by Telegraph Luxury Travel Editor and John O'Ceallaigh, The Telegraph, November 6, 2017
It’s like something out of a horror movie: I’m stranded on a tiny, isolated island near the equator and off the coast of Africa; it’s the dead of night and the coiled insects I had earlier seen sleeping on tree trunks have awoken, unfurled and dropped to the forest floor. All around me there’s a strange fizz and squelch as one million or so blind, 400-legged Seychelles giant millipedes (the world’s biggest) scutter along the forest floor in search of detritus to devour.
I’m not entirely happy about this, but Janske, the biologist accompanying me on my nighttime walk through Fregate Island Private resort’s unkempt forest, is delighted. “They’re waste-disposal experts who do a vital job of consuming dead vegetation and they also fertilise the island by defecating everywhere. You see their feces all over.” “Wonderful,” I reply, as I accidentally step on one - its shell pops like a bursting crisp packet and I regret wearing flip-flops. Janskie is familiar with the sound and is unperturbed: “Other millipedes will eat its remains, don’t worry; nothing goes to waste here.”
Though cannibalistic neighbours aren’t ordinarily a popular selling point, that’s something Fregate Island Private guests are typically pleased to hear. About the size of Monaco and part of the Oetker Collection, this private-island resort in the Seychelles features just 16 guest villas (each with infinity pool), a hilltop spa and a beach for every day of the week.
But that’s not necessarily the main draw; with accommodation starting at €3,250 a night, the resort’s clientele could afford to stay at any number of beautiful resorts worldwide - so why here? It's the environmental initiatives at Fregate that offer a true point of distinction, and the fruits of the staff’s work are everywhere to be seen.
A case in point comes the next day. The millipedes have gone to bed and my butler’s prepared a picnic on a deserted beach (it’s an especially private private island during my stay - only six villas are occupied). As I’m considering a platter of sushi, two perplexed birds, in glossy black and white, hop over for a look - despite my best efforts, I maintain a milky Irish pallor in all weathers so I assume it’s because they’ve never seen something so pale.
My butler puts me right. It turns out they’re inquisitive magpie robins, one of the rarest birds in the world but a species I would see repeatedly. In the 1980s there were just 12 in existence, all on Fregate. Intensive efforts to save them have upped their number to about 300, with over 140 remaining on Fregate itself.
It’s incredibly moving to come eye to beak with a curious creature - so trusting of humans - that was almost lost to the world forever and is still dependent on us for its long-term survival. I learn more about those conservation efforts at the island’s small museum and encounter wildlife everywhere I go.
Some 4,000 giant aldabra tortoises roam the island, and guests are “guaranteed”, says Janske, to see turtles in December. Botanists will find beauty everywhere too, with rare plants and trees thriving throughout, and the extensive organic gardens providing 65 per cent of the resort’s fruit and vegetables. I join head gardener Simon Love for a tour, nibbling on freshly plucked lettuce, rocket and oregano as we go.
In its raw state the produce is superb, so it’s a surprise that dining my meals at Fregate are so disappointing. Dishes feel amateurish and dated, and ingredients rarely reach their potential. I share my criticism with Fregate’s new manager Barbara, an Italian with high culinary expectations, and am told it’s something she’s addressing.
Hopefully she'll find success, because Fregate is otherwise wonderful. I become so enthralled by the island’s remarkable biodiversity that by the end of my stay I’m happy to pick up the scurrying millipedes that Janske hands to me, nonchalant when faced with a (harmless) snake slithering up a gnarled tree and thrilled to spot the rare, endemic Fregate beetle.
I regularly encounter hoteliers who make spurious sustainability claims while flying in Kobe beef from Japan and bottled water from Fiji but in the Seychelles that commitment seems more sincere. Rival resorts North Island and Cousine Island are also doing commendable conservation work and I’m more impressed by Fregate’s environmental efforts than anything I’ve personally encountered in, say, the Maldives. To see the island’s ecosystem flourishing as a result of tourism is uplifting.
But my favourite sighting comes during my last evening. Dusk is encroaching and soft swashes of pink and peach have seeped across the sky, the last rays of sunlight burst on the Indian Ocean like paparazzi bulbs. G&T nearby, I’m admiring the spectacle from my hilltop infinity pool when I notice movement against the water. As the sunset deepens I watch transfixed for 20, perhaps 30, minutes as the sky darkens with a swirling cloud of birds.
Having fed at sea all day, the island’s vast seasonal populations of fairy terns and lesser noddies (numbering approximately 40,000 and 60,000 respectively) are coming home to roost. The former glow a preternatural, celestial white; the latter are a slick grey-black. The spectacle is another staggering testament to the team’s sterling conservation work - the birds know they’ll find safe refuge here.
Stays at Fregate Island Private start at €3,250 (£2,885) full-board (00248 4 670 100).
This article was written by Telegraph Luxury Travel Editor and John O'Ceallaigh from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].