Finding a bit of paradise in Seychelles

This article appears on page 34 of the April 2012 issue.
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This interisland schooner provides transport between Praslin and La Digue islands.

by Jim Hendrickson; Lynden, WA

In October 2010 I enjoyed the most relaxing, laid-back tour that I’ve taken in my lifetime of travels around the world. Through Adventure Center (Emeryville CA; 800/228-8747), I booked the “Tropical Island Hopping” tour of Seychelles, operated by the UK-based company Explore.

The 115 islands of Seychelles lie four degrees south of the equator in an archipelago that stretches over some 500,000 square miles in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, my 12-day trip included hopping between only three of these islands: Mahé, Praslin and La Digue.

Mahé

Mahé is the largest of Seychelles’ islands, yet it is only 17 miles long and 5 miles wide. The island’s landscape is incredibly diverse, ranging from its interior of forested mountains to its secluded coves and magnificent beaches of soft white sand, graceful palms and enormous granite boulders.

Newly arrived visitors taking an oxcart to their hotel on La Digue.

My tour began in Victoria, one of the smallest capital cities in the world, with only 25,000 residents. I met the other 12 members of my group at the Panorama Guesthouse Beau Vallon, located at nearby Beau Vallon Bay, our home base for the next four days.

Sultanne, a native Seychellois, introduced herself as our tour leader. From the beginning of the trip, Sultanne proved to be not only a capable guide but a personable, self-confident woman. She spoke English and French fluently as well as her native Creole, the official languages of Seychelles.

We spent our first day exploring Victoria, a town that is small enough to see on foot. Downtown encompasses a modern shopping center, many shops, boutiques, restaurants and banks plus an outdoor market, a magnificent cathedral and lovely government buildings constructed in the traditional Creole style.

The heart of the city is the Clock Tower, erected in 1903 to mark Seychelles’ coming of age as a separate colony. Surrounding the town are leafy suburbs dotted with red-tile-roofed homes that cling precariously to granite cliffs.

The highlight of our visit to Victoria was Mont Fleuri Botanical Gardens, a 15-acre area situated between two small streams that trickle down from the massive cliffs. The gardens feature 70 tree species, including jackfruit, teak, nutmeg and the pink-flowered cannonball; several ponds of water lilies and lotus flowers; a profusion of orchids, and a collection of rare, exotic plants from all over the world.

I liked the walking tours that Sultanne organized on Mahé, but what I enjoyed most was swimming at Beau Vallon Beach, just a 5-minute walk from our hotel. Then, after relaxing on the beach, I would amble over to the reasonably priced Baobab Pizzeria for a delicious pizza (about $8 for a medium), lasagna, spaghetti Bolognese or a plate of fish and chips, washed down with a cold soft drink.

Praslin

At the Mahé jetty, the group boarded a catamaran ferry that took us on a smooth, one-hour crossing north to Baie Sainte Anne on the island of Praslin.

Cabins at Château St. Cloud on La Digue.

Praslin, the second-largest island in Seychelles, has around 6,500 inhabitants, yet it is only 7 miles long and 2½ miles wide. Coral reefs surrounding the island teem with tropical life, including an amazing 900 species of fish.

Our group stayed four nights at the Palm Beach Hotel. This two-story colonial-style hotel is located directly on the beach, facing the sea and the bay of Grand Anse.

The highlight of our stay on Praslin was a 2-hour scenic walk through a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Vallée de Mai Nature Preserve. This primeval palm forest contains the endemic coco de mer palm, which produces the largest nut in the world, plus vanilla orchids, a variety of lizards and some of Earth’s rarest birds.

La Digue

Our last island hop was a half-hour sail on an interisland schooner to sleepy La Digue. After arriving on the island, we transferred by oxcart to our 4-day accommodation, the fabulous Château St. Cloud.

La Digue is the epitome of tropical charm, with its old plantation houses, pirate graves and miles of stunning beaches featuring massive, strangely eroded granite boulders.

One morning, Sultanne led us on a walking tour of the island. The easy hike took us to the working coconut plantation of L’Union Estate. We visited a magnificent plantation house, an old coconut-oil mill (still operated by a woman and her ox) and a copra (coconut meat) dryer. A special treat was a giant tortoise enclosure that sheltered a number of these slow-moving animals that can live up to 150 years.

Tour details

The cost for this tour was $2,670 per person, which included all ground transportation, an English-speaking guide, shared accommodation with another traveler and daily breakfast.

During the 12 days we spent on the three islands, Sultanne organized numerous boat excursions to other, smaller atolls. On those tours, group members could swim, snorkel, relax on a beach and enjoy an included lunch. I felt, however, that the price for each of those optional day trips (€45-€125, or $59-$164) was beyond my budget, so I did not participate.

