See sales in the Seychelles

Don't just fly and flop. Head for the market in bustling Victoria, says Cass Chapman

As I walk down Market Street in Victoria, the tiny capital city of the Seychelles, I'm struck by a distinct fragrance: a mix of frangipani, fresh grouper and coconut oil. In truth, it's not the best olfactory blend, but it's certainly indicative of the many layers that make up this exotic part of the world.

Just down Quincy Street, for instance, Hindu gods wave from the exterior of the ornate Sri Navasakthi Vinayagar temple, while gold ceramic dragons rise from the local Chinese Centre next door. There's a 19th-century French colonial-style Catholic cathedral just to the north on Olivier Marandan Street, a brand new Anglican cathedral round the corner on Albert Street (near the city's only set of traffic lights), and the city's mosque lies near the inner harbour. Only 25,000 people live in Victoria, but they aren't short of variety when it comes to forms of worship.

The cobbled, shop-lined streets here are beguiling, while elegant porches swing around colonial style homes in the city's main square. But I was heading to the source of that intriguing smell: the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke market, named after a one-time governor of the Seychelles (1947-51), back when which these Indian Ocean islands were a British crown colony.

The market building itself is a citrus-coloured structure with a sweeping rooftop that mirrors the temple next door. I'd been told that the stalls are set up each day at 4am, with Sunday mornings the busiest time of the week. Happily, there's still plenty of bustle later in the day: row upon row of market traders offer red snapper fillets, whole tuna, pak choi, palm sugar, mango – and lashings of coconut oil.

Sylvia Vidal, my guide for the day, revealed that Chinese residents such as herself buy their fish straight from the port in the early dawn hours: "The Seychellois really cook their fish, so buying from the market works for them. But those of us who make sashimi need fish packed on ice."

I told her that the fish I'd eaten while in Victoria – carpaccio, sushi, grilled, fried – had all been delectable. "Of course," she said. "It's fresh and Seychellois-sourced."

And fresh really means fresh here. Most is sold without a bag or even a sheet of paper around it: you're handed the tail of a fish in return for payment. As a result "No Fish" signs hang on Victoria's shop-door handles: the smell can linger.

Family-run restaurants such as Le Rendez-vous and the Pirate's Arms, both swinging joints that overflow into the street, hug the market square. The former is open at the sides, so it's cool on hot evenings, while the Pirate's Arms has satellite televisions on each wall and is hugely popular with locals. Both offer fresh local delights such as octopus and breadfruit, and everything is served with freshly pressed guava juice or local SeyBrew lager. Close by, elderly Seychellois sit for hours on benches, smoking and watching the young women of Victoria glide by, fish in one hand and fruit basket in the other.

Just to the south, at Mont Fleuri, lie Victoria's intoxicating Botanical Gardens. With endless tropical species of flora and fauna – as well as fruit bats, insects, birds and butterflies flitting around – they are a stunning showcase of all the island has to offer. I was particularly struck by the black pepper vines and bulging Pomelo trees – and Le Sapin café in the garden's centre is a perfect morning spot from which to watch giant tortoises being fed their breakfast.

Victoria sits along the north-eastern side of Mahé, the largest of the 115 (or so) islands in the Seychelles, and home to 90 per cent of the population.

The archipelago lies in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa, 1,500km from Kenya and north of Madagascar – and most of the atolls are uninhabited piles of granite or coral, or occupied by high-end beach resorts. Mahé, though, offers the best of both worlds, with sandy beaches rubbing happily along with the gentle hubbub of Victoria.

The mountainous centre of the island flattens into a fringe of beaches. A short drive from Victoria, the rock formations of Beau Vallon beach make this a prime snorkelling spot.

Victoria is also an ideal hub for day trips to nearby islands. I took a local charter boat to Praslin, which lies 45km to the north-east of Mahé. The island's central forest of palm trees thins out into clear, sandy beaches, one of which, Anse Lazio, is home to Bonbon Plume. This perfect little eatery consists of little more than wooden tables in the sand, each flanked by low-lying palm trees.

Then it was back to indulge in the other side of a trip to the Seychelles: pampered luxury. Just a short drive from Victoria along the coast road, the Maia Resort & Spa provides the perfect beach-side retreat.

From the winding coastal road below, the sea grass roofs of each villa peak flirtatiously from its granite perch. But despite the Maia's exquisite food, despite a view from my villa that was almost impossible to tear my eyes from, it was Victoria's small-town charm that would conjure my strongest memories. Fishy or not, Africa's smallest capital city is also one of its biggest surprises.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Getting there

* Mahé is served by Air Seychelles (01293 596656; airseychelles.com) from Heathrow and Gatwick with a stop in Rome. Alternatively airlines such as Emirates and Qatar fly via their Middle Eastern hubs.



Getting around

* Dive Seychelles (00 248 345 445; diveseychelles.com.sc) organises diving and boat charters.

Staying there

* Maia Resort & Spa, Anse Louis, Mahé (00 248 390 000; maia.com.sc). Villas from €1,670 per night B&B.



Visiting there

* Victoria Botanical Gardens (00 248 670 500; env.gov.sc). Open daily 8am-5pm; admission €5.



More information

* Seychelles Tourism: 020-7636 7954; seychelles.com

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence