By Leo Bear and Tim Starley-Grainger
From the moment you land, you can forget what you think you know about hotels. On the North Island hotel in the Seychelles, there are no menus, no cocktail lists, no pre-planned excursions, no breakfast times, no dress codes, nothing to sign after you order something from the bar. It is, quite literally, like having your own private island, albeit shared with a handful of other people.
Floating in the midst of Indian Ocean among the Seychelles archipelago, North Island is a 15-minute helicopter hop from Mahe, where the international airport is. Air and private boat are the only two ways to reach the island.
At North, the sands shift depending on the tides, so there’s no knowing if your 450-square-metre villa (there are only 11) will have a giant yawning expanse of sand in front of it when you arrive, or a thin smidgen of white, such is the ethos of not interfering with nature. And it doesn’t really matter as the island is fringed with the white stuff.
North Island Seychelles: Honeymoon Heaven
Despite the hefty price tag, North has an informal, hip, youthful feel to it. No designer dresses or hair-sprayed blow dries here. Maybe that’s what appealed to Will and Kate when they came on their royal honeymoon.
The 11 villas – all 450 square metres – are sculpted from local materials that were sourced during the island’s regeneration. Every table, lamp, shutter and surface has been handcrafted by Seychellois and African artisans to reflect the natural beauty of the island. Strings of porous white stones act as sunscreens, and curtains of shells divide the outdoor bathrooms.
Your butler will arrange whatever you want, whenever you want. We’re divers, and the boat was ready to take us out, day or night, to explore one of the world’s longest coral reefs. Underwater at a site 10 minutes from our villa, we saw sheep crabs, nurse sharks, eagle rays, parrot fish and green and hawksbill turtles. On surfacing, a plate of world-class sashimi was waiting for my husband and a hot chocolate for me.
It’s these touches that make North Island stand out: the handwritten welcome note etched onto a leaf, the homemade cookies and banana chips refreshed each day and the keys to our own electric buggy so we could remain completely independent throughout our stay.
Next day, we headed to the West beach for a picnic of grilled prawns, sandwiches and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Needless to say, with only 11 villas on the island, we had the whole beach to ourselves. We ate with our feet in the sand admiring the Jurassic boulders of rock book-ending the spotless crescent of white, and the craggy cliffs in the distance rising into the sky like the splayed feet of a giant tortoise taking a dip.
Each villa also comes with its own projector home cinema. We agreed to our butler’s suggestion of a ‘movie night’ one evening and strolled back to find soft lighting, cashmere throws and bowls of popcorn and pick ‘n’ mix laid out. Never has watching a film felt so decadent.
The Island Piazza is where the action is – if it can be called that. With only around 25 guests, you don’t bump into many people here, but it’s where you’ll find the dive and activity centre, the library, the lounge and dining areas and the 45-metre pool. From here, you can quickly arrange diving, snorkelling, cycling, sea kayaking and island hopping. At one end of the main beach, you’ll also find the aptly Sunset Bar. Further round, you’ll find one of the island’s most impressive residents – giant tortoises, usually nibbling shrubbery or splashing about in the surf.
But while there are dining areas, for those who want them, meals here aren’t ordered off menu. Instead, soon after arrival, the chef, British-born Neil Wager, ambles over to your villa and chats to you about your likes and dislikes, then voila, mouth-watering feasts appear as and when you fancy during your stay. It’s the same story at the bar. But there’s none of that awkward struggling to figure out which cocktail you fancy. Easy questions, easy answers, easy drinking. Nice.
Inspired by Neil, we later asked our butler Eliyah if there is much to be found on the island in the way of food. The next morning, Neil turned up on our door step with a big smile on his face. He led us to the plateau where neat rows of coconut trees still grow in formation and introduced us to a scruffy chainsaw-wielding Rastafarian. These are the same trees that nearly destroyed the island, and they’re still slowly eliminating them to allow the natural flora back.
Next thing we knew, BOOM, a 10-year-old coconut tree was felled at our feet. After much hacking with machetes and tearing of husks, all was revealed: a metre-long fresher-than-fresh waxy heart of palm to take back to the kitchen to slice into a ‘millionaire’s salad’. A splash of lime, ginger and chilli was all that was needed.
Felling these invasive trees is just one of the many eco-credentials this hotel has, but the list goes on:
- Original development of the resort is done very sensitively – used Environmental Impact Assessment to create series of management plans for construction, waste, water conservation and others
- Water extracted from below ground aquifer (unlike most of Seychelles which relies on desalination) – water table levels and water quality monitored closely in accordance with water management plan
- Waste water collected and treated bacterially – treated grey water is used for irrigation
- Use of local stone, dead native trees, wood from invasive trees being removed and majority of remaining timber was sustainably certified
- Tropical location means swimming pools and rooms are not heated
- Very conscious use of chemical usage and other aspects which can have a negative impacts on ecology and so cleaning products and other chemicals are carefully vetted and their use controlled
- Careful monitoring of energy and water – daily reporting split between front and back of house and helps prevent waste
- No use disposable products with exception of toiletries – compost food waste
- The reintroduction of several endangered endemic birds, plus the hotel is a haven for Giant Aldabran Tortoises and Green Turtles
- Strong links to international and national conservation organisations doing important research
While the hotel here could certainly go further in terms of harnessing solar, tidal and wind energy here, they are planning to take these measures in the near future, starting with wood-burning generators fuelled by the invasive casuarina trees, imported from Australia, which have spread all over the island. That fuel source should do until photovoltaic-cell technology makes solar power more viable.
The only irrevocable downside to the hotel’s eco credentials may be its distance from the mainland–most people take the helicopter option. But given the increasing rarity of having a Robinson Crusoe feeling on a planet of 7 billion and counting, a long boat ride (preferably powered by wind) may be a small price to pay.
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