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The Seychelles islands – another world brought to you by .travel

Apr 15, 2011 is the official destination website for the Seychelles islands, and it was not by chance that the Seychelles Tourism Board chose .travel as their domain choice. When a company takes on a website name that ends in .travel, it is an automatic identifier that it is travel and tourism related. Said Alain St. Ange, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, “Companies must qualify as legitimate travel and/or tourism companies before they can register to be a part of the .travel domain. We knew that by having .travel in our website name, it would add an element of confidence for customers who visit our official tourism website.”

The islands today known as the Seychelles lay at the heart of a giant landmass some 150 million years ago known as Gondwanaland. Over the ensuing millennia, shifting tectonic plates, and the phenomenon known as continental drift, caused island fragments to float away until they finally came to rest where they now lie – a magnificent array of 115 islands scattered between 4 and 10 degrees south of the equator, across an economic zone of 1,400,000 km. sq.

Of these islands, the inner islands comprising 41 granitic islands and two coralline isles are situated on the Seychelles plateau. Mahé, the principal island, home to the international airport and also to the tiny capital, Victoria, together with their close neighbors, Praslin and La Digue, form the economic and cultural hub of the nation and contain the lion’s share of its tourism establishments, retail outlets, and service providers.

The outer islands are divided into five groups, set like glittering jewels in an arc that seems to reach out for the east coast of Africa, 1,600 km distant, without quite getting there. Among these unique isles, many of which remain virtually untouched by man, are to be found a stunning collection of reef islands, sand cays, and majestic atolls, cocooned since the dawn of time from the predations of man and which, faithful to their primordial origins, still harbor unique life-forms. One such atoll, Aldabra, the largest raised coral atoll on Earth, is so exceptional that it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Arguably, one of Seychelles’ greatest assets is the exotic assortment of its multitude of islands and the variety they offer to visitors wishing to take in a selection of islands during the course of their stay. Each island possesses its individual topography and character extending from granite boulders to coral reefs, from untouched forests and bird sanctuaries to private resorts and hideaways and, in this respect, never has the visitor been more spoiled for the sheer choice of unspoiled island venues.

Of all of Seychelles islands, currently a mere 16 have hotels, several of which offer the most luxurious amenities and all of which possess their own natural charm. They offer everything from the opulence of world-famous 5-star resorts to the picturesque charms of affordable smaller hotels, Creole guest houses, and self-caterings. Celebrated hotel chains such as Banyan Tree already operate a hotel on the islands with several others including Shangri-la and Four Seasons looking to open their doors in the near future. The islands of Bird and Denis located to the north of Mahé, Frégate to the east, and Desroches and Alphonse to the south each offer diverse and unforgettable island experiences. Those fortunate enough to travel to the islands of the far south will be rewarded by the heart-stopping beauty of Cosmoledo, Farquhar, and the jewel in Seychelles’ crown, Aldabra, with its magnificent lagoon and teeming wildlife. An efficient network of inter-island boat, plane, and helicopter transfers will accommodate almost any itinerary affording the visitor the opportunity to explore and discover the unique features of each of these island treasures.

Among Seychelles’ other national icons are its beaches many of which, such as Praslin’s Anse Lazio and La Digue’s Anse Source D’argent, regularly top the list of the most beautiful on the planet. Mahé alone has some 65 beaches to choose from, many of which are wonderfully secluded and where the only footprints you will come across may be your own. Each island has its own special strand, inevitably lapped by warm sapphire waters that contain so many species of colorful reef fish that diving, snorkelling, or just swimming becomes a surreal, unforgettable experience.

As for Seychelles’ history, early travelogues indicate that the islands were well known to seafarers many centuries before the first French settlers arrived in the latter part of the 18th century. The Phoenicians and the Polynesians may well have called on the islands en route to Madagascar, but it was Portuguese navigator Juan de Nova who made the first recorded landfall in the Seychelles in 1501. This was closely followed by Vasco da Gama who discovered and named the Amirantes Islands in 1502 on his second voyage to India.

No attempt was made to settle any of the islands for more than 260 years, although there is evidence that the islands were a haven for pirates from as early as the 16th century. Bel Ombre on the island of Mahé is still thought to be the site of the fabulous undiscovered treasure hoard of the pirate Olivier le Vasseur, better known as “La Buze,” or “Buzzard,” thought to be worth, today, around £150,000,000 sterling.

The islands remained in French hands from the mid-1700s until the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. By the time Seychelles was ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Paris in 1814, the population had reached 3,500. Under British rule, Victoria was established as the capital and important estates were established during this time producing coconut, food-crops, cotton, and sugar cane. Seychelles was granted independence from Britain in 1976, and is, today, a Republic within the Commonwealth under the Presidency of Mr. James Alix Michel.

The Seychellois people are a colorful and harmonious blend of different nationalities, all of whom have brought something of their own customs and cultures to the islands. The result is a culture enriched from many continents by the influences of which the population has blended into the live-and-let-live philosophy of a society for which harmony remains a natural way of life.

In Victoria, the world’s smallest capital, you will find Roman Catholic and Anglican cathedrals, a Seventh Day Adventist Church, a mosque, a Hindu Temple, and halls of worship for several other denominations, and it is not uncommon to witness public walks organized jointly by several religions. Of all the imported religions, French Catholicism has proved by far the most influential, surviving over a century of British rule.

Alongside the English and French languages, the Seychellois Creole language is the lingua franca - an adaptation of 17th Century French with other words and expressions imported from African languages and also from Madagascar. Today, Seychellois Creole has been elevated to national language status, earning the same respect that English and French receive. Such freedom has resulted in an outburst of creativity in plays, poetry, and prose, permitting Seychellois Creole culture to become an attraction for worldwide visitors wishing to experience a unique, authentic, island-style way of life.

