Indian Ocean

This was, hands down, the best vacation of my life. This particular Maldivian adventure embodies the meaning of the word ‘vacation’. I believe that I have now experienced actual paradise. So many trips we take are wonderful in sections but fall short of what we originally expected. Hopefully this photographic journey will give you the wanderlust to visit the Maldives yourself.

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Why choose the Maldives?  The Maldives are located in the Indian Ocean. The climate is tropical, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures around 86F°/ 30C° throughout the year. The Islands are unique, remote and mostly pristine, the ultimate desert Island getaway– with some luxuries! Take note: there is a rainy season. During the April-October southwest monsoon, particularly from June to August, rain can be heavy. You have been warned.

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Of course one of the most important reasons to visit the Maldives is to experience the marine life up close. You will see so much, even just paddling on the beach fish will be beneath your feet but there are a wealth of marine opportunities here that will be addressed a tad later on in this blog. If this is a diving holiday, who really minds a bit of rain anyway?

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Choosing the right resort in the Maldives is essential. Once you’re there, you really can’t do much in the way of Island hopping. You will not be floating about checking out all your different options, it’s just not possible to have drinks in one resort and dinner in another! The Maldives are a wonderful collection of picture perfect atolls but as they are spread out, once you are at your resort you pretty much have to stay put.

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The Maldives is laid out in a very different way than say the British Virgin Islands or Croatian Islands, however in the North it has become popular to do do a ‘Liveaboard’ boating and diving holiday. These are motor boats in various sizes and for various budgets  and mostly tour the Northern Malé atoll, do remember these are geared up for diving rather than cruising the Islands to party! Click here for info on ‘Liveaboard’.

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The outer ring of this atoll is seen in the distance

There are 26 atolls in the Maldives. These are not single islands, but giant circular coral formations that have countless Islands around the perimeter. Inside this outer ring lagoons form. There are usually more Islands within these lagoons. The Maldives is a narrow chain of atolls approximately 80 miles wide and stretching for approximately 510 miles south. This chain is made up of 1190 islands of which approximately 200 are inhabited. The Maldives are an 100 percent Sunni Muslim republic. No alcohol except on your resort. No dogs either and no pork. All fine with me…I was sure as heck not treating my Dachshunds to a holiday on a desert Island and hopefully, just as I did, instead of lusting for pork you will be eating lots of fresh fish !!! Click here to see a map of the Maldives.

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Ariel view flying south from Malé of a typical resort. Hadahaa is only third the size of this Island.

The resort I chose to stay at was the Park Hyatt, it represents a totally unique “green” concept in the Maldives. The Park Hyatt Hadahaa is located in North Huvadhoo, in the Gaafu Alifu Atoll believed to be believed to be one of the largest and deepest natural atolls in the world. Hadahaa is remote and extremely small, you are pushed to spend 30 mins walking the perimeter. The Maldives capital of Malé is 250 miles to the north, and the nearest regional airport is 52 K to the east.This particular resort is wonderful design aesthetically, the cost to build the hotel was around $40 million, so as you can imagine, the accommodation is not to shabby! Click here to see an aerial photo of Hadahaa. (Once you click on the link go to ‘view photos’ and the aerial view is there).

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The Gaafu atoll is the second furthest south atoll in the Maldivian archipelago. Your location is so remote that you will barely see a boat or plane your entire stay. There is only you (and a few other guests that you barely see) on a tiny circle of sand– Robinson Crusoe with the added convenience of a five star resort. Welcome to real life version of ‘The Life of Pi’, here at Hadahaa the surreal becomes a reality.

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The arrivals and departures jetty!

Whichever resort is your final destination, you will have to transfer from Malé International Airport to your hotel. There will be a more detailed account on getting here further on in the blog. Basically from Malé, you catch a local flight and fly south for an hour and a half then you take a boat–another hour!

As you head from the port to Hadahaa you will pass strings of tiny Islands on the far horizon. Sailing along right next to you, schools of flying fish hover in the air and appear to ‘fly’ for quite long stretches before they dive back into the water. As you approach the Island your heart gives a little jump when you see the delightful little paradise that will be your hang out for the next week or so.

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Once you step onto the jetty you are welcomed by the staff and taken to the reception area.The structure of the reception area recreates a Dhoni. These are handcrafted, traditional fishing boats, usually with sails and traditionally used in the Maldives. From here you will stroll to the central hotel area where you will find an open air lounge, pool, bar and restaurant. I went to straight to the bar!

