Stories of hidden pirate treasure have captivated travellers to the Seychelles for decades. Fuelled by rumours of a map lost by the 18th-century French outlaw La Buse, hunters have scoured land and sea. Abandoned trenches pock-marking coastlines document a fruitless but never-ending quest to find the hallowed spot marked X.
A collection of 115 islands scattered across more than a million square kilometres of Indian Ocean, the Republic of Seychelles is steeped in fantasy and folklore. The choice of sandy stretches is almost overwhelming: there are bays scattered with boulders resembling Picasso paintings; shores lined with rustic rum shacks; and secret coves where hermit crabs are the only company.
Dreamy scenes of sunset walks along the surf have always attracted honeymooners, but the true romance of the Seychelles lies elsewhere. Undulating, jungle-wrapped mountains create a hiker’s paradise, while healthy coral reefs are an underwater playground for snorkellers and scuba divers.
The conservation story is also commendable. Islanders have worked hard to eradicate invasive species, allowing native birds to flourish, and the government has committed to making 30 per cent of its waters a protected marine zone. Championing a sustainable local economy is an exciting new generation of Seychellois, setting up businesses to offer environmentally sensitive tours.
Although most big resorts are internationally owned, it’s now much easier to sample the country’s culture. Connected by an efficient ferry service, the inner islands Mahe, Praslin and La Digue offer a taste of local living at prices to fit all budgets. But – as the Seychellois will tell you – every island has unique appeal. In fact, there’s a coralline or granitic outcrop to suit all sorts of traveller. Enjoy privacy and indulgence on Felicite, delve into nature on Praslin or venture farther afield to the magical outer islands of Alphonse and Desroches for excellent diving and absolute tranquillity.
Contrary to pirate legends, treasures aren’t buried in one place. There are riches to be found in every beach, mountain and reef all year round. The islands tend to be busiest between December and March and over July and August for the school holidays, but the so-called shoulder seasons of April-May and October-November are wonderful times to visit, when the trade winds have died down and temperatures remain high.
No longer restricted to newlyweds, the alluringly diverse and varied Seychelles has the power to spark a love affair for every type of visitor.
Best for beach lovers
Days unravel slowly on this tiny island cherished by creatives and bohemians. Local artist George Camille found inspiration for many of his works in the sandy streets and steep forests. Just like the nostalgic paintings hanging in his studio, local Seychellois women still carry bundles of fish from markets and children play in the gardens of plantation-era homes. Connected by ferry to Mahé and Praslin, La Digue is affordable and straightforward to reach. For complete freedom, hire a bike at the jetty and pedal along largely car-free roads to reach some of the archipelago’s best beaches. A backdrop for Bounty and Bacardi adverts, Anse Source d’Argent is the most popular, while Grand Anse and Anse Marron offer more seclusion and space. To access secret spots, join a half-day adventure tour with Sunny Trails (sunnytrailguide.net), clambering over rocks, crawling through tunnels and listening to the call of rare paradise flycatchers on forest trails.
Book it: Coral Tree Travel (01242 908 720; coraltreetravel.com) offers a seven-night half-board family holiday at La Domaine de L’Orangeraie from £2,150 per person (two adults and one child sharing), including flights.
Best for honeymooners
In a place as beautiful as the Seychelles, it would be criminal to stay indoors. But some residences are so decadent, it’s tempting never to unlock the door. Tucked discreetly into the hillside, villas at Six Senses Zil Pasyon come with a twinkling lap pool, an ocean-view sun deck and a playful swing in the glass-fronted bathroom – perfect for honeymooners who want to be left alone. What’s more, with only one resort on the island, there’s never a risk of crowds. Reserve a private cabana on a choice of quiet beaches, dine by candlelight below an ancient takamaka tree or watch sunset with a glass of champagne while nuzzling into beanbags set up at a secret location in the rocks. Other activities include a cinema below the stars or a dawn kayak paddle to nearby protected Cocos Island, where it’s possible to snorkel in solitude. The star attraction is a spa carved into the granite coastline, with five double treatment rooms, an outdoor meditation pavilion and an elevated private pool.
Book it: Scott Dunn (020 8682 5020; scottdunn.com) offers a five-night B&B stay from £10,500 (two sharing), including flights and transfers.
