Of course you don’t come to the Seychelles for a city break, but you’ll inevitably pass through Victoria on your way to the breezier and sandier parts of this gorgeous island nation, so why not stop for a quick look around en route?
As you can guess from the name, this was once a British outpost in the Indian Ocean, but it was actually first settled by the French. Today, the Seychellois people have their own distinct culture and cuisine, despite the low population in their archipelago. Even here, the capital, with a population of around 27,000 (almost a third of the entire country) is much more of a town than a city, but it does provide a solid base from which to explore the wider island of Mahé. The climate here is worth keeping an eye on, however, as it goes from idyllic in the summer months to extremely wet and rainy over December, January and February. That can be especially problematic if you’re a diver, or if you simply want to check out a couple of the best colonial relics, namely the national park and the botanic gardens.
It’s best to stay between May and September to really make the most of the weather and the picture-perfect scenery of the Seychelles.
Sightseeing and Culture
You can fit everything in Victoria into one well-planned day, allowing you more time to get out into deeper Mahé, or more likely, the sensational Seychellois coast. Whether you intend on buying anything or not, the traditional market is a squall of noise and colour and definitely worth a visit. If you can, go there in the morning when the fisherman will be displaying whichever fantastic beasts they’ve hauled from the depths. Much of the best produce will be quickly bought up by local hotels, but later there’ll still be spice and fabric traders haggling the day away so it’s still worth a visit.
If the weather is good and you fancy a look at the Botanic Gardens (+248 4 670 5370) the good news is they’re only a ten-minute walk from the city centre.
Highlights of these beautiful gardens include a spice grove, a pen of giant tortoises, a patch of rainforest complete with fruit bats and a cafeteria.
With such a low population, there’s not a major creative hub in Victoria, but at Kaz Zanana (www.georgecamille.sc) you can see the colourful work of local artist George Camille. If that’s not enough of a draw in itself, then there’s a well-appointed café on site alongside the paintings.
Food and dining
Yes there’s world-class seafood available in almost every hotel restaurant on the island, but if you want a quirky local dish you need to be thinking higher. Much higher. Fruit bat, or chauve souris frugivore, to give its more appetising French name, was widely eaten by local settlers. Today you can still find it in a few Victorian restaurants, the best of which is Marie-Antoinette
(www.marieantoinette.sc, +248 4 266 222).
Open since 1972, it’s one of the longest-running businesses of any type anywhere in the Seychelles. If you’re after something a little quicker – or perhaps you just want to meet some locals – then head to the chaotic, colourful Lai Lam Food Shop (+248 4 225 655) in the heart of town. Rarely quiet, it may well be the most popular restaurant anywhere in the country.
At the opposite end of the culinary scale, if you’re willing to head into any of the luxe resorts around Victoria, there’s no limit to the variety of dishes you can order, nor the amount of money you can spend. Japanese offering Seyshima (www.hresortseychelles.com, +248 438 7000) is one of the most highly regarded, making the most of the outstanding seafood that comes into the harbour. Speaking of which, if you don’t want the Japanese twist, then the H Resort is also home to Eden (+248 4 387 000), one of the most popular seafood restaurants in Mahé.
You can’t really compare Mahé to any of the Mediterranean’s popular party islands, but if you want to leave your luxury resort and venture into town then there are a few options, including an Irish pub. Rogan’s Irish Bar (+248 2 516 464) has everything you’d expect from such an establishment so far from the Emerald Isle – traditional music, lots of chat, a pint of the black stuff and almost certainly no Irish people.
Among locals, the Barrel Night Club
(+248 4 322 136) is probably the most popular venue, though any fans of reggae and reggaeton are welcome. If instead you’d like to party under the stars, then you’ll need to jump in a cab and head down the coast to Katiolo (+248 4 375 453). The party happens late, down by the beach.
If that sounds like too much effort, then relative newcomer 1770 Brewery (+248 2 816 757) has brought craft brewing to the Seychelles. You can walk to this bar on Eden Island and decide if it’s got it right.
Where to stay
If Mahé lacks in certain areas, it’s an absolute powerhouse when it comes to accommodation. The great and the good have long looked at the Seychelles as an ideal honeymoon destination and while that’s a great marketing tool, it also means the amount of money that can be spent is almost limitless.
The Maia (www.tsogosun.com, +248 4 390 000) is close to top of the pile. Overlooking an idyllic turquoise bay, it has that perfect marriage of relaxing vibes but superlative quality and outstanding service for an ideal break.
Four Seasons (www.fourseason.com, +248 4 393 000) also has a lavish and expensive resort here, as does Kempinski (www.kempinski.com, +248 4 386 666), which are solid options.
As anyone who’s visited the brands’ properties in Qatar will know, they set the high bar in terms of service, standard and comfort, even if the resorts aren’t jam-packed with character. The long-serving Banyan Tree (www.banyantree.com, +248 4 383 500) with its airy white villas and breezy colonial décor does, but truth be told it probably is in need of a refurbishment, too.
There’s no meaningful public transport on Mahé. Either your hotel can arrange a taxi or there are cheap local options that you can get in the town.
Qatar Airways has a direct route to Mahe from Doha while both SriLankan Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines have connecting flights from Doha. Flights start at around QR3,500 return to Seychelles International Airport.