Sarah Laurence encounters laid-back tropical paradise in the beach village of Beau Vallon in the Seychelles.
We walked forward hesitantly, sensing rather than seeing the crabs scuttle away from us, our city slicker eyes unused to the night time blackness and the sky spread with a haze of seldom-seen stars. Occasionally, a dog came up to greet us, looking far larger than they would have in the day, and jubilant voices floated out to us from lit hotels. On our first night at Beau Vallon, the beach imbued with the novelty that travelling to an unfamiliar destination brings, we had no idea how much we would come to love this slender tract of beach, or how well we would come to know its stretches, marked by accommodation to one side and the ocean, frequently dotted with moored catamarans, to the other.
Only 4km away from the tiny capital Victoria, Beau Vallon is not just a quintessential tropical island experience and Mahé island’s most popular beach among locals and tourists, but superbly convenient for travellers, and easy accessible by taxi or public bus. The brief ride from Victoria takes travellers through winding roads up to the mountainous centre of the island where large, ramshackle houses with colourful gardens spill hang precariously onto the mountainside, and down narrow roads to the beach town on the other side of the island. The wide array of accommodation available to travellers in Beau Vallon and the infrastructure of the town means that, relative to the rest of the country, Beau Vallon is the Seychelles’s answer to Cannes – a highly visited, tourist centre – yet still very low-key and quiet compared to other island destinations.
The beach itself, pale against the ever-changing colours of the sea (now a bright, royal blue, contrasting with the lush green of the hillside behind, now a lilac in the dawn and then silvery-pale after the rainstorm) stretches from the small fishing town Bel Ombre in the south, to Beau Vallon at the north. The eponymous town spills off the beach over the road that trails the coast, behind the collection of resorts that spot the scooping crescent of sand, and is filled by a jostle of boards boasting bed and breakfast or self-catering accommodation, various ATMs and small supermarkets in which locals and tourists on a budget stock up on cashews, noodles and cold beer.
Behind the lushly-watered entrances to beach resorts, the town extends almost the length of the beach to the older fishing village of Bel Ombre, where French pirate Olivier de Vasseur, who, in what surely must be one of the most romantic treasure tales recorded, hid ill-gotten gains from princess-carrying ships on their way down Africa’s east coast. Despite De Vasseur tossing a chart containing coded instructions to find its whereabouts from his gallows in Reunion in 1730, the digging up of the Bel Ombre beach, and expert attempts at solving cryptograms, seekers are still searching for the treasure.
For tourists who become weary of lazily sipping cocktails on loungers or water-skiing in the bay, the hike between Bel Ombre and Anse Major, an exotic bay filled with teal and turquoise which is inaccessible by road, is a beautiful way to explore the region. The path takes you through tropical forests and over large boulders, rewarding you with the chance to swim in what feels like a movie set – one of the most beautiful, unspoilt bays on the island (and, if you wish, to catch a water taxi back to Beau Vallon). The stretch of coast from Beau Vallon’s most northerly rocks to Mahé’s North Point is not long, but best done in a car or by bus and passes the Hilton Northolme Resort and Spa.
While it doesn’t feel overbuilt, Beau Vallon provides options for those looking for a more traditional family-feel resort or a romantic, and luxurious stay. The 4.5 star Le Meridien Fisherman’s Cove is tucked into the southern point of the bay, and affords beautiful views over its sea-facing pool across the length of the beach, towards the hilltops of the north. Next along the beach is the boutique H Resort – a new luxury hotel that is ideal for a romantic getaway or for travellers who prefer an intimate boutique hotel. A few hundred metres along the beach sits the traditional family-centred Berjaya Beau Vallon Resort and Casino, which offers a beautiful pool area, large rooms and perhaps the best value among the larger hotels in Beau Vallon. Further along the beach, situated close together, are the sister hotels Coral Strand – a modest four star resort with a colourful beach bar – and the 5-star Savoy Resort and Spa which is as beautiful as its settings, the buildings and restaurants built around a maze of a pool that leads to lush gardens down to the edge of the beach. The resort combines traditional luxury with minimalist design that suits its beachy setting, and some of the best service on the island.
While all the hotels along the beach offer dining options, the independent restaurants and markets are worth seeking out, especially as hotel restaurants are woefully expensive, charging prices more attuned to European cities than an African beach town. The open-air, nautically themed Boathouse offers a nightly Creole buffet (and plenty of fresh seafood) that is renown throughout the island, with a celebratory atmosphere and friendly service.
Travellers looking for the best deal on the island – and the restaurant most frequented by locals – should head to The Baobab Pizzeria. This family-run institution opens onto the beach and serves delicious made-from-scratch pizza and a small selection of drinks with a down to earth, no-nonsense attitude.
Our favourite food, however, was bought at the open-air market that springs up north of the Savoy. Although the market happens on Wednesdays and Saturdays (where pungent food stalls are accompanied by artists, crafts people and live music), a few faithfuls arrive every evening, setting up shop from pick up trucks groaning under the weight of fresh ingredients and serving delicious Creole curries and traditional coconut desserts. Those looking for art or souvenirs to take home should browse among the beautiful paintings, inevitable destination t-shirts and bags, and carefully made sachets of spices.
Alcohol is very expensive (aside from the home-distilled palm wine available at the market) and it is fairly customary for travellers to bring in duty-free bottles of alcohol from their home airports.
While many foreign tourists head straight from the Seychelles capital, Victoria, to the smaller islands of Praslin or La Digue, Mahé offers visitors history, culture, food and a beach experience that can be tailored towards a lazy holiday on the beach, activity and adventure, or a deluxe escape. Beau Vallon is not only beautiful, but provides the chance to enjoy the beach like a local – you may become embroiled in a birthday barbeque, football game or friendly race during one walk along the beach. Regardless of what you’re looking for in your holiday to the Seychelles, you’re likely to find it in a vibrant Beau Vallon sunset, a dip in the ocean, or a long walk along the beach on a dark night.