by Marco Pirani
Editor-in-chief of GiardinAntico
Rocks in the middle of the Indian Ocean
The Seychelles are the only oceanic islands originating from a continental mass (therefore not of coral or volcanic origin), of which they retained the main morphological and environmental characteristics.
The 115 granite islands making up the archipelago are, in fact, the rocks that India left behind, when 200 million years ago it started to detach itself from the super continent of the southern hemisphere (Gondwana) to lean” on Asia and thus modelling the Himalaya chain. For this reason, in addition to the fact that up to 250 years ago they were uninhabited, they maintained an uncontaminated appearance (more than 70 endemic species), giving to today’s visitor the experience of a primordial garden.
Immerse yourself in a wild and heavenly nature
Travelling to the Seychelles means diving in the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean that touch all shades of blue, walking on long loops of soft and white flour-like sand, stopping in tiny secret bays accessible only by boat. And so far this is what all the glossy tourist catalogues tell.
However with a little curiosity and the desire to explore, what you can live is an unrepeatable naturalistic experience, offered by the unique landscape heritage that characterizes this famous archipelago off the coast of Africa.
Intricate forests that climb the mountain tops, green jungles that reach the sea, exciting vanilla, lemongrass and tea plantations, magnificent wild orchids and exquisite exotic fruits on the stalls of the markets: the Seychelles casket overflowing with surprises catches your eye, your smell and taste as soon as you land in the tiny Mahé (the main island) airport.
And precisely in Mahé, if you leave the beach for a day, you can go into the thick of the jungle and in a few minutes make a leap into the past of thousands of years. The absolute silence of the virgin forest of the Morne Seychelloys National Park is interrupted only by the chirping of its colourful inhabitants (bird watching paradise), and among lianas and climbing carnivorous plants (Nepente), where the sunlight barely filters, you would expect to meet a dinosaur at any moment, hurled into a dimension of authentic freedom.
After travelling these impervious paths, you really must stop on the hills to admire the breathtaking view of the jagged coastline and the cultivation of tea and lemongrass, and then sip a refreshing drink with a pungent aroma and straw colour.
Back on the coast, between a snorkelling session and a walk by the sea, one of the biggest luxuries you can treat yourself to is a lunch by the sea, under the large umbrella of a Takamaka. The shade is offered by this splendid evergreen tree of oriental origin, the picnic will be prepared by friendly local boys who, with improvised grills directly on the beach and for a few dollars, will cook what they have just caught, offering you coconut milk and sweet tropical fruits.
Takamaka is one of the symbols of the island, and together with mangroves (essential for an ecosystem that is subject to a significant excursion of the tides) and the breadtrees (with huge green fruits that look like melons, featuring healing and anti-mycotic properties) characterize the coastal landscape of the whole archipelago.
Another undisputed and particularly sensual botanical symbol is the Coco de Mer, a giant palm tree growing spontaneously on Praslin Island.
The reason for its fame lies in the size and shape of its seeds (huge bilobed walnuts weighing over 20 kg), which recall the sinuous silhouette of the female buttocks, and the fact that the male inflorescences have a phallic-shaped stem (which can exceed one meter in length). A legend says that at night female plants join with male plants and that whoever witnessed this act of love was transformed into a black parrot, an endemic species of the Seychelles.
To admire this plant in all its luxuriant power you have to visit the Vallée de Mai, a corner of paradise, rightly declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco. A natural park offering glimpses of prehistoric beauty, hidden by an inextricable forest of leaves and branches, dominated by soaring palms (up to 40 meters high) and surrounded by other indigenous species such as the Pandano, which has a sort of umbrella of thorny leaves on the top among which dazzling rays of sun peep out: that is why it has been nicknamed “Parasol”.
Once out of the jungle, light and heat return, and the extraordinary variety of orchids, hibiscus, bougainvillea and Cordia sebestena (with clusters of vivid orange flowers) embellishes the streets of the villages nourishing your eyes and heart with wonder, while the persistent scent of the Barringtonia asiatica, lilies and frangipani will seduce you.
Speaking of perfumes, spices are the queens of many local dishes, with Indian and Creole influences (try the appetizing sauces that the local ladies cook on the street!). You can admire the intoxicating plantations of Vanilla and Cinnamon at La Digue. Third largest island, it is a tropical paradise with a slow and sleepy rhythm, where it is natural to speak softly or not to speak at all, overwhelmed by the surrounding beauty. The island can only be explored on foot or by bicycle, but there is no need to worry. If the numerous baths in the lagoons of the famous Anse Source d’Argent have exhausted you or if the jumps in the waves of the wildest Anse Cocò (reachable in an hour of adventurous walking) have made you hungry, along the way back you will find small kiosks where you can have fresh fruit smoothies prepared at the moment that will put you back in the world.
If you look up at sunset, the flying foxes, huge bats with a red nose and greedy of tropical fruits, will most likely keep you company. Or, while pedalling calmly, you may come across a land turtle: but don’t worry, there is no risk of investing them as they are huge, or rather giants. As a matter of fact the giant turtles of Aldabra are now found only in the Seychelles and the Galapagos, so if you have come this far do not miss the opportunity to take a trip to Curieuse, where the turtle reproduction centre is located – you can admire them as they go around undisturbed, master of the islet. Like plants, fauna too has been affected by millennial isolation and the absence of man, helping create the primordial atmosphere reigning in these islands.
In La Digue the days pass peacefully: the views, the colours, the scents make it a romantic destination par excellence and not infrequently weddings are celebrated on the beach, with the newlyweds arriving on carriages pulled by oxen and decorated with wonderful flowers.
But even if you have not made it this far for the wedding, what could be better than ending the day with a relaxing massage and a pack to the hair dried by salt using the precious coconut oil squeezed according to an ancient method right here on the island?
In this genuine way, from sight to smell, from taste to touch and hearing, all the senses are satisfied by Nature, which in the Seychelles has a very strong impact. And it stays with you forever.