Best for hikers
Once a month, elderly hermits Abdullah and Elvi Jumaye trek for two hours through thick, steep-rising jungle to collect supplies. It takes tourists twice as long to complete the archipelago’s toughest hike along a historic trail used by Silhouette Island’s plantation workers, but the rewards of reaching abandoned village Grand Barbe are plentiful. Search below sprawling ferns to find endemic limbless amphibians known as caecilians; discover a population of Aldabra giant tortoises thriving amid the ruins; and stroll along an isolated beach where turtles have nested for thousands of years. An impressive 93 per cent of this emerald island is protected as a national park, with three major trails running through the mountains and along the coast. Guided tours are offered by Hilton Labriz, the only major resort, which stretches along the idyllic golden coastline. Sleep metres from the ocean and take solo strolls along beaches curving into the horizon. A showstopping spa has been sensitively built into the rocks.
Book it: Kuoni (0800 140 4813; kuoni.co.uk) offers a seven-night stay from £1,799 per person (two sharing), including flights on departures up until June 2022. Book by Dec 1.
Best for families on a budget
Although the Seychelles excels in glossy, glitzy resorts, not every holiday requires an A-list bank balance. One of the latest additions to the affordable Club Med portfolio, this new family-friendly offering opened at the end of last year. The only property set on the largest island within Sainte-Anne Marine National Park, it rivals the exclusivity of many other resorts but comes with a much lower price tag. Only a 15-minute boat ride from Mahé, it’s also within easy reach. All-inclusive packages (an exception in the Seychelles) keep costs down: along with meals and an open bar, various sports activities, kids’ clubs and entertainment are included. Explore the coral-fringed coastline by snorkelling, sailing or taking a trip on a glass-bottomed boat. Guided hikes, Creole cooking lessons and yoga workshops will also keep multiple generations amused. Young babies are welcome, with baby baths, pushchairs, bottle warmers, changing tables and umbrella beds all pre-bookable.
Book it: Club Med (03453 676767; clubmed.co.uk) offers a seven-night all-inclusive stay from £6,818 (two adults and two children), including flights and transfers.
Alphonse and Cosmoledo
Best for scuba divers
With so many colourful distractions on land, it’s easy to forget the Indian Ocean’s greatest treasures lie beneath the waves. Some of the best dive sites are located around the outer islands, a remote collection of atolls a 60-minute charter flight from Mahé, where South African company Blue Safari has set up two excellent resorts. On Alphonse, guests can scuba daily with a Padi dive school, watching nurse sharks and predatory giant trevally hunt in groups – an unusual behaviour common in this part of the world. If you’re lucky, it’s possible to race against high-speed sailfish or identify mantas as part of an ongoing conservation project. When the tides are right, take a boat trip to neighbouring Saint-François to search for rare coconut crabs in mangroves and wade through shallow waters used as a nursery by baby lemon sharks. Even more remote, a rustic eco resort on Cosmoledo is the closest any tourist can get to the Unesco-protected Aldabra – an island several thousand giant tortoises call home.
Book it: Reef & Rainforest (01803 866965; reefandrainforest.co.uk) offers a 12-day trip to the Outstanding Outer Islands of the Seychelles from £9,995 per person (two sharing), excluding flights.
Best for nature enthusiasts
Biblical references abound in the Vallée de Mai’s Garden of Eden, where male and female coco de mer palms take 25 years to spawn the world’s heaviest seed. Weighing up to 30kg and selling for £300 as a souvenir, the precious pod is a knockout sight. “Get hit by one of those and you’ll stay in heaven forever,” jokes naturalist Medina Laboudallon, the daughter of a famous Seychellois conservationist, who leads tours of the Unesco-listed site. More endemic and conservation success stories can be found on neighbouring Aride Island, managed by the Island Conservation Society, an NGO. Arrive by motorboat, surfing high waves to reach the beach, and spend a morning learning about the projects to rewild and protect native birds. Walk within metres of curious magpie robins, one of the world’s rarest species, and peek at white-tailed tropic bird chicks sheltering in tree stumps. Owned by a family of early French settlers, Praslin’s elegantly attired, beachfront property L’Archipel can arrange tours.
