When you finally reach Praslin – the second largest island in the Seychelles – it sinks in just how remote you are in the world. Aside from the 13 or so hours in the air, it’s the deliciously dramatic landscape that hits you in the face with its other-worldliness. Lush forests, verdant peaks and an abundance of wildlife are as unsubtle as it gets, shouting brazenly to each wide-eyed visitor: “You are not at home now”.
The Seychelles may be strewn across a swathe of the Indian Ocean – some 900 miles east of Kenya – but yet, weirdly, it has a Caribbean vibe. Yes, both parts of the world have the same lofty palm trees, majestic beaches and incredible azure waters but the similarities also extend beyond the landscape. Seychellois culture, it turns out, has a Creole heart – with its population originating from Africa and Madagascar. As well as the ubiquitous laid-back approach to life, a fierce patriotism and genuine warmth towards visitors, this is played out most obviously in the region’s cuisine.
Culinary travellers, therefore, should check in to Raffles Praslin – one of the region’s (in fact world’s) finest luxury resorts and one that is making the most of this rich foodie heritage. Its mix of restaurants reflect the melting-pot nature of the islands – with family-style creole dinners on offer at Losean Restaurant (fruit bat curry, anyone?) to sushi, sashimi and sake tasting in the Pan Asian-style Curieuse restaurant.
Executive chef Chris Meredith – who has been at the resort since February 2015 – has been instrumental in harnessing the region’s wealth of produce – making the most of the plentiful fresh fish available year round and the exotic fruits and vegetables that grow here. “Most mornings, I choose the fish straight off the back of a fishing boat,” he says. Sustainability is another important consideration when it comes to the food offering at the hotel. “People want to experience new things which are unique to the destination when they travel,” he says. “So we strive to use as much local produce as we can. Authenticity is key.”
As a result, the kitchen sources its vegetables and most of its meat from local farms and smallholdings, and offers guests an insight into the food ‘journey’ with tours to local providers on tap, as well as behind-the-scenes cookery classes. “We are lucky enough to have chefs from all over the world working here,” Chris continues. “So we have introduced cookery classes for many cuisines – Indian, Thai, and French pastry master classes. Afterwards, everyone sits down to eat together just as a traditional Seychellois family would.”
Also making the most of the island’s golden position is the hotel’s innovative architectural style – and this is where it departs from the similarities to the Windward Islands. Forget the chintzy-décor that is often found there, Raffles has instead chosen a sleek, urban aesthetic with clean lines and minimal fuss across its 86 oversized villas, perched terrace style into the hillside.
The hotel is located on Anse Takamaka beach, on the northern tip of Praslin, and each villa has its own plunge pool, expansive outdoor pavilion and deck area while inside its rooms boast those types of views you’ll remember with a rush in years to come. You’ll also find ridiculously indulgent details that you never knew you desired until you experience them first here.
Your bath, for instance, is perfectly positioned by a picture window for star gazing, your outdoor shower is private yet wonderfully open to the warm morning sun and each room has been designed as a ‘series’, leading into each other, with floor to ceiling windows, to make the most of the beauty outside. The pared-back, contemporary style means dark-wood plantation shutters, a slick, white granite bathroom and understated design references to the natural world with coral motifs woven into sea-green rugs, mother-of-pearl lightshades and a rough-hewn, rock-face wall behind the huge bed.
Despite all the luxe touches, however, this is not one of those hotels where you come to hide away from the world – Raffles’ ethos is to encourage guests to go out and discover what lies beyond its walls. And it would be a crime not to do that here. The island directly faces the uninhabited – and protected – island of Curieuse. Called the ‘original Garden of Eden’ – it should be your first port of call.
Now a nature preserve, it was once a leper colony (until the 1960s) and now is home to giant tortoises, black parrots and the rare coco-de-mer, the palm tree that produces the largest – and rudest looking – nut on earth, which is otherwise only found in one other place in the world – the Vallee de Mai virgin forest on Praslin. Hop on a boat over to its shores and you can walk around the colony museum, which dates back to the 1870s, and hike through the wild mangrove forest – occasionally accompanied by an humongous tortoise – finishing your trip with, of course, a dip in the ocean.
From the must-see sunset on Anse Lazio’s shores (Raffles will provide champagne and canapés as you watch the sun go down on one of the world’s most idyllic beaches) to snorkelling around the house reef (you’ll paddle along with stingrays, sea turtles and morays) – this is one of the most life-enhancing places you’ll visit.
For those sorry to say goodbye to it all (that’s all of us then), my advice would be to prolong your trip with a stop-off on your way home.
And Raffles’ sister property in Dubai – shaped like an Egyptian pyramid – is an indulgent way to segue back into urban life. It also has an emphasis on an inventive food offering. Tapping into the penchant for themed afternoon teas, it is home to the Manolo Blahnik Collection Afternoon Tea – which includes peach-praline chocolate stilettos and a pannacotta and sour cherry hat stand. It’s a people-watching must – pulling in Dubai’s stylish movers and shakers. Tomo, its 17th-floor Japanese restaurant is another highlight. Here you can sample authentic cuisine such as Japanese Wagyu beef – try it charcoal grilled with fresh wasabi and sesame ‘Ponzu’ sauce – sushi, ramen and Yakimono fish.
Overseeing all of the hotel’s restaurants – including the chic Solo Italian – is Greek executive chef Doxis Bekris. “If you are into food, then Dubai is the place to come,” he says. “It’s hard to keep up with all the new openings, but every famous chef wants to have an outpost here. This is the Middle East with soul. It’s a mind-blowing place.”
Raffles Praslin Seychelles, from €650 (including 26% service/taxes) per villa per night, based on single or double occupancy in a Garden View Pool Villa on a B&B basis. +248 429 6780; raffles.com/praslin
Raffles Dubai, from 1314 AED per room per night based on two sharing. +800 1723 3537; raffles.com/dubai
This article also appears on The Arbuturian