The Seychelles

Text Naomi Larkin Photographs Naashon Zalk It’s the ubiquitous screensaver image: the tropical island with white sand, fringed by coconut palms and an azure-coloured ocean. It’s the dream getaway that keeps you going through cold winter months, when the wind really does howl and it’s so darn hard to get up in the morning. It’s a picture so beautiful it surely has to have been Photoshopped, with sections comped together from various shots to produce true perfection… Not so. The Seychelles is that archetypal island paradise. From the minute you walk out the doors of the airport terminal in Mahé you’re hit with that warm, balmy air that says, ‘Holiday!’ Hovering between 24 and 30 degrees all year round means the Seychelles is always going to be a swimwear, sarong and sunhat kind of a place, no matter what month you visit. And, although there are 115 islands making up the archipelago, chances are you’ll be staying on Mahé or Praslin because they are home to most of the population and the majority of resorts. Both are typical of the granite islands (some others are coral), with narrow main roads sandwiched between the coast and massive black rocky outcrops, behind which the rugged jungle-covered hills stretch inland. There are more than 65 beaches on Mahé; however, many locals claim Petite Anse is the best because, aside from the ‘white sand, fringed by coconut palms and an azure-coloured ocean’, its horseshoe shape guarantees protection from the wind. Understandably, global luxury hotel operator Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts chose to build its only Seychelles retreat here in 2009. Although relatively new, a considered building programme around existing vegetation and subsequent planting ensure that the 62 villas, five suites and 27 private residences are embedded in the hills, surrounded by lush, verdant growth and completely private from each other. A night flight, followed by a drive along the unlit southwest coastal road, means drawing the villa curtains to the new morning reveals the most magnificent sea view I have ever seen. I have travelled in Asia, swum Down Under and frolicked in some idyllic, remote bays, but Petite Anse is the dream. Our Hilltop Ocean-View tree-house-style villa is perched on stilts high up the steep hillside and, because they haven’t overbuilt, the view across the bay is both sweeping and unobstructed. The colours – from the vegetation which includes cinnamon, coconut, jackfruit and mango trees, to the sea (with the powderwhite sand in between) – run the tonal gamut of green and blue. The huge glass sliding doors, deck, infinity pool and adjacent king-size day bed in its own open-walled pavilion are all positioned to maximise the sight. Even the bath – so large it can comfortably accommodate four – has floor-to-ceiling glass so the view is uninterrupted. The villa, like the rest of the resort, has been decorated by Singapore-based hospitality interiors specialists Hirsh Bedner Associates. It’s simple but comfortable, in the typical Creole style of dark teak wood furniture and flooring with whitewashed timber walls. There are pops of teal that mirror the ocean in chair fabrics and the rug, and a four-poster bed with the prerequisite mosquito net dropped at night for added romance. The capacious polished marble bathroom, outdoor shower and uncluttered lounge area with a day bed big enough to sleep an extra person, exemplify a well-thoughtthrough design. Being the Indian Ocean, the water is blissfully warm and you’ll be dying to get wet. It’s so good you can swim all day, if that’s what you want. The bay offers great snorkelling – the hotel provides all the equipment – as well as kayaking, canoeing, sailing and scuba diving. Children are not left out, with a complimentary Kids For All Seasons Programme held daily at the Pti Torti (Little Tortoise) clubhouse. A visit to the spa is non-negotiable. It’s the highest building in the resort so the view is even closer to heaven. The five spa pavilions incorporate three single and five double treatment rooms, and boast interiors that are justifiably award winning, including the glass-walled reception area with its cool palette of cream, white and grey. There is an overriding sense of calm. Having once experienced a phenomenal treatment via ‘facialist to the stars’ Vaishaly Patel I was surprised to see her name on the menu, outside of her native London. She apparently chose the Four Seasons to launch her new treatment, The Vaishaly Experience. This combination of cranial sacral therapy and her signature facial massage techniques reduced me to a deep state of relaxation from which I emerged looking five years younger… If that’s not your thing then try one of the treatments using the Seychelles’ own product range, Yi-King. The two dining choices are ZEZ, the resort’s main restaurant, and the more casual Kannel. There are local and international dishes on offer as well as the popular Japanese buffet. Do not miss breakfast. This is one of the most impressive you will encounter at a luxury hotel. A 15-minute flight or an hour by water (tip: pack sea-sick pills) and you’re on Praslin, second in size to Mahé. Raffles Praslin, Seychelles resort is also a newcomer having opened in early 2011. A member of the Raffles Hotels & Resorts, made famous by the eponymous Singapore hotel, it overlooks Anse Takamaka bay and across to Curieuse Island. Although it’s fair to say the bay does not match the unbridled beauty of Petite Anse (and the wind factor is present) it is – like all Seychelles beaches – a tropical delight. In addition, it’s within walking distance of Anse Lazio beach, widely considered to be the most beautiful on Praslin. Built on far gentler slopes means the 86 villas don’t afford the same seclusion or the same unfettered views; however, they must be unrivalled on the island size wise. At 200m2 the Royal Oceanview Villa Suite comprises separate lounge and dining areas, a deck with a private pool alongside another outdoor dining area, a day bed pavilion, and sundeck with loungers and braai. Decor is contemporary with cream walls and couches, dark wood and chrome. There are splashes of colour in the blue carpets, coral-hued chairs and the recurring coral motif. The villa faces the bay and is glass fronted – including a picture window for the bathtub. The bathrooms are luxurious and spacious with a walk-in shower as well as an outdoor one. The villa has a foyer area and a separate kitchen space, the latter proving unnecessary with a butler on call. A spa visit here is also mandatory. In design terms this is the most jaw-dropping area of the resort. Enter through a majestic corridor made of huge black granite with a pool atop, waterfalls of water cascading down the sides and oversized stone Buddhas. The 13 treatment pavilions are each surrounded by abundant green, green growth with views of the Indian Ocean from your massage bed. There are Japanese soaking tubs, a fitness studio and an outdoor movement pavilion so Zen-like you’ll want to take up yoga. The spa ‘takes its inspiration from the pearl – found in abundance in local waters. It has a reputed ability to calm the spirit, open the heart chakra, stabilise emotions and rejuvenate the skin’, so best you try the Pure Pearl treatment. This experience involves an exfoliation with pearl powder, a body massage and facemask concluding with a scalp and head rub. Heavenly. Food and entertainment options include the rooftop Takamaka Terrace bar (perfect for sunsets with a hookah), Danzil Lounge & Bar and Losean restaurant. The social hub, however, is the Pool Café & Bar and its neighbour, the Curieuse Seafood Restaurant. The former is around the glorious 45m-long swimming pool, across from the beach. Super-sized mattresses and loungers, light, healthy cuisine, and fresh juices and cocktails account for some guests spending all day poolside in the sun. By night, the Curieuse Seafood Restaurant is at its best with outdoor tables and ambient lighting making for a romantic dinner date. So next time you’re in front of your computer mesmerised by the idea of a tropical island holiday, don’t just dream it, book it. This article was originally featured in the November 2013 issue of House and Leisure.