Kevin Pilley strides in the Seychelles
“Take your time,” said Julienne as I took refuge in a clifftop cave. Its 63-milion-year-old granite walls were covered with the grateful graffiti of fellow pale-complexioned, northern hemisphere desert island castaways for whom the Seychellois sun was too much and their Factor 30 too little.
My private inter-tropical coastal footpath guide fanned me with her hat and gave me some water and more survivalist advice.
“Walk like an old tortoise. Real slow. And watch out for falling coconuts. Or you’ll never leave paradise.”
Walking is one of two ways of finding the best and least crowded beaches in the Somali Sea section of the Indian Ocean. Being shipwrecked and washed up on one is the other.
The Garden of Eden has been variously located in Iran, Kuwait, Jackson, Missouri (according to Mormons), Armenia , Florida and even Bedfordshire, according to the Devonian prophetess, Joanne Southcott. But, despite the lack of snakes, fig leaves, apples and cherubim, the Seychelles has all the requisite exotic credentials when it comes to flora, fauna and unspoilt beauty to support its claim to be terrestrial heaven.
As well as the beaches, for those who prefer to spend their holidays upright and active rather than languid and horizontal, the 115-island earthly paradise also has fifteen hiking trails. With the exception of the short but vertiginous Nid Aigle on La Digue, the six mile wetlands Mare aux Cochons and Silhouette’s seven-hour Grande Barbe, most are “fairly” easy. But all must be taken slowly.
These includes Praslin’s 50-acre UNESCO heritage site at the Valle du Mai primeval forest which has one to three hour trails on which you realize that the biggest nuts and slowest reproduction rate in the world belong to local very tall females. Coco de mer tree seeds can weigh 25kg.
From black parrots, bulbuls, dancing snails which vibrate when touched, tiny leaf frogs, skinks, chameleons which look like they are wearing lipstick, there is much to take in. You quickly perfect an impersonation of a native gecko with independently moving eyes.
Previously, the furthest we had walked on the Seychelles was to the spa and four restaurants then back at the Hilton Labriz Resort on Silhouette, 30 minutes by enclosed boat from Mahe.
There you share a 2.5kms beach with ghost crabs and sometimes turtles. Inland, walking the steep two-mile, two hour Anse Mondon route, you brush through trapdoor spiders’ webs and get your fill of tripping over jackfruit and breadfruit roots and panting in a cinnamon grove.
Silhouette, 93% National Park encircled by an equally protected marine park, is the place to acclimatize yourself to the heat, humidity and fabulous environment as well as out of the world prices and learn how to say “very hot but beautiful” (trecho ma zoli) in Creole. Before taking on other walks.
For all bodymass indexes, the all-year 90 degree heat makes an easy walk challenging. On Mahe, I quickly regretted my smoked marlin omelette, octopus curry, mango jam breakfast and the Takamaka rums night before at the Hilton Northolme Resort and Spa.
The oldest and smallest of Hilton Worldwide’s five-star resorts, the high-end luxury stilted hillside villas are where Ian Fleming wrote one of the short stories in For Your Eyes Only. It is also where my wife celebrated her retirement with floating aperitifs in our private infinity pool and a hibiscus petal bath.
Silhouette with its five peaks – Mount Dauban (named after French cinnamon plantation owners), Pot A Eau (with its carnivorous pitcher plants), Mont Congat, Gratte Fesse and Mont Cocos Marrons (named after runaway slaves) – sits on the horizon and is ever-present to current and former wage slaves enjoying the Oceanside Bar, gin deck and two restaurants.
Mahe is called L’Isle d’Abundonce and even the drive to Belle Ombre and the start of the granite rockface walk to Anse Major takes you through Chinese hibiscus, patchouli, bougainvillea and frangipane as well as mahogany and silk trees.
On the Seychelles, you never forget you are only 300 miles from the equator. Every day is a paradise of pleasure in the garden of the gods.
“Look out for wooden horses” said Julienne Madeleine my escort, pointing out a giant stick insect. Do get a guide. Or two. Footing can be tricky.
En route, Maddy talked up fruit bat curry and shark chutney, reminded us that the Seychelles was a British colony from 1903- 1976 and Mahe, with its mini-1903 Big Ben clock, is the world’s smallest capital.
Refreshing us with soursop and cocoplum, picked from overhanging bushes, her taxi driver husband Robert pointed out bonnet carre firework plants. Beneath snorkellers studied the local nudibranchs. Snorkelling in the Seychelles is like putting your head into a tropical aquarium.
After an hour negotiating the glacis we arrived at the deserted beach and a shack selling coconuts for £2.
Nectar doesn’t come cheap in paradise.
Kevin travelled as a guest of Qatar Air and Hilton Hotels.