The Seychelles looks like paradise on earth with its white beaches, turquoise lagoons and prehistoric granite cliffs jutting out of the lush valleys. And while an entire trip could be spent enjoying all that nature has to offer, there’s also an artistic scene to explore if you know where to find it.
The islands have attracted many prominent artists over the years, including Italian photographer Gian Paolo Barbieri, whose holiday residence has now been converted into the newly opened one Mango House Hotel – was my home for a week. It’s located on the main island of Mahé in the ‘Bohemian South’, named for its stretches of wild, undeveloped landscapes to which creatives have flocked over the decades, some building seaside villas like Barbieri, others setting up studios in the jungle and never leaving.
Why come here
There are plenty of luxury hotels to choose from across the island republic – after all, the Seychelles were Kate and Wills’ honeymoon destination. But it would be difficult to find a resort that has Mango House’s genuine warmth and effortless style. When its creators began making plans for the island resort, they began with all the things they disliked about luxury hotels: stuffiness, snobbery, and formality.
“We wanted Mango House to be the opposite of that; to create a sense of home away from home,” one manager told me. They succeeded. The affable, easygoing staff makes it feel less like a hotel and more like the mansion of a generous friend with lavish tastes whose weekend invite might well expand into a month-long fiesta of waterfront dining and dangerously tasty cocktails. It’s small enough to feel intimate — there are only 41 rooms — but still has space for four exceptional restaurants, three swimming pools, a spa, and a charming bar staffed by an even more charming mixologist named Devlin.
Scattered throughout the hotel are signposts for the local art scene; Photographs by Barbieri and paintings by the irrepressible Michael Adams hang in the lobby. Adams, who has described his work as “a mirror of everyday life in the Seychelles”, arrived in 1972 and never left. His paintings are well observed and full of life. His daughter Alyssa Adams is also an artist and designed the signature print of the silk bathrobes that guests at Mango House can relax in.
I stayed at the Cliff House, a block of flats built into this iconic rock and a short walk from the main house. One of the three swimming pool was in front of my room, and I quickly slipped into a daily routine: using a few stolen hours before the sun was up to full force to do laps among the treetops while the birdsong heralded a new day.
It was the perfect way to prepare for a hearty breakfast enjoyed in one of the balconies restaurants. Platters of local fruits such as mango, passion fruit, and star fruit are available without ordering, along with a selection of freshly baked pastries and small cakes. The Creole menu had a wide range, including a banana and acai bowl, Kalamansi and lemon crepes with local Takamaka rum, and coconut French toast with vanilla caramel—a combination I still rave about.
What should I do
Studio hopping is a great way to meet the local creative community. We were taken on a tour by artist Nigel Henri, a local from Mahé, which can be arranged through Mango House. I had the pleasure of visiting Studio and home of Michael Adams, which is within walking distance from the hotel. Malaysian-born Adams is Seychelles’ most prominent artist and has captured life there in playful colors for nearly half a century.
The gallery is open most days and sells work by Adams and his daughter Alyssa, who told me about her childhood days studying art with her father in the jungle. He encouraged them to use the organic materials offered by the planet and to draw from life using seashells as brushes. She tries to reflect the “Magic of Mother Nature” and her colorful paintings and silk prints illustrate the power of nature on the island.
Another artist inspired by the beauty of the Seychelles was Tom Bowers, whose home I also visited. Bowers was a talented sculptor who was born in Britain but moved there for almost 40 years. His daughter Katy now carries on his legacy. She described how the South has developed over the past decades. “It’s always been a Mecca for artists and now it’s elite,” she told me. “But we welcome these high-end hotels; They bring well-funded guests and raise the standard of craftsmanship.”
A day could easily be spent learning about Seychelles’ close-knit artists, and if you’re feeling inspired, Mango House guests can arrange a private painting class with Henri, held at one of the many picturesque locations.
The hotel is also well located for a lazy day of grazing and sunbathing. Enjoy a massage at the spa, snorkel in the clear, shallow sea, or kayak to nearby beaches along the bay. Top tip: Don’t forget sunscreen and don’t stow your cell phone in your bikini. We had a rather bumpy docking – the boat capsized and said phone jumped in the powerful undertow of a wave – but even that couldn’t spoil the feeling of entering this remote and magical bay.
However, if you venture further, in just a short drive you will be treated to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, including Beau Vallon and Anse Louis. The Seychelles government enacted environmental protection legislation in 2016 that now includes a ban on plastic bags and a levy on plastic and glass bottles, and all the beaches we visited were pristine.
what to eat
If you don’t feel like leaving the hotel, Mango House’s four restaurants allow you to take turns eating and never get bored. Muse gives a hearty interpretation of Italian classics; Azido serves Japanese cuisine to die for, from char-grilled robatayaki to fresh sushi and Wagyu beef; and Soley is the pool bar where you can sit in your bathing suit and enjoy a bento box and mojito.
Moutya is Mango House’s Creole offering. It’s named after a dance practiced by enslaved Africans who arrived with the French settlers in the early 18th century (and is now inscribed on Unesco’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity). The kitchen is overseen by celebrity chef Ralph Ernesta and his beautifully crafted menu incorporates the intoxicating Creole blend of French, Chinese and Indian influences with a strong emphasis on seafood.
I had a memorable dinner at his beachfront restaurant and enjoyed a feast of red snapper, breadfruit curry, sweet potato ladob, sweet pumpkin dumplings, heart of palm and mango salads, and chilli pie with coconut pie to finish. As the fruit bats fluttered overhead and the waves crashed onto the patio, I felt alive with the flavors and aromas of Ernesta’s cooking.
When the first settlers came to the Seychelles from France in 1770, they landed on Sainte Anne with the main purpose of growing spices. They grew nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and chillies and gradually expanded to the surrounding islands. For those who want to smell and taste this history firsthand, a trip to Le Jardin Du Roi is a must.
The restaurant is set in an elevated garden 2 km above Anse Royale in Mahé and bursts with the bounty of nature. The French planted the first seeds here, but when the English colonized in 1794, they set fire to the plants to prevent the new invaders from enjoying the fruits of their labor. More than 200 years later, the hilltop is once again full of herbs, spices, exotic fruits and fragrant flowers. I ate a delicious Creole lunch on the veranda, made with produce from the garden, and met some of Du Roi’s oldest residents: the giant tortoises.
The main island of Mahé has less than 100,000 inhabitants. “I know practically everyone!” our guide Nigel joked. “In fact, the police have trouble arresting anyone here because it could be their cousin.” That may be false, but there’s certainly a sense of an intimate, close-knit community here. From the creative expats to the local fishermen, the island creates a collective harmony. And everyone I met was so open, I felt part of that little family, if only for a week.
Rooms at Mango House Seychelles start at around £600 a night; hilton.com
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/travel/956246/mango-house-seychelles-hotel-review Hotel Rating: Mango House Seychelles