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Issue 10
Africa Travel> Issue 10
UPDATED: December 9, 2014
She Sells Seashells….
Seychelles tranquil tropical island magic
By Jo Kromberg


The captain's incomprehensible intercom voice wakes me from half-sleep. The sight that greets me from the windows makes me think I'm not entirely awake.

We're coming in for the landing and to my right I see tropical jungle and to my left the blinding morning sun bouncing off the Indian Ocean. "Is this a sea plane?" I ask the flight attendant and she smiles, impervious to my apparent bewilderment.

We land smoothly. On the ground. At Mahé International Airport, Mahé being the biggest island on the Seychelles archipelago.

The granite islands of the Seychelles archipelago comprises 115 islands occupying a land area of 455 km² cluster around the main island of Mahé, I am old by Wikipedia. Coming from the sub-zero temperatures of Johannesburg, the heat hits me like a tidal wave. It's 7.30 am and already the mercury hovers at around 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity is sky high. Verena from Select Seychelles greets me with a beaming smile and fast tracks me through customs. The queues at passport control go on for miles but I get treated like royalty – in fact, the only people in the queue with me are the international footballer rock star Zanetti and his wife and children…

Untouched paradise

We board a 12-seater plane from the airport straight away to the island of Praslin. The smallish plane moans into action and takes off with a roller-coaster type action in the fierce wind. I turn my attention to the myriad greens and blues of the magnificent ocean beneath us in order to distract me from my impending shuffle off this mortal coil. The flight takes only 15 minutes – thank goodness - and Herweit, the man who is to be my guide for the next two days, picks me up at the quaint airport in his smart 4x4 vehicle. I stare in wonderment at the undulating, mountainous jungle on the one side and the blue, blue sea on the other, fringed by a million palm trees. We arrive at the modern, 4-star Coco de Mer Hotel, which is situated on over 200 acres of natural beauty on the edge of the Indian Ocean. The hotel reminds of an age of yore – elegant with a casual and tranquil tropical island paradise ambiance. After a quick breakfast, my host Ash shows me to my air-conditioned room. It is huge and airy, decorated in blues and greens, almost right on the beach.

I have a heavenly shower to rid myself somewhat of the fatigue and time loss of the 5-hour flight from Johannesburg (Bejing is 4 hours ahead of Seychelles). I contemplate sleep but instead I sit on my private balcony in reverie, listening to the rustle of the palms and watching the sea before me turn from different shades of sapphire to light grey as clouds lazily drift before the sun. A drizzle, like the touch of a feather, brings some relief from the humidity and heat. After lunch, I board a most fabulous wooden yacht en-route to La Digue Island. The waves play like white horses beneath the boat and we pass numerous small, uninhabited islands in the middle of the world. A timeless oasis, hidden away in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, guarded by warm waters and fringed by teeming reefs, La Digue is the Seychelles of yesterday. A world away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world, La Digue basks in the peace of a Seychelles almost unchanged since the earliest settlers stumbled upon the islands and claimed to have discovered the Garden of Eden. My host, Noelle meets me as we alight. Her warm, smiling face belies a deep sadistic streak – she makes me ride a bicycle. For miles. I haven't ridden a bicycle for about 20 years but I guess it's like, well, riding a bicycle and despite a couple of embarrassing incidents, I hit my stride. After a while I feel as free as that kid in the book The Kite Runner – when things were still good, innocent and pure. The villagers and tourists, young and old all ride bikes; a small truck from time to time is the only reminder that actual vehicles are to be found. The scenery is breathtaking as you gently ride past the quaintest of buildings, all built in the French colonial style. Noelle takes me to a barely noticeable enclosure consisting of a tiny wall and there, before my eyes, I see beasts and dinosaurs from light years yore. I nearly fall off my bike – again - at the sight of the Aldabra giant tortoises. These lumbering beasts, which can live for centuries, can be spotted across the island. In the last light of the sun, I take a swim in the same sea where Robinson Crusoe built his house in the movie. This most beautiful beach is the world is called Grand Anse.

