual shell from the Seychelles and a cheesy postcard. You’ll pay about Rs12 (about R10) for a postcard and about Rs75 (about R60) for a big shell. Look around at the tourism shops, the market in Victoria, Mahé, as well as duty-free at the airport.

Remember to visit

1. Air Seychelles for flights www.airseychelles.com

2. Constance Ephelia Resort for accommodation epheliaresort.constancehotels.com

3. Seyunique, South Africa’s top tour operator for Seychelles, for packages or to organise excursions and ground transfers through Creole Travel Services www.seyunique.co.za

4. Seychelles official website www.seychelles.travel

Photograph by Luke Marchant

Exchange rate calculated on the 7 of August 2013

Prices are subject to change

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