MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ROMANCE IN THE SEYCHELLES BY AEI CLIENT LISA MCCUBBIN

GREAT GETAWAYS…. ROMANCE IN THE SEYCHELLES

By Lisa McCubbin


It was to be our first vacation without our kids in more than fifteen years—a romantic getaway to celebrate twenty years of marriage—and I was determined to find the perfect place. I scoured TripAdvisor for weeks and talked to everyone I knew, hoping to find a beach destination with a direct flight from Doha that would replicate our idyllic honeymoon in Tahiti, back in 1989. We finally decided on the Seychelles, an archipelago about a thousand miles off the coast of East Africa, and booked seven nights at the Banyan Tree Resort and Spa. It looked like the ideal spot for my husband and I to relax, re-connect and rekindle our passion. But would it live up to our expectations?

The Banyan Tree Resort and Spa sits on what is perhaps one of the most beautiful pieces of property in the world, overlooking the pure white sand of Intendance Beach on Mahé Island in the Seychelles. With the villas, restaurants and spa scattered across the hillside and along the long beach, the main mode of transportation around the resort is via “buggies” (chauffeured golf carts) that drive along steep, windy, cement paths, built unobtrusively into the landscape.

From the moment my husband and I stepped through the gates of our private villa, it was as if we’d entered another world. Perched on a hillside overlooking the turquoise sea was a huge outdoor living area complete with a pavilion, dining area, two-person lounger and a private infinity pool that beckoned you to skinny dip under the stars. Surrounded by coconut palm trees and lush vegetation, with only a mere hint of one other rooftop below, it felt like we were all alone on a tropical island.

We walked through the heavy sliding glass doors from the teak deck into the bedroom suite. Decorated in colonial plantation style with dark mahogany furniture and white fabrics, the room was elegant, without being opulent, like we’d entered the Kenyan home of a 19th century British explorer. The vaulted ceiling and oversized picture window looking through the jungle to the sea below gave the feeling that you were nestled among nature, while the mirrored wall behind the king sized bed, draped in luxurious linens, was a clear sign that romance was all part of the design.

Soft music emanated from tiny speakers hidden in crevices of the ceiling and scented candles had been lit for our arrival. I quickly understood why the Banyan Tree calls itself a “sanctuary for the senses.” We’d only just arrived, and already my mind felt clearer, relaxed.

The bathroom was yet another sight to behold in what are considered “standard” accommodations at the Banyan Tree. At one end of the room was a sunken bathtub and shower flanked by a floor to ceiling window that had a framed view through the ferns and palms, to the picturesque beach, at the bottom of the hill. I later learned that the founder of the resort group had hiked up the hillside and paced out the plans for the villas, making sure that each had breathtaking views, while maintaining a feeling of utter privacy. And that is exactly what you get.

It became our habit to have breakfast delivered to our villa each morning—it’s included in the room rate—and sit on the veranda, sipping coffee, eating fresh pineapple and other fruits from the resort’s own gardens, before heading down to the main pool area, near the beach. A teak deck surrounds the hotel’s long rectangular infinity pool, dotted with padded lounges arranged in pairs, far enough away from each other so you don’t feel as if you’re right on top of the other guests. The friendly pool staff would come by with cold bottled water and fresh fruit skewers—no charge—just when you felt like you needed some refreshment. From the cute brown and white beach bag provided in the room as a gift (how practical and fun!) to the cold, scented cloths brought to us as we sat by the pool, it was these constant small touches that made me feel as if somebody was anticipating my every need. We didn’t have a care in the world, it seemed—giving us the time and space to talk like we hadn’t talked in years, time to sit in silence and read, time to rediscover each other.

There were few children at the resort and, frankly, that’s the way the Banyan Tree management likes it.

“We don’t cater to children,” Rheinhold Johan, the general manager, told us. “Most people come here looking for a romantic getaway, and that’s what we provide. We have no Kids Club, no children’s menus.” In other words, if you’re looking for a family vacation, please, by all means, go elsewhere.

Speaking of menus… with three different restaurants, plus the poolside bar, there was plenty of variety and every meal we had was delicious. Au Jardin d’Epices offers a varied international menu with a stunning ocean view, while Chez Lamar prepares local Creole specialties in a colonial style house tucked into the jungle, overlooking a small pond. But the resort’s star restaurant is Saffron, offering a large selection of authentic Thai cuisine in an elegant and cozy atmosphere. The crab coconut soup, made with coconuts grown on the property, was undoubtedly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, in my entire life. On our last night, we signed up for the Thai buffet upon the recommendation of another guest, and were treated to a dizzying array of fresh fish, shrimp, curries and satays, grilled to perfection.

I’d read that the beach was too rough for swimming, but during our stay, in April, the sea was calm, clear and ideal for snorkeling along the rocks. Rarely were there more than two or three other couples on the beach and, again, we felt like we had it all to ourselves.

One of the reasons we’d chosen the Banyan Tree was for its renowned spa and I was eager to see if it would live up to its reputation. Each treatment room is actually a stand-alone villa. Like the guest villas, the treatment rooms are nestled in the jungle, open to the sounds of birds and the waves crashing on the beach below, positioned so that you have a stunning view, with complete privacy. The spa menu offers a wide selection of massages, body treatments and facials, without being overwhelming, and the highly trained therapists will happily guide you to the treatment that best suits your needs. Most of the therapists are from Thailand, exotically beautiful, and exceptionally well-trained. Every spa therapist undergoes three months of formal training at Banyan Tree Spa Academy Phuket in Thailand, to ensure that each spa experience is of the same high level of consistency and quality. After the first three-hour Banyan Tree Royal Treatment in which my skin was gently scrubbed and massaged until I felt like someone had literally removed every ounce of stress, I signed up for massages every other day for the rest of the week.

It was each evening, when we returned to our villa, after an exquisite meal and a fine bottle of wine, however, that I really came to appreciate the exceptional level of service at the resort. Our private infinity pool would be lit up, a shimmering blue reflection in the darkness. And inside the bedroom, the bed would be turned down, with magenta flower petals scattered across the luxurious white sheets, as flickering candles gave the room a soft, romantic glow. The smell of amber or sandalwood or rose, permeated the room from the scented oil the housekeeper had chosen for the evening, as the soothing sound of a harp played from the CD player. It was indeed a “sanctuary for the senses.”

The Seychelles and the Banyan Tree Resort turned out to be everything I’d hoped for, and more. After twenty years of marriage, the ambiance of the Banyan Tree made it the perfect place to remember why we fell in love with each other all those years ago.

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