Not just another place, another world.
Unique is an overused word. It has appeared in the pages of so many holiday brochures that it has lost any real meaning. That is unless you are describing Seychelles. When applied to our glistening islands ‘unique’ magnificently and triumphantly reclaims its true meaning. Not just once but over and over again. The 115 pristine islands that sparkle in the middle of the Indian Ocean are one of the world’s greatest treasures. A place where natural purity and authenticity are perfectly cocooned from the pernicious influences of commercialism. A place where tranquillity and simplicity can be found and innocence rediscovered. A place like no other and another world entirely.
The story begins 150 million years ago, when the dinosaurs held sway over a fledgling earth and the place that was to eventually become Seychelles lay landlocked at the heart of the super-continent of Gondwanaland. Over the ensuing millennia shifting tectonic plates slowly began to fragment this vast landscape but it was a seismic event of hotly debated origin that led to the sudden end of the dinosaurs’ long rule and the birth of Seychelles as we know it today. The giant rupture that precipitated this chain of events, possibly the result of an underwater volcanic eruption or meteor impact, caused a shard of granite from India’s west coast to break free, while the continent continued its northwards drift. Perhaps by chance, perhaps by design, Seychelles found itself alone, isolated and transformed. At one time a single landbound mass, now a line of shimmering islands floating free and the one place on earth where granitic rocks are found mid-ocean. Together with others of coral formation, these scattered oases make up the Seychelles archipelago, lying just south of the equator, sparkling like jewels across a million miles of azure ocean. Imagine an armada of Noah’s Arks, each one protecting diverse and remarkable life forms and you’ll understand why they are its people’s pride and prized natural heritage, and a true lasting legacy of Gondwana.
The Seychellois nation is that rarest of success stories: a colourful and harmonious fusion of ethnic diversity. A place where the people have come from all over the world and brought their rich cultures and customs with them: a genetic and artistic melting pot that is in evidence everywhere. A Roman Catholic Cathedral sits alongside an Anglican Cathedral, which in turn rubs shoulders with a Seventh Day Adventist Church, a Mosque and a Hindu Temple. For a place so small Seychelles’ cultural breadth is astonishing.
The national language is Creole, adapted from 17th Century French and, like many of the people, peppered with influences from Africa and Madagascar. It has provided a platform for a number of successful poets, authors and playwrights. Born of this fusion of cultures, Seychellois cuisine is equally spectacular. It offers the subtlety and flair of the French with the piquant flavours and exotic culinary combinations of the East to produce a mouth-watering array of textures, tastes, colours and ingredients. The ocean’s seafood and the islands’ fresh vegetables and fruits arrive at your table guaranteed to seduce the most refined palate.
Traditional dances and music like the Moutia, the Sega and the Kanmtole, may accompany this gastronomic feast. Performed to the beat of drums, fiddles and guitars, the Sega’s evocative rhythms and provocative movements are filled with sexual innuendo. Which leads rather appropriately to the subject of matrimony. In a place famed for bringing people together, where better to consummate your union than in the Vallée de Mai, the venue for Adam and Eve’s first date?
With the powder-soft sand between your toes, impossibly smooth granite rocks soaring out of a cobalt ocean and the sun a permanent fixture in a cloudless sky, you may be forgiven for associating Seychelles with nothing more than the world’s most beautiful beaches. But put aside the idea of a deliciously idle fortnight, for here is the opportunity to explore a wondrous natural paradise, an opportunity to be jealously seized and never forgotten.
Island hopping whether by boat, plane or helicopter promises a true sense of the islands’ diversity. Each has its own character: a timeless miniature world, flourishing in splendid isolation far from the hubbub of modern life. Nature trails wind their way through granite peaks and lush mist forests, and hidden coves harbour secrets that few, if any, have discovered. Scuba dive in an ocean of kaleidoscopic colours and swim alongside 40-foot long, plankton-eating whale sharks or skim the surface of the turquoise waters on water-skis, a kayak or a catamaran. Indeed, if the world’s best fly-fishing can’t tempt you why not, from the comfort of the boat, enjoy unrivalled deep-sea fishing instead? Your catch could include marlin, sailfish, green jobfish and skipjack tuna.
Alternatively, avoid the ocean’s splendours altogether and indulge in a round of golf. In Seychelles there is no shortage of spectacular distractions. None more so than the vivid sunset that marks the end of every evening – an incredible spectrum of colours that is never duplicated. And a staggeringly beautiful curtain-closer to an unforgettable day, no matter how you choose to spend it.
The islands’ violent birth from the crumbling vestiges of Gondwana has created not just a unique destination, over 1,000 miles from foreign coastlines, but one that bristles with an abundant array of exotic flora and fauna. Safe inside the boundaries of one of nature’s last sanctuaries, the spectacular diversity of endemic and indigenous species is almost impossible to comprehend. Nowhere else on earth will you stumble upon the Jellyfi sh Tree, the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, the world’s smallest frog, the heaviest land tortoise, the world’s largest fi sh and the Indian Ocean’s only fl ightless bird. The islands also boast some of the most spectacular seabird colonies in the world, where there are 13 species and 17 subspecies that occur here and only here. Perhaps though it is the coco de mer palms that have the greatest allure. Found only in Seychelles, where they grow naturally on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse, the coco de mer is arguably Seychelles’ most potent icon, and unquestionably, its best ambassador to the more amorous traveller. This rare and wondrous specimen was long thought to be an underwater tree whose nuts, occasionally washed up on the beaches of far away kingdoms, represented all that is magical about the islands’ beguiling charm.
In a country where almost half of the limited landmass has been granted protected status as nature reserves, the Vallée de Mai and remarkable Aldabra, the world’s largest raised coral atoll, are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. To suggest that Seychelles is an exciting destination for naturalists, ornithologists and ecotourists would be a slight understatement. After all, where else is there so much to explore and so much still to discover?