Newlywed royals Kate and Wills put the islands of Seychelles well and truly in the global spotlight when they honeymooned here in 2011, but some say these achingly beautiful Indian Ocean islands, scattered between Madagascar and Sri Lanka, have attracted lovers since the dawn of human creation with claims that the legendary Garden of Eden was on Praslin Island.
The pirates that hid out in the lush foliage were once the only humans to inhabit the 115 islands of Seychelles, but today you’ll find a welcoming bunch of locals, many of them Creoles (people of a mixed heritage, often Malagasy or African and many are direct descendants of the slaves that were brought here to work the coffee and sugar plantations). Over the centuries these islands have attracted a broad range of peoples: the French settled here, then the British took over. Traders, adventurers, explorers… people of Arab and Persian origin as well as Chinese and Indians, they all came. The result today is a wonderfully diverse local population where Creole is the main language and English and French is widely spoken.
For many, it is the undeniable other-worldly beauty that makes a Seychelles getaway so alluring. It is a splendour that hits you even before you land; upon descending into Mahe’s International Airport you’ll notice the extraordinary colour of the sea: a vibrant, deep sapphire-blue that gradually moves to a lighter shade of aquamarine, before becoming a stunning tone of turquoise. These waters are teeming with exotic marine life, attracting divers from the world over. On land, Seychelles is just as striking. Dramatic rainforest-covered mountains tumble toward the ocean, giving way to majestic granite boulders and beaches of powder-white sand are fringed with thick foliage, including, in some places, the unique Coco de Mer Palms, only found in Seychelles.
Seychelles is a reasonably small country, but it packs a big punch when it comes to luxury hotels and resorts. We were celebrating a special occasion – my husband’s 40th birthday - so we wanted something equally special.
Our criteria included: a resort that is luxurious, but which would allow us to feel in touch with nature; world-class food and wine; and, perhaps most importantly, while we were willing to invest in the flight time to get to Seychelles (the remoteness adds to the appeal – this is a destination that is worth every hour spent on the plane!), we didn’t want to travel too far upon arriving at the international airport, once the plane landed we wanted it all to be easy and convenient.
We found this and more in Sainte Anne Resort & Spa, an all-inclusive luxury hotel from Mauritian based hotel group, Beachcomber. Part of a national Marine Park that protects around 150 species of fish, Sainte Anne Island is as pristine and dreamy as anywhere you’ll find in Seychelles. It is boggling to think that such untouched beauty is a mere ten minute boat road from the Mahe mainland (and the Sainte Anne jetty is an easy 15 minute drive from the airport).
There are 87 luxurious villas here at Sainte Anne Resort & Spa, 29 of them have pools, others are either Garden or Beach Villas. All of the villas are spacious, airy and certainly worthy of the resort’s luxury reputation. Each villa comes with an utterly romantic outdoor shower, and while we did not have a private pool the main pool was never busy enough to make us regret this. Our lovely garden area offered a sense of privacy and came complete with shaded lounge, a relaxing area that tempted us each afternoon when it was time to get out of the sun for a while. The mini bar, which is restocked daily including wine and beer, made relaxing around our garden area that much more comfortable – a good book, a glass of wine, the soft scent of the ocean and a gentle sea breeze all made our sojourns back at the villa a special time to look forward to.
You can’t help but unwind the moment you set foot on Sainte Anne. As busy ‘city-lubbers’ one of the first things we noticed were the sounds of nature - wind rustling through leaves, birds singing, a lizard or two ducking from one garden to another - immediately pushed us back to another pace. But the thing that struck us the most with our time at Sainte Anne was the sense of privacy: this is not a small resort and when we stayed it was at near capacity, but never did we feel overrun by other holidaymakers, there was always a relaxed feeling regardless of where we were in the resort. The whole resort, including the villas, have obviously been designed to give guests this sense of peace and freedom, and while the island is quite large at 500 acres, Sainte Anne Resort & Spa is the only hotel or resort here, so it is a hideaway in the true sense of the word.
