MEET ONE OF THE SEYCHELLES’ HIDDEN GEMS – THE RESIDENCE ON THE ROCKS
(Posted 02nd November 2013)
Travel to the Seychelles is always a much anticipated affair, an affair which in my case has lasted for many years and which keeps growing stronger every time I visit the islands. In my ‘line of business’ I regularly come face to face with luxurious hotels, resorts, safari lodges and safari camps, from the world’s top ranked properties in the Gulf to the award winning boutique collections in Eastern Africa and beyond.
Most of these places excel in one key aspect, individuality, though attention to detail, F&B service and superior guest relations, there when you need them and gone when you don’t too are key ingredients to earn them my professional respect and the accolades which go along with them. I am known to rate simple facilities, like for instance the Gorilla Camp in Nkuringo with 5 stars, in its own class that is and in comparison with similar places, while tearing down those self awarded 5 stars where the owners live in cuckoo land and need a serious reality check to learn what the word ‘Luxury’ really entails and involves. Luxury in fact has come to be one of the most abused notions and words in parts of Eastern Africa, and I guess beyond too, at times attributed to having a flush loo and a trickling shower, clogged with sediment, using lukewarm water from a hastily lit ‘Tanganyika boiler’ which is then presented as ‘ecofriendly’.
Oh well, those are the trials and tribulation of a travel writer and for most of the time I just endure such places, move on and NOT write about them, though at times I of course do to unmask them and warn off other travellers from expecting too much when they read ‘luxury’ on the websites.
Per chance, during this visit to the Seychelles, mainly to cover the Festival Kreol and a series of related events by the Seychelles Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, an opportunity arose to sample a residence, in fact THE RESIDENCE aka www.residenceontherocks.com. I anticipated much, having read up on the place, and yet, nothing could have prepared me for the reality of this it as I entered and stood in awe.
I arrived at the main reception of the Banyan Tree Seychelles, got my orientation alongside a scented cold towel and a delicious fruit punch and enjoyed my view from the terrace with rain bucketing down outside as if there was no tomorrow. Well I thought, where I come from in Africa a visitor bringing rain is considered a blessing, and so I assumed my regular upright posture, smiling ear to ear about having brought the rain and ignored the muttering under the breath of other guests who were not amused in the least to be disturbed and marooned inside by courtesy of my gift. Official meet and greet done, by Alvaro Acebal, Director of F&B and Sheila Banana, Sales Manager, I was whisked into my electric cart, bags already inside and the roll down see through sides zipped up to keep the rain out and off we went for a 5 minute drive, higher and higher up the hills and passing those coveted hill side villas before suddenly the Residence on the Rocks emerged.
The sounds of the Bee Gees’ and their California Dreaming song greeted me, setting the right mood and when this classic was followed by more 70’s and 80’s hits, it all combined, the scent of the tropical flowers, the soft breeze from the ocean and the sights from the hill top to create ‘Seychelles Dreams’ in my mind, ready to drop the pen and notebook, camera and sound recorder and just let be for a while. It suddenly was Seychelles at its Sunday best, the hustle and bustle of the world shut out and even the busy resort left behind, reminding me how often I used the phrase Seychelles, truly Another World – and certainly so it was for me.
A residence of such kind of course must have a butler and Lalith Premasiri was instantly at hand when the cart pulled into the drive way, followed by his better half Chandrika Jayaweera, and almost by magic did my bags disappear, a cold juice appear and greetings were showered upon me as if by magic wand I had become the centre of the universe. I guess it is such a welcome which will see guests come back time and again to this place but for a first timer like myself, there was no doubt at all, I had arrived, in all the senses this sentence can be spoken.
Perched high above the beaches of Anse Intendance, at the very far end of Banyan Tree’s hillside villas, this 4 bedroomed property offers all one can wish for and more. One bedroom in the pool house, two including an opulent master suite in the main house and one added bedroom in a cottage next to the outdoor Jacuzzi, make this an ideal location for a getaway, alone or with a group of friends, who prefer the privacy, which the use of such a private residence can offer and yet can enjoy all the services of Banyan Tree just an in-house phone call away. They send an electric cart for the Spa sessions, advance booking absolutely essential I am told as the booking sheets are literally full for days ahead – not a mean feat by the way considering the cost, which for a multi treatment multi hour session can easily run in excess of 300 US Dollars. Banyan Tree also sends a cart to have dinner at one of their restaurants, normally arriving within a few minutes after calling, though they of course also deliver food a la room service or ‘villa service’ rather to the residence if guests wish to remain up on the hill wearing casual rather than having to dress up ‘smart’. The alternative of course is to get one’s own chef seconded from the resort who will prepare an a la carte` meal according to the guests’ preference, from breakfast over lunch to high tea and on to dinner.
It is this level of flexibility which discerning travellers, seeking out such options when they research their holiday destination, treasure in particular as they are not ever bound by meal times or dress codes, demanded of course in the main Banyan Tree resort but at the residence such formalities are tossed aside to let individuality and personal tastes and likes become the rule rather than the exception.
The lounge in the main house, as is the dining room and the pool deck, are for all to share but the individual terraces or balconies of the rooms allow for enough privacy should one care for ‘alone time’ before rejoining the other guests again.
(Elephants are everywhere, at the pool and even sculptured on to one of the huge granite rock outcrops)
An infinity pool right outside the main house’ lounge invites for a swim, day or night and there is never any fight over sunbeds as each guest – the residence can take as many as 8 with full double occupancy at a time – has her or his own and there are enough shaded places to retreat from the scorching sun, as the vista over the Indian Ocean below evokes more than just one ‘awesome’.
