Seychelles Travel Journal
We're coming in for the landing and to my right I see tropical jungle and to my left the blinding morning sun bouncing off the Indian Ocean. "Is this a sea plane?" I ask the flight attendant and she smiles, impervious to my apparent bewilderment.
We land smoothly. On the ground. At Mahé International Airport; Mahé being the biggest island on the Seychelles archipelago.
The granite islands of the Seychelles archipelago comprises 115 islands occupying a land area of 455 km², cluster around the main island of Mahé. Coming from the sub-zero temperatures of Johannesburg, the heat hits me like a tidal wave. It's 7.30 am and already the mercury hovers at around 29 degrees Celsius and the humidity is high.
Verena from Select Seychelles greets me with a beaming smile and "fast tracks" me through customs. The queues at passport control go on for miles but I get treated like royalty - in fact, the only people in the queue before me are the international footballer rock star Zanetti and his wife and children.
We board a caravan from the airport straight away to the island of Praslin. The smallish plane drones on like a vuvuzela in pain and takes off with a roller-coaster action type thing in the fierce wind. I turn my attention to the myriad hues of greens and blues of the magnificent ocean beneath us in order to distract me from my impending shuffle off this mortal coil. The flight takes only 15 minutes - thank goodness - and Herweit, the man who is to be my guide for the two days, picks me up at the quaint airport in his smart 4x4.
I stare in wonderment at the undulating, mountainous jungle on the one side and the blue, blue sea on the other, fringed by a million palm trees. We arrive at the modern 4-star hotel of Coco de Mer which lies in over 200 acres of natural beauty on the edge of the Indian Ocean. The hotel reminds of an age of yore - elegant and timeless with a casual and tranquil tropical island paradise ambiance. I see families with kids of all ages everywhere.
After a quick breakfast, my host Ash shows me to my air-conditioned room. It is huge and airy, decorated in blues and greens, almost right on the beach. There is a little private nook with a couch, which could be replaced by a bed for a child, and the room is purposely big enough to accommodate a family of four.
I have a heavenly shower to rid myself somewhat of the fatigue and time loss of the five-hour flight from home. I contemplate sleep but instead I sit on my private balcony in reverie, listening to the rustle of the palms and watching the sea before turn colour from different shades of sapphire to light grey as clouds lazily drift before the sun. A drizzle, like the touch of a feather, brings some relief from the humidity and heat. After lunch, I board a most fabulous wooden yacht en-route to La Digue Island.
This is an excursion the kids would go wild for. The waves play like white horses beneath the boat and we pass a myriad of small, uninhabited islands in the middle of the world. A timeless oasis, hidden away in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, guarded by warm azure waters and fringed by teeming reefs, La Digue is the Seychelles of yesterday. A world away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world, La Digue basks in the ageless peace of a Seychelles almost unchanged since the earliest settlers stumbled upon the islands and claimed to have discovered the Garden of Eden.
My host, Noelle meets me as we alight. Her warm, smiling face belies a deep sadistic streak - she makes me ride a bicycle. For miles. I haven't ridden a bicycle for about 20 years but I guess it's like, well, riding a bicycle and after a couple of embarrassing incidents I hit my stride. After a while I feel as free as that kid in the movie the Kite Runner - when things were still good, innocent and pure.
The villagers and tourists, young and old all ride bikes; a small truck from time to time is the only reminder that actual vehicles are to be found. This is another reason the entire family will love this adventure - it is completely safe and the scenery is breathtaking as you gently ride past the quaintest of buildings, all built in the French colonial style.
She takes me to a barely noticeable enclosure consisting of a tiny wall and there, before my eyes, I see beasts and dinosaurs from a million light years yore. I nearly fall off my bike - again - at the sight of the Aldabra Giant Tortoises. These lumbering beasts, which can live for centuries, can be spotted across the island. In the last light of the sun, I take a swim in the same sea where Robinson Crusoe built his house in the movie.
Back at Coco de Mer I am joined for dinner by the entertaining and charming Arturo, the hotel's operations manager. Dinner consists of a superb fillet in red wine. The food here is great - full of flavour and unpretentious. Arturo has served the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Ava Gardner in his time and he is a fascinating raconteur.
The next morning I have a chat with marketing manager Ash. "We encourage busy parents to spend time with their kids here," he says. "They go on nature walks together, they dive and fish together and we have all sorts of family excursions. There is nothing better than watching both the expressions of Dad and Son when his child catches his first fish - a skill he taught his child."
