Travel Secrets: A touch of the UAE in the Seychelles
I have just got back from a long weekend in the Seychelles – that is, I flew out on Friday morning, took two days out of the office and returned on Monday night. It helps that it’s only a four-hour direct flight from Abu Dhabi or Dubai, that there’s a choice of departure times, no time difference and that there’s no visa required, but equally important when doing this kind of thing is your choice of resort. You see, for many people, the Seychelles isn’t somewhere you go for a weekend. It’s somewhere you go to for a week to “get away from it all”.
Like the Maldives, it’s exotic, expensive and very, very far away. And often, because of this, just the thought of being marooned somewhere remote is enough to put you off. Even if you do have a week to spare, sometimes, in today’s world of constant connectedness, a busy work schedule, children at home and limited staff cover for holidays, just the anxiety of being in a far-flung place is enough to spoil the trip. Take just a day or two in addition to a weekend, and, chances are, you’ll have a better chance of “switching off”. Which, of course, doesn’t mean switching off totally but being connected just when you need to be – hopefully, only for a limited time each day.
I found this out at Enchanted Island Resort, a five-month-old property managed by the Dubai-based Jebel Ali Hotels & Resorts. It has opened a small resort of 10 rooms on a tiny island, far enough away from the mainland not to be in the direct view of cargo ferries but close enough to feel that you could, if needed, get back to base in the minimum time possible. The island, called Round Island, is just 10 minutes by boat from the little harbour at Victoria, which itself is only 10 minutes from the airport (you don’t even need to go through the nation’s tiny capital to get from airport to boat).
Though the name conjures up images of a horribly Disneyfied destination, the opposite is true. The resort is natural, low-key and low-maintenance. On arrival, there’s no resort tour needed, because you can walk around the island in five minutes. You don’t need to be shown its choice of restaurants, because there is only one (and it’s great; but if it weren’t, you could always get on a boat to the mainland). There is only one shared swimming pool, which is next to the restaurant, and the spa is in the centre. Your bags aren’t going to be mixed up with hundreds of others because there’s only a handful of other people on the island. I’m not even sure the island needs its fleet of golf buggies.
A downside might be that there’s no real beach to speak of, except at low tide. Though that’s then one less thing to do and one less place you’ll go but have to constantly rush back to your room to retrieve those forgotten sunglasses, sunscreen and towels. Fortunately, you can swim, snorkel and kayak directly from your villa, which is itself simply designed and free from puzzling panel-controlled electronics and key cards. Lights have switches, the air con works and you get a real key. This is a break that has been stripped down to its bare, though luxurious, essentials: a holiday in miniature, a place to flop for a few days, swimming, resting and eating good food. For me, it was an ideal second trip, as I’d explored Mahé and Praslin before.
The hotel can organise a boat trip to Praslin and La Digue, and an all-day trip around Mahé, if you want, but first it’s worth visiting Moyenne Island, which is only a five-minute kayak away. Part of the Sainte Anne Marine National Park, the island was owned by Brendon Grimshaw, an eccentric British newspaper journalist, until his death in 2012. Now it continues to be protected but is open to visitors, who can trek through forests to ruins at the top of the hill in the centre, admire the resident group of giant tortoises and relax on wild beaches. Completely free of hotel development, it’s a great excursion. Back at Enchanted, a local architect has created relaxing spaces open to the fresh air. There’s a nice choice of vintage advertising in the bar and restaurant, and some original colonial-era Indian chests. “The resort was designed to be reminiscent of the Seychelles in the 1930s and 1940s”, says Lili Fiirgaard, the Danish manager. “The original plan was not even to have TVs, but in the end we had no choice.” Simple design and natural environments, for me, are much more relaxing than acres of manicured lawn and endless entertainment “options”.
“The landscaping imposed itself on the buildings and not the other way around,” says the owner, Sunil Shah, a Seychellois-Indian accountant. This is to be commended, as some much bigger resorts built in highly sensitive areas in the Seychelles have not been so forgiving. From the sea, the buildings are mostly camouflaged, which adds to a sense of exclusivity.
The favourite thing about my villa was the raised deck and open-air bathroom: bathtub, shower and toilet are all outside in the sultry air, screened at night by blinds for extra privacy. Though from one side of the island you can see the increasingly industrial panorama of Victoria in the distance, the place is as elemental as any in the Seychelles. Birds sing, geckos chirp and the rain pours down on tin roofs, shrouding the surrounding islands from view; when it clears, freshly fallen coconuts have landed on “our” bit of beach.
Of the resort generally, the best thing about it was the food: no buffet, but a high-class selection of meals, which make you look forward to every breakfast, lunch and dinner. How many hotels seem to have forgotten this simple fact? For dinner, how about red mullet carpaccio with coconut milk, lime juice, fresh basil and diced tropical fruits (Dh111)? As a main, Cajun spiced chicken breast with green papaya salad and creole sauce (Dh137)? The food is devilishly fresh, and at these prices, no one’s getting ripped off. All of which lends itself to that most modern of contrarian conundrums. How to be away, but not so much – it’s a luxury break for our times.
Rooms at Enchanted Island Resort (04 814 5678; www.jaresortshotels.com) cost from €750 (Dh3,821) per night half board, including taxes and boat transfers
Published: May 27, 2014 04:00 AM