The Seychelles, the real Garden of Eden

by Andy Mossak on 05 June 2015, 17:06PM

Giant Tortoise. Coco de Mer. Anse Source D'argent beach. Creole cuisine. Four world class attractions to discover in The Seychelles, but there are many more. Andy Mossack, Managing Editor of travel site takes us on a tour around these enchanting islands and uncovers tales of buried pirate treasure and what some may say is the real Garden of Eden.


Maybe it is the call of the rare Black Parrot that does it, or perhaps the sudden breeze rustling the huge tropical canopy high up above my head. But whatever it is, five minutes into my walk into the mysterious and legendary Valee de Mei forest on the Seychelles Island of Praslin, I am well and truly hooked. This is not just a tropical forest but the home of one of the strangest nuts Mother Nature has ever put her mind to. The Coco de Mer. A giant double lobed coconut whose shape has kept naturalists guessing for hundreds of years. And right there, in that stunning ancient forest, is the only place I will find them growing naturally in the whole world. So, while we are basking in the glory of that moment, let me explain why The Seychelles is a destination you'll never forget.

What are The Seychelles?
The Seychelles archipelago lies in the Indian Ocean off the east African coast and is made up of two distinct parts: the Inner group, where you'll find the mountainous granite peaks and dense forests of the main islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, and the sparsely populated Outer group where small flat coral based islands are self contained little worlds and include Aldabra, the largest raised coral islet in the world. The Seychelles Outer islands stretch out towards the east African coast, and although they are mostly uninhabited, you can go out to visit them on day trips. But it's the Inner Islands - Mahé, Praslin and La Digue where you'll find most of the Seychellois people, the hotels and the best places to visit.

Mahé Island
Mahé is the The Seychelles' biggest island and it's where you'll first land by plane or ship. It's the perfect place to kick off your Seychelles experience for a few nights with an abundance of hotels from international luxury brands to more modest family owned B&B's.


The world's smallest capital more than makes up for its diminutive size mixing international finance and politics with authentic local colour, a busy market and two cathedrals no less. It is also where you'll find the ferry port to get across to the other islands. Look out for the clock tower Little Ben, a smaller replica of London's famous Big Ben (although this one is painted silver) erected in 1903 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.You can find its older original brother close to Victoria station in London. Not far from here is the bustling Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market built in 1840 and named after the Englishman who was governor of The Seychelles for four years. It's the local morning hot spot for daily life and the many colourful stalls of fresh fish, exotic fruits, vegetables and spices are a must to wander around. Of the two cathedrals in town the imposing ghost-white Cathedral of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception is the most dramatic, set within tropical landscaped gardens it's a lovely place to sit for a few minutes under the shade of a palm on an inevitable sunny day.


Whilst we're on the subject of gardens, the five acres of The Seychelles National Botanical Gardens just on the outskirts of Victoria are well worth visiting. The tropical landscape is also home to fruit bat colonies and a number of remarkable Giant Tortoises over 150 year old. The Pirates Arms is a worthy Victoria watering hole for a refreshing drink and an informal snack and if you are feeling lucky, there is a small casino in the back!

Just opposite is the Natural History Museum, a fascinating glimpse around the wild life of the islands. A few minutes south of town, the new man-made island colony of Eden Island is fast becoming a Victoria social spot with its clutch of restaurants, bars, marina and shopping. You can just kick back and gaze at the impressive array of sleek yachts of the super rich. I can personally recommend the burgers and seafood at Bravo! You'll also find live music here in the evenings. For a short stay, the new Eden Bleu hotel is excellent, with great views of the marina and Mahé's mountain scenery.

Best Views on Mahé
For a sample of some of the best views across Mahe, take a drive up to the ruins of Venn's Town and Mission Lodge, once a church missionary school and settlement for the children of liberated African slaves in1876. There is no doubting the importance of Venn's Town to Seychellois Creole roots and UNESCO is currently considering it for inclusion in its list of protected sites. Some 450 metres up in the Morne Seychellois National Park, the views are stunning. The lookout is a peaceful place to admire the landscape and just watch tropical birds glide by and you can even walk in the footsteps of Queen Elizabeth who officially opened the lookout in 1972. While you are driving across the island, make sure you stop off for a cuppa at the Tea Factory, the only tea plantation in The Seychelles. A quick tour of how they harvest and make tea leaves is a worthy diversion.

Best Beaches on Mahé
It might be stating the obvious that an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean is going to be a beach lovers paradise, but with seventy beaches to pick from on Mahé you'll be spoiled for choice, and it's just a matter of choosing busy or deserted in my opinion. The most popular beaches are Beau Vallon in the north, Anse Royale in the south and Grand Anse in the west. However if you want a more Robinson Crusoe experience, Barbarons just down from Grand Anse is a perfect isolated bay with just the guests of the nearby AVANI hotel for company. When you go to Beau Vallon, just ponder a moment or two about the prospect of finding some buried treasure. Olivier Levasseur was a French pirate with the nickname La Bouche ( The Mouth) who it is said buried over £1billion worth of gold, diamonds and pearls here and threw out a cryptogram detailing its location to the crowd at his public hanging. Despite numerous attempts at decoding it and digging around Beau Vallon, Levasseur 's treasure still remains hidden.