The hotel's kiddie's menu is comprehensive and a baby-sitting service is available. There are interconnecting rooms for families as well. "We do the fish feeding for the kids as well and it's very gratifying to hear their excited stories when they first discover pristine nature in all it's wonders for themselves."
I discover the wonders of nature myself when Herweit takes me for a walk through one of the tallest and most dense forests in the world - the Unesco protected Vallée De Mai palm forest. It s a remarkable remnant of the prehistoric forests which existed when the Seychelles islands were still part of Gondwanaland, the huge land mass which included what is now Africa, Madagascar and India.
Millions of years of isolation enabled a unique community of plants and animals to develop in the Vallée De Mai and some species are found nowhere else, such as the Coco de Mer palm - the largest nut in the world, weighing up to 20 kg. The forest possesses an eerie and haunting beauty and is almost totally silent with only the ancient mile high palms whispering in the breeze.
Herweit tells me that the Seychelles was ceded from the French to Britain under the treaty of Paris in 1814. Seychelles achieved independence from Britain in 1976 and became a republic within the commonwealth. Today the population is still very low; approximately 85 000 only. Following the forest walk, we are treated to a fit-for-a-king lunch at the gorgeous 5-star Constance Lemuria Golf Resort. It is a true family luxury resort and their services include the 'Turtle Club' - a multifunctional area comprising a games room and a dining area.
That evening I check into the compact little Le Duc hotel. This is certainly the best value 4-star family hotel in Seychelles. The rooms are spacious, comfortable and stylishly decorated. The best thing about this hotel (along with the outstanding food) is that kids up to 18 years of age - NOT 12 - stay on a half-rate basis.
The following morning at the airport, I am approached by an attractive blond woman. "Hi there Jo. I'm Sarah. I'll be accompanying you to Desroches." I'm en-route to Descroches Private Island and it turns out ex-pat Sarah Jensen is the local representative of Desroches Private Island. In no time we chat like long lost friends on the plane.
Desroches is indescribable but I shall take a feeble stab at it. Imagine a small Island in the Seychelles, 6 km long and 1 km wide, acres of shady coconut palms fringed by 14 km of white sandy beaches, lapped by crystal clear turquoise waters sheltered by the encircling reef.
And that is Descroches in a nutshell, only with all the bells and whistles. The island forms part of the Amirantes Archipelago, regarded as some of the most pristine and mystical in the world. A day in a life on Descroches consists of cycling through the palm jungle to deserted white beach and taking a swim in the calm, warm sea, followed by a picnic in the exotic jungle with bird-song and ancient tortoises for company. Or perhaps sailing to a neighbouring virgin island to catch a fish for tonight's barbeque. The four bed roomed villas, where we stayed, offer an exclusive and private experience for families and groups.
Each fully equipped Villa has its own private swimming pool, central living and entertainment area as well as kitchenette. All bedrooms are air-conditioned and overlook the main entertainment deck towards the sea and are well appointed in a style that is modern and luxurious, yet blends in with that sensuous remote island atmosphere. In fact, a new word for "villa" should be invented to describe these lodgings.
After a sublime dinner we go "home" and chat into the night, sitting by our very own pool and drinking in the tropical night. The next morning it's back to Mahe for a tour of the oh-so-quaint town of Victoria. At the historical restaurant Marie Antoinette we dine on the local grub of aubergine fritters, tuna, papaya chutney and parrotfish for lunch. A fifteen-minute boat ride brings me to my final destination in this looks-like-a-screensaver paradise - Sainte Anne Resort & Spa. Sainte Anne's is undeniably one of the finest hotels in the Seychelles.
Accommodation is in 87 private Villas, 29 of which have private pools. All are set on a 220-hectare private island, surrounded by one of the largest Marine Parks in the Indian Ocean. It is also family-friendly but, as with Desroches, it ain't cheap.
There is a mini-club for tired parents, operational between 7am and 7pm and baby-sitting can be arranged. The gregarious Kirvine, manager of the hotel has me in stitches all through a stupendous dinner. The restaurant on the beach is something to behold - wooden handcrafted tables and chairs slump into the sand with candles twinkling from the trees in the night breeze.
I'm up at 4.45 (no really??) the next morning to catch the boat back to the main island. A soft, warm rain slowly reveals the encroaching day through the mist and every bone in my body aches for my warm bed in my beautiful room on Sainte Anne's.
Whether you stay in the Seychelles for a week, or two or three, it really doesn't matter. Because the Seychelles will stay with you for the rest of your life. - Get there!
By Jo Kromberg
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