Seychelles two ways: Desroches and Calou

To start, I should say that there’s no comparison between Desroches and Calou. They’re two different beasts altogether, luxury apples and budget-friendly oranges, respectively. Yet taken together they present two distinctive experiences of the country: Seychelles two ways.

Desroches is one of Seychelles‘ top resorts, a private island resort that underwent a major design upgrade following its leasing in 2008 to South African investors. At €1200 ($1590) per couple per night – not including the €400 ($530) or so it costs per person to fly the 250 kilometers to the island from Mahé, the country’s main island – it’s very pricey. That €1200 gets guests an oceanfront suite (see above) the size of a nice country cottage. For villas or even splashier “retreats,” the nightly outlay is much higher.

Desroches offers an international crew who are always smiling and open to making conversation. It’s impossible not to feel pampered at Desroches, a resort that manages to make its guests feel looked after but also left to their own devices. That’s a balance that many luxury resorts get wrong.

Suites are wonderfully outfitted in light tones, a nice mishmash of earthy and modern. Lounge spaces are capacious, with few walls. There’s a spa, appropriately hushed and meditation inducing, clinging to the beach as well. The resort blends beautifully into the island’s tropical greenery. Also noteworthy is the island’s very good conservation office, funded by a resort foundation, whose director allows guests to join him on morning wildlife inventory walks around the island.

Calou, located in a garden in the middle of La Digue, is a much less lavish proposition. Staff are few, somewhat overworked though genuinely friendly. Cottages run €124 ($164) per night including breakfast and dinner for two. Cottage with breakfast is only €100 ($132) with dinner for an additional €15 ($20) per person. The evening meal is enjoyed around large communal tables. Calou’s cottages are simple with barely adorned white walls, a fan as well as air conditioning, and a corner refrigerator.

Desroches is the fantasy, the space apart from workaday life; Calou, though not hostel-cheap, is within reach of many. Desroches is inarguably more comfortable; its padded gorgeousness removed just a hair from the unreal. It is a dream space. Calou, pleasant and welcoming, is one hotel among many.

Yet the meals at Calou (just above) are better than those on offer at Desroches. This isn’t the fault of the kitchen at Desroches, which produces some very good dishes, particularly Southeast Asian fare. But Desroches strives to replicate a kind of international fare that requires various items – salmon and apples, for example – to be flown unfathomable distances. Salmon is not the freshest proposition on an equatorial island in the Indian Ocean.

Calou’s kitchen relies on fresh local bounty. The fish is consistently very good and local salads and vegetables are delicious and well prepared. One night during my visit, there was an outstanding starfruit salad. Another dinner highlight was a very sharp chili sauce. Desserts were exceptional: puddings, custards, carmelized coconut crumbled over ice cream. Breakfast is simple and delicious as well with homemade jams and fresh fruit.

Both hotels have a lot going for them – vastly different things, it must be repeated. The attractiveness of each hinges on budget, traveler personality type, and vacation philosophy.

How to visit Seychelles on a budget

How to visit Seychelles on a budget? It’s simple. Stay in a friendly little guesthouse on the island of La Digue, eat dinner at said guesthouse, rent a bicycle, spend time on the beach and chill out.

For tourists, the Indian Ocean country of Seychelles is luxury territory. This is a fact. It’s expensive to fly there and it’s expensive to stay there. The country is dotted with unfathomably pricey digs, places like Maia and North Island (the latter, the site of Will and Kate’s honeymoon last year) where guests pay €3000 ($3940) per night for extreme luxury, butlers and all.

But on the small Seychellois island of La Digue, there are plenty of guesthouse options, some quite reasonable. La Digue is one island that travelers of modest means can actually afford to visit. My guesthouse, Calou, was a friendly and satisfactory option at €100 ($131) per night for a cottage, including breakfast. I’ll write more on Calou in a subsequent post.

Budget-friendly means different things in different places. On La Digue, a couple can have a perfectly blissful time for €170 ($223) a day, €150 ($197) on a slight austerity plan. Is this Central America cheap? No. Is it Balkans cheap? Again, no. But in Seychelles it is bargain territory.

La Digue is a green speck of paradise fringed with enormous boulders. It’s like something out of the Flintstones — only, of course, its boulders are real granite objects and not the work of animation. Roosters do duty as alarm clocks. There are enormous tortoises, both in a reserve and sometimes lumbering down the road. The land is lush, the roads narrow, and the town very social. Bicycle is the main mode of transportation on La Digue and cars are rare. People wave and say hello on the street. For anyone who has spent time in the Caribbean, there are unavoidable social parallels. There is a Rasta subculture here as well, with reggae spilling out of supermarkets and houses.But in February, when beaches in the Caribbean are heaving, La Digue is remarkably quiet. It’s not difficult to find a solitary spot on one of the island’s top beaches. This is the wet season in Seychelles. Though, even during the wet season the rains tend to be spaced out. A torrential few hours of rain will usually be followed by hours of clear skies.

In the southeast of the island, Grande Anse, Petite Anse, and Anse Cocos beaches are very, very close to perfection. (And if shade were not at such a premium, they would be completely perfect.) Beach bums cluster under the few trees and in the shadow of the boulders along the periphery of the beach. There are one or two makeshift shelters constructed from logs, driftwood, and palm fronds. These go quickly in a more rustic version of the early-morning-towel-on-beach-chair phenomenon seen at countless resort poolsides around the world. On the weekend, tourists are joined by Seychellois teenagers surfing the waves.

You want a perfect day? Here it is. Eat fresh fruit and eggs for breakfast at Calou. Bike to the island’s strip of shops for a stronger cup of coffee before heading on to Grande Anse, where you laze without purpose for six hours. Break for a grilled fish lunch at the beach’s restaurant. In the afternoon, when the burn is undeniable, embark on an intense bike ride up the hill from the beach. Stop at Simon’s juice shack just past the crest of the hill. (You can’t miss it. Simon’s is a small bright yellow hut.) Simon will prepare you a glass of tropical freshness that will change your life. From here, bike downhill, shower off the salt and the sunblock, nap, enjoy a beer as sunlight falls, and then eat creole chicken for dinner. Fall asleep by 9 p.m.

If you can beat that, drop me a note.