Sweet on Seychelles

12428069055?profile=RESIZE_710xLe Domaine de la Réserve

This archipelago of 115 islands and  just over 100,600 Seychellois in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa (some 1,314 miles east of Kenya) was a British colony from 1794 to 1976 – having been uninhabited before it was first settled by the French beginning in 1770  – and while a bit remote but treasured especially by nature lovers and honeymooners for its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, lush tropical forests, and spectacular marine life. Both English and French are still widely spoken, and the largest and most population islands are Mahé (site of the national capital Victoria), La Digue, and Praslin.

Tourism got started in 1971 with the inauguration of the international airport, and pains have been taken in the decades since to keep it “sustainable,” to benefit the Seychellois as well as protect the environment. It also helps that it´s fairly pricy as destinations go, meaning it´s definitely in "luxury travel" territory, and many upscale resort brands have outposts here, including Anantara, Banyan Tree, Four Seasons, Hilton, Raffles, and Six Senses (although having said that, there´s also a fair choice of budget options, as one Tripatini blogger wrote about a couple of year ago). And here´s a quick rundown of some of the country´s highlights  


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Those Beaches – Some of the World´s Dreamiest

With 115 islands to choose from, there are nearly countless amazing sandy stretches to choose from. Here are just three of the most notable:

Anse Source d'Argent, La Digue  - On a lagoon protected from the open ocean, the country´s – and one of the world´s – most popular strands (above) is famous for its pink sands, distinctive granite boulders, and shallow, crystalline waters, making it fantastic for swimming and snorkeling.

Beau Vallon, Mahé  - The island´s best known beach is known for its clear waters, water sports, and lively scene including bars, eatieries, and the Beau Vallon Bazar, where you can sample Creole cuisine and pick up a few cool souvenirs.

Anse Lazio, Praslin - Ranked as one of the world’s best, this beach features a long, wide stretch of powdery white sand, turquoise waters, and its own cool granite boulders.



Spectacular Snorkeling and Diving 

With its clear waters, coral reefs, and rich marine life, this archipelago is second to none when it comes to underwater exploration. Top spots include Sainte Anne Marine National Park (on its own island off the coast of Mahé), Shark Bank, and the coral reefs around Praslin and La Digue.


Awesome Ecotourism

So much to unpack here, too! But here are five spots especially worth highlighting:

Aldabra Atoll

The world's second-largest coral atoll is a UNESCO World Heritage Site virtually untouched by humans, known for its population of giant tortoises, vibrant coral reefs, and diverse marine life. However, it´s pretty darn remote – 715 miles (1,150 kilometers) from Mahé, and it takes a minimum of 18 hours to get here; most people visit on multi-day liveaboard boat excursions.

Curieuse Island

A 20-minute boat ride from Praslin´s north coast, this granitic speck just over a square mile in size, notable for its red soil and coco de mer palms (a symbol of the Seychelles, notable for their giant split seeds, dubbed coco fesses because they remind everyone of human buttocks), is now a bio-reserve. Visitors can see the Aldabra giant tortoise and Hawksbill sea turtles (who nest here annually) in the wild; stroll on a wooden walkway through the mangrove swamp; and visit sites of the island´s past as a leper colony: the ruins of stone cottages and the  151-year-old Doctor's House, now a history museum. And it goes without saying that the beaches are a dream, too!

Morne Seychellois National Park, Mahé

Just a ten-minute drive south of Victoria, the country´s largest national covers some 3,045 hectares  –  more than 20 percent of the island – and it´s a haven for hikers, with trails leading through mangrove forests to the eponymous Morne Seychellois – the country's highest peak at 2,969 feet (905 meters) – which as you´d expect rewards hikers with simply breathtaking views out over the landscape as well as Victoria.

National Botanical Garden, Mahé

For an overview of the exuberant local nature in a nutshell, this tranquil, 15-acre swath very near Victoria – founded as an agricultural station in 1901 – is home to a wide variety of more than 280 endemic and exotic plants, including orchids and spice plants (including the famous cocos de mer), as well as a smattering of fauna such as giant tortoises and fruit bats.

Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, Praslin

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ancient, 15-square-mile forest in the center of the island, a short, easy drive from its largest town Baie Sainte Anne. It´s covered by cocos de mer and five other endemic palm species, and is also known for its vanilla orchids and marvelous birding, with rare species like the Seychelles bulbul, the fruit pigeon, and the black parrot. There´s a visitor center/museum and of course plenty of hiking trails.

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Compelling Creole Culture

This country is a kind of cultural fusion of peoples and cultures, its people by and large a multiracial blending of African, Asian, and European, and English and French are widely spoken, as is French-derived Seychellois Creole. Christianity is by far the main religion (and of that, Roman Catholicism is by far the largest denomination), at around 75 percent, with second place – at just over five percent – going to Hinduism.  

The best place to explore the culture is cosy capital Victoria (above), with a population of around just 25,000, just a couple of dozen streets, and two traffic lights. It´s home to some charming 18th- and 19th-century French and British architecture in stone and wood. Things to see include the National Museum of History ; the Natural History Museum; the 101-year-old Clock Tower (above, dubbed “Little Big Ben”); the mid-19th-century Kenwyn House (now an art gallery);  the vibrant Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market (where in addition to produce, meat, fish, and spices visitors can also pick up some handicrafts); the 1875-year-old Catholic Immaculate Conception Cathedral; the 1859 Anglican St. Paul´s Cathedral; and the Hindu Arulmigu Navasakti Vinayagar Temple, built in 1999.

And if you can make it in October, the weeklong Creole Festival held on Mahé, La Digue, and Praslin is an exuberant celebration of national culture, culture, and lifestyle.



Bon Appétit, Seychellois-Style

The archipelago´s cuisine blends various aspects of French, Chinese, Indian and African influences, and not surprisingly, seafood – fish, octopus (above) and shellfish – plays a major role.  Spices that abound here include coriander, ginger, and lemongrass, and other common elements include coconut milk and fruit like tamarind and papaya. Seafood is prepared baked, curried, grilled, salted, smoked, steamed, and wrapped in banana leaves, and invariably served with rice. One particularly common dish is ladob, salted fish boiled with plantains, cassava, and breadfruit (there´s a dessert version of this too, adding coconut milk and subtracting the fish). And another that´s particularly quirky is shark chutney, shark meat which is boiled, finely mashed, and cooked with the juice of a local fruit called bilenbi, then mixed with fried onion and spices.


More info: Seychelles.com, InsideSeychelles.com.

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