Book it: Abercrombie & Kent (01242 547 760; abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers a seven-night B&B stay from £2,499 per person (two sharing), including flights.
Best for eco-conscious travellers
Of all the desert islands to be stranded on, this private eco-resort a 30-minute flight north of Mahe would be number one choice. On a mission to be self-sufficient, owners Mr and Mrs Mason rear livestock and cultivate vegetables on their land, providing organic farm to fork food for guests. The whole set up is part of a drive to be more sustainable: kitchen waste is used to feed pigs; glass bottles are crushed to make cement, and grey laundry water refreshes parched soils. In combination with a pricey undertaking to eliminate invasive species, these efforts have created a tropical wildlife haven: noddies nest in coconut palms metres from the dining deck and clouds of enchanting fairy terns circle the island at dawn and dusk. Bike rides and dawn paddleboard excursions are a novel way to observe the wildlife, although sightings are just as good in the shady, sandy gardens of comfortable villas generously spread between the forest and shore.
Book it: Audley Travel (01993 838515; audleytravel.com) offers a 12-day trip to Denis (full-board) and La Digue (B&B) from £4,925 per person (two sharing), including flights and transfers.
Best for multi-generation and active families
Calm waters caress Desroches island, a 35-minute flight from Mahe. But head further out and waves crash against coral reef breaks. The variety of conditions is perfect for learning to jet ski or surf – two of the 70 water and land-based activities offered at Four Seasons Seychelles Desroches, the only resort in this Outer Amirantes group. Beginners can practise balancing on boards with tuition from guides at Tropicsurf, while advanced riders have a chance to hone skills with detailed clinics and lessons on offshore reefs. Ranging from one the seven bedrooms, villas with their own private patch of sand accommodate couples and families who can fill days with kayak rides, fishing trips, tennis games and native tree-planting sessions. A lack of light pollution presents opportunities for stargazing and dinners lit by a sparkling night sky.
Book it: Black Tomato (0207 426 9888; blacktomato.com) offers a five-night B&B stay from £6,330 per person (two sharing), including flights and transfers.
Best for birders
There’s no mistaking the biggest attraction on this northernmost island. Feathers fill every patch of the coralline mass, and during peak nesting and fledging periods (April to October) guests are given earplugs to sleep at night. For birding fanatics, it’s an avian Arcadia. Fearless of humans, 1.5 million resident sooty terns allow guests to come close and photograph their movements. Fairy terns, white-tailed tropicbirds, noddies and frigate birds can also regularly be seen, along with a selection of migrants passing through the Indian Ocean. Closed for a year, the island’s only resort reopened in July following a major overhaul. Stay in two or three-bedroom self-catering villas, stocking up with supplies from a local shop – or book out the entire island for exclusive use. Workspaces with WiFi encourage longer stays for anyone who fancies an alternative office view. Beyond the birds, there are opportunities to witness the largest population of hawksbill turtles in the Seychelles. Come between December and March to watch hatchlings race for the sea.
Book it: Expert Africa (020 3405 6666; expertafrica.com) offers a seven-night self-catering stay from £1,752 per person (two sharing), including local flights. Excludes international flights.
Best for spa worshippers
The secret of total relaxation is relinquishing all control, allowing someone else to organise every detail of your day. Taking service to the next level, Anantara Maia assign each guest a personal butler, who can arrange anything from running foam baths to sewing a button onto a shirt. Make any request by WhatsApp and their wish is your command. Designed by Bill Bensley, 30 villas blend into hills rising through 30 acres of tropical forest on the southwest coast of Mahé, overlooking Anse Louis Beach. Dine privately metres from your own lap pool or beachside at a restaurant showcasing the Asian, French and Creole flavours of Seychellois cuisine. Surrounded by a curtain of emerald ferns and spiralling tendrils from a Banyan tree, the spa is a focal point and the first location Bensley identified for his project. Soothed by sounds of the jungle and the touch of expert hands, massages performed in outdoor pavilions are – like everything else at Maia – a cut above the best.
Book it: Original Travel (020 3582 4990; originaltravel.co.uk) offers a five-night B&B stay at Story Hotel from £1,795 per person (two sharing) including flights.