The GCC is geographically blessed when it comes to island escapes. The region is close to two of the most coveted luxury archipelagos in the world: the Seychelles and the Maldives.
To the untrained eye, both destinations hold a high number of similarities. Both countries are a short-haul flight from much of the Middle East and both are island nations, boasting a large amount of luxury hotel real estate on the planet. They are even geographically close to each other, both experiencing a similar kaleidoscope of weather in one day – blazing sunshine to tropical downpours and hazy humidity along with the early sunsets which come from being close to the equator. But that is where the comparison ends. In the Maldives, the large majority of islands available for tourists to travel to are under the control of individual hotels (private islands, which are entirely operated by largely international hotel chains – no outside shops, no wandering around local streets to taste food at local cafes and the only Maldivians there are those who are working in the property along with nations from all over the world). Not so in the Seychelles. The country is ablaze with life.
The biggest islands by far are Mahe (home to the capital, Victoria) and Praslin. In the Seychelles, you can hike, climb and dive, all to a beautiful mountainous backdrop which leads down to the Indian Ocean. A must-see spot when visiting the country is the Vallee de Mai National Park on Praslin, one of the only places in the world where you can find the coco de mer plant – famous for its voluptuous shape, and an official symbol of the nation (being found everywhere from the country’s currency to cups and flags). Aside from the auspicious plant, there are many natural resources on the island and flavour-packed curries, fish fresh from the Indian Ocean and home-cooked rice dishes make up many of the staple recipes in the country. Local cafes and food trucks are popular with the Seychellois and serve them up by the dish load and a fraction of the price charged at the country’s many high-end restaurants aimed at tourists. If you fancy trying your hand at cooking while on your stay there are daily markets across the country, in all of the main town and city hubs. Local transport is available on the bigger islands but can vary in cost (beware that there is a rule in place that only taxis, not buses are allowed to carry tourists, from the main airport which results in a higher cost). But aside from that, buses across the country provide a reasonably priced and easy way to get around – albeit with an irregular schedule. If you ask locals in the country what time the bus will arrive they will inevitably say “on the hour”. But in reality what this means is anything from 20 minutes before the hour, to 20 minutes after the hour.
One of the newest arrivals in the country is the Club Med Exclusive Collection Seychelles, which recently opened an eco-chic resort on the island of Saint Anne. Offering next-level luxury, the hotel is the only property on the island and is just a short 15-minute boat ride from the main island of Mahé. Step off the boat onto the fine sand of this 220-hectare island, where the beach stretches for more than half a mile, bordered by coconut trees and the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. And that’s just an exquisite foretaste of the riches to be discovered on this archipelago. In keeping with the brand’s sustainable ethos, between coral reefs and tropical forests, 60% of the hotel’s island home is made up of protected areas – starting with the Sainte-Anne Marine National Park, which surrounds the resort.
The designer behind the incredible property is architect Gauthier Guillaume was entrusted with the task of designing the renovation of this desert island resort. And this visionary has thought out every space down to the smallest detail. From the rooms to the villas, bars, and restaurants, raw wood, ropes, and local craftsmanship are brought to the fore. Here, gathering places open onto the pool, the beach, or the tropical forest. As for the sun, it pierces through the patterns cut into the wooden walls in a minimalist, authentic style.
The gem in Guillaume’s design is the “Villa Seychelles” at the property. Tucked away between tropical trees overlooking the sea, this exclusive retreat offers a haven of peace hidden from view. In this unique 332 m2 villa, the most discerning guests can enjoy private service in the most intimate setting. Guests can take breakfast by the pool and in the evening, enjoy drinks while watching a blazing sunset over the Indian Ocean. The villa even comes with its own dedicated steward who ensures that residents lack for nothing. And, of course, the architect’s touch is evident everywhere you look through his choice of raw, natural materials.
The hotel is also home to two restaurants and three bars, offering laidback luxury for all tastes, taking guests on a rich culinary voyage. The two main restaurants draw on the archipelago’s history, Creole cuisine, which combines inspirations from Asia, Europe, and Africa. From grilled fish to rich meat dishes and curry made with exotic vegetables, the five-star chefs are on hand to conjure up recipes featuring delicately spiced flavours that will delight your senses and celebrate the island’s culinary heritage.