An archipelago consisting of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles offers the most beautiful, unspoiled, pristine and uncommercial experience. With an impressive 50% of the total land area under conservation protection, it has become one of the world leaders in sustainable tourism.
Nestled in the heart of the Outer Islands of the Seychelles, a mere seven degrees south of the equator lies the extraordinary Alphonse group of islands (Alphonse, St. François and Bijoutier). With thousands of acres of flats, lagoons and pristine reef systems, this unique destination is one of the most abundant and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet.
Having recently returned from the magical island of Alphonse, I can confirm that this little piece of paradise is quite simply one-of-a-kind. Perfect for couples or family holidays alike, Alphonse is also a haven for fishing addicts with some of the best bonefishing in the world. The combination of Creole culture, fascinating wildlife, incredible staff and range of activities, made it very hard to leave!
Only an hour’s flight from Mahé, Alphonese is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the Seychelles. If you’re looking for an authentic and unspoiled experience, you won’t be disappointed. From the moment I arrive I feel truly welcome and relax easily into the slow pace of island life.
Nestled amongst the tropical vegetation just steps away from the beach, my villa is spacious and secluded. Built alongside the water’s edge, I feel like I am the only person on a deserted island as I gaze out at spectacular views of the shimmering ocean. Inside, the interior is serene with local materials and sandy colours reflecting the tranquil surroundings. I enjoy a relaxing glass of wine on my terrace which overlooks my private plunge pool before sampling some of the mouth-watering Creole cuisine on offer.
The next morning, I rise early to the sound of gentle lapping waves outside my villa and am tempted into the crystal clear waters for a swim. Before I know it, I am surrounded by 14 green turtles all swimming around me - a completely astounding experience.
Alphonse Atoll is a hotspot for both green turtles and hawksbill turtles to nest. Legally protected in Seychelles waters since 1994, I am fascinated to learn more about these gentle endangered animals from the Island Conservation Team who are doing amazing work. Joining them on their daily tracking and monitoring routine, I discover that these incredible creatures return to the very same beaches that they were born on to dig their nests and lay their eggs. Hawksbill turtles usually nest in the daytime (mainly from September to March) whilst the green turtles tend to do so at night (from January to September). A turtle lays between 150 to 200 eggs in each nest and will nest four to five times per nesting season. Eggs take around two months to hatch and the team will occasionally help guide hatchlings to the ocean.
There are so many activities to get involved in here but I am particularly interested in the fishing opportunities. The fishing and expertise of the guides is unparalleled and fishing enthusiasts come from far and wide to sample the exceptional saltwater fly fishing. According to several fly fishermen I speak with, Alphonse beats the Bahamas hands down on the quality and professionalism of its guides. With the help of my world-class guide I am thrilled to catch several bonefish - a beautiful creature with bright silver scales that positively shimmer in the sunshine.
However, it’s not only fly fishing you can do here; there’s deep sea fishing from the catamaran, and exceptional bluewater fishing too. Alternatively, head out on to some of the extensive wadeable flats around St François with white sand beneath your feet. There is so much to catch here with large populations of triggerfish, barracuda, snapper, grouper, permit, parrot fish, eight species of trevally and the fabled milkfish. The game fish includes tuna and sailfish. Their strict catch and release policy means that the ecosystems are well protected - something that is of great importance to me.
Sensational scuba diving and snorkelling provide further opportunities to marvel at the splendid array of fish (1160 species). There are a variety of different snorkellng locations that suit all levels and ages and the team gladly guide the way, pointing out underwater treasures such as damselfish, colourful butterflyfish and bluestripe snapper. The waters are warm and crystal clear and I am amazed to spot grey reef sharks and brown sharks as well as sting rays and manta rays swimming around the bright unbleached coral reefs. For scuba divers, Alphonse Island is arguably the best diving destination in the Seychelles. With few other boats around, you can revel in the significance of being the only divers in the ocean.
On my way back to the island, I am elated to see spinner dolphins frolicking around the boat, doing acrobatic jumps and spinning through the air before they re-enter the water - a sight to behold. My guide explains that the spinning is thought to be a form of communication as well as a way to get rid of parasites. If you wish to find out more about coral reef ecology and conservation in the region, I recommend joining one of the specialty courses conducted by the resident marine biologist. The reefs in the Seychelles are such a fascinating eco-system to learn about.
The island is a true haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers like me. I enjoy a guided nature walk, looking out for the sensational birdlife (280 species) including beautiful fairy terns, noddies, red-footed boobies and herons (grey and striated or green backed) which arrive at my swimming pool every morning and evening. Wandering through the coconut groves, I learn about the island’s current conservation projects and the flora and fauna on the island. One morning, I head out along forest tracks on my bicycle (each guest is given one for the duration of their stay). Stopping to admire the view and discovering secret nooks and crannies, this is a fantastic way to explore the island. If you love watersports, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking are also possible - a fantastic way to interact with the inquisitive turtles and bounty of marine life that call this island home.
After all this activity, it’s time for a relaxing massage. The team tailor treatments to each individual and their needs. They even offer a special Fishermen’s Massage which focuses on key muscles and pressure points overused or strained during a day on the flats.
The team here are incredible and are well practiced in arranging special experiences for guests. One of my favourite activities was setting sail to the Alphonse Lagoon to watch the sunset, cocktail in hand. The ultimate ‘golden hour.’ Another guest enjoyed a boat ride to a secluded sandbank close to St François for a private picnic lunch on the flats. The food is delicious too - a fusion of international and Creole flavours, with plenty of fresh fish and produce from the island’s forest and garden. A tropical heaven, staying here feels like visiting a close family who are full of fun and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
The Seychelles are easily accessible, being only a 4 hour flight from Dubai, 3.5 hours from Nairobi or just under 5 hours from Johannesburg, meaning they work equally well as a relaxing end to a safari, or a stand-alone luxury holiday.
Stays are typically for a week to ten days with accommodation ranging from romantic beach bungalows for two to more spacious four-bedroom retreats with ocean views and family villas with their own private plunge pool. With the incredible variety of activities on offer here, there’s plenty to keep active families busy, whilst at the same time providing the most wonderful experience for those seeking a relaxing break or a romantic escape.
Images courtesy of Blue Safaris Seychelles