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Flip flop or island hop in the Seychelles

June 6, 2012 5 comments

The beautiful island of La Digue in the Seychelles.

Home to giant tortoises and some of the best beaches in the world, Alannah Eames discovers the Seychelles is not just a playground for the rich and honeymooners.

Read the online article published by The Times of Malta or download a pdf of the printed article.

Seychellois cuisine: one of the world’s best kept secrets

Maria Rock Café on Mahé: cook your own fish and seafood on a hot plate.

I had little to no expectations of Seychellois cuisine before my trip, merely looking forward to fresh fish and giant shrimps. I wasn’t disappointed. The Seychellois Creole cuisine is inspired by African, Chinese, Indian, English, French and Indian influences. Ingredients like ginger, coriander, pepper, lemongrass and fresh herbs play a key role.

While the food is not as hot or spicy as Asian cuisine, one of the most popular meals is curry which is usually made with fresh coconut cream, and served with rice.

Seychellois chefs use elements borrowed from their neighbors and have adapted them to conjure up their own local dishes. This is aided by the vast availability and quality of local fruit and vegetables.

You’re spoilt for fish in the Seychelles … red snapper is a firm favorite.

Fish is, by far, the most popular dish on most menus, which is not surprising considering the vast variety of fish in the huge oceanic territory belonging to this island nation.

Some of the more exotic and unusual dishes we discovered on menus were red snapper in vanilla sauce served with cinnamon-flavored rice (Le Rendez Vous) fruitbat stew (Anse Soleil Café)and tuna & tequila (Anchor Café).

During our eight-day stay in the Seychelles, we tried a wide selection of local restaurants and restaurants located in hotels. The best food, value-for-money and atmosphere was, without a doubt, in the non-hotel based restaurants, with the exception of the Indian Ocean Lodge in Praslin where both lunch and dinner were excellent.

Some personal favorites:

Maria’s Rock Café, Baie Lazare, Mahé: tucked away on a sleepy road, this cave-like bar and restaurant is owned by Maria, the Seychellois spouse of Italian sculptor Antonio Filippin who owns the studio next door. What makes it special is that you can cook your giant shrimps or red snapper yourself on garlic butter on a hot iron plate which is placed on your table. Simple, delicious and fun.

Le Rendez Vous, Victoria, Mahé: in the heart of the Seychelles’ capital, this is the perfect spot for people watching and gives you a bird’s eye view of local Seychellois life on the streets below.

Anse Soleil Café, Mahé: If you want to try a local delicacy, fruitbat – either grilled or in a stew.

Chez Batistas, Mahé : great lunch buffet on Sundays; and fantastic views over Takamaka Bay.

Simple, fresh and exotic … the local Parrot fish.

News Café: perfect breakfast or lunch spot with a selection of local newspapers. And good coffee – choose from Illy or Lavazza. Interestingly, they both have a different price!

Anchor Café, Mahé: run by a super-friendly Seychellois lady and her American-born husband, their speciality is delicious blackened fish (catch of the day – we had jobfish – spiced with whatever herbs they have in the kitchen and a carefully guarded secret) or their more original tuna steak with tequila sauce.

Marie-Antoinette, Victoria, Mahé: set in a splendid old plantation house, the walls are covered in history and memoralia. And don’t forget to say ‘hello’ to the resident giant tortoises in the pen outside. This is the perfect spot to end your holiday in the Seychelles, before boarding your flight home.

And the not-so-special:

Sea Horse, Constance Lémuria Resort, Praslin: the chef may have a Michelin star under his belt and the management may claim to offer a fusion of local and European cuisine, but the influence here is heavily European, mainly French. If you’re coming from Europe, and are looking forward to Indian Ocean cuisine, you won’t be impressed to see foie de gras, duck, Angus beef and other French delicacies on the menu. It may be interesting if you are sick off the local Creole cuisine or if you are the kind of person who likes to stick to what you usually eat, and know, from back home. And, the French sommelier, definitely wasn’t impressed, or friendly, when I asked for the South African instead of the French wine.

