The beaches in the Seychelles are some of the finest in the world. Any seven-year-old sandcastle connoisseur will tell you that. But what really amazed us during our two-week stint in paradise was that a family trip to the Seychelles doesn’t have to be just a beach holiday.
As ‘beach days’ go, though, we had a pretty special one when we had a close and fascinating encounter with a turtle. I’d always considered them rather nervous, flighty creatures – quick to turn with a flick of a flipper and vanish into the deep blue. But this one was doing the complete opposite. Later, our seven-year-old twins, Joe and Ellie, admitted that they thought we were in for ‘a good pecking’ when this particularly curious individual swam to within a few feet of our goggled faces. It was so close we could have reached out and touched it. For a minute or two we trod water, the coral lagoon reverberating with our excited ‘snorkel talk’, while the hawksbill turtle fixed us with a quizzical stare.
That day, we had also cycled across La Digue to Grande Anse, a dazzling white scimitar of sand, bookended by tumbled boulders of pink granite. The sea was the kind of turquoise you squirt from tubes of toothpaste, there were pools brimming with mudskippers, and the powder-fine sand was, according to Ellie, the perfect consistency for dribble castles.
The Seychelles: not just a beach holiday…
For starters, there was the island hopping. We flitted between the archipelago’s three main ones – Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. You can fly, but to save money we took the ferry. It was a great opportunity to mingle with quirky islanders (like the large lady carrying a crystal vase full of roses), but also a chance to spot wildlife. The twins became obsessed with timing the airborne efforts of the flying fish scattered from our wake like silver skimming stones.
Then there was Jurassic Park. Or the Vallée de Mai, as locals like to call it. Located on Praslin, this remnant of the prehistoric forests that grew here at the time of the dinosaurs is home to the indigenous coco de mer. Famous for its suggestive bi-lobed nut and metre-long stamen, the sexual connotations of this ancient species of palm are lost on children. Ours were far more interested in exploring the forest trails, spotting geckos (the nearest thing you’ll find to dinosaurs in the Vallée de Mai) and arguing over whether a 20kg coco de mer nut could knock out a T Rex.
Despite the heat and humidity, we also hiked on Mahé. Reaching 905m, the island’s rugged backbone has a tendency to snag clouds, but it was still clear when we drove our rental car up to the 500m Sans Souci pass deep within the Morne Seychellois National Park. We stopped at the Capucin Mission Ruins where a school was built for freed slave children during Britain’s anti-slavery campaign in the 19th century. Walking along a shady avenue of sandragon trees, we found traces of the school – now little more than a moss-strewn memory – before reaching a lookout with panoramic views across the island. White-tailed tropicbirds twisted like paper darts over the mountain forest rucked up along Mahé’s reef-fringed coast.
If there was one activity, however, that dominated our family holiday in the Seychelles it was snorkelling. The gently shelving beaches proved to be perfect training grounds for our mini Cousteaus. Within a day or two, Joe and Ellie were happy to float over waist-deep lagoons, hovering above branching coral fussed over by shoals of electric blue damselfish.
During our stay on Praslin, we ventured hand in hand around a small offshore island. As the water deepened – and handholds tightened – the sea began to chatter with the clicking sounds of myriad fish nibbling away at the reef. It was like floating in a giant bowl of Rice Krispies. Halfway around the island, we clambered onto a boulder for a rest, only to find ourselves equally mesmerised by fruit bats circling overhead.
The following day, we joined a boat trip to St Pierre Marine Park where the twins registered the sudden appearance of an eagle-spotted ray and a reef shark with shrill squeaks through their snorkels. By the time we arrived on La Digue for our final few days in the Indian Ocean, expectations were running high for our next snorkelling expedition. Hiring bikes for a few rupees each, we cycled to Anse Source d’Argent. Gilded by late-afternoon sun, the sea looked irresistible. We grabbed our masks and snorkels and waded into the warm, languid waters. We’d seen sharks, rays and flying fish. But we hadn’t yet spotted a turtle…
Beyond the ruins, the road unravelled through tea plantations to the island’s narrow coastal plain. French settlers began growing spices on Mahé in the late 1700s. At Jardin du Roi, in the south of the island, we sampled cinnamon-flavoured ice-cream before heading back to the capital, Victoria, to try some traditional Creole cuisine. The menu at Marie Antoinette has remained unchanged since the restaurant opened in 1972 – a child-friendly buffet of chicken curry, grilled snapper, battered parrotfish, tuna steak, fish stew, aubergine fritters and rice.
We also got to try Creole cooking ourselves. In contrast to our hotel accommodation on Mahé, we opted for self-catering bungalows on Praslin and La Digue, another ruse to save money, but also a chance to get a feel for everyday island life. We found Creole staples – tomatoes, onions, spices, rice and fish – in local markets, and supplemented our culinary efforts with pizza and ice-cream at the beach café.
How to get there: Emirates flies to the Seychelles via Dubai.
Travel time: A flight from London to the Seychelles, via Dubai, takes around 12 hours and 30 minutes.
Price: Four nights in a deluxe ocean-view suite at the Coral Strand Hotel on Mahé, four nights in a two-bedroom villa at Les Villa D’Or on Praslin and three nights in a two-bedroom bungalow at Casa de Leela on La Digue cost from £7,925 for a family of four, including breakfast, flights, road and ferry transfers with Bushbaby Travel.