Instead, I chose to chat with the local Seychellois, saunter barefoot over the white sand of a deserted beach, swim in the inviting, crystal-clear waters of a sparkling lagoon, enjoy a tasty fish ’n‘ chips lunch at a funky snack bar, write my travel memoirs beside a quiet swimming pool and simply soak up the laid-back life of this island paradise.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
This interisland schooner provides transport between Praslin and La Digue islands.

by Jim Hendrickson; Lynden, WA

In October 2010 I enjoyed the most relaxing, laid-back tour that I’ve taken in my lifetime of travels around the world. Through Adventure Center (Emeryville CA; 800/228-8747), I booked the “Tropical Island Hopping” tour of Seychelles, operated by the UK-based company Explore.

The 115 islands of Seychelles lie four degrees south of the equator in an archipelago that stretches over some 500,000 square miles in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, my 12-day trip included hopping between only three of these islands: Mahé, Praslin and La Digue.

Mahé

Mahé is the largest of Seychelles’ islands, yet it is only 17 miles long and 5 miles wide. The island’s landscape is incredibly diverse, ranging from its interior of forested mountains to its secluded coves and magnificent beaches of soft white sand, graceful palms and enormous granite boulders.

Newly arrived visitors taking an oxcart to their hotel on La Digue.

My tour began in Victoria, one of the smallest capital cities in the world, with only 25,000 residents. I met the other 12 members of my group at the Panorama Guesthouse Beau Vallon, located at nearby Beau Vallon Bay, our home base for the next four days.

Sultanne, a native Seychellois, introduced herself as our tour leader. From the beginning of the trip, Sultanne proved to be not only a capable guide but a personable, self-confident woman. She spoke English and French fluently as well as her native Creole, the official languages of Seychelles.

We spent our first day exploring Victoria, a town that is small enough to see on foot. Downtown encompasses a modern shopping center, many shops, boutiques, restaurants and banks plus an outdoor market, a magnificent cathedral and lovely government buildings constructed in the traditional Creole style.

The heart of the city is the Clock Tower, erected in 1903 to mark Seychelles’ coming of age as a separate colony. Surrounding the town are leafy suburbs dotted with red-tile-roofed homes that cling precariously to granite cliffs.

The highlight of our visit to Victoria was Mont Fleuri Botanical Gardens, a 15-acre area situated between two small streams that trickle down from the massive cliffs. The gardens feature 70 tree species, including jackfruit, teak, nutmeg and the pink-flowered cannonball; several ponds of water lilies and lotus flowers; a profusion of orchids, and a collection of rare, exotic plants from all over the world.

I liked the walking tours that Sultanne organized on Mahé, but what I enjoyed most was swimming at Beau Vallon Beach, just a 5-minute walk from our hotel. Then, after relaxing on the beach, I would amble over to the reasonably priced Baobab Pizzeria for a delicious pizza (about $8 for a medium), lasagna, spaghetti Bolognese or a plate of fish and chips, washed down with a cold soft drink.

Praslin

At the Mahé jetty, the group boarded a catamaran ferry that took us on a smooth, one-hour crossing north to Baie Sainte Anne on the island of Praslin.

Cabins at Château St. Cloud on La Digue.

Praslin, the second-largest island in Seychelles, has around 6,500 inhabitants, yet it is only 7 miles long and 2½ miles wide. Coral reefs surrounding the island teem with tropical life, including an amazing 900 species of fish.

Our group stayed four nights at the Palm Beach Hotel. This two-story colonial-style hotel is located directly on the beach, facing the sea and the bay of Grand Anse.

The highlight of our stay on Praslin was a 2-hour scenic walk through a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Vallée de Mai Nature Preserve. This primeval palm forest contains the endemic coco de mer palm, which produces the largest nut in the world, plus vanilla orchids, a variety of lizards and some of Earth’s rarest birds.

La Digue

Our last island hop was a half-hour sail on an interisland schooner to sleepy La Digue. After arriving on the island, we transferred by oxcart to our 4-day accommodation, the fabulous Château St. Cloud.

La Digue is the epitome of tropical charm, with its old plantation houses, pirate graves and miles of stunning beaches featuring massive, strangely eroded granite boulders.

One morning, Sultanne led us on a walking tour of the island. The easy hike took us to the working coconut plantation of L’Union Estate. We visited a magnificent plantation house, an old coconut-oil mill (still operated by a woman and her ox) and a copra (coconut meat) dryer. A special treat was a giant tortoise enclosure that sheltered a number of these slow-moving animals that can live up to 150 years.

Tour details

The cost for this tour was $2,670 per person, which included all ground transportation, an English-speaking guide, shared accommodation with another traveler and daily breakfast.

During the 12 days we spent on the three islands, Sultanne organized numerous boat excursions to other, smaller atolls. On those tours, group members could swim, snorkel, relax on a beach and enjoy an included lunch. I felt, however, that the price for each of those optional day trips (€45-€125, or $59-$164) was beyond my budget, so I did not participate.

Instead, I chose to chat with the local Seychellois, saunter barefoot over the white sand of a deserted beach, swim in the inviting, crystal-clear waters of a sparkling lagoon, enjoy a tasty fish ’n‘ chips lunch at a funky snack bar, write my travel memoirs beside a quiet swimming pool and simply soak up the laid-back life of this island paradise.