Magical forest

Back at Coco de Mer the entertaining and charming Arturo, the hotel's operations manager, joins me for dinner. Dinner consists of a superb fillet in red wine. The food here is great – full of flavour and unpretentious. Arturo has served the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Ava Gardner in his time and he is a fascinating raconteur.

I discover the wonders of nature in Seychelles the following day when Herweit takes me for a walk through one of the tallest and most dense forests in the world – the Unesco protected Vallée De Mai palm forest. It s a remarkable remnant of the prehistoric forests which existed when the Seychelles islands were still part of Gondwanaland, the huge land mass which included what is now Africa, Madagascar and India. Millions of years of isolation enabled a unique community of plants and animals to develop in the Vallée De Mai and some species are found nowhere else, such as the Coco de Mer palm – the largest nut in the world, weighing up to 20 kg. The forest possesses an eerie and haunting beauty and is almost totally silent with only the ancient mile-high palms whispering in the breeze with the sound of a rare Black parrot here and there. .

Herweit tells me that the Seychelles was ceded from the French to Britain under the treaty of Paris in 1814.

Seychelles achieved independence from Britain in 1976 and became a republic within the commonwealth. Today the population is still very low; approximately 92 000 only.

Following the forest walk, we are treated to a fit-for-a-king lunch at the gorgeous 5-star Constance Lemuria Golf Resort. That evening I check into the compact little Le Duc hotel. This is certainly the best value 4-star family hotel in Seychelles. The rooms are spacious, comfortable and stylishly decorated.

The best thing about this hotel (along with the outstanding food) is that kids up to 18 years of age – NOT 12 - stay on a half-rate basis.

Private island

The following morning at the airport, an attractive blond woman approaches me. "Hi, you must be Jo! Welcome to the Seychelles! I'm Sarah. I'll be accompanying you to Desroches." I'm en-route to Descroches Private Island and it turns out British ex-pat Sarah Jensen is the local representative of Desroches Private Island. In no time we chat like long lost friends on the plane.

Desroches is indescribable but I shall take a feeble stab at it. Imagine a small island in heaven, 6 km long and 1 km wide, acres of shady coconut palms fringed by 14 km of white sandy beaches, lapped by crystal clear turquoise waters and sheltered by the encircling reef. And completely private. Plus some of the best scuba diving in the Seychelles.

And that is Desroches in a nutshell, only with all the bells and whistles. The island forms part of the Amirantes Archipelago, regarded as some of the most pristine and mystical in the world. A day in your life on Descroches consists of cycling through the palm jungle to a deserted white beach and taking a swim in the calm, warm sea, followed by a picnic in the exotic jungle with bird-song and ancient tortoises for company. Or perhaps sailing to a neighbouring virgin island to catch a fish for tonight's barbeque. The 4-bedroomed villa where we are staying, offers an exclusive and private experience for families and groups.

Each fully equipped villa has its own private swimming pool, central living and entertainment area as well as kitchenette. All bedrooms are air-conditioned and overlook the main entertainment deck towards the sea. They are modern and ultra- luxurious, yet blend in with that sensuous remote island atmosphere. In fact, a new word for "villa" should be invented to describe these lodgings….But be prepared to spend – rates per person per night start at $750 but this includes all meals and local wines, beers and soft drinks.

After a sublime dinner we go "home" to our villa and chat into the night, sitting by our very own pool and drinking cocktails in the tropical night. The next morning it's back to Mahé for a tour of the oh-so-quaint town of Victoria. At the historical restaurant Marie Antoinette we dine on the local grub of aubergine fritters, tuna, papaya chutney and parrotfish for lunch. A fifteen-minute boat ride brings me to my final destination in this looks-like-a-screensaver paradise - Sainte Anne Resort & Spa. Sainte Anne's is undeniably one of the finest hotels in the Seychelles. Accommodation is in 87 villas, 29 of which have their own pools. All are set on a 220-hectare private island, surrounded by one of the largest Marine Parks in the Indian Ocean. It is also family-friendly but, as with Desroches, it is not cheap…Expect to pay about $500 per person per night, bed and breakfast only. There is a mini-club for tired parents, operational between 7am and 7pm and baby-sitting can be arranged. The gregarious Kirvine, manager of the hotel has me in stitches all through a stupendous dinner. The restaurant on the beach is something to behold – wooden handcrafted tables and chairs slump into the sand with candles twinkling from the trees in the night breeze.