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The pool area is delightful but I wanted to explore the Island. A quick walking loop around the Island grasping cocktail is in order, this takes about twenty minutes and quite a bit longer if you stop every few steps to gasp and soak it all up.

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As you walk the Island for the first time you are struck by the amazing color of the sand and the water clarity. You step into the water and immediately see wonderful fish of all types. The next thing you need to do is go find a snorkel!

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While we are on the subject of snorkeling, lets jump ahead and talk about the wonderful water experiences you can have in the Maldives. There is a level at which everyone can enjoy the marine life.  For the very timid you can experience the inside of the reef by snorkeling up to the inner ring from the shore, or even literally see it all from hanging off the deck of your water villa.

12The better experience is to snorkel on the outside of your immediate reef. The snorkeling experience here is so intense that when you first put your head in the water you are literally in shock from the amazing corals and fish that surround you.

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You can go on further excursions to the outside of the atoll to scuba dive. This is not for the faint hearted. Due to the remoteness of the area, sharks and other large marine creatures are unafraid and plentiful so you will probably get lucky and see them. Due to the amount of other readily available marine life and luckily for the diver, they are basically not interested in you as a ‘food group’. Still, most people I talked to felt that although they had  ‘enjoyed’ the extreme experience, they did not need to repeat the exposure to large water beasts more than once in a trip. Enough said. Later in the blog I will have more info on scuba diving in the Maldives.

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Our water villa, the first in the row!

After a loop of the Island we headed over to check out our room. There are about 85 rooms here and about twenty of these are over water villas. The Island rooms are nicely tucked into the lush, tropical growth. As far as imposing itself on the landscape, the design has an extremely ‘low impact’ ethic. During the building they followed the standards for Green Globe certification in the construction stage and also for the resort operations. The few guests that do share the island with you are rarely seen but when you do it is actually fun to see how others react while enjoying and reveling in the stunning surroundings, just as you are. Kindred spirits in this magical place.

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Unlike many other resorts, you will not see the reef damaged by the building process. Beneath the over water villas you can look straight down to reef– left just as nature created it. There are not many over water villas on this property but to stay in one is a real treat, particularly as watching the reef beneath you is entertainment for hours. Note: The building of these villas took a number of years, the piles that hold the buildings had to be individually placed so as not to damage the delicate coral.

As you walk along the jetty Cuttlefish will group together in schools and if you feel like chatting, will actually ‘talk’ to you. All you have to do is raise and lower your voice and as you speak, in unison, they will change both direction and color, it is truly a conversation worth having! Also fascinating to watch, and right below our deck, was a ‘cleaning station’ where fish swim in to be cleansed by smaller ‘nibbling’ fish.

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At the Park Hyatt there is a 5 star PADI center on site for all levels of diving. For general info on the PADI diving click here. The atoll on which Hadahaa rests is extremely large and one of the deepest in the world, this allows for unbelievable diving and snorkeling. We went with the resident marine biologist for a guided snorkel to view the outside of our immediate reef, which was incredibly rewarding as she pointed out many gems hidden in between the coral. Before we actually went to explore the reef we learnt about how the atoll was formed, about the coral and the many types fish. More incredible details on that further on in the blog!

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The outdoor cocktail ‘lounge’

Time to head back out and stroll the shoreline as you head to the bar for sunset cocktails! The bar is near the pool and in wet weather it’s a lovely place to hang out but once you have grabbed your cocktail I would head to the beach or back to your water villa  for sunset! Experiencing sunset in the Maldives could possibly ruin future sunsets for you… you will never be able to forget the drama you will be privy to here.

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As you settle yourself to enjoy sunset prepare for an amazing show! The sunset views are extraordinary, dramatic and with ever changing cloudscapes. The fact that it can rain adds to the drama as the rays bounce off the cloud layers. This was actually the first luxury resort in Huvadhoo and the closest inhabited island is actually more than 6 miles away. The Island is close to the equator and the lack of light pollution creates unbelievable night sky viewing, you can actually see stars from both hemispheres!

smooth sunset 4Although the water villa rooms are close together, they do not completely overlook each other and are actually staggered. Staying in one of these villas enhances the Maldives experience. In any resort I would try an over water villa, even if just for one or two nights as watching the fish through the water without a mask is truly better than watching TV. Obviously the villa at the end has a completely open view but they have the longest walk!! (Mind you could always call for a ride)!

