Hand on heart, I adore the Maldives, but for all its swaying palms and icing-sugar beaches, it’s not the most diverse place. Checking into half a dozen different resorts there provides half a dozen shades of the same castaway-luxe experience — there’s going to be a nice pool, soft sands and blue ocean, and it is all likely to be very, very expensive.
And that’s what drew me to the Seychelles this spring. I heard that it had all the appeal of the Maldives, but with jungled peaks, diverse wildlife, more accessible culture and freedom to explore. Crucially, the hotel scene is comparatively kaleidoscopic, with cheap guesthouses seemingly as bountiful as glam resort hotels.
So I thought, what if I were to stay in the cheapest beach hotel I could find — and the most expensive? Experiencing the two would surely provide the ultimate barometer of this paradise.
Georgina’s Cottage, Beau Vallon, Mahé
B&B from £69 a night
All I had really hoped for is that it would be clean. In a country where sundowners can cost £20 a pop, how can a beachfront B&B possibly be just £69 per night? I braced myself for hotel hell as the taxi swung up bougainvillea-lined switchbacks on the main Seychellois island of Mahé, delivering me from the capital, Victoria, to west-facing Beau Vallon.
With its long crescent dotted with fishing boats, loungers, restaurants and tour-operator kiosks, this touristy beach is built up compared to most idyllic white-sand stretches in the Seychelles. But paradise is relative, and Mahé — though it may be the nation’s answer to Blackpool — still scores a solid eight out of ten on the global beauty scale. There are broad, smooth sands, tranquil water and green hills as bookends.
To the north of Beau Vallon beach, Georgina’s Cottage is owned by Geraldine Laporte, who lives next door and has been in tourism for 40 years. She named the B&B after her husband’s grandmother, and there’s a familial hospitality as my husband and I are ushered into the lobby for our early 10am check-in. “Would you like breakfast?” we’re asked, before being led out onto a garden-facing terrace. Coffee and fruit is served, free of charge.
Nibbling away next to other guests — young digital nomads on laptops; a family — I see why this place might be so affordable. Or rather, I hear it. The enticing sands and gently sloshing surf are just a few steps away, but so is the busy North Coast Road, wrapping the hotel in a hum of traffic. “It’s like when we were backpacking in our early twenties,” my husband says between bites of papaya. I think he’s referring to the Bangkok hotel where we were kept awake all night by the din of motorbikes outside.
By the time we are led to our room we’ve largely acclimatised to the soundtrack. The two £69 options — on the ground floor — have already been booked, but I manage a sneaky peek. They are surprisingly spacious, and while internal bathrooms feature the classic hospitalesque lighting scheme common to budget bedrooms the world over, this is offset by large bedroom windows. There’s cutlery, wine glasses and fridges, as well as speedy wi-fi, plenty of electricity points and air con. Beach towels are provided on request, and there is access to a shared kitchen for self-catering. It’s more than I dared to hope for — and it’s clean too.
The real steal, I find, is our first-floor room — a splash-out £99 a night. It’s brighter and has a private balcony overlooking the road and sands beyond. We drop our bags and sit outside sipping beers bought earlier in Victoria. Hotel-disaster seemingly averted, my shoulders unclench and I eventually slink off to bed for a lazy afternoon nap.
A room at the cottage
I am woken up half an hour later by distant, urgent shouts from my husband. He went for a walk and left the keys behind, and is now locked out of not only our room but the entire building. It turns out that Georgina’s staff decamp in late afternoon to its sister Beach Shak bar across the road, locking various doors in their wake.
● Best beaches in the Seychelles
The remedy for this — and any other troublesome scenario — is going to the bar and asking for help. Thankfully this is no hardship, as we discover that Beach Shak has great cocktails and the best sunset view in Beau Vallon. When the sun is hanging low and most people have moved from playing in the surf to the bar, we snag a perfect corner table for pre-dinner drinks. I’ve got a rum punch in my hand and eyes on the sky, until — “Do you guys know where the clubs are?”
Our sunset view has been intercepted by two off-duty Spanish navy sailors with matching dental braces. Melissa and Frank have been enthusiastically hydrating in Beau Vallon since 3pm, and are now swaying like wind-rustled palms. “Can you take our picture? Where are you from? Can you take our picture?” We spend the next 15 minutes assisting an elaborate photoshoot for people we will never see again. By the time they stumble off into the surf for a (possibly ill-advised) swim and we refocus attention on the horizon, the sun has gone. But at least we’ve got more cocktails to drink alongside the sound of the surf as consolation.
