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.