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
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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
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

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?