Each room at Sainte Anne comes with bicycles so guests can easily get around the resort. While you are welcome to call a buggy if the idea of pedalling from your villa to the restaurant or beach bothers you, there is no rush to be anywhere so even the laziest of us would be hard pressed to find an excuse not to use the bikes. While I realise that some readers are bike enthusiasts and would find the idea of riding around the island far from being a novelty, for us it was exactly that. It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve had to rely on a bicycle to get me places... and what fun we had! I’d forgotten all about the sense of freedom one gets from flying down a hill, wind in the hair, or racing each other back to the villa (sensibly, of course!), or the sense of accomplishment when I finally made it up one of the reasonably challenging - for me! - hills.
It is strange to think that one of the lasting memories of our time at the resort will be the fun we had on the bicycles, how we felt like kids again for a while, but the reality is that these play a much more important role than guests’ fun. It is part of a program to preserve the island’s ecosystem, a program which extends to the water too. As it is part of a Marine Park, no motorised sport is permitted at Sainte Anne. But, there are plenty of eco-friendly activities on offer such as trips on the glass-bottomed boat, snorkelling, pedal boats, aqua-gym and kayaking. On land there are tennis courts, running tracks, mountain biking and a fitness centre. There are even the resident giant tortoises to visit!
But don’t start thinking that just because there is some eco-cred to Sainte Anne you’ll be forgoing any luxuries. This is one of the few all-inclusive destinations in Seychelles, including alcohol (French Champagne after 6pm), and I have to say that they don’t skimp on anything. In fact, we enjoyed some of the best meals ever served to us on any holiday with a total of five restaurants on the island, each contributing in its own special way to Sainte Anne Resort & Spa being considered as offering one of the top gourmet experiences in Seychelles.
The main restaurant, L’Abondance, is where breakfast and lunch is served each day and this restaurant, along with the casual Takamaka Beach Bar which is situated on Turtle Beach and where light lunches can be enjoyed in between dips in the ocean, are Sainte Anne’s more casual options.
The absolute highlight for us, though, was the feet-in-the-sand, Le Robinson. I have to say, the restaurant’s namesake never had it so good! Situated at the end of a pathway, hidden from view, and right on the beach, surrounded by those spectacular granite rocks that are so characteristic of Seychelles, this ‘secret-cave’ serves up gourmet dinners nightly, with a stellar wine list to match. Truly one of the most romantic dining experiences you’ll ever have and, as a resort guest, if you are smart enough to book ahead you can dine here every night as part of the all-inclusive package.
While Sainte Anne Island is a mere ten-minute boat-ride to the mainland and there are regular trips scheduled each day, you may find, like us, that it will be hard to leave the island once you set foot here! The resort does offer day trips into Victoria, the capital city but we couldn’t drag ourselves away to visit, although we had intentions to see the fish market and observe daily life. We did, however, get over to nearby Moyenne Island, one of the most memorable experiences of our time there due in large part to the eccentric owner, Brendon Grimshaw, who purchased the island back in 1962 for £8.000. One of the most beautiful islands in all of Seychelles, it is home to over a hundred large land tortoises and guests can take a leisurely (but sometimes challenging for the old or young) trek around the jungleclad island, where a trail has been cut out by Brendon. Along the way you’ll encounter many a tortoises, stumble across beaches and coves that are more beautiful than any you’ve ever seen and will even be able to spend time in the island church’ - nothing more than a grass shack. There are also two unmarked graves that are thought to be pirates from long ago.
I’m not going to lie – Seychelles is not priced to attract the budget traveller, so paying an all up fee can make an important difference to the stress factor once there, particularly if, like us, you enjoy fine food and wine. There is something very liberating about being able to check into a luxury resort and indulge as much and as often as you like without the stress of constantly worrying about the status of the bill so it is worth keeping this in mind when comparing packages.
This is a sublimely romantic destination that is quite unlike any other – after all, Seychelles was chosen by the future King and Queen of England as part of their honeymoon, a couple that could have chosen anywhere in the world! While Australians have many beautiful beaches on offer both at home and nearby, Seychelles is a truly unique island and beach destination with an amazing over and underwater landscape and fascinating local culture. While I’ve tried to convey how beautiful the islands are, no words can really do justice. And, so too with Beachcomber’s Sainte Anne Resort & Spa – a romantic and luxurious option in every sense of the word, the perfect resort from which to enjoy the ultimate island getaway.