Finding solace on idyllic islands
Constance Ephélia on Mahe, the largest of the Seychelles islands, is a huge resort set between two stunning sandy bays and sprawling amid mangrove swamps, around forested hills and below granite outcrops.
The staff and service is superb, accommodation is spread out and varies from junior and deluxe suites as well as family, beach, spa and hillside villas. My spacious one bedroom junior suite was pretty grown up with all the mod-cons including wi-fi - no hotel cubbyhole this.
Gorgeous bathroom with separate shower and bath, twin basins, a king size bed, comfortable seating area and a deep verandah beyond the glass doors with couch, day bed, table and chairs.
You could spend days in the U Spa village - if you haven’t gone the whole hog and booked a spa villa with private pool, dry sauna, hammam and jacuzzi. Pampering is not limited to treatments in one of the thatched huts.
The outside space is beautiful, with carefully considered eye-pleasing curves, shaded pavilions, loungers in a shallow pool, a wall of water with seating specially designed to ease the back, submerged stainless steel jacuzzi chairs, a Kneipp therapy walkway on rivers stones with alternating hot and freezing water jets to relieve and stimulate aching calves should you have been exerting yourself.
Exertions could mean strolls between one of five restaurants and six bars or between the south and north beaches and up and down the hills of the reserve - or tennis, squash, hitting the gym, some zipline fun or scaling the beautiful, natural climbing wall. Watersports are on offer of course, from paddling across the bay and through the mangroves to diving excursions.
The Seychelles archipelago comprises 115 islands of varying size, scattered across the Indian Ocean: old granitic islands, atolls and coral blips on the map.
Seychelles is mercifully uncommercial, though completely geared toward tourism. Far-sighted conservation policies have really paid dividends and the sea and beaches are unadorned and pristine.
The idyllic paradise attracts royalty of all types - most recently honeymooners George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin of the Hollywood variety. They join Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, and a list of who’s who that flock here for lavish do’s no doubt.
But, unlike other island destinations I’ve visited, it seems most come simply to relax: less speedboats, skiers and jet skis, more slumbering under palms.
We wound up, down and around Mahe with delightful, impish Eugene Esparon of Mason’s Travel at the wheel. Catholic churches, icons and roadside shrines dotted the landscape - plus a gloriously refurbished Hindu temple near the central market in the quaint capital, Victoria.
Colonial French and English architecture, with creole influences, stand cheek by jowl in this postage stamp town, which we left behind as we headed for a Creole lunch at Jardin du Roi - a picturesque spice garden-cum-museum recalling the 18th century spice trade which has wonderful views from up high. Yummy, simple food: Cajun-style job-fish and a range of chutney accompaniments - papaya, mango, cassava, pumpkin and golden apple for example.
Creole dishes featured at Ephélia too - especially at al-fresco Creole evenings at Seselwa Restaurant with tables and chair on the sand around an open fire, the sound of the sea, a band, cocktails and dance moves on display. At Cyann Restaurant an enthusiastic sommelier paired fine food and wines from around the world, including a fun test of our dismal wine knowledge with our dessert.
A 15-minute flight took us to Praslin Island and Constance Lémuria - smaller than Ephélia and a paradise for golfers, tortoises and turtles. Constance Lémuria has a very successful turtle conservation programme headed by passionate Adrian Allison, whose enthusiasm has rubbed off on returning regulars and colleagues that go to great lengths to protect the turtles and their environment - even sleeping on the beach alongside about-to-hatch eggs.
The golf course climbs steeply up the hills behind Lémuria, with a quirky, gloriously scenic 15th hole tee off from a cliff to a green far below. With three chefs occupying top management positions, you can bet the food at Lémuria is superb and, with a restaurant on a rocky head with sea on either side, the ambience is hard to beat.
We boarded a fast ferry for a couple of hours on little La Digue where visitors typically rent secluded spots and bicycles for week-long stays, then back to Praslin where Patricia Battin of Mason’s Travel was our excellent guide and companion for a tour which incorporated the must-see Vallee de Mai Forest - a Unesco heritage site - and home to the Coco de Mer, the largest seed in the world endemic to the islands of Praslin and Curieuse.
The abiding impressions of Praslin though are the most beautiful sunset I’ve watched and Anse Lazio, the most stunning beach I’ve ever set foot on. I was so exhilarated that I swam almost 3km in the bay without exhausting myself. Under the crook of my arm at every stroke was a three masted schooner, or a graceful yacht, while below in the clear, calm waters were nests of stingrays on the white sand, colourful fishes among the rocks and a Leatherback turtle for company part of the way.
* We flew Airlink between Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg, and then aboard comfortable Air Seychelles. Travel logistics were seamless with local operators, Mason’s Travel, who partner with the The Holiday Factory to tailor your visit.
Visit www.masonstravel.com or e-mail [email protected]
The Holiday Factory - visit www.theholidayfactory.co.za or call 011 2332300
Seychelles Tourism Board: visit www.seychelles.travel, e-mail [email protected] or call 012 3615767
Constance Ephélia: www.epheliaresort.com
Constance Lémuria: www.lemuriaresort.com
Air Seychelles flies between Johannesburg and Mahe, and Mahe and Praslin
Airlink offer daily all-jet flights between Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg. Visit www.flyairlink.com.