Nothing could keep Sherla Mathurin away from her native Seychelles for long, not even the opulence of Bahrain. The former private chef to a Bahrain royal now leads cooking classes in her homeland, using hand-selected spices, line-fished snapper, and octopus speared that same morning to create aromatic creole curries and seafood salads. Seychelles clearly has its own wealth.
Located 1,100 miles off Kenya's east coast, in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles archipelago of 115 islands dishes up vistas so lush that they can stop a queen in her tracks. During a 1972 visit, Queen Elizabeth II halted her convoy at Mission Lodge, along the Sans Souci mountain road on the main island of Mahé, for an impromptu afternoon English tea with a view.
Six fiercely guarded marine national parks provide havens for endangered hawksbill turtles, spinner dolphins, and more than a thousand types of fish. You'll find Seychelles blue pigeons and other endemic species in the World Heritage Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, on Praslin island, which looks like something out of Jurassic World. Among its large-leafed palm trees rise endemic coco-de-mer trees, which produce fruits that encase the largest seeds in the plant world. As in the garden of Eden, Seychelles flaunts its beauty with abandon. —Lola Akinmade
When to Go: March through May, and September through November for diving; April through October for bird-watching; May through September for hiking and surfing; year-round for sailing and snorkeling
How to Get Around: Mahé, Seychelles’ largest island, is the gateway for international visitors. From here, travel to Praslin and La Digue, the other two main Inner Islands, by fast ferry or Air Seychelles shuttle (between Mahé and Praslin only). On Mahé and Praslin, rent a car—drive on the left—or use public buses and taxis. Rent bikes on Praslin and La Digue. To reach the smaller Inner Islands and the remote Outer Islands, arrange transportation through your hotel, or use charter or scenic flight (helicopter and plane) services.
Where to Stay: The new H Resort Beau Vallon Beach, which opened in August 2015, is less than 10 miles from Seychelles International Airport. The 100 suites and villas have varying views and amenities. Choose a villa for the private pool. A short helicopter ride northwest of Mahé is the exclusive North Island (nightly rates from $3,400 a person). The private hideaway is paradise found: 11 handcrafted, luxury villas; three beaches; and a conservation program responsible for, among other successes, reintroducing the Aldabra giant tortoise and other endemic fauna and flora.
What to Eat or Drink: Seychellois Creole cuisine is an intoxicating blend of African, Chinese, English, Indian, and French cooking styles and flavors. Staples include breadfruit, a soccer-ball-size superfruit; grilled fish; rice; and coconut. Try popular dishes such as tamarind, a beanlike fruit with a sweet-and-sour pulp; chatini (chutney); coconut fish curry; breadfruit pudding; and grilled fish or octopus coated with ginger, garlic, and crushed chilies.
What to Read Before You Go: French and British colonialism, slavery, and superstitions are key themes of Helen Benedict’s The Edge of Eden (Soho Press; reprint edition, 2010), a moving novel about an affluent British family who relocated to Seychelles in 1960.
Fun Fact: Aldabra Atoll, a group of four large coral islands in Seychelles, is home to the world’s largest population of Aldabra giant tortoises. Over 100,000 of the tortoises live on the atoll, which is their only remaining habitat. A male Aldabra tortoise can weigh up to 550 pounds and have a shell measuring up to four feet long.