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Now that you are cozy and enjoying the blog here is some info on getting here. Skip ahead if you don’t think you can take it. However you decide to make your way to the Maldives there is just not an easy route. Another ‘how to’ blog with all the excruciating details on getting to the Maldives will be posted shortly.

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We flew from Los Angeles, via Tokyo, Via Singapore to Malé International airport. Here, if your Island is far south as ours was, you wait in a really appalling lounge with dreadful food and no alcohol to ease the pain (no drinking until you get to the resort this is an Islamic country). Our wait was approximately for three hours.

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Not done yet. Eventually you catch your transfer flight with Maldivian Aero (who actually don’t stick to a regular schedule). You then take a 1 hour plus transfer flight, flying south over the Maldives, (some good views), you stop once at Kahdoo then finally arrive at the Kooddoo domestic airport located in the North Huvadhoo (Gaafu Alifu) atoll. You will be met by a representative from the Hotel and driven across this Island in a golf cart to the dock where you will catch the rather sturdy and seaworthy vessel (not very glamorous unfortunately) and off you head for about another 45mins to Hadahaa. You are a little irritable by now.

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Sunrise is just as lovely as sunset, make sure at least once you wake up in time to see it!

Some chose to break their journey by overnighting in the Capital of Malé. Don’t do it. The hotels are not great and forget a nice glass of wine, they do not serve alcohol. It’s a super place to visit for two hours and you should add this in on your return journey rather than sitting at the dreadful airport lounge for thee hours. By the way, if you do visit Malé, this is an Islamic republic do NOT wear skimpy beach wear. So long and short, if you can help it, don’t stop on the way there, just push on and get to your resort!

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Teeny tiny Islands far away, love the horizon shots!

In order to survive this trip…(and lets not forget the International flights you already took and the fact you haven’t had a glass of wine for five hours or more) you must NOT allow yourself to be a travel wimp. Grin and bear it. Let’s face it there is a light at the end of this travel tunnel and once you arrive, you are truly in paradise. Also particularly as far as airline and hotels are concerned, ‘out of season’ travel deals can be found at amazing prices but connections are less readily available and that is of course, the catch! Just remember, once you are there you will very quickly forget the trauma you experienced to get here.

Note taken from the Maldivian air site: ‘Please be aware Maldivian Aero has a strict hand luggage policy. Hand luggage should not be bigger than 20”x 12”x7” and the weight should not be more than 5kg for the domestic sectors’. GOOD LUCK.

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Cleaning station, right below our deck.

Back to the good stuff. The next morning a magnificent glow creeps across your face and pillow, you can’t help but get up to see the sunrise, (only possible if you are not totally wrecked with jet lag) and lets face it, you may not ever be coming back so do try to see at least one sunrise. Across toward the sunrise you can just see the string of Islands on the outer edge o the atoll. Taking a sunrise walk is magical way to start your day on the Island.  You could be surprised by a quick shower, (seen below), which normally quickly clears.

rain cloud boat wmHead back to the room before breakfast to snorkel. There are several levels of reef to explore. If your Island is in a lagoon, the reef around your tiny Island has an inner and outer side and both have slightly different marine environments. Then as you travel further out from your small Islands reef towards the atoll, the inside and outside of that outer ring, marine life is different again. The channels in-between the gaps of the outer atolls attract other species of marine life due to the swooshing of the currents in and out. So much to see!

Breakfast is a feast and all your usual breakfast foods are available which is pretty much a miracle considering how food even gets here. You must try the local breakfast, ‘Mas huni’, which is tuna with fresh shredded coconut inside a freshly made chapatti, I added limejuice –Yum.

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One of my favorite things to do on a beach holiday is to look for shells. The collecting here does not compare to the shelling in the Seychelles. Due to the barrier of Islands on the outer ring, which acts as a shelter belt from rougher weather, you won’t find many shells. The small pieces of coral that wash up are the most collectible and their fascinating shapes and make great mementos of your trip.

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200 species of stony coral are present in the Maldives. As well as the reef, shallow layers of volcanic rock can also be seen at certain points around the Island and can be explored by foot. Check out this link (from Ocean Oasis) to find out, in detail, how coral was formed here.

43 rock shelfThe boat pictured below is the excursion ship. Rather a lovely vessel to explore ‘nearby’ Islands in. This can take a good portion of your day as there are no inhabited Islands that close. If you feel the need to get off the Island, you can join other explorers to visit a local family for lunch and experience the local culture. Traditional fishing trips are shorter, using just a line and heading out at sunset, fishing near the reef can be very rewarding. The perfect dinner is to have your fish cooked for you that evening, or even try sashimi style!