All-inclusive from £8,240 a night
Guests usually arrive at North Island by helicopter
Can any hotel room be worth more than £8,000 a night? It’s a thought taking extremely sharp focus in my mind as my wind-battered boat bucks across rollicking waves en route to North Island. On the day of my arrival a tropical storm has rolled in, the helicopter — the preferred 15-minute arrival method from Mahé — isn’t running and this is the stomach-churning alternative. When we finally disembark on the main beach, where four ponchoed staff hover eagerly with umbrellas and towels, a mega-wave arrives and drenches me from the waist down.
If you’ve heard of North Island before it’s because it’s one of the most exclusive hotels in the world. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as they were then, honeymooned on its private 500 acres; George and Amal Clooney too. It’s a favourite of oligarchs and sheikhs, top footballers, Hollywood stars and the Beckhams. Its 11 exclusive villas line a spectacular beach, coddled in foliage, far from prying eyes and zoom lenses. The rest is dense jungle, hills and more beach, dotted with a couple of restaurants and a spa. Even in low season a standard room costs from £5,340 a night, B&B — or from £8,240 at the “Dream Experience” rate — it is a ridiculous amount of money by any measure, especially when the weather is impersonating a monsoon.
There’s an indoor-outdoor vibe at North Island
Thankfully, things don’t stay soggy. The next morning North Island is bathed in sunshine, and it’s apparently paradisical business as usual. The epically long deserted beach outside our room shines golden. Geckos and giant tortoises appear from dense jungle. Butterflies flit across the organic kitchen garden. The island is Jurassic Park spectacular and feels unscarred by modern humanity, hushed apart from birdsong and rhythmic surf. Beau Vallon this is not.
The villas are the stuff of which Instagram dreams are made. With thatched roofs and an indoor-outdoor vibe that blends swathes of sun deck with plush interiors in wood and aquamarine, even the ten standard-sized ones could compete with a British house on footprint. There are cosy corners for reading and multiple romantic outdoor showers.
The Prince and Princess of Wales are previous guests of North Island
Down at breakfast in the beachfront restaurant — I’ve driven us here via private golf buggy, though we could just have easily cycled or ordered room service — I start rubbernecking.
● Best time to visit the Seychelles
There’s only a few other tables dotting the sands, judiciously spaced for privacy, and surprisingly no one looks flashy. Clearly this is a clientele so wealthy that they have nothing left to prove. But I also suspect that atmosphere plays a part. North Island was founded as a kind of “wellness safari” and, for all its priciness, sticks closely to its barefoot-luxe philosophy. Guests can get all-inclusive Louis Roederer champagne at breakfast or shower with Hermès shampoo, but also shouldn’t mind getting bitten by a few mosquitoes or peeing outside (all loos are alfresco). The point is privacy, exclusivity and virgin landscapes, not coddling.
The spa overlooks the ocean
OK, there is some coddling. Our private butler, Fred, a 20-year veteran of the hotel, books us into the spa overlooking the ocean, then sends up our bottle of unfinished fizz from lunch so we can lazily sip it post-massage. He arranges a snorkelling trip with a friendly guide who points out octopuses and sharks in the underwater boulders. We mention that we love Japanese food so he surprises us with a sushi dinner in the villa — and a sunset bonfire on the rocks. When my husband inexplicably orders a Guinness on a 30C afternoon Fred even raids the staff storeroom to get him a couple of cold bottles. As we’re on the Dream rate, nearly every last thing is included — apart from one extra splash-out Chef’s Table dinner of caviar and lobster (a mere £479pp supplement).
But the real wow — a truly priceless experience — has nothing to do with pampering. We have finished a private picnic lunch on pristine Honeymoon beach, overlooking the raw verdancy of neighbouring Silhouette Island, and had the outrageously beautiful sands to ourselves for hours. Then, as the sun is dropping, two conservation workers appear from the brush — they’re here because there are eggs hatching in a turtle’s nest.
Rooms and suites can come with private butlers
We watch with not another soul around as dozens of tiny turtles take their first steps into the world. The sky is majestic orange; little ungainly figures are hurtling themselves towards the water. It is magic, yet strangely familiar. As the sun disappears two final, lingering turtles plunk awkwardly into the surf. We’ve only just met them and will never see them again, but feeling sentimental at the farewell we name them — Melissa and Frank.
Alicia Miller was a guest of Tourism Seychelles (seychelles.com); North Island, which has all-inclusive doubles from £8,240 (north-island.com); Georgina’s Cottage, which has B&B doubles from £69 (georginas-cottage.com); and Audley Travel, which has seven nights’ half-board, with four nights at North Island, from £22,500pp, including flights and helicopter transfers (audleytravel.com)
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