MAHÉ ISLAND, SEYCHELLES – While standing in a 21st-century Garden of Eden, not far from what was believed to be the original – if you believe in such things – I was being tempted to taste a small, bright red, pear-shaped apple by a beautiful Seychellois named Annette.
“Oh please take a bite,” encouraged Annette, an employee at the modern-day Garden of Eden called Banyan Tree Seychelles Resort. “The pum local (that’s Creole for local apple) is very sweet. You will enjoy it.”
Are there any serpents about, I jokingly wondered.
“Oh, no,” Annette, who spoke English and French as well as her native Creole – the Seychellois actually spell it Kreol - assured me with a bright Colgate smile. “There is just a little snake living on this island but it will not hurt you.”
Yea, I thought, that’s what they told the last guy faced with a similar temptation.
I took a big bite of the apple and, like everything else at this Indian Ocean retreat, it was indeed a sweet surprise. There’s so much that tempts visitors at this Banyan Tree property located on the sorthwest coast of Mahi, the biggest of the 115 islands that make up this tropical nation.
Temptations like treatments at the resort’s world-class spa; gourmet meals at two sinfully good on-site restaurants; strolls along the property’s 900 metres of pristine Indian Ocean beach where bathers don’t wear much more than a fig leaf; luxurious private villa accommodations where you can shut out the world; and well organized trips to some of the other treasured islands, including Praslin, the nation’s second largest and where early explorers described its waterfall-filled Vallee de Mai – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – as being THE Garden of Eden.
Or you could give into the greatest temptation of all and do nothing – except float in the infinity pool of your private hillside villa and look out on the endless Indian Ocean to where the sea meets the sky; or lie on the unspoiled beach in Intendance Bay and watch the sand crabs dance on the sugary sand; or curl up with a good book by the huge pool beside the resort’s colonial-style main building and soak up the relentless sun.
Michael, a transplanted Canadian working at the resort before heading back to school, opened the gate of our private hillside pool villa and stood back, waiting for a reaction upon our arrival at Banyan Tree Seychelles.
Few words could describe what lay before us … a jaw-dropping gorgeous view of the turquoise ocean and surrounding mountains lush with exotic flora and fauna … the small infinity pool shimmering in the sunlight … a huge bedroom with delicate flower pedals strewn over a king-size bed …. a separate terrace where Michael told us “you can have private meals served by your very own butler” … and a marble bathroom complete with a step down tub with sliding doors that opened to give guests the impression they were bathing – au natural – in a jungle waterfall.
With all that luxury, it’s no wonder Banyan Tree Seychelles’s 47 luxury villas have become such a temptation for honeymooners and those looking for a romantic getaway.
The Singapore-based Banyan Tree group is famous for building romantic retreats of this type and has four others located in similar tropical settings – with six more, including two in Mexico, set to be built. The three-year old Seychelles property has already earned high praise from industry insiders, who compare it to the company’s Phuket, Thailand resort, long touted as the best in the world.
There are other five-star properties on Mahe but none offer the seclusion of the Banyan Tree Resort, which is tucked away on a piece of property once owned by the late Beatle George Harrison and actor Peter Sellers. There’s even a tribute to the late Sellers in a function room above the resort’s amazing Saffron eatery, the only restaurant on Mahe which serves Thai food.
Banyan Tree Seychelles is one of those “if you have to ask the price you might not be able to afford it” properties but since you were wondering, the villas start at $1,000 (all figures U.S.) a night – and worth every penny, according to those we shared the pool area with during a short three-night stay.
“How can you put a price on this?” asked James, an investment banker from London as he scanned the awesome tropical surroundings. “We work hard all year and we deserve some peace and quiet – no matter the cost.”
That was the sentiment echoed by most other Banyan Tree guests, the majority of whom come from Europe, Asia and the Middle East. There have been sightings of Americans and Canadians at the resort in recent weeks, proving that word about Banyan Tree Seychelles is spreading.
Nothing takes a back seat to service here – and well it shouldn’t. The resort’s 300-plus staff is friendly and courteous and 40 per cent have been imported to offer guests their special expertise - like the well-trained Thai spa therapists who conducted our treatments in an open-air setting where soothing ocean breezes engulfed our bodies.
Of the 47 villas, 15 are located along the beach while the rest are hidden in the granite hills surrounding the resort. The 15 beachfront villas are tucked under thick underbrush and all offer the privacy that honeymooners and romantics crave.
Great care was taken not to disturb the area’s delicate eco environment during construction of this five-star splendour. All the hillside villas were built on stilts to avoid blasting the mighty granite outcrops that look more like weathered sculptures.
Because nature was given top priority here, don’t be surprised to see a palm tree sticking out your villa deck. There are no motor sport activities offered on site because as one employee told me: “We don’t want petrol (gas) and oil floating in our cove.”
