My luck has turned, as I’ve travelled north from Port Louis. The Seychelles is everything that Mauritius wasn’t. It’s sunny and gorgeous and enticing. The hotels are equally luxurious, if not more so, though tending more to boutique. And it’s even more expensive.
First, a catamaran ferry from Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles, (on Mahé), to Praslin, the second largest island in the Seychelles archipelago (some of the hundred or so islands are teeny). The Seychelles was first claimed by the French, who were made to surrender the islands to the British in 1812. The Seychelles became independent in 1976 (having been part of Mauritius until 1906), but many people still speak English.
Historically, Praslin was the most important pirate hideaway in the area, but is now renowned for its exquisite beaches, featuring regularly on best in the world lists. (See my list.) Anse Georgette and Anse Lazio, deemed to be the best, are both palm fringed and decorated with huge, beautifully shaped granite boulders. I hop on a hired bicycle to get there. The island is only seven miles long. This is the smallest country in Africa, by area.
Praslin’s rugged, jungle-covered interior is home to Praslin National Park, which encompasses Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see, the only place in the world where the world’s heaviest nut, the Coco de Mer, grows in the wild. You can’t really see them growing on the trees, but there are collections of the huge nuts laid out - the largest weigh fifteen kilos. They’re buttock shaped and more than a little grotesque.
Even more appealing is La Digue islet, reached by yet another ferry and toured on another hire bike. Cars were banned here until recently and are still heavily discouraged. This is where the beaches that feature on all the posters are found. This sea-side picture perfect coral island is dotted with more enormous striated granite boulders, guarding stretches of unspoiled white sand at Anse Source d'Argent. Palm trees bend artistically. It’s definitely a little patch of paradise.
I take a boat trip to Cousin Island from Praslin. In 1968 BirdLife International bought this coconut plantation and stripped back the trees to create a nature reserve and save the almost extinct Seychelles warbler. The island now hosts over 300,000 nesting seabirds of seven species. The noddies (present from May to September) have the best name. Wedge-tailed shearwaters arrive when the noddies are gone. Year-round breeders include white and bridled terns, white-tailed tropicbirds, Audubon's shearwaters, frigatebirds (soaring overhead as they do), waders and herons. The stars of the show are the fluffy snowballs that are tern chicks. There are also giant tortoises and some great snorkelling in the marine reserve. (Esmeralda the world’s heaviest tortoise lives on the northern most part of the archipelago,, Bird Island).)
The ambience might have picked up, since I got to the Seychelles, but the company hasn’t. Nearly everyone I meet is romantically entwined and not interested in a gooseberry. I’ve already established that nearly all the couples on this trip are indeed on their honeymoon. The women have spent the whole of the journey talking about their weddings and comparing dresses, while the men look on smiling indulgently. Except for two guys sitting together at the end of the lunch table who I haven’t spoken to so far. ‘Don’t tell me you’re on your honey moon too?’ I inquire.
‘Not yet,’ they reply. ' Next year’.
Back on Mahé, the largest island of the Seychelles. Morne Seychellois National Park takes up around a fifth of the island, and houses mountains rising abruptly from an iridescent forest. Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles, is where most of the population live. It's still minuscule, and has a market, a clocktower, a courthouse and a clocktower. There's another marine park - Sainte Anne - calling for another catamaran cruise, hopping between islets for the snorkelling.
There’s time for yet more beautiful beach exploration and lounging. One road loops almost, but not quite round the perimeter of Mahé, grazing the sandy bays. Petite Anse, both pristine and isolated is yet another beach touted as best in the world. I’m still eating dinner on my own, but the tiniest cutest lizard in the world is keeping me company.
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