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Another option is to visit the hydroponic greenhouse on another Island in this atoll, where some of the fruits and vegetables are grown to support the Park Hyatt kitchen. As this particular hotel is so far down the Island chain there is less availability for produce and luckily there is a wonderful vendor nearby and the tour is very informative. A closer to home choice would be to take the inner workings tour of Hadahaa. This will show you the behind the scenes workings of the hotel, a truly fascinating tour and a real eye opener.

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Time for lunch. The tuna is caught literally right here and has not been exposed to pollution. We ate tuna for breakfast lunch and dinner. Lightly seared Tuna with curry sauce on the side was divine.

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Lunch on our deck at the water villa.

After lunch a stroll to the pool to sit and enjoy the shade of the palm trees.

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After pool time head back out for your afternoon stroll, the light starts to change when the clouds roll over, the water changes to the palest shades of aqua.

late afternoon HAs you walk the Island you sink into pillows of white sand. The Maldives are obviously a delicate eco system and are in danger from the effects of our ever changing global climate. However, I learnt this amazing fact about Parrot Fish. They make sand!!

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Seventy percent of the sand you are walking on is made from the excrement of this fish. Each Parrot Fish can make about a ton of sand each year. Now, let me tell you I have never seen so many Parrot Fish. The Maldives are actually teaming with them and some were honestly huge. They constantly clean their beaks (scary thought…’beaks’) by nibbling the coral and in return the coral are happy as the Parrot Fish are cleaning off the parasites so they can survive. A ‘win win’ situation. One of the most wonderful things that happen in the Maldives (as you can’t watch Breaking Bad or whatever), is that you actually become interested in what is going on around you. Here is a link to watch the Parrot Fish making sand!

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There are three jetties on the island. One is used for the water Villas and all are used to access the reef from the outside, both for divers and for boats. The water is deeper on the outside of the reef allowing for better navigation. There are no significant breaks in the ring of coral surrounding the Island, the jetties are needed not just for looks but have a real purpose as they extend past this ring.

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As another day comes toward an end you realize the days have been long but filled every second with the marvel that surrounds you. The sunset views of the nearby atolls and of the jetties allow for endless photo opportunities. It’s actually quite hard just to sit and enjoy as you keep popping up for another shot!

After a few days in the Water Villas you may want to move to a beach room to experience walking straight out onto the sand from your room, on any resort I would recommend trying both.

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The rooms are tastefully decorated and comfortable but it’s hard to stay inside, you will not be spending much time in your room. The bathrooms are awesome some with both indoor and outdoor facilities. A pool is nice but lets face it, the ocean here is divine so you don’t really need one.

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As I lay on the beach endlessly looking out to sea, I contemplated the formation of the atolls. As promised here are some details.

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The word atoll does not necessarily mean Island. Here is what I grasped from the marine biologist. Over a rather long period of time a volcano sinks gradually into the ocean. As it gradually sinks, around the edge coral starts to grow. Eventually the Volcano disappears and an outer ring is formed the atoll. As time rolls on the outer ring becomes fragmented and breaks into Islands.  In the middle of this outer ring a lagoon is created. Within this lagoon deposits form and gradually as MORE time goes on these deposits attract more build up and a few small Islands grow within the lagoon. So you have a 511 mile long string of atolls each with their own lagoons in the middle, with smaller Islands within those lagoons. (The simplified version).

For more detail, here is a link to explore in more detail (from National Geographic education) the evolution of the Maldivian atolls!

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Note: Having said that you can’t Island hop isn’t completely true. However, the best desert Island experiences are on the more remote islands. The North Malé Atoll near the main airport and the Capital of Malé (at the southern edge of the North Malé atoll) is easier to access due to the close proximity of the airport and dock. As you come out of the airport you will see all the individual Hotel boats right at the dock literally steps from the airport, waiting to take their guests off to their respective destinations. This journey can be as little as 25 minutes or less.

The problem with this Northern Atoll is that it lies in a more commercial zone, as you lie on the beach you will see boats and cargo vessels going by and airplanes zipping about! The good news is, that for the same reason, these resorts have better access to fresh produce, so can supply a more varied menu. Click here to see a map of The North Malé atoll.

