The islands of the Indian Ocean are the usual embodiment of paradise postcards: White beaches, turquoise waters, sun and palm trees. A guaranteed dream holiday. But what actually defines a dream holiday? If one is drawn to the sea, sunshine and relaxing, the Maldives are surely the right choice. However, anyone with an adventurous spirit, who also enjoys breaks in paradise, will find the Seychelles closest to their heart. The archipelago, composed of three larger and several smaller islands off Africa’s east coast, offers a wealth of activities and excursions under the slogan: Active Relaxation.
I am drawn to Praslin, noticeably more relaxed than Mahe, the main island, which is also where the international airport is. After a 15-minute flight in a small taxi-plane, I am already impressed during my transfer to the hotel by the lush vegetation and hilly landscape with palm trees and tropical plants growing right next to the turquoise water.
During my stay I live in my very own villa at Raffles Seychelles, which spans an area of 12 hectares that is snuggled up to a mountain to the north of the island. Before I am driven to my 70-sqm villa in a golf buggy, I am welcomed by manager Joerg Roterberg, who is originally from Munich. Next to the living room, dining area, bedroom and bathroom (with a sea view) I am immediately drawn to the balcony and private pool. On that same evening my passion for Creole cuisine unravels. The use of spices such as curry leaves, cinnamon, ginger, chilli and turmeric, remind one of Indian or Sri Lankan aromas. However, what makes me happiest is the generous use of coconut milk, mango and passion fruit, which add an exotic note to every dish. Discoveries such as the much-appreciated water-pumpkin, bat or the absolute delicacies that are palm hearts, are but a fraction of what I experienced during my trip.
The next morning begins with a delightful dip in the sea. Even before I’ve had time to put on my snorkelling gear, I encounter a sea turtle. I cannot believe my eyes as I watch it swim away. In an optimistic mood I go for breakfast where I discover yet another new favourite: The annona fruit, also known as sugar apple, which is reminiscent of an apple, but instead comes across as a sweet and sour strawberry with creamy flesh. Together with the baby bananas that taste of oranges, apples and strawberries, I find myself in a state of food euphoria. After a short relaxing break, a speedboat is waiting for me on the hotel beach. I am cruised to the neighbouring island in 10 minutes where I am welcomed by several lovable giant turtles. I find myself spellbound by the expression on the faces of these age-old, glorious creatures. I am allowed to caress and feed them fresh leaves before I make my way to the other side of the island, through the mangroves, guided by a local. Along the way he points out crabs peeking out of their sandy burrows, tells me about the former colony of lepers who lived on the island, and teaches me about the country’s symbolic Coco de Mer, the heart shaped Seychelles nut, which only grows here and on two other Seychelles islands.
After a swim on a completely abandoned beach we make our way back to Praslin. There, awaits an Indian dinner buffet prepared by chef Sunil Dutt, including an original tandoor oven and a choice of original Indian delicacies. Simply joyful!
The executive chef of Raffles Seychelles, Chris Meredith, decided a year ago to end the purchase of provisions through middlemen and has established direct relationships with local providers. One example is the island’s only pig farm, who feed coconuts to their pigs, and provide around three pigs a week, so that the kitchen team can transform them into delicious ham and sausages. He has also set up relationships with a handful of local fishermen, whose daily combined catch he purchases, be it big or small fish, tuna or red snapper.
Relationships such as these are not easy to develop for an outsider, but with a little help from the local kitchen crew he is proud of the selection of local produce he offers. He tells me it makes sense to support local communities, instead of choosing the easy option and flying in produce from places such as Dubai.
Lunch is by the pool today, where they have a Lebanese barbecue every Sunday. Wonderful Arab aromas penetrate the senses, first the smell and the taste thereafter. Coconut plays a big part in all aspects of life on the Seychelles; this is true for the luxurious spa as well. For the afternoon signature massage, Coconut Indulgence, I am escorted to a private hut that is open in three directions. With a soft smell of coconut in my nose, the lapping of the waves and a warm breeze I find myself being pampered with various coconut oils.
Before the sun sets, a further excursion is to take place. I am chauffeured to one of the most beautiful and famous beaches in the world, Anse Lazio. Stories I have heard are no exaggeration. The sand is so white and soft, the water so clear and turquoise, and the sunset as romantic as one could wish it. I seize the opportunity and watch the scene floating amidst the large yet soft waves.
On my way to dinner I am invited to a rum tasting. Takamaka is produced on Mahe, the main island, and offers various potencies and aromas, which range from vanilla to chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, orange and brown sugar to coconut. Here too am I impressed by the somewhat milder coconut variety, the Takamaka Bay Coconut Liqueur, which is served to me as an aperitif with pineapple juice and fresh lemon juice over ice.
After an Omakase dinner at the Hotel’s sushi restaurant I am served a ‘mangosteen’ juice, a fruit little known in the west that is grown in the tropics and Australia. A real pity, as it’s flavour, which is that of grapes, pineapple and peach, would surely be recognised as a delicacy back home.
The next day I go on an excursion to La Digue. Accompanied by the lovely Anny, who among other things is the in-house wedding planner at the hotel, we find ourselves on the third largest island of the Seychelles after a 20-minute ferry ride.
Here we are awaited by a thoroughly archaic yet highly comfortable oxcart, which carries us along the road that is mainly used by cyclists, towards the dream beach of Anse Source D’Argent.
As in a picture book, round granite rocks and palm trees are hugged by white sand. A beach as photogenic as a top model. Armed with goggles and a snorkel I rush to explore the coral reefs and colourful fish that seem to have come from a painted fantasy world.
For a refreshment we treat ourselves to freshly pressed fruit at the cool Juice Bar; mango, lime and passion fruit. The day could hardly get any better. Oh but it can, on bikes we scout the small art and craft shops. Anny treats herself to some earrings in the shape of Coco de Mer and I acquire paintings of the island’s highlights depicting a beach scene, a jungle scene and a coconut still-life, from a local atelier.
On the last evening I enjoy a romantic dinner offered by the hotel, private barbecue on the hotel beach with champagne, torches and private chefs, who serve up so much grilled fish and meat that I can barely keep up. Flambéed bananas for dessert turn out to be the simple yet crowning end to a heavenly stay in paradise.
On my way to the Seychelles and also on my way back, I stop over for a day at the pyramid shaped Raffles Dubai. Even in the outdoor activity shattering heat of Dubai at the time of my visit, does the city live up to its reputation. After a spell of ‘Dune Bashing’ on the reddish marbled dunes and a visit to the mightily equipped shopping centres, hunger makes an appearance. The choice of world-class gourmet restaurants is overwhelming. Heinz Beck, Nobu Matsuhisa, or Pierre Gagnaire, to name a few. My first snack is a sweet deliciousness at Manolo Blahnik’s Afternoon Tea in the Hotel where I take my hat off to Austrian patissier Roland Eitzinger.
And so ends my journey, as it started, with culinary highlights, sunshine and sea, cultural discoveries, overwhelmingly beautiful landscapes, but above all, relaxation.