I'm up at 4.45 (no really??) the next morning to catch the boat back to the main island. A soft, warm rain slowly reveals the encroaching day through the mist and every bone in my body aches for my warm bed in my beautiful room on Sainte Anne's.

Whether you stay in the Seychelles for three days or for three weeks, it really doesn't matter. Because the Seychelles will stay with you for the rest of your life… Get there!


The Seychelles Tourism Board (or STB) in China will help you with all booking, enquiries and questions. Email: lrjll.sey@gmail.com or go to their website in China which is www.weibo.com/u/2505450820. You can also go to the general site, which is http://www.seychelles.travel/

Getting there:

Though constraint by lack of direct non-stop flights on the Seychelles-China route, the aggressive marketing approach by the Seychelles Tourism Board offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, the East Asian Market is showing rapid signs of positive growth. Today Chinese holidaymakers can fly to Seychelles with Air Seychelles from Hong Kong, and with Etihad, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and Mihin Lanka (Sri Lankan Airlines).

Direct Flights from China to Seychelles in 2015

When the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) decided to move into China 2011 and developed it as a source tourism market it was remarkable how fast this secondary market moved fast to become today a main key market for these mid-ocean islands. Through proper positioning of the Seychelles as the new tourism destination for Chinese holiday makers, and by keeping Seychelles visible in the market it is widely accepted today that Seychelles is known as a great tourism destination by China and the word 'beautiful' is spelled out when anyone is questioned about the Seychelles.

China is a highly sought-after market for Seychelles. Figures recorded for 2014, is in fact significant. With statistics for European markets remaining a bit fuzzy, China, Seychelles leading market for East Asian region, continues to successfully overtake other all the other of the island's secondary markets with a spectacular increase of 77 percent on a year- to – date basis.

Lined up as one of Seychelles top source of tourism income, the healthy growth of the Chinese market is gaining recognition, even in China. CAISSA Touristic is a Chinese tourism enterprise committed to provide quality tourism services to Chinese citizens. Founded in Hamburg, Germany, after 20 years of steady development, CAISSA, which had set up its branches in Frankfurt, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and major global cities, is now thinking of bringing non-stop direct flight between China and Seychelles.

On the first day of his working visit to China, Alain St.Ange, the Seychelles Minister responsible for Tourism and Culture had an official one-on-one meeting in China with top tour operators. During the meeting where members of the Seychelles delegation were united in their bid to sell Seychelles as the new destination for the Chinese holiday makers, Chen Xiaobing, the President of CAISSA Travel Management Co.Ltd of China broke the news of his company's plan to open up non-stop direct flights from Beijing to Seychelles. The first flight is expected to operate in October 2015 and projected to annually bring 25 thousand travellers. This great news for China and Seychelles is the result of close collaborative works between the Seychelles Tourism Board in China and CAISSA.

The non-stop direct flights demonstrates that demand is there from passengers across China to travel to long haul destinations, such as the Seychelles, and they also provide an alternative gateway to Seychelles for passengers seeking direct flights.

"The Seychelles Ministry of Tourism and Culture's dream is to have direct non-stop flights to Seychelles from China. It is something that we dearly want to see for the continued growth of our tourism industry," Minister St.Ange said.

(Source: http://www.seychelles.travel/news/4518:china-tourism-enterprise-expresses-wish-to-bring-non-stop-direct-flight-to-seychelles)

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