Take-away at Praslin airport, Praslin: The locals tend to get a takeaway and enjoy it at home or on the beach. It’s cheap, quick and tasty. Unfortunately, I opted for a fish curry here not realizing it was dried and salted fish which is then placed into the curry; I ended up with a mouthful of fish bones and salt. But, for EUR 4, I guess I can’t complain!

Pirates Arms, Mahé: With rumors abounding amongst the local fishermen about some modern-day Somali pirates venturing into the Seychelles outer territory, and about Madagascar-based pirates landing in the Seychelles centuries ago, we were eager to check out this place. Disappointingly, the closest we got to seeing pirates were two elderly Rastafarians propped up at the bar. Good spot to enjoy a drink but it’s more like an American-style diner than a restaurant or café.

Grann Kaz restaurant on Silhouette Island: authentic Creole food in an old plantation house. Check out their homemade vanilla-flavored rum!

The ‘Jurassic Park’ of the Seychelles

Volcanic Silhouette Island – 20 kilometers north-west of Mahé and measuring 20 square kilometers – is the third largest island in the Seychelles.

Named after Etienne de Silhouette, the French Minister of Finance during Louis XV’s reign, the island has dramatic scenery with mountainous peaks up to 740 meters high; it’s also located within a Marine National Park.

The island was owned by the Dauban family – originally from France but who settled in Mauritius – and their 150-year-old plantation house still exists today as the Grann Kaz restaurant, which is now part of the Hilton Labriz Resort, the only hotel on the island. The house is a protected monument which has been lovingly restored to its former glory. Inside it’s like a museum, filled with antique takamaka (a local strong and dark wood) furniture. It also has its own in-house rum, infused with local flavors like vanilla.

Grann Kaz restaurant on Silhouette Island: authentic Creole food in an old plantation house. It has been lovingly restored and houses many antiques from its colonial past.

A few members of the large population of resident giant tortoises found on Silhouette Island, a haven for nature lovers.

But what really makes Silhouette worth a day trip from Mahé is its fantastic hiking paths and native flora and fauna. A big fan of wildlife, when I asked what kind of animals I can expect to see, I was told: “The sheath-tailed bat, giant millipede, grey slug local cricket and grasshopper.” As I loathe creepy crawlies and had never heard of this almost extinct bat, this didn’t really blow me away. But, once I heard it was also a breeding site for the Seychelles giant tortoises and home to the elusive black parrot, I got slightly more interested. By the time, I left the island I too was fascinated by its giant millipede, which can grow up to 35 centimeters long, and the last-remaining samples of this local bat.

Around 135 locals live on Silhouette Island, excluding guests and staff at the Hilton Labriz Resort, a plush five-star property. Tourists and day-trippers are also welcome thanks to the Silhouette Experience, the initiative of the Island Conservation Society (ICS), which has recently set up turtle, sheath-tailed bat and coral reef monitoring activities on the island. The package includes the boat trip from the Hilton Labriz’s jetty at Bel Ombre, Mahé, guided tour and walks around Silhouette, a visit of the giant tortoise farm and a Creole lunch at Grann Kaz.

The Hilton Labriz ferry takes guests and day trippers alike to and from Silhouette Island, a 30-minute boat ride from the main island of Mahé.

As we depart from the Bel Ombre jetty, dark clouds loom over Silhouette and the waves pick up. January is marked by the north-west trade winds which explains why the sea here is a bit choppy. Luckily, the crossing takes just 30 minutes; some hotel guests with poor sea legs opt for the James Bond-like helicopter transfer from the international airport.

If you fall in love with Silhouette, you might consider staying at the Hilton Labriz, not just to enjoy its spacious suites but to try out its fantastic Flintstone-like spa. Instead of knocking down boulders and trees to build the spa, the spa has been built around the natural vegetation. As a result, granite boulders peep up through the wooden floorboards in the treatment rooms, palm trees sway right next to the windows and the stunning relax area makes you feel a million miles away from reality.

If you’re looking for modern day comforts in a back-to-nature surrounding, the Hilton Labriz presses the right buttons. Vincent from Guest Relations has worked on many of the islands during his career in the hotel industry. He tell us that Silhouette is one of the best because “it’s just so peaceful”.

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