Travel review: I see sea shells on the Seychelles
Once safely buckled into my leather seat, we soar above Mahe, the largest island in the Seychelles group, and head across the shimmering Indian Ocean to our chosen target, Silhouette Island.
A 20-minute helicopter ride, 20km north-west of Mahe, it’s just the sort of place James Bond might choose to moor up his powerboat in between secret missions.
Author Ian Fleming holidayed in the Seychelles in 1958, and even used the sun-splashed paradise as a source of inspiration for some of his 007 novels. Two years after his visit, he published a collection of five short stories entitled For Your Eyes Only – three of which have been made into blockbuster Bond movies. The final tale in the pentalogy, The Hildebrand Rarity, is set entirely in the Seychelles on-board a luxury yacht named The Wavekrest.
Fleming based himself at the Northolme hotel on Mahe, a secluded hideaway on the north-west coast with picturesque views of Beau Vallon Bay and Silhouette Island. Originally built by an eccentric, retired English colonel, the Northolme has been revamped several times and is now a boutique resort. Each villa is hidden in the midst of tropical greenery and reflects the Creole architecture of the island.
The Seychelles is a sanctuary for rare flora, including the impressive cannonball tree, which shades paths to the suites. I cup my hands around a large, spherical fruit which feels as heavy as a cannonball. From the tranquillity of our sun deck, I spy a hawksbill turtle not far from the shore, where waves lap the granite rocks.
As Fleming noted in The Hildebrand Rarity, the marine life here is “a riot of colour and movement”, especially in the Northolme’s secluded beach cove.
As I wade into the calm, azure sea, I don’t need a snorkel to see the green parrot fish, schools of reef fish, a baby reef shark and a curious stingray that seems drawn to my lily white legs.
Keen to explore more, we take a kayak out for a paddle across the cove and as we skirt the edge of the coral-fringed granite boulders, we spot armies of red crabs basking in the midday sun.
Eager to discover more about the history of the Seychelles, we temporarily leave our beach idyll behind and take a tour of Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles. The smallest capital in the world – I count only two sets of traffic lights – it was named after Queen Victoria during British colonial rule.
There are still plenty of nods to those years, including the Victoria clock tower in the centre of town. Inspired by Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, it was shipped from London by mail steam ship and erected in her honour in 1903.
Victoria is a bustling port and the Sir Selwyn Selwyn Clarke Market is one of the town’s most colourful attractions. Saturday is the busiest day, but we manage to jostle our way into the fishmongers’ corner at the market entrance.
Locals haggle for freshly caught tuna, octopus and red snapper, which are displayed in all their freshly caught glory, while barefoot fishermen hose down their filleting stations.
We head to the dry foods section, where bundles of cinnamon sticks, nuggets of ginger and sweet smelling bails of lemongrass are for sale.
Overhead, a kaleidoscope of kaftans and sarongs hanging from the first-floor balcony souvenir shops entices me to head upstairs to delve into a treasure box of treats.
I’d heard that in the 17th century, pirates would use the Seychelles as a base and many believe there are still hoards of treasure hidden on the islands, including Silhouette, our final destination.
Courtesy of our resort, Labriz, we enjoy a private sunset cruise around the island. As we slice through the waves, I sip champagne with my co-star Giles, whose tastes are as refined as Bond’s. We marvel at the sheer beauty and scale of the granite rock formations that emerge from the sea.
If he visited now, 007 would surely give Labriz his seal of approval. I can even imagine Daniel Craig emerging from the crashing waves in those famous blue swimming shorts.
More than half a century after Ian Fleming came here on holiday, the Seychelles is still a place of beauty, mystery and intrigue – the perfect hideaway for a Bond girl and her secret agent.
• Sam Wylie-Harris was a guest of Etihad Holidays (0844 557 0646, etihadholidays.co.uk) which offers four nights with breakfast at Hilton Labriz Resort Seychelles (King Garden Villa) and four nights with breakfast at Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa (King Hillside Villa) from £1,919pp (two sharing).
Includes flights with Etihad Airways from London, Manchester or Edinburgh and group transfers in resort. Prices based on April 2016 departure.