A family trip to two Four Seasons resorts in the Seychelles proved just the tonic for a post-pandemic escape
You’ll get up this time. You’re that close.”
I’m not sure I share Justin’s confidence, given what he’s sure about is my ability to stand upright on a surfboard that he is about to propel with his hands across the water. I’d fallen off during the previous two attempts, my mind running through the three positions my body needs to move into at pace, and in order, if I’m to stand up for longer than the split second I’ve managed until now. Third time lucky? If Justin says so…Chicken position. Check. Lizard position. Check. Up! Check. Erm, kind of. Once up on the board I was supposed to turn my lead foot on its heel and look ahead, not down. I did neither. I was up, for sure, just not in a stance you’d normally associate with surfing. My upper body more crumpled, as though I’d been shot in the stomach, my feet resolute in their desire to do their own thing, which just so happened to be the wrong thing. Sure enough, a few seconds later I made a terrific splash into the water, much to the hilarity of my watching wife and daughters — the latter pair having successfully glided gracefully across the water atop their boards on only their second attempt. That was their afternoon ice cream cancelled.
To be fair to Justin [who along with his partner, Nicole, run Tropicsurf at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles at Desroches], he’d worked minor miracles to get me upright at all, however awkward I may have looked. It was the first time any of us had tried surfing (me at the ripe old age of 47), and he and Nicole are both brilliant instructors – and blessed with the patience of saints.
It’s hard not be a little envious of their life here. Both had given up corporate careers to teach surfing, first in the Maldives and now Seychelles, trading up the rat race for paradise. We decided to do likewise, if only for a week in July, swapping car-clogged roads, sand-filled air, and the barely bearable heat of Dubai for clear skies, even clearer water, and beaches we’d have all to ourselves. That’s not because we paid a princely sum for an island buy out (journalism doesn’t pay that well) but due to the sheer size of Desroches. It’s wrapped by 9km of beach, which means even when its villas and residences are full, you’re only ever likely to encounter other guests at mealtimes — handy when you make a fool of yourself falling off a surfboard. And a paddleboard, I should probably add.
If you’re set on solitude, you can of course choose to dine privately — even on the beach. My reward for coming so close to surfing superstardom (as my memory will bank it) was a picnic on a lovely bit of beach called Aquarium. The punishment I metered out to the kids for being markedly better than me at surfing was to ride our bicycles there. We were blissfully unaware when setting off from our villa that Aquarium beach is a good 25-minute bike ride away (golf buggies are an alternative), crossing the island’s runway, from the side operated by Four Seasons to the side inhabited by locals, whose hut-like houses are surrounded by the island’s other, though notably slower inhabitants — giant tortoises. More of whom in a moment.
Having arrived (a fair few moans and groans along the way), everything was set up for us. Two large blankets laid out on the sand, two parasols shading them, and four wicker picnic baskets, each brimming with sweet and savoury goodies packed by the island’s deli. They also packed a perfectly chilled bottle of Whispering Angel into an ice bucket.
Sitting there, sipping our rosé, watching the ocean roll into waves in the distance and hurried hermit crabs scurrying to avoid the lapping water, serenity reigned supreme. This is the type of moment that informs daydreams of travel — which is all we had as the pandemic raged. I can’t tell you how good it felt to finally have those dreams realised once again.
Aquarium beach gets its name from the drop that’s some three hundred yards out to sea. There, the sea life and coral were once so colourful, so abundant, that the name Aquarium was the perfect fit. I snorkelled there roughly eight years ago, when Desroches was under different management, and the memory remains burned in my mind. Sadly, coral bleaching has made a damaging impact; the coral dimmed, the sea life sparce. That said, the very first thing I spotted snorkelling this time was a turtle. The second? Another turtle. The third? A stingray. The fishes were few, that’s true, but it’s hard to complain at the ocean’s offering.
Four Seasons took over at Desroches in 2017, adding splendour to the accommodation and ingenuity to the culinary offering — including a lighthouse that doubles as a fine dining restaurant and the ultimate spot for sundowners.
We stayed in a Two-Bedroom Suite, which should really be renamed to something more befitting of its size, such as Beachfront Estate or This Place Is So Big You Probably Won’t See The Other Members Of Your Family While Inside Suite. Comprising three separate buildings, one contains a huge bedroom and bathroom (indoors and out), another the master bedroom, which is apartment-like with its lounge and office areas, while the third houses the kitchen, living and dining rooms. All have individual terraces and share a decent sized pool in a garden that leads to the beach, a mere twenty steps away. There are larger, grander options, too.
Though not native to Desroches, the giant tortoises have been residents far longer than Four Seasons. They’re birthed, reared, and cared for in a sanctuary here, which is open to guests to visit at their leisure, to pluck leaves from the trees and feed these friendly reptiles. Every guest seeks out George, the island’s undoubted, slow-walking superstar. He’s 120 years-old and is particularly partial to apples and cameras. The former to munch on, the latter to pose for, which he does like a pro.
Also a pro is Othello, the chef at Lighthouse, whose sushi rolls meant are family dinners there were anything but a tragedy. The sushi was made bespoke for two reasons: one, my daughters, the eldest of whom does not like fish, while the youngest is no fan of seaweed (both insist that they love sushi) and two: Alejandra, our Venezuelan waitress. Like almost every hotel working through the problems posed by the pandemic, Four Seasons Desroches was having to work with a smaller pool of staff during our visit, yet it’s due to people like Alejandra that you wouldn’t know it. Instantly likeable and engaging, she would go out of her way to ensure everyone’s contentment. It meant that we also had to go out of our way – by order of the kids, to whichever of the island’s restaurants Alejandra was working at that night. Handily, that included a starlit BBQ on the beach, where we ate smoky king prawns and buttery lobster, prized easily from its shell.
We may have spent only five days in paradise, but the memory of them will linger.
The sadness of our departure from Desroches was, however, softened somewhat by the cushion of the Four Seasons’ sister property on Mahé, where we spent our last two nights in the Seychelles. It’s a beautiful spot, with ocean-facing villas cut high and low into the mountainside, while its sun-kissed bay is blessed by a quite stunning beach — the sand powder-soft and vanilla hued; the ocean turquoise, surging waves rolling into shore. The snorkelling is better here, regenerating coral attracting a colourful crowd of fish.
Like Desroches, Four Seasons Resort Seychelles has its own star staff member, Kashi, the cross-restaurants sommelier who selected an agreeable Riesling to complement our assorted platter of nigiri and sashimi (and a nearly Nobu-worthy miso black cod) while engaging us with tales from his training in France — and iPhone shots of assorted family members.
On our last morning we did yoga in a treetop-skimming spa pavilion, managing to stay on a mat far more successfully than I had a surfboard and giving me the headspace to hang loose and declare that two nights aren’t nearly enough to enjoy all that this resort has to offer — we’ll just have to catch a wave back here soon.