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A private paradise in the Seychelles

A haven for turtles and rare sea birds – and for deep-pocketed lovers of the tropics – Denis Island is a picture postcard paradise in the Seychelles.

June 24, 2010
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You don't actually get to have the place entirely to yourself, it just feels that way. Just half an hour by plane from Mahe, the main island of the Seychelles archipelago, Denis Island measures only two kilometres in length and one and a half wide, and tucked away in this area are 25 cottages for guests. The thatched roofs are barely visible among the lush foliage, and they're all just a stone's throw from the clear waters of the Indian Ocean.

At any one time, then, there are barely more than four dozen privileged visitors on this private island, which probably explains why you may feel as if you were alone here. Only at mealtimes do guests come together in the stylish L-shaped building that houses the administration and central restaurant services of the island hotel. The rest of the day guests are more likely to retreat to the privacy of their cottage verandah or courtyard, perhaps fish for tuna or marlin, or even join the fish in the crystal waters and explore the coral reefs. Or perhaps they prefer just to settle in a sheltered corner on the pure white sands, the most fortunate of coral island castaways. 

Although it was probably known to early Arab traders and to the pirates of the high seas, the Seychelles island owes its name to the French explorer Denis de Trobriant, who, in the eighteenth century, saw fit to put it on the map. It was once a coconut plantation, and in 1975 it was bought by a French industrialist who opened it to tourism a couple of years later. Just over two decades later, it was bought by the Masons, owners of one the archipelago's main tourist groups, who have been responsible for its transformation into the exclusive Creole style hotel-island of today.


It's really quite an unusual hotel; for example, there is no need to stop by at reception to pick up a key, as there simply are no keys. Day and night, the cottages are always open. And there's no need to worry about intruders as the only people on Denis are guests and hotel employees who discreetly seem to disappear when their day's work is done.

Denis Island is a luxury destination, but the sumptuousness that awaits you there doesn't include tinseltown glitter, manicured gardens or designer details. The island is almost completely unspoiled; indeed, the only stretch that has been cleared between the slender palms, tropical almond trees, takamakas and casuarinas, is the narrow sandy airstrip that allows light aircraft to land and keeps the magical retreat in touch with the outside world. What is on offer here is the luxury of enjoying all the comforts, without excess or ostentation, in an unmatchable natural setting.

You won't get a newspaper here, nor are there TVs in the rooms, and not a hint of mobile phone coverage. Instead, the island glories in sunshine and unspoiled beaches, coral reefs and barely-trodden trails where you may glimpse some of the fabulous rare birds and the different species of sea turtle that return year after year to lay their eggs in the sandy sanctuary. 

It's no surprise that the main guests are newly-weds in search of the most secluded setting for their honeymoon. Nor that half the guests – those who can afford to return as often as they please – come back whenever their schedule permits. Most are travellers from Europe, tempted by the chance to completely disconnect from the world and recharge their batteries in this magical jewel of an island set amid sapphire and turquoise waters.

Guests can accompany the resident naturalists as they go out each morning to check on the native birds who feature on in-danger-of-extinction lists, such as the paradise flycatcher and the magpie robin who have a safe haven on Denis Island. They can spy on the turtles who return to spawn on the very beaches where they were born, or sit at sundown, drink in hand, overlooking the Indian Ocean, and watch the return of thousands of fishing birds, who leave the island each day to seek food out at sea and who return in great flocks before nightfall.

But nothing can compare with the nocturnal thrill of venturing into the thick dark of the Denis forests to listen to the deafening calls of a multitude of exotic birds, while overhead the stars of the southern hemisphere sparkle and glitter, illuminating one of the most incredible skies visible anywhere on the planet. 

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