The Seychelles makes for a unbelievable holiday at any age
Having visited the islands as a child and again in her twenties, Andrea Nagel returns and discovers that her personal 'Garden of Eden' hasn't lost its allure
The launch last year of the first Airbus A320neo in Africa was a big deal ... at least it was for aerophiles and plane junkies.
After landing on the OR Tambo tarmac, the plane taxied under the traditional water-canon salute, a ceremony akin to a new ship's ribbon-cutting and champagne-cracking, and journalists were invited on board to check out the plane.
While celebrations ensued, a young writer from another publication waxed lyrical about the specs: single aisle, 168-seater powered by a new-generation LEAP-1A engine and complete with fuel-saving wingtip devices called Sharklets.
But, although the plane looked good, had comfortable turquoise seats, a newfangled entertainment system (no screens - passengers connect to the plane's entertainment system using their own devices), and aerodynamics that shave off some flight time, I was excited for another reason.
The A320neo has been leased by Air Seychelles, making flights to the beautiful group of dots in the pale Indian Ocean even faster and more pleasurable - and I had been invited to fly to Mahé, incorporating a few days of fun in the sun, to test it out.
The Seychelles and I first became acquainted in the week before I started primary school. I spent my fifth birthday wearing a cardboard party hat and eating cake around the pool on the edge of Beau Vallon Mahé, the capital island's most famous beach with its neon-blue water, sky-sweeping palms and sparkling white sand.
Two East London couples, my parents and grandparents made up the party. At 5, I was in love with George, 50, half of one of the couples, and the most charming man I'd ever met - according to my mom, a cockney-rhyming-slang-speaking Hackney gang boss.
That party was the start of a correspondence between me and George that lasted until I became interested in boys my own age and he faded into memory like the ink on his letters. George would send news from London. I'd write back, long letters filled with words I'd learnt in Grade 1 that week: "Dear George. Cat, hat, fat, sat, rat ...".
That holiday in the Seychelles was bliss: fishing with my dad, eating coconuts freshly fallen from the trees, zooming along in beach buggies next to parents wearing just bikinis and trunks, up steep, winding roads overrun with Jurassic jungle, riding giant tortoises and my dad's shoulders, shell vendors running after my parents to offer me a cowrie and, most vividly, my first infatuation.
For years, I daydreamed about the Seychelles islands - a paradisiacal idyll and primary-school fantasy rolled into one. I had the image of the islands in my head during Bible class when they spoke about the Garden of Eden - but the island's Coco de Mer replaced the proverbial apple as a far better symbol of temptation.
THE SWEETEST GIG
The Seychelles hadn't changed much when I went back 20 years later to DJ at parties on Mahé, organised by a member of Saudi royalty.
Palm trees, reclining in the sun willing you to relax by example, still added the finishing touch to the postcard image of bleached beaches framed by volcanic rock sculptures. This time I was aware of the promise of excitement in the perfumed air that caresses you when you step off the plane.
The parties were intense, a cast of Saudi VIPs, Vogue models, European royalty, motor-racing stars and other assorted billionaires waited on by staff, far outnumbering the guests. No expense was spared.
But after the parties were over, we were free to explore Mahé and even take a boat to Praslin and La Digue, the smaller islands close by. Here we ate the local ice cream, Sharks, in flavours of mandarin, tamarind and coconut, drank SeyBrews and rode bicycles to get from one perfect beach to the next.
They took us on jungle hikes to secret beaches and we danced to Creole music at sunset BBQs with a backdrop of cerulean seas
A few Seychelloise who were part of our crew became our friends and they took us on jungle hikes to secret beaches and we danced to Creole music at sunset BBQs with a backdrop of cerulean seas.
By the time my four years of working at those parties were over, I knew the winding roads that crisscrossed the island like the palm of my hand.
I knew where to park so you could take a frangipani-lined path to some secluded rocks with an endless view of blue, which hotels had the cheapest jet skis, how to navigate through ancient forests to find hidden waterfalls, where the best beach bars were, which restaurants on the edge of the sea had the best fresh seafood and how to get to the only real surfing beach on the island.
But then the Saudis changed their crew and the bi-monthly island work trips dried up and it wasn't until the Airbus A320neo came along that I went back.
A WHIRLWIND ROMANCE
This time, instead of a drawn-out seduction, the Seychelles just wanted a quickie with an old flame - turning on the charm before moving on to another conquest.
The word "whirlwind" would be an understatement when describing the three days I had to revive the infatuation - visit old haunts, rediscover shared secrets and ascertain whether the laissez-faire archipelago still had my heart.
First stop was Beau Vallon beach and the Savoy hotel, a grand, luxury resort and spa with five restaurants and two bars.
Seychelles cuisine is a mixture of Indian, African, Chinese, Arab and European and most hotels serve a smorgasbord of fresh, delicious fish and the Savoy was no different.
Built in a semicircle around a huge pool and bar, the hotel stands away from the beach but there's access straight onto the sand. And that sand ... it's fine and pure white and goes on for miles of excellent jogging surface.
Beau Vallon is one of the liveliest parts of Mahé and locals frequent the beach and promenade market, which serves delicious Creole dishes, fish hot off the braai, and rum cocktails in paper cups or coconut shells from steamy little stalls.
While the Airbus A320neo media crew spent most of their time in the hotel (fools), I spent mine walking under the palms, people watching - the happy holiday-makers pouring from the hotels on this popular strip to take the day's first swim.
After breakfast we were piled into a van for a complete tour of the island, taking in Victoria - the smallest capital city in the world, where the Arul Mihu Navasakthi Vinayagar Hindu temple commands attention. The tiered building wears dancing figures of Krishna, Ganesha, and Shiva like precious jewellery.
Walk one more block and the smell of fish announces your arrival at the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market, Victoria's other tourist attraction, where island curios are on sale next to fresh produce and fresh granadilla juice.
From there, we headed for a tour of Kempinski resort - the former site, in it's previous incarnation as the Plantation Club, of the Saudi parties.
We hiked to a viewpoint that overlooks the grounds, drank Takamaka rum and pineapple juice, hiked down, ate lunch in their beach restaurant, inspected their facilities and moved on to repeat the process at Avani, where we stayed the night and were treated to an amazing dinner of traditional Creole dishes on the beach.
The next day we got on an island-hopping plane and explored Praslin: the impressive and obviously expensive Constance Lemuria - where you can ruin your flat-on-the-back, spread-eagled break with a round of golf on it's 18-hole course.
Praslin is also home to the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, where the island gets unabashedly sexy. In the reserve grows the remaining population of the coco de mer palms with their gigantic, suggestive love nuts.
Back on Mahé for the last day, we spent the morning at the Takamaka rum distillery, where flavours of coconut and pineapple infused the drinkable souveniers we piled into our bags.
Then it was the Hilton Double Tree, and an inspection of yet another hotel room before we headed to Eden Island, a hotel on the harbour, in which the biggest yacht is called The World is not Enough.
Eden is built on an artificial island and in this corporate kind of comfort we spent our last night.
Before the barrage of hotel rooms could ruin my Seychelles crush (there are downsides to travel journalism), the island had some parting gifts - an evening of dancing in the sand under purple skies to a live Creole band ... and, on the way home, that cheek of a nut stamped in my passport.
• Nagel was a guest of Air Seychelles and the Seychelles Tourism Board.
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