Paradise amidst the waves

The Seychelles is more than just an 'affordably exclusive' getaway, it's quite simply as 'pure as it gets'. Mark Lazell trotted off to the islands to find out the secret behind the magic.
Nature at your doorstep ... Eco-tourism is a major draw for visitors to the Seychelles.

The Seychelles is gearing up to woo more Gulf residents in an attempt to diversify its traditional sources of tourist revenue and tap into a potentially lucrative market.

The Seychelles Tourism Marketing Authority (STMA) is spearheading a campaign to promote the Indian Ocean islands as an 'affordably exclusive' destination for short breaks, honeymoons and weddings or specialist activities such as big game fishing and diving.

The STMA's slogan for the Seychelles, 'As pure as it gets' is an accurate one, thanks to the country's policy of developing the tourism industry sustainably and in harmony with an environment, which includes unique terrestrial and marine flora and fauna, pristine white beaches and crystal clear seas.

Although the images of exclusivity and beauty associated with the Seychelles projects a perception that it is an expensive destination, the STMA emphasises that, while the top island hideaways continue to attract well-heeled clients looking to escape from the rigours of the outside world, the 115 islands which make up the Seychelles still offer a diverse range of resorts, hotels and traditional Creole-style guesthouses to suit more modest budgets.

With the Gulf identified as a major potential market, officials are keen to emphasise that the Seychelles are only four and a half hours flying time from Dubai, with national carrier Air Seychelles currently making the trip twice a week.

Eco-tourism is a major draw for visitors to the Seychelles. Approximately half the country's landmass is classed as protected nature reserve, with attractions such as the world-famous Coco de Mer palm trees in the Valee de Mai on Praslin Island and giant tortoises throughout the islands. And though many choose to soak up the sun on a near- deserted, palm tree-lined beach for much of their holiday, others opt for one of the many activities on offer, including some of the world's most spectacular snorkelling, diving, big game fishing and windsurfing. Indeed, many of the resorts are fully geared up for the visitor with a passion for adventure.

The islands themselves offer great geographical variety, from flat coral atolls to the granite peaks of the main island of Mahe, which rise up to 905m. Transport between islands is by ferry, light aircraft, helicopter or chartered yacht, Air Seychelles operating a regular network of flights throughout the archipelago.

The islands of Alphonse, Fregate and Denis are exclusive, single-resort island getaways popular with those looking to see and be unseen. In remote locations where the only access is a grass landing strip between swaying coconut palms, accommodation and cuisine nevertheless remains the last word in luxury.

Fregate is an ecologist's dream - the Magpie Robin and the giant tenebrionid beetle are found nowhere else on earth and the island is almost self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables, which are used in the resort's high-class restaurant. Alphonse and Denis islands, meanwhile, are established niche activity centres, Alphonse attracting fly fishing enthusiasts from around the world and Denis considered an ideal base for deep sea marlin and tuna fishing.

The main islands also boast a host of spectacular resorts. On Mahe, the Plantation Club Resort and Casino attracts a younger clientele who enjoy its 1 km beachfront, stunning natural surroundings and lively restaurants only 30 minutes from the country's international airport. On Praslin, Lemuria Resort has two spectacular beaches, boasts the only 18-hole golf course in the Seychelles (and surely one of the most scenic) and offers a wide range of other water-based activities. Just off the coast of Mahe is Anonmye Island, a haven of tranquility with easy access to the amenities of the main island.

Achieving the STMA's goal of sustainable tourism development in the Seychelles will, it says, ultimately depend on creating more high quality accommodation and enhancing current services. Recently-opened luxury properties such as the Banyan Tree on Mahe and the Sainte Anne Resort (operated by the Mauritian Beachcomber Hotels chain), just 15 minutes boat transfer from the international airport, will go some way to addressing this ongoing need.

With nature's bounty having firmly been bestowed on the Seychelles, the ingredients are surely in place to position the islands as a preferred new destination for Gulf travellers.