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When it is finally time to leave your Island home the staff will all see you off and wave, literally, till you are out of sight!  We watched until the Island was just a tiny speck in the distance, reluctant to let that little gem out of our sight.

Instead of waiting at the unattractive lounge at Malé airport we hired a guide to show us around The Capital of Malé a short excursion but a really interesting way to spend the last two hours in the Maldives.

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Ferries run to and from the airport to the capital

About 75,000 people live in Malé, one third of the total population. Despite the density, the capital is extremely clean but remember– here you will see high rises offices and shops and there are no beaches, there is a sea wall circling the Island. The older government buildings are relatively charming, the wharf and markets are colorful and once you have taken a short ferry ride from the airport to the main Island, everything you need to see is in walking distance.

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The second you step foot on Malé, immediately the vivid colors and bustle of the Island become apparent. Watch out as you are crossing the road it’s a ‘free for all’ situation! Motor scooters are the favored form of transport and the roads are teaming with them.  Fishing boats and small ferries pack the wharf.

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The fruit and vegetable market is bursting with produce you have never seen before, neatly stacked in abundant displays. At the Fish Market you will see all types of fish but there is lots of tuna, in these waters it is readily available. All the fish are laid out according to size on the floor, rather than on tables. The sights and sounds of the main Island afford insight into the economy of the Maldives and is worth a quick visit.

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As you board your plane you marvel at each moment you spent in this wonderful place. A happy blur of epic sunsets, talking cuttlefish, endless amounts of unbelievable white sand and clear blue water has to be left behind. For now.

 

The Seychelles is probably on everyone’s bucket list. As part of an Archipelago, it offers great diversity with each Island providing it’s own individual appeal. The French are infatuated with La Digue, riding around on their bikes as if they are at home on the sleepy Islands of Noirmoutier or Ile de Ré. Praslin and Mahé have larger Island appeal and there are several small Islands set aside for conservation where you can hike and enjoy the wildlife. The surreal scenery, remote location and gorgeous water are worth every ounce of hassle that it takes to get there.

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La Digue

The Seychelles are not all exactly the ‘Desert Islands’ that many might think they are, unless you are staying at the divine but costly North Island–where Will and Kate honeymooned, or Fregaté, another exclusive Island resort–you may wind up disappointed. So long as you are realistic, the larger Islands offer slices of paradise; you just have to do some research and leg-work in order to seek these special locations out.

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Flying in over the Islands

When you visit the Seychelles, plan on staying a while. This is a place that is hard to get to. (Look for an upcoming travel guru post on this! The truth is, once you make the effort to go once, you probably won’t go back. I, for one, arrived totally exhausted and could barely drag myself off my sun bed (or away from the beach for that matter) for about five days. Weather in the Seychelles is highly unpredictable. Heavy rain and hot, humid weather can really bog you down. Travel Guru suggests visiting in June, July and August. These months have the least rain; we went in November and it only rained for a couple of days, in short heavy bursts, although it was often overcast. If you are thinking of Christmas, apparently December is wet. This is not really a destination you should go to for just a beach holiday. There is so much in the way of nature to explore, that as long as you look at this as an ‘exploration vacation’, you won’t be disappointed, rain or shine.

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The Beach at The Four Seasons

Choosing the of hotel is always a dilemma. Many believe that the hotel is just a room; you are out all the time so why bother shelling out for a fancy resort? Well, this depends on the resort. The right resort (not necessarily the most expensive) will offer accommodation in tune with the landscape that surrounds it and hopefully the combination of nature and a tad of luxury will coax you to rest and absorb the environment slowly, allowing the vibes to sink in.

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‘A room with a view’

The vast majority of the villas at the Four Seasons Hotel, Mahé are set high on the hill amidst lots of lush foliage and surround you with a feeling of coziness not claustrophobia. The designers of the Four Seasons, Mahé have created a tangible ethos combining architecture with nature. In comparison with the view of the resort from the beach, our arrival at The Four Seasons was underwhelming. The grounds are lovely but we were not impressed by the design of the lobby area and as usual with most hotel stays, we had to change rooms… (angry growling sound). Eventually we found the right room. Actually, it was one of the best hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in. Mainly due to the view but also in it’s comfort level and ‘want to stay in the room’ desirability!

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I love indoor/outdoor living. All of the rooms have this feature but the rooms with the plunge pools really are the ‘G’. Normally I like totally minamal to look at, but to live with, you actually want comfort; and these rooms work. I loathe tile floors. The floors here are wood. Wood makes you want to linger; tile makes you want to leave.

