Travel: Paradise found on Alphonse Island in the Seychelles

Snorkelling in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Alphonse Island

Snorkelling in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Alphonse Island

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On a leisurely afternoon stroll during our stay on Alphonse Island in the Seychelles, we are greeted by an unusual sight: a giant Aldabra tortoise ambling along the road. Welcome to the rush-hour on Alphonse. If you want to get away from it all, you’ve come to the right place.

The island used to be only famous for fly fishing. But now it is proving it has much more in its tackle-box. The recently refurbished Alphonse Island hotel is offering the destination’s first foray into luxury travel for all the family – and it’s a resounding success.

Alphonse Island in the Seychelles

Alphonse Island in the Seychelles

Staffed by 64 very friendly employees, under the auspices of the excellent MD, Gordon Rankin, Alphonse Island has 21 gorgeous, recently-redecorated beach bungalows and five beach suites, each with a direct view of the sea.

You can reach Alphonse via Paris on Air Seychelles. The welcoming in-flight service and delicious tropical food instantly get you into the Alphonse vibe. On landing, you spend the night in the Seychelles capital Victoria. We stay at very pleasant Eden Bleu Hotel, which offers an enviable view of a nearby marina.

Next morning, we board a small propeller plane to fly an hour south to Alphonse, across seas glistening like jewels in the sunlight. It is an appealingly casual “airport”, whose fire engine is pulled behind a tractor.

As you step off the plane, there are no passport or security checks. It must be the easiest airport to pass through in the world. On the airstrip, we are greeted with refreshing flannels and coconuts full to the brim with milk.

Nature trumps everything else at Alphonse Island. You are never more than a few minutes away from the next amazing animal encounter. On a nature walk, for instance, we see a horned ghost crab and learn that it can bury itself in the sand and hide from predators for up to six hours.

Alphonse Island, which has a maximum occupancy of just 52 guests, takes conservation very seriously. For instance, to protect the delicate coral reef, no motorised water sports are allowed on the island. In addition, those fishing on the island use barbless hooks, and every fish caught on a fly is immediately released back into the water.

One of the many terrific activities on offer at Alphonse Island is snorkelling, and it’s a breath-taking experience. Like an extra in a David Attenborough documentary, you swim among an incredible array of tropical fish with the most wonderfully exotic names: schooling snapper, bluefin trevally, batfish, moorish idol, milkfish, powder blue tang, moustache triggerfish, nudibranch, yellow-lip emperor, jobfish, damselfish, dog tooth tuna, yellow margin triggerfish, and Picasso triggerfish. It’s like being in an aquarium, but with no walls.

On another day, we go on a dolphin-watching expedition. We are searching for spinner dolphins, so called because they are exhibitionists who like to put on a show. They enjoy nothing more than leaping out of the water in front of the boat and twizzling in mid-air.

There is a visceral thrill when we spot a pod of 100 spinner dolphins in the deep waters surrounding Alphonse. As they circle the boat in a gorgeous arc, formation-dance teams of dolphins breach the surface simultaneously in the most amazing sea samba. They pirouette around the boat in a mesmerising routine. It’s quite a spectacle.

On the island itself, 50 giant Aldabra tortoises – which can live up to 200 years (and so may have been born around the time of the Battle of Waterloo) and weigh more than 300kg – freely roam the paths and, as we have seen, block the traffic.

There are any number of other superb activities to participate in at Alphonse Island, from paddle-boarding and cycling around the car-free paths on your own personalised bike to a “Flats Lunch”, taken knee-deep in water on a spectacular sandbar on the neighbouring island of St François.

The staff at Alphonse Island make the experience all the more enjoyable. Guests congregate in the early evening in the bar area, a beautifully designed thatched deck that leads out onto another picturesque beach. There the fisherman swap tales about the ones that got away.

We are encouraged by Gordon to come to the bar barefoot, “So you can feel the sand between your toes.” A bell is rung in the bar every evening at 7pm for a light hearted celebration of the day’s achievements. Prizes are awarded in categories such as “Biggest Bonefish of the Day” and “Most Sunburnt Person of the Day”.

The bar area is also where the hotel’s delicious fresh food is served. The only drawback is that the wi-fi in the bar won’t allow you to send photos. There must be a smugness block.

Alphonse Island is full of lovely touches. For instance, when you arrive, they leave a welcome tropical flower and kikoy (or sarong) on your bed, to be worn at the last night party.

But the absolute star attraction of the beach bungalows has to be the outside shower at the back of the house. Shielded from prying eyes by a wooden log wall, you can enjoy a wonderful shower open to the elements. It’s highly invigorating.

God is in the detail at Alphonse Island. For example, after an hour of a glorious kayaking trip, just when you’re beginning to flag, hotel staff meet you on a beach by the end of the runway with cold water and wet flannels.

Alphonse is very lucky in that it has no snakes, no killer sharks, no terrible mosquitoes, no insect-borne diseases, and no hurricanes (because it’s too close to the equator). Also, for those of us used to taking dips in the icy North Sea, swimming in the balmy Indian Ocean is like taking a warm bath.

The risk of writing such an article is that it encourages legions of holiday-makers to visit and ruin the unspoilt idyll you have just described. The Eagles sang about this in their classic song, The Last Resort: “You call some place paradise, and you’re kissing it goodbye.”

But the thing is, Alphonse Island really does live up to its paradise billing.

When, as I do, you come from a big city where you can’t go anywhere without being crowded out by hundreds of cars and people, it is an uncanny experience to walk for miles along a flawless white beach without seeing a single other soul.

There are fewer and fewer places like this in the world, and they really need to be preserved. There are no cars on Alphonse, and you’re more likely to be woken by the sound of a turtle than an engine. There is also no mobile signal on the island, so it is ideal for escaping all those hassly calls asking if you have thought of claiming for mis-sold PPI.

As we pass through the tiny arrivals lounge after our return flight to Victoria, I notice a tourist board poster on the wall. Over a photograph of a Seychelles beach, the caption reads: “All the trappings of a truly amazing vacation without the feeling of being trapped.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. n

Air Seychelles (www.airseychelles.com) flies from Edinburgh to Mahe, Seychelles from £672 return per person.

A seven night stay in a Beach Bungalow on a full board basis (excluding beverages) including inter-island flights from Mahe to Alphonse Island return is £8,980 per couple. For reservations contact Jordyn Kate Mackenzie at reservations@alphonse-island.com or tel: +248 4229700 (GMT + 04:00). For additional information, visit 
www.alphonse-island.com

Prices for a one night stay in 
a Deluxe Room at Eden Bleu Hotel start from £265 per room per night, reservations@edenbleu.com

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