by Marianne Jones, The Telegraph, January 15, 2018
I’d like to say it was a hard choice to jet off to an island paradise a deux – but I’d be lying. The occasion was my husband’s 50th and instead of a party he declared he wanted a sunshine winter break with myself and our two sons.
Already perspiring at the potential cost of four full-priced holidays – our boys are now 17 and 14 – the clincher came when the youngest piped up: “I don’t care where we go as long as there’s Wi-Fi.”
That was the moment I decided they weren’t coming. They were home alone (not really, I drafted in my very understanding, put-upon mum). Strangely, they weren’t even bothered. Then it dawned on me that, apart from saving thousands in one fell swoop, it would be the first time just the two of us had holidayed in 10 long years.
Fast-forward to the Seychelles island of Félicité. I’m on an outdoor yoga pavilion overlooking the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean. It’s 27 degrees (80F) and the teacher has just interrupted the class to point out a sea turtle. “Danny [my youngest] would love to see a sea turtle,” I muse for a nanosecond, before blissfully returning to my downward dog.
This Blue Planet scenario was one of many magical moments over a five-day stay at the stunning Six Senses Zil Pasyon that I will never forget. And it was infinitely better without children.
The last time we ditched the boys (yes, with Nana again) was for my husband’s 40th, but it didn’t quite go according to plan. It was meant to be a romantic week sunning ourselves in Kerala, where he had proposed to me on a rice boat many moons earlier. What actually happened was this: we spent the entire time in a darkened hotel room sheltering from a monsoon that started the second we stepped off the plane and stopped the day we left for Heathrow. Having been teased about my poor planning for approximately 3,650 days ever since, this time around I did my homework.
Seychelles seemed to tick every box, including the clincher of “all-year-round sunshine”, to quote one travel website. And so it came to pass that after a 16-hour journey that involved two planes, a teeny 12-seater light aircraft, a car ride and a speedboat (there is the option of a helicopter from Seychelles’ main airport in Mahé for big spenders) we arrived at the private island of Félicité – the fifth biggest in the archipelago.
Picture the island on the Pixar movie The Incredibles (the one run by evil Syndrome) crossed with Jurassic Park and you get close to our first impressions of Félicité. Tropical palm trees, lush landscape, the clearest blue sea, dominated by almost surreal giant prehistoric grey granite boulders. When I first saw an internet image of these rocks, I actually thought they were fake – like something from a Florida adventure park.
Waiting to greet us from our speedboat (how often do you get to say that?) was Sammy, our GEM – that’s Guest Experiences Maker, for the uninitiated. She was our 24/7 point of contact and a smiling tour de force, whisking us by golf buggy (the only transport on the island) to our villa. Over the following days she organised everything from a snorkelling trip to a surprise chocolate cake for my husband’s half-century. Not having to think was a luxury in itself.
For some reason I was expecting the resort to be stuffed with soppy honeymooners sipping on piña coladas. But there is nothing forced about Six Senses Zil Pasyon and even calling it a resort feels like a disservice. Its 30 villas, spread east and west, are so private that you never really have to meet another soul if you so wish. And oh, what spectacular villas they are. We stayed in a stunning one-bedroom property with the most Instagrammable bathroom I’ve ever stepped foot in, complete with enormous free-standing bath, a lavatory that could warm your bottom and give you an enema (I kid you not – and no I didn’t) and a full-sized wooden swing. There is also the option of two, three and four bedrooms.
But it was the outdoor space that provided the “wow” moment. Behind the floor-to-ceiling windows lay the infinity pool of dreams, overlooking a huge ocean expanse. All that view, just for two. My other half discovered his throne within minutes – a raised shelf bed built into the pool where he lolled about for hours, providing commentary on the multimillion-pound yachts and bird life (white terns by day, enormous gothic bats by night). This perfect perch gave us a front-row seat to the most spectacular sunsets and on the morning of his big 5-0 we watched a pod of playful dolphins swim by. Whenever it got too hot, we simply took a book and plonked ourselves on the outdoor king-size daybed. Our often repeated mantra “This is the life” was roughly equal to “We couldn’t have done this with the boys” (snoozing for hours in the sun/unplugging the Wi-Fi/reading three whole novels).
There is something of the wild about this place. Zil Pasyon covers a third of the island and the rest will forever remain a protected national park. The locals are very proud of the fact that no golf courses or hotels will ever encroach.
On our first morning, we set off at 7am (cue a joke about the boys not being up for another four hours) for a two-hour hike led by the island’s very own ecologist, Steve Hill. He has set himself the mammoth task of clearing every inch of cocoplum – their equivalent of Japanese knotweed – from the land so that native wildlife will return. Steve pointed out one of the oldest coco de mer trees in the world, as well as cinnamon, vanilla flowers and the medicinal leaves that locals use to cure every ailment. We saw spiders the size of dinner plates (thankfully harmless) stretched out like horror animations in giant webs.
The resort takes sustainability incredibly seriously. You won’t find anything disposable, not even a plastic cup. There is an organic garden where the hotel kitchen grows its own herbs, aubergine and squash. And on the three sandy beaches, deserted apart from a hammock, there is a small but significant conservation programme happening, with little signs telling you where turtles have laid their eggs. Even the bathroom toiletries are by Organic Pharmacy.
If you love 24/7 organised fun, this is not necessarily the place for you, as there is no full-on nightly entertainment programme. However, there are the most amazing themed food nights in the restaurant, from Creole to Thali, served up by Brummie chef Richard Lee and his team. Richard has worked for numerous Michelin-starred UK restaurants and it shows.
My husband, who works in Japan regularly, declared the sushi as good as anything served up in the top Tokyo restaurants. There is also a dedicated rum bar – need we say more?
The “no shoes, no news” philosophy of Six Senses struck me early on, when I automatically switched on CNN while running in the gym – a breathtaking hilltop glass cube. Wondering at my own stupidity, I turned off the newsreader and simply bathed in the spectacular sea view.
And then there’s the spa, the Zil Pasyon’s newest addition and its jewel in the crown. British architect Richard Hywel Edwards deserves many plaudits for his hugely sympathetic design, immersed around the enormous boulders. You get there via an I’m A Celeb-style wooden rope walkway and the cliff-top views really have to be seen to be believed. The treatment rooms are a dream and even the outdoor showers, set against the rocks, allow you to choose between tropical rain, Caribbean storm and cold mist, accompanied by background bird song. At the highest point there is an infinity pool, from where you will witness insane sunsets. Honestly, if the next James Bond movie isn’t filmed here, then they should sack the location manager.
Our last night ended on a literal high with a champagne picnic on those cliff tops. We watched our final filmic sunset and declared Félicité the most perfect place we had ever visited, absolutely helped by being just the two of us. Be warned though – this is not a cheap holiday. Be warned again – you will want to return. We’ve already planned the 60th. And no, fellas, you still can’t come.
The Private Travel Company (www.theprivatetravelcompany.co.uk, 0203 553 7543) offers five nights at Six Senses Zil Pasyon from £3,515 per person, and seven nights from £4,725 per person, based on two adults sharing a Hideaway Pool Villa including breakfast. Price includes flights, transfers and the use of a UK airport lounge. Read a full review of the hotel.
When to go
Seychelles is a year-round destination, but sailing and snorkelling are best from October to June. The spectacle of migrating birds can be seen in October, while the heaviest rainfall is often from December through to February.