Seychelles: Bliss on a budget

A new resort in the stunning Seychelles is offering a taste of paradise without the high-end price tag, as Beverley Rouse found out

Almost three hundred yards from the shore, my pedalo was coping admirably with the calm waters of the Indian Ocean.

The only sound was the dull clunk of my laboured pedalling as I scanned the coastline and enjoyed the view.

The brand new Constance Ephelia Resort is an impressive sight, covering nearly 300 acres on the western coast of the island of Mahe, largest of 115 islands in the archipelago of the Seychelles.

It's part of a simple strategy to make this corner of paradise, heavily reliant on tourism, available to more visitors.

So this four-star resort at Port Launay aims to deliver better value than the five-star establishments which dominate the region.

Rarely are you aware of any cost-cutting. My two-bedroom villa, with a small private pool more suitable for dipping than swimming, was slightly overlooked by the neighbours.

But it still had great views of the beach through the trees – and it was bliss to wander across the soft sand to a sun lounger after breakfast.

If the sun felt a bit hot, I could wade into the warm sea for a splash in an atmosphere of perfect tranquillity.

For occupants of more than 200 suites and more than 40 villas, all with private pools, there is never a shortage of things to do in this family-friendly resort.

The children's club, free of charge for those aged between four and 12, has an all-day programme, while the Spa Village, in beautiful tropical gardens with a yoga pavilion, is the largest in the Indian Ocean.

Active guests have the choice of four pools, a fully-equipped gym, tennis and squash courts, and watersports, including a PADI dive centre and deep sea fishing.

Of course, part of the fun of a Seychelles holiday lies in contemplating an escape from gloomy days in Britain.

The name conjures up stunning images of sandy beaches, blue sea and glorious sunshine. And when I got there, there was no disappointment – even though my luggage was still back at Gatwick!

The first recorded landing on the islands was on Mahe in 1609 by English trading ship Ascension but it was only in 1744 that explorer Lazare Picault named it, after Mahe de Labourdonnais, the governor of Mauritius who sent him on his expedition.

In 1756, Captain Corneille Nicolas claimed the islands for France – but they became a British colony in 1814, and in 1841 the capital, a military post known simply as L'Etablissement, was renamed Victoria after the Queen.

Victoria remains one of the world's smallest capitals but is bustling compared to the relaxed atmosphere of the rest of the island.

Wandering through the produce market is a good opportunity to mingle with the locals and admire the clock tower erected in 1903 as a memorial to Queen Victoria and to the Seychelles being declared a Crown Colony, independent from Mauritius. A larger version stands outside Victoria Station in London.

The capital is also home to the Botanical Gardens, one of the few places in the world where you can see a coco de mer palm tree.

Coco de mer is one of the islands' best-known symbols, resembling a woman's rounded hips and thighs, and is a protected species.

It now only grows naturally on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse but a mature female palm was planted at the gardens by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1956.

The Chemin Sans Souci leads to Victoria from the west of the island. Although the name means "road without worry" it is scarily steep in places, and I had some nervous moments on the drive.

The road skirts the Morne Seychellois National Park, where there are a number of walks and trails, and takes you past tea plantations and the ruins of the Venn's Town mission boarding school, built by British missionaries in 1875 for rescued child slaves.

Further up the path is a viewing platform, opened by the Queen in 1972, which offers spectacular views of the south of the island and is a popular spot for marriage ceremonies.

Tourism in the Seychelles really took off in 1971 when Mahe International Airport opened.

Visitors on a long stay often plan an island hop, taking in Praslin – home of the Vallee de Mai Unesco World Heritage Site – or Aldabra Atoll, which is closer to Madagascar than Mahe and is home to unique birds, marine life and giant tortoises.

On a shorter break, I relaxed into the laid-back routine of the resort. The spa, a great place to cool down, was largely deserted until the evening, with a choice of bubbling pools and sun loungers.

Treatments are carried out in African village-style huts and I thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing Ephelia massage.

For early risers, yoga classes in the spa at 7am offer the chance to watch the sun rise, although sunglasses are sensible after too much red wine the night before.

While golf buggies take guests around the resort, bicycles can be borrowed free of charge and there are regular guided bike rides along the coast to see giant tortoises and the hotel – currently empty – which hosted the 1998 Miss World pageant.

Other activities include tennis and kayaking through the surrounding mangroves, which tested my arm stamina to the limit, as we paddled through branches to a rockpool where local children dived head first into the water.

There was more scrambling across rocks on a challenging hike within the resort, as I tried not to look down at a sheer drop into the sea while the local guide leaped gracefully from stone to stone. My wedding ring took a bashing before wobbly legs took me back to the safety of the beach.

When all this activity makes you hungry, five restaurants are ready to help.

Seselwa (pronounced as Seychellois) offers local cuisine but little that's vegetarian. Staff soon rustled up a salad and spaghetti in a fresh tomato sauce for me, and the caramelised banana with cinnamon ice-cream for dessert was delicious.

Fish features heavily on menus and is one of the Seychelles' best known exports. At Cyann, a sushi restaurant, the chef swiftly created some vegetarian versions for me in our group lunch.

A relaxed meal passes the evening perfectly at Ephelia, followed by the Zee bar for late-night cocktails like the Murmure, a delicious mix of blackberry and basil.

There, locals tell the tale of the treasure which the pirate Oliver Le Vasseur supposedly hid on Mahe's west coast before his hanging in 1730.

It's still missing – although some have dedicated years to the search.

FACTFILE

Beverley Rouse flew with Air Seychelles as a guest of Seychelles Tourist Office.

Elite Vacations offers seven nights' half-board at Constance Ephelia Resort on Mahe from 1,398 in 2011, including private transfers and UK airport lounge pass.

With direct Emirates flights ex-Manchester and via Dubai, prices start at 1,498.

Elite Vacations reservations: 01707 371000 and www.seychelleselite.co.uk

Seychelles Tourist Office: 0207 636 7954 and www.seychelles.travel

Destination details from www.epheliaresort.com

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