Best diving and snorkelling around Mahé
On the north west coast of Mahé you'll find Port Launay Marine Park a veritable haven for diving to see Whale Sharks. The beach here is beautiful too, and you get access to it via the Constance Ephelia resort. For snorkelers, try Baie Ternay Marine National Park just north from here for plenty of reef snorkelling and just a 20 minute boat ride away is Saint Anne Marine National Park, its shallow lagoons perfect for spotting tropical fish and colourful coral.


Praslin Island
Just an hour from Mahé by the fast catamaran ferry, Praslin, The Seychelles second biggest island is where you'll find my ancient forest, the stunning Vallée de Mai, a place once coined by General Gordon as the original Garden of Eden. This UNESCO protected tropical valley is revered throughout the world because it is the home of the remarkable Coco de Mer double lobed coconut, the world's heaviest seed (between 15 and 30 kilos) but more interestingly it is the exact shape of the female pelvis. While we're on the subject of anatomy, look for the male version of the Coco de Mer which always grows near to the double lobed female and you'll get a clue as to why Gordon was so convinced he had found the true Eden.
This primeval forest is a natural botanical masterpiece, with over 6,000 Coco de Mer trees, six endemic palm species, streams and waterfalls and the last natural habitat of the rare Seychelles Black Parrot.


Praslin has totally different feel to Mahé, the vegetation is denser and the lifestyle is much more laid back. It is a true tropical resort island with some outstanding luxury hotels such as Raffles Seychelles Resort and the Constance Lemuria Resort and Spa which is where you'll find the stunning 18 hole Lemuria Golf Club, the only championship standard course on The Seychelles.


The draw of Praslin is without doubt its picture post card impossibly white beaches and turquoise sea, with Anse Lazio, Anse Georgette and Cote D'Or my firm favourites. A very popular lunchtime beach restaurant is BonBon Plume right on Anse Lazio, where the seafood is admittedly very tasty, but be prepared to be surrounded by plenty of fellow diners.

La Digue Island
If you crave tranquillity and natural beauty, La Digue will deliver many times over. It is a heavenly place to be. Just 15 minutes from Praslin by ferry and just 3km wide by 5 km long, La Digue is small enough to cycle around, which is the main form of transport on the island and you can hire bikes at the ferry terminal. You could take a taxi but it's an ox cart, so cycling yourself just might be quicker! Everywhere you look you'll find small coves and stunning white beaches to kick back on, but if you want a jaw dropping beach experience, just cycle straight to Anse Source d'Argent. Reputed to be the most photographed beach in the entire world, Anse Source d'Argent is a showstopper; huge, impossibly smooth granite boulders lay on a heap on top of each other like a child giant's set of play bricks, swaying palms fringe the beach offering shady corners and the lapping turquoise Indian Ocean is very shallow for as far as the eye can see. It is the ideal beach scenario if you manage to pick a quiet day.


Just a few strides from the beach here is the family run Lanbousir beach restaurant, a local favourite for decades and almost an institution on La Digue . The freshly made Seychellois cuisine with daily specials is delicious .
Take a short break from the beach and wander over to L'Union Estate where you'll find an 18th century cemetery and coconut and vanilla plantation showing how oil is produced in the traditional way. The plantation house is a wonderful example of Creole colonial styling and don't forget to visit the nearby Giant Tortoise pen.

Back towards the ferry jetty, the Veuve Reserve is where most of the Paradise Flycatcher's breed, La Digue's endemic bird species. The reserve's marshland and canopies are perfect for watching the birds swoop around looking for food.
For divers La Digue Island Lodge operates a PADI dive centre while there are countless snorkelling opportunities all around the coast although there are dangerous currents from May to November around Grand Anse, Petite Anse and Anse Coco.
The Seychelles Islands have a reputation as the playground of exclusive, high end visitors and honeymooners and looking at the many luxury resorts you'll be forgiven for thinking just that. The government is however, making a great effort to dispel this perhaps unfair label. They are working to promote smaller boutique properties on the islands that will not only be kinder to your wallet but also give you an insight into the real people of The Seychelles and their Creole culture.


Just sampling some delicious home made Kasava, or bread fruit, or the truly legendary boiled banana and sweet potato L'adobe will in their eyes, make you part of the family. And in a genius initiative, an annual carnival takes place, to unite the islands for a three day celebration. Does it rival Rio as a spectacle? Probably not, but it is very colourful, very musical and give any visitor a great opportunity to join in and have fun with the locals.

As for me, I'm back off to Beau Vallon to find some pieces of eight.

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