Wine Trader Magazine

Paradise Found: Seeing the Seychelles

Paradise is found one thousand miles from anywhere, four degrees below the equator in a land that smells like perfume. Imagine a place where gentle rolling green hills combine with the turquoise blue-green of the ocean, where all of it is surrounded by white coral sand beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. That is the impression that visitors first receive as they first view the snug harbor at Victoria in The Seychelles

"Legend has it that this is the place where Adam and Eve had their Garden of Eden," Mali Jacques, a local resident, said in an accent that sounded part French, part British.

The particular beauty of Mahe, the largest of over 100 islands comprising the Seychelles, was already unfolding for the passengers who viewed it in the early morning mist. They had spent two days at sea waiting to arrive at this destination and the idea of paradise was clearly in their minds.

dot Charm came before paradise, however, in the small town of Victoria, named for Queen Victoria, and only a five minute easy stroll from the ship.

The narrow streets, with driving on the left side, are crowded. Colorful markets offer a variety of fresh fish, fruits and spices. The old gray cathedral clock tower stands haughtily in the center of all this activity and chimes twice. "It chimes twice for those who did not hear the first time," Jacques said with a smile.

dot Creole, French and English blend together in the official languages in the Seychelles, islands that were only discovered 200 years ago. Only pirates who roamed the Indian Ocean knew of the beauty of this land hidden by time.

The Botanical Gardens are but a brief cab ride from Victoria and are a "must" for any visitor. Within its acres is a virtual tropical paradise of flora and fauna, including plants and trees seen nowhere else in the world. "This plant provides a cure for high blood pressure," Jacques said, "and this one is found in everyone's salad...Hearts of Palm." He took another plant and crushed it in his outstretched hands and said, "Smell," with a proud grin as the scent of vanilla wafted through the morning air. The Coco-de-Mer, called the fruit of passion, may be be seen high above in the palms. It is the largest natural nut in the world with both a male and female outline. "It is said that at night, the male stalks the fifty yards between each tree looking for the female," Jacques added

dot Two giant tortoises, among the oldest living creatures, were nearby. They had already completed their own form of "stalking" and, oblivious to the grinning visitors, were busy with their own particular form of "paradise." "They are over 165 years old," Jacques told us, " so you see there is hope for us all."

The Seychelles remain almost always a constant and balmy 80 degrees Fahrenheit though the rain pours down in vast sheets for a few minutes every day. The trade winds offer relief from the equatorial sun but, for the visitor, it can all be deceiving. Don't forget the sun guard! "You can be in the middle of a rain storm," a local noted, "and yet only a mile away the sun will be shining."

dot It is only 30 miles to drive completely around Mahe. Taxi, rented car or excursions arranged by Royal Cruise Lines will take visitors on a true tour of paradise. Every turn of the road that circles the island offers a picture post-card perfect view and, as you climb higher into the green hills, spectacular vistas of nearby islands may be seen. Air Seychelle or boats for hire easily take visitors to other islands.

A kaleidoscope of sights are quickly observed during such a trip: laughing school children waiting for their afternoon bus, smiling and waving at visitors; an old fisherman, complete with floppy straw hat, walking up from the ocean with both hands filled with fresh fish; an artist, sitting open-shirted in front of his house near the beach, painting the eternal waves as they break along the shore.

dot Off in the distance visitors can see more of those nearby islands. Given enough time, visits should be considered to such places as Praslin, home of the black parrot; Cousin Island, ideal for bird watchers who want a chance to see a rare Bush Warbler; or La Digue, an island without cars and where transportation is by ox-cart.

Life moves to the beat of Sega, the music of the Seychelles, a kind of pulsating Creole sound.

Our guide is telling us, "There are 68 beaches on Mahe alone, with everything available from glass bottomed boats to scuba diving.

Visitors can do the usual things at the beach, sun and swim, or nap in the shade of a tall Takamaka tree. And perhaps you should know that it's common for women to stroll these beaches topless.

There are unique gifts to be purchased in the Seychelles, either in the shops in Victoria or at small stalls near the ship's anchorage. Colorful Creole dolls, highly polished nuts, walking sticks carved from local wood, even silly looking coconuts carved with faces designed to make you laugh.

dot Clothing is obviously tropical fashion, from light cotton dresses to walking shorts. Wear a hat to protect yourself from the sun and comfortable shoes for easy walking.

Excellent dining ranges from Creole cuisine to "The Pirates Arm," an open-air ice cream parlor and arguably the post popular spot in Mahe. If you're looking for the exotic in food you can find it in the local fare, and you'll also find everything from pizza to sushi in the Seychelles.

The Seychelles may or may not have been the original Garden of Eden...but one thing is quite certain, all it takes is the dip of a toe into the always waiting waters to discover you're in paradise.

dot If one takes a look at a map of Africa, the Seychelles are that tiny dot of land in the middle of the Indian Ocean, just about opposite Tanzania, slightly below Mombasa and about a day's cruise from India.

Travelers can reach the Seychelles from New York by United or Virgin Atlantic airlines, which have connecting flights from any major European city including London, Paris, Rome, Madrid or Frankfurt. Visitors can also fly direct to the Seychelles from major European cities on such airlines as Air Seychelle, Air Kenya, British Air and Air France. Several cruise ships also visit the Seychelles, including Crystal Harmony, Renaissance, the QE II and, in January, Holland America will have its first major voyage to the Seychelles.

Specific information can also be obtained by contacting: The Seychelles Travel Tourist Office, 235 E 40th St, #24-A, New York, NY 10016 (212) 687-9766.

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Latest Update: October 31, 1997