The Seychelles: nature's Eden project
We find hidden treasures.
Anse Source D’Argent beach on La Digue island is the most photographed in the world
Nothing unearths that feeling of being at one with the world more than a beautiful view, especially if that view has Jurassic origins. The tropical Seychelles archipelago has evolved over the millennia into one with dramatic landscapes with glorious, vibrant hues, a heady mix that, at least for me, arouses a feeling of overwhelming smallness and awe.
Though there are 115 islands, only a few are inhabited and a recent colonial history involving the British and French has left the now independent Seychelles with a charming Creole culture that embraces both French and English as official languages.
The main islands for holidaymakers (especially honeymooners) are Praslin, La Digue - whose beaches are probably the most photographed in the world - and Mahe, the largest of the trio and home to its capital Victoria, its international airport and a replica of Big Ben.
At my base, the brand new Raffles waterfront spa resort on Praslin island, I heard tales of hidden treasures around these parts and the construction team did keep an eye out while building their 86 villas and extensive spa area, but found nothing.
Digging a little deeper it turns out that notorious French pirate Olivier le Vasseur buried his treasure in the Seychelles in the 1700s when piracy was rife and punishable by death. He was executed by gallows but took the secret of the treasure's whereabouts to his grave.
But no matter, for the Seychelles, whose scattered emerald green islands trimmed with white sands that float in the vastness of the azure waters of the Indian ocean, has its own gems.
Praslin is only place on earth to see the humorously saucy coco de mer palm. The coco de mer nuts are protected for posterity and there is a lot of interest in them both for their rarity and the way they look - the female version is shaped as a woman's pelvis and is the reason that Praslin was once thought to be the Garden of Eden.
Flights: Air Seychelles have direct flights to Mahe. From Mahe catch the 20-seater Twin Otter plane for a 15-minute hop (81 euros). www.airseychelles.com Or catch a CAT COCOS fast ferry (42 euros each way) Tel: +248 432 4843.
Stay at: Raffles. A double hillside pool villa costs from 680 euros per night including breakfast for two.
I went to the UNESCO Heritage site of the eerie pre-historic palm forest Vallee de Mai (15 euros entry) and where they seem to grow in abundance. They take nine years to come to fruition and when they fall the hard-shelled fruits are collected by licensed traders. The male version of this fruit, which spreads the seeds, is yet more suggestive, but I'll leave it at that.
The park is also the habitat of the elusive black parrot who unfortunately stayed hidden or was well camouflaged within the dark shadows of the tall palms (some grow to 30m high) with fronds that expand to 6m wide and 14m long creating a veritable canopy. A fleet of inquisitive bulbuls, (thrush-like birds found in many woody habitats) however, were bold enough to swoop in and perch nearby in excited readiness to peck the offerings from our hands.
The Seychelles may be the world's most ancient oceanic islands yet tourism is only around 70 years old. So, the beaches are still pristine and poets and dreamers would find inspiration on the milky white sands of Grande Anse or under the shade of the coconut palms at the much-acclaimed Anse Lazio beach. The latter was the scene of two horrific shark attacks during August. Initially, there was a swimming ban and exclusion nets have been installed. There have been no more sightings and the ban has been lifted.
So, both are now safe to swim in, with soft sand underfoot in the shallow waters and with 30m of visibility is superb for snorkelling and diving among the corals and colourful fish. But the beach that captured my heart was Anse Source d'Argent on the nearby island La Digue. Fifty euros got me there and back by ferry. Once on this tiny island of barely 2,000 inhabitants, what I found was a white sash of silky sand bedecked with huge grey-black with-a- hint-of-pink granite boulders. These have been weathered into fascinating shapes and sizes and their random groupings often create perfect privacy for couples whose only desire is to be in love. Is it any wonder that part of the film Emmanuelle was shot here.
Locals still occasionally get around by ox and cart and there are ox-taxi tours for tourists. But the best way is either on foot, and better still, by bicycle. There are several bike rental shops and exploring on two wheels means being able to take in all the nooks and crannies along the road to the beach and catching a glimpse of the odd cottage industry. In one nook there was a makeshift wooden shack selling coconut drinks and in another cranny, in the shade of a Tanamaka tree was a man making sun-hats from palm leaves. They were so beautiful I handed over 100 rupees (£5) for his handiwork.
The Seychelles are known for their large turtles (there's even a community at Raffles resort) and I couldn't help but ogle. A couple of them made their way slowly to the edge of the water and poked their heads and loved being stroked just beneath their chins.
It is so easy to feel relaxed on these islands. There are no busy town centres, just a cluster of shops here and there, and there is no night life to speak of but who cares when the day life is so captivating.