Heaven on earth in the exotic Seychelles
PUBLISHED: 13:48 17 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:21 20 February 2013
Paradise Islands? The Seychelles is both an incredibly exotic and expensive destination, coco de mer nuts and all, says Victoria Hawkins
Paradise Islands? The Seychelles is both an incredibly exotic and expensive destination, coco de mer nuts and all, writes Victoria Hawkins
Boasting more than one of the worlds ten best beaches and all hidden coves, huge tumbling boulder skylines, exclusive hotel resorts, cute little palm-topped Treasure Islands and coral reefs, the islands of the Seychelles make a perfect playground for a sailing holiday. Its beautifully warm and friendly and the bottom line is that as long as you follow the advice and stay within the archipelago, you can confidently sleep comfortably in your cabin without fear of pirate attacks.
As youll know from the news, they came a little too close for comfort a couple of weeks after we returned home from there last year.
Very much fair weather sailors, this was our fifth holiday and rather adventurously, we felt confident enough to explore this hugely exotic corner of the Indian Ocean. Under our maritime belts wed tried, and hugely enjoyed, both flotillas and bare-back chartered yachts in Greece, Croatia and the Caribbean but for a change, as there were eight of us going, this time wed ordered up a great big gleaming white catamaran.
Real sailors can be a bit sniffy about cats. I thought it was great, though at first sight, after a fairly draining 11-hour overnight flight down over the Med, the length of the Red Sea and out into the Indian Ocean, our new home for a week, Tenim VII, looked a little daunting. At 43ft long and nearly 23ft wide she appeared to me to be about the same size as a floating combine harvester moored up in Mahes brand new Eden Island luxury marina development.
However it wasnt long before Team Tenim were totally seduced by the clear turquoise waters, where amazing tropical fish darted, and the clear azure skies above. As it was, though a big girl, she turned out to eminently manoeuvrable and easy to handle as well as very fast while and, of course (much appreciated by the lesser sailors among the crew), as her bulk is spread across two hulls, it was much more stable that a yacht when it got a bit lively. Oh and it did get lively.
Best of all, Tenim VII turned out to be the perfect party boat with bags of space. Each couple had a decent sized double cabin with their own heads (loos, and showers) and there was bags of communal room both inside and out.
For the sun-worshippers, the great white plastic nets stretched across the two bows at the front made for ideal crash- and book-reading pads. For the sailors, there were two big 40hp engines to play with; sails to haul; wind, depth and speed instruments to fiddle with and satellite navigation to guide you both round the islands and through shallow waters and not only is it tidal here but there are plenty of rocky outcrops, coral reefs and pretty but dangerous islands to avoid along the way.
For a geographical fix, the Seychelles archipelago lies south of the Equator some 950 miles east of Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. It is a favourite playground of the rich and famous and home to some of the worlds top resorts and marine national parks and, of course, by water you are more or less free to explore it all.
Wherever you go, its all verdant panoramic HD picture postcard scenery complete with either tiny rocky inlets or vast sweeping bays decorated with palm trees and mangroves and some with awesomely huge granite boulders, some rounded with age, others sculpted, which appear to be tumbling down into the baby bath warm seas.
Its very Caribbean in look and mood and the smiling laid-back locals speak French, English and Creole, while the weather is always hot and for sailing, according to season, you encounter either the SW or NE trade winds.
Feeding or catching fish, swimming or snorkelling off the back of the cat became the norm when we werent actually sailing which was akin to playing in one giant warm aquarium.
The first afternoon on the move away from the main port of Victoria, wed already spotted our first pod of dolphins, crazy flying fish and even, eek, feeding sharks (of the basking type) as we sliced through crystal clear sapphire seas. Overhead, black pterodactyl-like frigate birds and the prettiest white long-tailed shearlings wheeled in perfect cloudless skies (as did the odd private helicopter delivering who knows who to some exotic island retreat).
One lunchtime youd find yourself beachside outside a smart hotel sitting in the shade of palm trees beside sinuous mangrove trees with your feet in the sand tucking into chicken curry and watching bright green geckos darting up the wall, while cooing doves and orange-breasted fodys perched nearby.
Another time, having dropped anchor in a different bay on yet another island, we might be at a local creole restaurant with fruit bat curry and fresh caught fish on the menu.
Leaving the main island of Mahe in our wake, our first job was to strike off 23 miles across open water so we could spend time dallying, swimming, fishing, cycling and eating our way around the islands of Praslin and Le Digue, dipping off to explore other nearby smaller islands, coves and bays along the way. Some are private with mega-expensive resorts and helicopter pads (one apparently a favourite of Pierce Brosnans) others, like Coco Island afforded the totally unique experience of swimming literally face-to-beak with marine turtles for about 20 minutes.
But wherever we went in this group of little isolated islands the scenery was jaw-dropping while La Digue island, where youll get a fright when huge fruit bats duck and dive in the sky at dusk, probably proved the favourite. Thats where we spent two nights moored up (no fee) in its little harbour, jumping ship for a day, hiring bikes and setting off to explore.
Only 25 vehicles are permitted on this island, so cycling for all is the transport norm (while very touristy ox-pulled carts ply newcomers and their luggage to the hotels), and after visiting the giant tortoises, copra plant and old family graveyard at LUnion Estate, we found ourselves pedalling through a vanilla plantation to a shack restaurant beside the beach at Petite Source dArgent bay for a long leisurely lunch.
That day, as every day, was picture perfect. As was swimming in the sea afterwards in warm rain off one of the beautiful granite boulder-decorated, coral-reefed coves around the corner, where locals sold you fresh slices of melon and then later again, came the slightly surreal experience of spotting dozens of Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttling down their holes among the mangrove roots as we approached on the way back to the bikes.
I loved it there. The sailing was great, the scenery spectacular. Looking seawards, all you could see was the ocean bathed in a glowing sunset, while landwards gave you a glorious vista of a perfect two kilometre long white icing sugar sand beach, dressed with palm trees with a dramatic backdrop of lush and verdant tree-dressed mountains rearing up along its length. Yes, it offers a slice of peace, calm and heaven.
So would I go sailing in the Seychelles again? Yes, you bet, youd be Coco de Mer nuts not to.
- Be warned. The Seychelles is phenomenally expensive. A small beer can cost 3.50 and our basic shop of pre-ordered ships provisions, which cost 500, hardly touched the sides. You will find local shops along the way but they arent that well stocked.
- While the advice is to take euros, local rupees seem to be king but there are plenty of ATMs along the way.
- Our catamaran was a South African built Robertson & Caine Sunsail 434 which cost 3,500 for the week, plus pre-paid fuel and damage waivers of 238.
- We found the cheapest flights on-line (about 510 each, including booking fee) flying Air Seychelles but booked through Opodo. Transfer was 20 euros per cab.
- You do need to be a more experienced sailor to sail here but check with Sunsail for details. A dinghy with an outboard, snorkelling equipment, a fridge and freezer, all bedding etc is included in the price and the local manger will brief you and provide a decent pilot book and charts etc.
- Useful websites: www.sunsail.co.uk and, for flights, www.opodo.co.uk