For a moment I was dazzled by the sunlight bouncing off the turquoise sea and the white sandy beach and I’m sure that dolphin winked at me as it breached out of the water. Mind you earlier in the week I’d had a staring competition with a giant tortoise (it won) and haggled over a mango with a stallholder in the local market (she won too) only to find them growing outside ten minutes later with the locals picking them off the trees.
Now with the Giant Tortoise you would be forgiven for thinking I was in the Galapagos Islands but in fact I was in the Seychelles, a group of islands smack bang in the middle of the Indian Ocean equally renowned for their beauty and wild life.
The Seychelles have long had a reputation as a holiday paradise all year-round destination and rightly so. However, they are not as expensive to get to and stay there as you would believe and there are a variety of holiday options open to you. Either way these islands leave a mark on the memories that you will take away and a craving to come back that will never leave.
We wanted to experience these islands from the fabulous wildlife to the local Creole cuisine and some of the world’s finest beaches. To that end we took a seven day cruise with Variety Cruises on a motor yacht with 24 other people that visited eight islands seeing not only the everyday life in villages but the dedicated volunteers who live on the outer islands to preserve the giant tortoises, turtles and other endangered species for our children and grandchildren to enjoy in the future. These remoter islands are uninhabited except for the rangers who work on them, one of whom was Alisha from Manchester working as a volunteer and hoping to make her career in conservation. Mind you these islands have no jetties, so landing is by zodiac or a wooden boat which needs to cut through the surf to safely land on the beach. To do this the helmsmen really open the throttle to land high and dry. If you want to know what it’s like being James Bond chased at high speed by the villains, this will show you.
It is stunning to get so close to the wildlife on these islands. Stroking a Giant Tortoise under the chin (they love it) or being inches away from a Yellow Billed Tropic Bird and her chick on her nest at the base of a tree is something that you would normally only associate with the Galapagos. Walking up the forest trails to the top of the island of Aride we were rewarded by looking down on the Great Frigate Birds trying to steal food from the delicate and beautiful Fairy Terns as they were returning to their nests.
Your flight will arrive into the main island of Mahe where you can get registered taxis with their red sign on the roof to take you to your hotel or give you a tour of the island, especially through the mountains. If you want to hire a car then you’ll be delighted to know that as a legacy of the British colonial times all the islands with roads drive on the left. The exception to this is the island of La Digue where everyone gets around by bicycle and there are plenty of places to hire them at the harbour. La Digue also has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and many people enjoy the tour of the coconut oil factory and looking at the vanilla orchards both easily reached from the harbour.
If you are going to visit the Seychelles, then you must try the local cuisine. The Seychellois are some of the happiest and friendliest people around and their food demonstrates this. Descendants of African slaves and French and British settlers they speak Creole (although most also speak French and English) and their cuisine has a fusion of flavours from African, French, Chinese, Indian and English cooking. A wide palette of spices such as vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, chilli, ginger and garlic are also favourites of the Seychellois. The ingredients are super fresh and often come directly from the local fishing boats. You can find specialists restaurants in Victoria, although I have to say I drew the line at octopus curry!
If you decide to take an island cruise holiday, then do make sure you have time to explore Victoria first. One of the world’s smallest, compact capital cities it’s easily walkable and we booked a day room at a local B&B as a base before we joined the yacht. It’s a place of surprises with its mosque, intricately carved Hindu temple and a silver-painted clock tower replica of London's Big Ben. You can explore it in a pleasant two-hour stroll. The streets are quiet, except on Saturday mornings, and there are many cafes where you can stop and buy a beer or a coffee.
No trip to Victoria would be complete without a stroll through its covered market. It's a small bustling, colourful place with families and tourists all buying and soaking up the atmosphere. Alongside fresh fruit and vegetables, coconut and vanilla oils, local spices and herbs, you’ll find stalls with souvenirs and clothing with many others spreading out into the surrounding streets. Early morning is the best time go, when the fishmongers display an astonishing variety of seafood, from parrotfish to tuna, barracuda and shark. It's at its liveliest on Saturday but beware as everything closes in the city at noon to allow the Seychellois to start the weekend by heading to the beach. There are no private beaches in the islands, so you can explore as many as you wish.
Do go, you’ll love it and more to the point you’ll never forget it.
Steve Newman explored the islands with Variety Cruises “Mega Yacht, Garden of Eden” holiday. Packages include full board seven night island hopping cruise from Mahe island, two nights pre-cruise and one night post-cruise Ocean View accommodation at the Savoy Resort & Spa at Baie Beau Vallon, on a bed & breakfast basis, all transfers to hotel, cruise and airport and port and environmental charges.
The company specialise in mega yacht cruises to the world’s most exotic and iconic island destinations.
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Steve heading for the bikes in La Digue
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