Mahé is the largest and most densely populated island in Seychelles, home to 90 percent of Seychellois. The instinct of many visitors soon after touching down at the International Airport is to rush away to Praslin, La Digue or even further afield to discover the real Seychelles. However, while the capital Victoria has its fair share of traffic jams and building works, it’s still the sort of place where everyone knows everyone else and where a game of dominoes outside the local shop is a social highlight. Beyond the town, there are plenty of opportunities to leave the paraphernalia of modern life behind, with escape routes down to the beach or up into the mountains.
Mahé covers an area of 158 sq km (61 sq miles) and rises to 905 metres (2,970ft) above sea level. It is 27km (17 miles) long and, at its widest, 8km (5 miles) across, so it can easily be covered by car in a day. There is a good network of roads, both coastal and inland, and a day spent driving round the island in an open jeep or Mini Moke is a great way to start your holiday. Most of Seychelles’ present population lives on Mahé, concentrated on the north and east coasts. Land reclamation along the east coast created valuable stretches of flat new terrain for development, and allowed for the building of a straight route from the airport to Victoria, cutting out the many twists and turns of the old coast road. The creation of this “new” land has meant that the vital development of the island’s infrastructure has been largely concentrated in the area around the capital, thus limiting its impact on the rest of the island.
Being the largest and highest island, there is an element of grandeur in Mahé’s beauty the other islands don’t have. The coastal scenery goes from wild granite cliffs where waves crash against massive boulders tumbling into the ocean, to tranquil palm-fringed bays, such as Beau Vallon. If you feel jaded by turquoise waters and silver sands, you can escape into the high hills and experience the eerie silence of the remote rainforest. Old plantations offer diversions such as the Jardin du Roi and the Craft Village. The atmosphere is unforgettable, and one which many tropical islands have long since lost. Surrounding Mahé are several satellite islands, many of which lie in the Ste Anne Marine National Park.
Victoria is still a tiny capital by modern standards. It lies on the east coast, 8 km (5 miles) north of the airport, bounded by mountains on one side and sea on the other. Today, Victoria is the commercial centre of Seychelles and during business hours the streets throng with people and traffic. “Old” Victoria, the area that lies at the foot of the mountains, is built around narrow streets with eccentric pavements that rise over great storm drains one minute, and drop into a gutter the next. Elegant if dilapidated French colonial-style buildings are huddled around them. Worthwhile attractions include the Clock Tower, the Sir Selwyn Selwyn Clarke Market, the Seychelles National Museum and the Botanical Gardens.
In 1772 Antoine Gillot, under instruction from the French government, planted a Royal Spice Garden, but this is long since overgrown. In its memory, the Jardin du Roi (King’s Garden) has been established on the hillside above Sweet Escott Road. This renovated spice plantation, based on the former L’Enfoncement Estate, gives you a chance to see many aromatic plants growing (including nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, vanilla and cloves). There is a walk laid out which you can follow using the printed guide. The small museum in the plantation house has some interesting exhibits, including old prints, maps and photos of Seychelles, and information on growing and using spices.
On the site of a former plantation, is the Craft Village (Le Village Artisanal) where you can while away a bit of time looking at the workshops and shopping for souvenirs. In the middle of the village the old plantation house, dating from 1870, has been furnished in typical colonial style. The cool, dark rooms smell of wax polish and cinnamon, and conjure a picture of the genteel existence once enjoyed by the privileged few. It’s easy to imagine a candlelit social gathering, the ladies in their long dresses frantically fanning themselves and the gentlemen in full evening dress savouring the fine wines imported at great expense from France.
Northwest of Victoria, Beau Vallon is the most popular beach in Seychelles, with three large hotels and several smaller establishments on it or nearby. Nevertheless, it is only really busy at weekends when locals join the tourists to enjoy the beach and watersports. Two of the best dive centres in Seychelles are situated at Coral Strand Hotel and Beau Vallon Bay Hotel. Paragliding is also popular. Other activities include the usual range of watersports from windsurfing to water skiing and water-sausage rides. Beau Vallon is an excellent beach for swimming and safe for children, with soft sand, no undertow or dangerous currents, a gentle gradient and generally no big rollers. It is also a great beach just to relax on and watch the watersports enthusiasts.
The Portuguese called Seychelles the Seven Sisters on their charts because Mahé stands like a grand elder sister surrounded by her lesser siblings, of which six lie just off the east coast, encircling Victoria’s magnificent natural harbour. These islands lie within the Ste Anne Marine National Park, created in 1973, the first such park in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, the corals are a shadow of their former selves, due in part to siltation from land reclamation around Victoria, with the effects of the El Niño weather system and perhaps global warming also implicated. To protect this fragile environment, motorised sports, fishing and the collection of coral, shells and live shellfish are banned. The marine life is still prolific (with more than 200 species of fish) and the short journey to the marine park, combined with lunch on one of the charming and peaceful islands that have restaurants, is still a very pleasant way to spend a day.
Read more about Seychelles in Berlitz: Seychelles Pocket Guide
This guide explores the Seychelles, a group of 115 islands which lie 1600km off the east coast of Africa. Focusing on the main island of Mahe, home to the international airport and the capital, Victor...Read full description