The resort also took great care in not exceeding a local bylaw which states that no building can be higher than the tallest palm tree – no mean feat when you see the jungle terrain engineers had to deal with here.
The largest of the 47 villas is the presidential suite, which comes with two swimming pools, a Jacuzzi and a king-sized bedroom. It’s favoured by wedding parties and is rarely unoccupied.
Realizing that many of their guests are business types who want to stay connected to the outside world on holidays, the villas are wired for internet service and there’s a small business centre located in the resort’s beautiful colonial-style main building. So, guests can surf the net and the Indian Ocean all on the same day.
Guests are ferried between their villas and the main lodge by golf carts along concrete paths that snake through the magnificent property. It’s not a hard walk from any of the villas to the main building and guests are inspired to take moon-lit strolls along a route that features tropical flowers, banana trees laden with fruit, and ferns as big as an elephant’s earlobe. And don’t be worried about wild animals jumping out at you.
“There are no animals on Mahe that can hurt you,” Annette had already assured me.
A typical day at Banyan Tree Seychelles – for those who want to leave the privacy and comfort of their villa, of course - begins with breathtaking views of the ocean from the patio of Au Jardin d’Epices, which along with the amazing Saffron restaurant dishes up some fascinating international and local Kreol cuisine.
Afterwards, a walk along the sugary shore rewards guests with gifts from the sea – the most amazing are the pieces of coral that probably broke off from Aldabra, a unique coral atoll that is the Seychelles’ only other World Heritage Site, and is located just south of the resort.
If guests are very lucky during their stroll, they may come face-to-face with one of the island’s famous giant sea turtles - like the endangered green turtle. The slow-moving behemoths regularly crawl up on shore and lay their eggs in the sand. The resort is committed to help save the green turtle and cordons off their nesting zones in hopes of preserving as many of the fragile species as possible. One of the massive rocks next the resort’s beach entrance even resembles a giant turtle.
As part of its “sanctuary for the senses” motto, the Banyan Tree Seychelles offers guests the opportunity to explore the surrounding jungle area with guides and takes snorkelers on expeditions in the crystal-clear waters offshore. There are also on-site specialists to help guests learn how to dive and wind surf.
Time stands still at Banyan Tree Saychelles – there are no clocks in the villas. But you are never in a rush here – unless it’s supper time and the sooner you get to the Saffron restaurant, the sooner you can enjoy the delicately spiced Thai dishes that are served in the handsome dining room with the Asian flare.
Fine dining does not come cheap at the Banyan Tree Seychelles. Meals, including appetizers, desert and a mid-range bottle of wine, costs about $150 per couple.
Because the Seychelles is so isolated, much of the products served at the country’s resorts must be imported at great expense. Those charges are passed onto guests and that leads to a can of Pringle potato chips costing $12; Cokes are $6 each; a coffee goes for $5. But hey, what price paradise?
The resort’s spa staff all graduated from the prestigious Thai massage school in Phuket where they underwent four months and 200 hours of training before being assigned here. Their expertise and technique translates into a magnificent experience for resort guests – at prices that are comparable to other spas of this quality.
The resort will soon be adding a heli-port to accommodate their many celebrity guests, which include the rich and famous from the entertainment and sports world.
The Banyan Tree Seychelles has attracted many famous people during its brief history – because it’s a temptation that’s hard to resist.
- The best way to get to the unspoiled Seychelles from Toronto is through Paris with Air France. The French national airline works with impressive Air Seychelles to ferry travellers between Paris and the remote island of Mahe. Go to airfrance.com for prices and details.
- The flight from Paris to Mahe takes about 10 hours.
- Dining options at the Banyan Tree Seychelles are: The Saffron restaurant, featuring excellent Thai dishes; Au Jardin d’Epices, offering alfresco dining highlighted by delicately spiced local Creole dishes; La Varangue and the pool bar, both of which offer light snacks and sandwiches.
- Guests are also offered the option of in-villa dining that comes complete with a butler or private beach barbeques for two.
- Activities at Banyan Tree Seychelles include: Canoeing, mountain biking and off-resort activities like banana boat rides, fishing, jet ski, snorkel safaris, water skiing and visits to one of the other 115 islands that make up the Seychelles.
- The resort’s spa is second to none and offers all the latest treatments delivered by the best Thai-trained therephists. The spa is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Prices range from $45 up.
- The Banyan Tree Gallery, located opposite the main lobby, specializes in indigenous artifacts and handicrafts from Thailand. Part of the proceeds from the sales are returned to the villages in Thailand were the delicate crafts were produced.
- Banyan Tree also has resort properties in Phuket and Bangkok in Thailand as well as Vabbinfaru Island in the Maldives and on the Indonesian island of Bintan. There are six new properties about to open, including two in Mexico.
- For information on Banyan Tree Seychelles or any of the company’s other properties, call 1-800-525-4800 or go to banyantree.com