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At the Four Seasons both the food and decor at the restaurants are ‘so so’. The main restaurant has a lovely over water pool feature and super sushi bar. However the fine dining restaurant is not completeley separate from the ‘everyday’ restaurant and unfortunately the identity of the design loses kudos. Due to the lack of interesting food choices, we approached the restaurant staff and asked if they could make us a simple curry one night and a ‘basic’ lobster feast another evening. Both were far from simple and were totally outstanding. There was an amazing young Chef from India here that really was a gem and prepared the meals using the freshest ingredients. All of the staff in the Hotel were always most accommodating and ‘top notch’.

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Warm, clear, perfect water

The Hotel is too far way from town to go there for dinner, and honestly, I can’t think of anything worse than eating dinner in Victoria. The good news is that the Banyan Tree is very close and has an amazing Thai restaurant, Saffron. We ate there three times. The Banyan Tree also has the best bar in the Seychelles for old world ambience.  The Colonial style of the Hotel brings a bit of glamour to your evening; the porch is lovely for a drink also.

One thing to note about the Banyan Tree, driving in the Seychelles is on the left (civilized). In the dark this particular drive gets interesting as there is a sharp drop to the sea, which is right next to you on the way back, with no lights or barriers. Best to get a taxi if you are planning on drinking. I never saw The Banyan Tree in the daylight but the sound of the waves crashing made me believe this beach may get some surf, on our beach there was only the sound of gently lapping waves.

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Looking up to the rooms at The Four Seasons, from the beach

When you are ready to explore further afield, the Island of Mahé has a bustling and busy town, Victoria, which is actually the smallest capital city in the world even has a small port. We headed out to drive up the North Coast to Victoria. I’m not in love with the North Coast or Victoria. You are supposed to be able to find beauty in any location but it wasn’t happening for me! There is a market here every day but it’s thronging on Saturday and hot, humid, sticky weather turned this visit into ‘battle of wills’ but we stuck it out and survived. However It’s stll worth checking out the local produce and having a snack– if you don’t mind being hot sweaty and irritiable. Victoria itself was underwhelming and although I was desperate to  explore, I wished we hadn’t left our idyllic resort.

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I started to feel resentful with each passing second and inevitably this resulted in some heated car arguments on the way home (!). Inevitably you will come across run of the mill and semi ‘industrial’ scenery and the squalor that you often find on Caribbean Islands.  Breathe as you pass by the nasty parts.The deserted beautiful parts are there in between the rest; you just need to look out for them and be willing to explore. Be sure during your visit to the Seychelles to include a day trip to Silhouette, Curieuse or Cousine Islands where you can find rare, re-introduced tortoises, hike and experience the Seychelles nature and wildlife up close.

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We got some great shots of the South Coast near to The Four Seasons, however when you leave make sure you take note of the direction you came from. The signage for the hotel is appalling and there are many turns involved to get there.  I never loose my way but the first time we ventured out, we had a problem finding the hotel the way back, although we were only minutes away. Frustrating, to say the least.

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The area near The Four Seasons was really tranquil. These settings were peaceful, undisturbed and indicative of true Seychelles life. Here is a link to a map of Mahé to help you see the ‘lay of the land’.

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Heaven forbid there could be a better hotel, restaurant or beach that I didn’t know about. There wasn’t on the north coast– so now I could relax, until it was time expolre the nothern part of the South Coast!  Note to self: remember you always enjoy a place more the second time, after you’ve put in the legwork and scoped it out.

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The pool , Four Seasons

Back to the refuge of hotel and beach. Happy sigh. The pool scene at The Four Seasons is very ‘family’ but let me be clear there were hardly any families here, the ambience feels ‘family’ and the bar at the pool is ‘so so’. I suggest ordering a bottle of Rosé for the beach and avoiding the pool.  Perfect.

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After the beach has been fully explored head back to your indoor/outdoor bathroom and plunge pool. Ours had a dizzying view.

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Even from the bathtub you could soak and luxuriate while enjoying the view.

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The sun starts to go down…

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Cocktail time.

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I hate to worry about costs when on holiday but realistically the hotel champagne and cocktail costs were crazy. The good news is on that non-descript road to Victoria there was at least a liquor store and we purchased some champagne and Cosmo ‘fixings’ to avoid extortionate hotel costs. It felt pretty good knowing how much we were saving adding extra warmth as we sipped our drinks on the glowing sunset perch.

