After a decade’s absence, British Airways last week recommenced direct flights from London Heathrow to the Seychelles — but the expected influx of British travellers isn’t likely to drastically impact guest numbers at the country’s North Island.
Some 20 minutes by helicopter from the main island of Mahé and about the size of Monaco, North Island is the most exclusive private-island retreat in an Indian Ocean holiday destination that specialises in luxury properties — its inventory comprises just 11 villas and with all-inclusive rates starting at £6,418 per night it is unparalleled nationally in terms of expense.
For those who decide to holiday here, the spoils and indulgences are numerous. I arrived in blazing sunshine to a setting so dazzlingly picturesque that it felt as though I’d stepped into Photoshop. The resort’s focal point is East Beach, a pristine boulevard of silken sand the colour of vanilla custard that runs almost the entire length of the island.
Each surrounded by private grounds and bordered by dense foliage, every one of the resort’s villas has direct access to this beach, though West Beach is the place to go for cocktails and barbecues as the sun sets and Honeymoon Beach — schmaltzy in name but beautiful in appearance — caters to couples who want more privacy. It, presumably, accommodated a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their own honeymoon on the island.
Accommodation at North Island CREDIT: ANDREW HOWARD
The pair no doubt also whiled away hours on end simply relaxing in their villa. Essentially identical, 10 of the 11 villas measure an immense 450sq metres and feature two bedrooms, an open-air sala, day beds, four-poster bed draped simply with muslin and circular plunge pool (sadly unsuitable for swimming — the lack of proper private lap pools will be a disappointment to some guests).
The grandest accommodation of all, Villa North Island is set against vast granite boulders, shaded by coconut palms and positioned to catch the sunrise at the end of East Beach. Similarly styled and again with private plunge pool, it is a colossal 750sq metre enclave intended only for couples, with a multitude of cosy nooks, a huge marble bathtub and sea views from its elevated bedroom.
With just half of the villas occupied during my stay, I would only rarely catch sight of other guests ambling along the strand during the day or mingling over sundowners at the West Beach bar, where the speciality is a mojito made with passion fruit, mint and tart oranges all grown on the island, and the bar counter and walls have been fashioned from reclaimed driftwood.
Villa North Island CREDIT: ANDREW HOWARD
Otherwise most residents relish the privacy North affords and instead linger and dine in their villas. Food is served as and when guests wish, with the in-room and restaurant menus intended just as much to inspire as instruct. I dined on sashimi in my room and vibrant salads and tart ceviche in the restaurant.
While I was never truly wowed by the creativity or flavours I encountered — a regular issue in the Seychelles, I found — the dining concept is solid and commendable: the island’s changing harvest determines which dishes the team recommends, Creole dishes are always available and much of the produce served is organic.
More impressive are the tailored experiences and itineraries North’s battalions of butlers and attendants can facilitate. With some 150 staff living in segregated quarters on some unseen stretch of the island, dive experts magically materialise if an expedition to the surrounding waters is requested; babysitters remain on standby should parents decide on an impromptu romantic dinner; yoga instructors are happy to give classes at any time and anywhere, be that under the shade of a takamaka tree or on a stand-up paddleboard.
Turtle hatchlings make their way to the water CREDIT: OLWEN EVANS
A highlight for me was a private tour led by one of the island’s resident naturalists, who explained the truly remarkable conservation work that management company Wilderness Safaris has carried out in an attempt to make North one of the world’s premier eco-resorts.
Efforts to convert North into a holiday destination began in 1997, at which point it was considered the most damaged of all the islands in the Seychelles. Invasive species and animals — most notably owls, cats and rats — had run rampant; many local species and fauna were under severe threat.
Owls and cats were removed and rats finally eradicated in 2007, allowing ground-nesting birds to again flourish, and today guests might spot thriving populations of Seychelles blue pigeons, wedge-tailed shearwaters and white-tailed tropicbirds. Hawksbill and green turtles nest on the beaches and dozens of aldabra tortoises are permanently resident. The island is lush with greenery, and North’s conservation team continue to nurture indigenous plant and tree seedlings in an on-island nursery before their dissemination across the island.
Kayaking around North Island CREDIT: OLWEN EVANS
A painstaking process that has produced bountiful, beautiful dividends, the team’s comprehensive, years-long investment in conservation and rehabilitation is a particularly obvious benefactor of North’s high rates. While a proportion of guests remain oblivious to these behind-the-scenes initiatives and are content to simply enjoy all the fripperies on offer at a world-class private-island resort, for others they are a primary booking motivation.
I was certainly more moved and convinced by the sincere sustainability efforts I saw in action here than in any resort I’ve visited in the Maldives, that other ultra-luxe Indian Ocean idyll, and North’s efforts are being complemented by similar endeavours at the Oetker Collection’s Fregate Island Private resort.
On a national level, a newly announced commitment will see the Seychelles increase its percentage of protected waters from less than one per cent today to 30 per cent by 2020. All in all, for moneyed travellers looking to holiday indulgently in a destination that is taking sustainability increasingly seriously, BA’s direct flights are just one small reason to take a second look at North Island.
Accommodation at North Island starts at £6,418 per villa per night, including all accommodation, meals, drinks and activities. When staying in the second bedroom of their guardians’ villa, under-17s are accommodated free of charge.