On the map, the name seems to float unsupported in the middle of the blue, but as you zoom in on the Indian Ocean, the islands of the Seychelles archipelago begin to appear. First you'll see the inner islands of Mahe, Praslin, Silhouette, La Digue... To the north lie Bird and Denis, and off to the south west the Amirantes group, with Desroches, Poivre, St Joseph... It's practically impossible to name all the tiny islets, atolls and outcrops of granite and coral that make up this island country, whether it's the 115 that are usually claimed, or the 155 that are listed in the Seychelles constitution.
The Seychelles archipelago spreads over an enormous area, with the outlying Aldabra group over 1,100 kilometres from Mahe, the largest island. With an area of around 155 square kilometres, Mahe is home to almost 90% of the Seychelles population and, with Victoria, the world's smallest capital city, is the economic and cultural centre and transport hub for the whole archipelago.
Although the islands were discovered by the Europeans at the start of the sixteenth century – it was Vasco de Gama who named the Amirantes group in 1502 – they remained no more than a transit point on the trade routes between Africa and India, and a safe haven for pirates for another century and a half until settled by the French in 1770. This late human occupation of the archipelago means that although some biodiversity was lost early on, there wasn't the major destruction that happened elsewhere.
Now the Seychelles is a world leader in sustainable tourism and even the relatively populous island of Mahe has a choice of 65 beautiful beaches. It's also a treasure trove of flowers and plants, while the rest of the archipelago is home to unique and spectacular flora and fauna: orchids, turtles, seabirds, fish...
Lying just south of the equator in the beautiful sapphire waters of the Indian Ocean, the islands enjoy a warm tropical climate year round, and this, coupled with their natural beauty and tranquillity makes them a perfect place for a honeymoon or romantic getaway. This is where David and Victoria Beckham celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary, and where Prince William and his then girlfriend Kate Middleton enjoyed a break after rekindling their romance in 2007. And now it's reported to be the destination for the royal honeymoon.
As well as beautiful beaches and tropical scenery, starry skies and unique ecology, the archipelago offers fantastic opportunities for sports and outdoor activities. The weather is governed by two opposing trade winds, with the cooler, brisker south-easterlies predominant from May to September making ideal conditions for sailing. April-May and October-November are the best times for swimming, snorkelling and diving, with water temperatures reaching up to 29ºC, and marvellous visibility for observing the marine life – and over 1,000 species of fish have been recorded!
Over the last half century, the efforts of conservationists have done much to ensure peaceful lives for the local fauna, including the giant tortoises which are to be found on many of the islands. Praslin, the second largest island was once believed to be original site of the Garden of Eden, which doesn't sound so outrageous when you stroll through the lush vegetation and hear the calls of rare birds echoing through the dusk.
What better backdrop for a romantic break than the waves washing on a silver beach, birdcalls and the rustle of small animals safe in their protected habitats, the sparkle of a myriad stars in the dark night and the warm fragrance of the tropics?