The Seychelles is a melting pot of different cultures, meaning a unique experience with something for everyone. Words: Vicky Smith
The Seychelles was uninhabited throughout most of recorded history. As you swoop in to land on Mahé – this Indian Ocean archipelago’s largest island – you can’t help but think that everybody was missing a trick: the sun is shining, turquoise waters lap gently against white sands, and jungle-covered hills and mountains rise up dramatically. It is, quite literally, paradise.
The French were the first to wake up to the beauty of the Seychelles, and there’s still a Gallic influence apparent, most obvious in the nation’s first language, Seychellois Creole. Not ones to be left out, the Brits soon came knocking, and our influence is still apparent too, with English also spoken by much of the population.
That’s where the European feel begins and ends though. The Seychelles is a beautifully unique place, with a friendly, frivolous spirit more commonly associated with the Caribbean, and the kind of dramatic, jaw-dropping scenery you’d expect in South East Asia.
To really make the most of the country’s incredible landscapes, it’s a wise move to book into a smaller place to stay, somewhere that enhances your stunning surroundings, instead of dominating them. We were bowled over by Maia Resort and Spa, a boutique luxury resort on Mahé comprising just 30 villas nestled on a hillside overlooking an endless blue horizon.
Set in 30 acres of gardens brimming with an array of fragrant indigenous plants – think cinnamon, eucalyptus and lemongrass – this undeniably luxurious destination still feels authentic, and takes pride in complementing its natural surroundings. There’s nothing overtly flashy, but you can be secure in the knowledge that your every need is catered for in a way that surpasses all expectations.
From the comfort of your ‘so big I can’t believe my eyes’ villa (which comes complete with two infinity pools, outside bathtub, bar and terrace), you can plan your next few days in paradise with the assistance of your dedicated butler, and make the most of Maia’s ‘beyond all inclusive’ concept.
Yes, this is all inclusive, but not as we know it – as you’d expect, the food and drinks are unlimited (within reason – if you choose to splash out on a bottle of Krug extra costs are, understandably, incurred), but don’t for a second let the word ‘buffet’ enter into your head. And as for crowds of cocktail-guzzling tourists crowding the bar? Forget it. This is simply not that kind of party.
They base your experience around a ‘Wherever, Whenever, Whatever’ philosophy, so your holiday is catered to exactly what you want, as opposed to what they think you might want. This could range from a candle-lit dinner for two on the helipad (where the stars are so close you feel like you could easily reach up and touch them), to a picnic on the resort’s blissfully idyllic beach.
There’s also a beachside restaurant and bar serving an array of international and local dishes – don’t leave without trying island specialities such as bread fruit crisps and grilled red snapper – and for those with a taste for a drop or two of wine, Maia’s Wine Boutique is an unexpected, and pretty magical, experience: resident sommelier Laurent will guide you through a tasting session before you settle in for dinner with just your favourite bottle and the sunset for company. A stand-out spa offering treatments in outdoor rooms enhances the Maia experience even further. Your massage or facial will be accompanied by a soundtrack provided by chirping birds and trickling waterfalls.
All this bliss is hard to drag yourself away from, but exploring as much of the Seychelles as you can is obviously a priority. The country is actually made up of 115 islands, but the main three – Mahé, Praslin and La Digue – are where most tourists head. Take a boat trip to visit the giant tortoises on La Digue, or recline on the deserted beaches of Praslin, where you can also while-away an afternoon under the gentle waves, visiting the incredible array of underwater wildlife. Back on dry land, you might be lucky enough to spot a family of native fruit bats asleep in the trees, the mother’s wings unfolding like leather umbrellas to reveal snoozing babies.
Returning to Mahé, you can hike around the national parks, botanical gardens, bird sanctuaries or take a trip to the capital city, Victoria, where there’s a lively fruit, vegetable and fish market to investigate, as well as a beautiful Hindu temple and – in another nod to the British influence – a miniature Big Ben in the town centre. A little reminder of what you’re not missing back home…
All-Inclusive Rates at MAIA are: €1,955 per night for an Ocean Panoramic Villa or €2,395 for a Maia Signature Villa; maia.com.sc / firstname.lastname@example.org; a return flight Emirates to the Seychelles starts from £781, with Business Class return fares starting from £3,189 (based on departure from London). Emirates fly to the Seychelles twice daily. Bookings via emirates.com or 0344 800 2777