Creole architecture, with its distinctive style, provides another important cultural aspect of the islands, and the designs of some of the grand old houses with their steep roofs are representative of an architecture adapted for comfortable living in the tropics. Examples of old Creole buildings are to be found everywhere with the modern style of architecture still emulating their most distinctive, tropical-friendly characteristics.

One not-to-be-missed treat for the visitor is Seychelles gastronomy, which is a spectacular reflection of the fusion of cultures in Seychelles’ society and which offers the subtlety and innovation of French cuisine, as well as the piquant flavors and exotic culinary combinations of the East across a fascinating spectrum of textures, tastes, colors, and ingredients. Here is where the ocean’s abundant reserves of seafood, and the islands’ ample harvest of fresh vegetables and fruits will find their way to your table with a uniqueness, innovation, and true gourmet flair that is guaranteed to seduce the most refined palate. Classic Creole dishes include an assortment of seafood curries and gratins; grilled fish basted with garlic, ginger and chillies; and salad of palm heart, but many restaurants serve international favorites, and there are several speciality restaurants offering Indian, Chinese, Italian, and Thai treats.

The wonderful variety of Seychelles’ flora and fauna with its high proportion of endemic species nurtured within one of nature’s last pristine sanctuaries makes it an exciting destination for naturalists, ornithologists, and eco-tourists alike. Nowhere else on Earth are to be found unique specimens such as the pitcher plant, jellyfish tree, with only 8 surviving examples; the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, and 13 species and 17 subspecies of rare, endemic bird life. The Vallée de Mai, once thought to be the original site of the Garden of Eden, is Seychelles’ second UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is where you will find the world’s heaviest seed, the amazing double-lobed coconut known as the coco-de-mer, growing tall on ancient palms in a shady glade. From the smallest frog to the heaviest land tortoise and the only flightless bird of the Indian Ocean, Seychelles boasts an amazing array of endemic and indigenous species waiting to be discovered on its several guided nature walks and trails.

With 115 diverse islands spread across an area of 1,400,000 sq. km. of sparkling waters, one can well understand seafarers who believe that the Seychelles were created with the sailor in mind. Chartering a yacht provides perhaps the most rewarding way of discovering the hidden treasures of the archipelago at one’s own pace and whim, cruising in cyclone-free waters and enjoying a dazzling array of inner island venues with golden beaches fringed by warm, turquoise waters. Further afield, the virgin territories of the Amirantes and the southern island groups offer unparalleled opportunities for big-game fishing and diving amid turtles, mantas, and dolphins in places where few have gone before. A modern fleet of sail and power boats, mono-hull and catamaran, bareboat and skippered is there to accommodate you as you sail off to the frontiers of your imagination in one of the most stunningly beautiful places on Earth.

It should not be overlooked that Seychelles has some of the richest fishing grounds in the world and you do not have to venture far from the shoreline to break fishing records. Just cast your fly-lines on the magnificent shallow flats of Alphonse or one of the islands in the Amirantes group, and chances are you will land several energetic Bonefish to challenge the record books. The outer islands of Seychelles have become an important epicenter of salt-water fly-fishing for the connoisseur.

International sport and recreational fishermen enthusiastically return to Seychelles’ waters that already boast several world records for Pacific Bonito and Dogtooth Tuna. The abundance of Wahoo, Bonito, Dorado, and several species of Tuna make a day’s fishing trip an unforgettable experience, allowing you to savor the finest-tasting fish on offer anywhere in the world.

With so many islands to choose from it is little wonder that another of Seychelles’ outstanding resources lies in the impressive diving opportunities it offers to novice and aficionado alike. Myriad dive sites promise a marine extravaganza as diverse and vibrant as it is unique. This living aquarium enjoys comfortable year-round temperatures of between 24º and 30º Celsius and lies outside the cyclone belt. Colorful reef fish, octopus, lobster, and turtle flash in the shallows surrounding the inner islands, while more adventurous dives offshore include the “Ennerdale” wreck and rocks that are the playground for larger groupers and stingrays. Imagine the thrill of swimming with whale sharks, those gentle giants of the sea that are regular visitors to Seychelles’ waters, or diving the spectacular coral walls of the outer islands. The dedicated and accredited diving centers of most hotels and island resorts offer everything from one-day introductory courses to international diving instructor certificates.

No account of Seychelles’ riches can be considered complete without mention of its reputation as “the islands of love,” and it is little wonder that that lovers are inspired to take their vows and wed in this gentle and romantic atmosphere. Sensual Seychelles creates the idyllic ambience for an unforgettable wedding day or honeymoon beneath the swaying palms of discreet island hideaways.

All in all, you can’t get much further away from milling crowds, and it’s amazing how blue skies and white beaches can clear the mind and inspire the imagination. That is why as a venue for small conferences and select company incentives, Seychelles represents a powerful partnership of business and pleasure. With its excellent communications infrastructure and reliable air links to Europe, Africa, and Asia, Seychelles can offer environmentally-friendly corporations rewarding investment opportunities.

Seychelles has all there is to offer, and more, but, apart from its great diversity, perhaps its most enduring attraction is the security it offers and also the enviable pace of life amid the tranquillity and multi-racial harmony of the islands. Here, cocooned within the reassuring atmosphere of a large family, there is still “time to enjoy” the finer things of life and to appreciate the elements of a refreshing Creole culture and truly enviable tropical island lifestyle.

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The Seychelles islands – another world brought to you by .travel
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