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As we watched the sun set we were rewarded with the most gorgeous colors mixed with extrodinary cloud formations.

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I was loath to leave the resort again but the rest of the south coast had to be tackled.  We drove up the coast to the Constance Ephelia resort and beyond, right to the top of the Island. I hadn’t planned on going to this resort but it was the only place I found worth stopping at for lunch. There is a cute, locals lunch place right near the Four Seasons on the beach but we were headed further afield. The Ephielia is nicely laid out with a nice selection of lounge and restaurant areas. It was, in my opinon, a bit sterile although it had super lobby areas it is built on a very flat piece of land; which wasn’t great as there was no ‘nestling in’ to the property. We had a sushi for lunch at Corossol with a view of the fabulous beach and pool.

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Beach at The Ephelia

The beach view looked onto some cool rock groupings and the water was shallow, perfect  for wading quite far out! Heaven.

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The pool and beach at The Ephelia were not packed. Both areas had a nice aura, however as the Hotel itself is on a flat piece of land, I found it lacking in interest. The beach is also difficult to access for non-residents, this is a big plus and is due to the fact the grounds are set on a sort of ‘lobe’ with beach on all three sides. I wasn’t keen on the lay out of the rooms and there were are no views from the interior villas.

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Poolside at The Ephelia

The next excursion away from The Four Seasons was for three days. We went to Praslin, which incidentally  is 14.67 sq miles and La Digue, 4 sq miles. Mahé by the way is the largest of the Islands at 59.85 sq miles. We were supposed to stay four nights but I really disliked our hotel and was longing for my beach. We flew to Praslin from Mahé on Air Seychelles just a 15 min flight. Do not take the catamaran. You will, inevitably vomit. Everyone does. Not fun. From there we hired a taxi to go to the ferry and then over to La Digue which was a 15 minute ride from Praslin. All easy.

Here is a link to the useful info on the Islands/Ferries.

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La Digue. Nice, very nice, gorgeous beaches but it’s not my idea of paradise. La Digue is a bit scrawny and a touch tatty. As far as the ‘Herd of Giant Tortoises’ — do the guidebooks mean the herd of tortoises in the breezeblock built enclosure? Instead save another day to go to the small Island reserves in the Seychelles where tons of research and huge efforts have been made to allow these wonderful creatures to exist in a more natural environment. You go to La Digue for the rocks and beaches. One day is possibly enough.

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There are numerous ways to get around La Digue. There are no cars here– this allows you to connect to the Island in a special way. When you arrive by ferry, you will immediatley see that there are a few bike places right there, or you can get an Ox and Cart. Yes, Ox and Cart. I wasn’t prepared for this and although tempted eventually decided it was a NO. They move super slow and we were only here for the day.

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View from La Digue

Many opt not to hire bikes and walk the Island. Quite frankly there is nothing to see on the interior of the Island; the idea is to get to the beaches, fast. We grabbed bikes stopped at a local store for water bottles and headed out to photograph the most divine rock formations.

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The Island is relatively busy if you wanted to stay in La Digue over night, you would need to book. I’m not sure where everyone is staying. The Island is teaming with the French and they look settled, so they must be staying somewhere but I can tell you it’s low budget, low asthetic accommodation only. I looked really hard in every nook and crany and really didn’t see anything that charming. I’m sure there must be hidden gems???

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Head to Loutier Coco restaurant on Grand Anse beach. It’s rustic but lovely. Enjoy grilled fish and a Creole buffet. I loved the bar. Here is a link so you can view the restaurant location and also see a map of La Digue.

Loutier Coco Grand Anse

Loutier Coco Grande Anse

The approach to the restaurant is a slice of that perfect paradise that you will find here (in spots). So lovely to be walking through almost deserted, desert island territory and stumble across the perfect beach bar and restaurant. Now I was happy.

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BTW: Quote from Seychelles site “Avoid the spots where dried sea grass lies on the beach: sand flies lay their eggs there. Don’t scratch the itchy skin, although it’s easier said than done: scratching often leads to infections. Use insect repellent.”

Personally I left any kind of extensive beach time for our resort, they deliberatly remove every scrap of sea grass from the beach so as  to discourage sand fly infestations! No brainer. (I hope those gorgeous tanned french girls are infested with sand flies.) JK?

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Our next stop was to our Hotel on Praslin. Remember if you decide to go to Praslin all International Transfers arrive at Mahé International airport. You, or your hotel, will need to arrange transport to your accommodation. To reiterate; do not take the Catamaran, you will vomit. While you are in Praslin one of the first things to do is take a hike through the Vallée De Mai, a Unesco World Heritage site. Here you can see the Coco De Mer palm, which has the largest seed in the world, and is quite a controversial shape! Rare Black Parrots  can be seen here. The highest mountain in the Seychelles is also in Praslin, Fond Azore at 1224ft.

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View from Lobby across to rooms, Raffles Hotel Praslin

We stayed at Raffles Hotel. Primarily because it was the newest hotel with a successful  contemporary design. It is well positioned on the Anse Takamaka on the northeastern tip of Praslin with a view toward Curieuse Island. The main building and terraces were well designed and they have a proper bar and super restaurants. I have to mention that the food at the Hotel was very good, well prepared and delicious. The rooms however are way too small and extremely close together offering little privacy from neighbors.

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Across the rooftops, out to sea, Raffles

We left Raffles during the day to explore the Island. The Vallée de Mai was a worthwhile experience but rainy for us. Sadly no photos. 🙁 I wasn’t totally thrilled about the rest of the Island and Raffels had a nice position so we hung out there when not out and about. We had intense rain on Praslin and the weather got in the way of checking out all the good spots. Anse Lazio Beach, however, was worth visiting. Bon Bon Plume restaurant is on this beach situated on the waters edge and offers basic Creole cuisine. Perfect for lunch, rustic but they have good wine and ice buckets. A couple of great hours were spent at this spot. I’m all about European length lunches!

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Bon Bon Plume, Anse Lazio, Praslin

Anse Lazio beach on Praslin is divine, the rocks are sensational. You will get great shots here; I hope you have good weather.

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Sadly during the construction of Raffles most of the foliage, trees and shrubbery were aggressively cleared, it will take years for the surrounding area to recover and it makes a harsh backdrop for the Hotel.

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Harsh construction methods have removed trees at Raffles Hotel

The view from above Raffles was gorgeous, looking out to a small deserted island and also across to  Curieuse Island where you can see the giant tortoises. Here is a link to a map of Praslin.

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View from above Raffles Hotel, Praslin

 We would have liked to have visited Anse Volbert and Baie Ste. Anne but Raffles is on the opposite end of the Island but we had already squeezed in so much, not allowing enough down time. La Digue and Praslin had been our main focus and although they are not exactly the ‘wilderness’, they lived up to the hype, in a totally unexpected way. We were only here for a few nights and had enjoyed the exploration but were ready to return to The Four Seasons on Mahé. We were excited to re-experience our sunset perch with sweeping views.

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One of several fabulous terraces at Raffles

When we returned to the hotel we were happy to be back in paradise. ‘Paradise’ has a different meaning for every traveler but the term is most apt for me when most of my expectations have been satisfied, the exploring is under my belt and I have returned to the sun bed. How smart that we had planned to be here for a few days at the end of the trip, several more glorious days to experience The Seychelles and we were not going anywhere. Heaven.

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On our last morning the beach was particularly beautiful. I did shed a tear to be leaving such a beautiful place.

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The Four Seasons beach in all it’s glory

The shells at The Four Season’s beach were fabulous; the best I have ever collected! HOWEVER, Cone shells, which the island is famous for and I did find, are best not picked up if they are alive as they can inject a seriously nasty poison into you. Also I found live Cowrie shells so obviously don’t take those! I honestly developed back spasms from all the shell seeking. Check out this link for information on the Cone shells.

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My shell collection

The last evening on the blissful deck.

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I have to say, this was an amazing vacation. Now, mostly due to wanting to use our air miles, we were facing 35 hours of travel, involving several connections, to get home. Some flat, some not. Still grueling. I don’t remember much about the return journey; gratefully it’s all a big blur.

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Our plunge pool

To quote a Seychelles website, “high tides are advancing on the Islands and erosion is taking over”; so don’t leave it too long. (Although I can’t imagine the granite and high hills going away anytime soon but I can see that the beaches will eventually deteriorate.)

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Fly over view of exclusive island resort

This is a special group of Islands; keep it on your bucket list. When you do go try not to constantly rush about, forcing yourself out every minute! You actually don’t absorb as much of the ‘aura’ or unique ‘sense of place’ that the Seychelles exudes unless you sit still at least some of the time. Soak up the sounds and smells and just BE!  You may miss something but the memories you do have will be more vivid. Hopefully, one day, I will learn to follow my own advice 🙂