The bedrooms, furnished with a tasteful blend of hand crafted cabinets, desks and chests, matching carpets, pictures, pieces of craft and collector’s items, leave nothing wanting and neither do the well appointed bathrooms or the walk in wardrobes. The master bedroom suite has 5 doors opening to the upper floor terrace, which runs along the length of the house and which, especially in the morning at dawn, but also in the bright sunlit colours of the early afternoon, often left me rooted to a spot, gazing over the ocean while the surf from far below provided the background beat to supplement the ever present birdsong. Those ‘French’ doors, like almost every other item used in creating this bespoke home, have a history as the owners brought them from India while the flooring is made of re-used Burma teak. The colonial windows, as I thought on first sight, were brought in from Kenya while much of the metal work, including the spiral staircase leading to a study above the bedroom, was also imported from India and Burma, where Karl Ammann found these treasures and brought them to the Seychelles. Other furniture must have been collected across Eastern Africa and notably are elephant statues, pictures and wall decorations visible everywhere, testament to the owner’s work as a renowned wildlife photographer and keen conservationist.
The style of the residence in many ways reminds me of the Seychellois people, the Creole people, a mix of many origins from China to India to Arabia and Africa, and as I said tongue in cheek a few days ago, a fair portion of the pirates of old thrown in for good measure which may explain the sparkle of friendly mischief in some of the eyes when you look at them or they look at you.
The residence certainly brings out this perfect blend and matches the venerable and the antique with the glass and marble in bathrooms which could have come from a modern city hotel, but for the personal touches of flowers, toiletry containers, the mirror frames, the bowls for flower petals and the incense burners. It all gives a guest here the sense of being at home, well almost for most, as the weather outside of course is vastly different from the one where most come from, Europe in Winter or America in Fall, marked by cold rain and clinging fog, iced over windscreens and the need to dress up warm as the last leaves are blown off the trees by the winter storms.
I instantly felt at home here, and the lack of a hammock, one of the hallmarks of my own ‘Lake Shores’ on Lake Victoria was more than made up for by sun chairs, deck chairs and comfy sofa sets, where I could lounge about, periodically changing location to be sure I sat on them all during my stay, book in hand and camera at the ready. Anyone opting to stay at the Residence on the Rocks will be rewarded with this ‘home away from home’ atmosphere, being able to stroll up to the fridge – which can be stocked with all essentials needed to make that quintessential midnight snack or during the day take care of that peckish feeling – by a quick visit to one of the shops nearby.
A separate entrance not far from the residence allows in fact entry by hired car, for those wanting to take a drive and enjoy the ‘Mille Miglia’ Seychelles style where the winding roads hug mountainsides as well as the beaches as one traverses the island by car, and don’t one wish for an open roof Porsche 911 at such moments. By car, it is easy to get to the shops, or into Victoria which is about 45 minutes away, but the healthier option for a spot of shopping clearly is the use of a bike, or simply taking a long brisk walk – and the Banyan Tree’s network of cart ways give ample opportunity to do exactly that and enjoy the magnificent natural gardens and forests which remained untouched when Banyan Tree was built over 10 years ago.
All this together makes this a home stay, well almost, but one of the finest kind, where visitors can enjoy the best of both worlds, the opulent luxury and services of a Banyan Tree resort and the style, the perfection in fact of a private villa set apart from the rest, in many more ways than just the geographical distance of course, to spend quality time with oneself, enjoy the presence of a companion or have this long planned getaway with a group of equal minded friends.
(Tea by Theodor – a huge Banyan Tree outside and below the magnificent stretch of beach along Anse Intendance)
By the way, tea in the residence is by none less than Theodor – a full display available in the main lounge of the Banyan Tree, where in fact a fully grown Banyan Tree outside the main entrance symbolizes the link between name and nature.
The magnificent Anse Intendance below allows for long jogs and while the water and the surf are perhaps a little rougher than in other more sheltered bays, it does not at all prevent one from taking a bit of a swim or just stand in the surf and matching strength with strength … be prepared to lose to the ocean though.
Excursions and day trips to Praslin and La Digue are easy to arrange – again the guest relation staff at the Banyan Tree is happy to assist in the bookings as will the residence’ butler, but a day out fishing, sailing, snorkeling or diving as well is at the tip of the finger by either calling guest relations or else, and perhaps more rewarding, making arrangements directly after leafing through the free Seychelles Guide booklet or via the Seychelles App which can be downloaded to iPhones and Android Smartphones to browse. Cable and Wireless as well as Airtel offer local SIM cards and credit can be loaded at almost every corner in Victoria and across the island’s shops, allowing to put a data bundle package on a phone to surf the net, post twitter pictures or share the latest photographs with friends on Facebook and, as I was told repeatedly overnight after posting the first pictures, have those friend turn green with envy. Internet at the Banyan Tree and the Residence on the Rocks is available for free and a laptop, netbook or iPad / Tablet will simply connect without fuss, pass word or complicated step by step procedures often seen elsewhere.
Satellite TV is available for those bothered or worried enough to find out what is happening back home, but I hear more and more that while away, fewer and fewer travellers actually use the TV in their rooms, unless their favourite football team plays, a Grand Prix is running or a tennis final underway.
As I end, just after 8 in the morning, having a second cup of steaming tea at my side, I think for the rest of the day I will do what I promised myself, be just another guest in one of the most luxurious places available on this island, read a bit more in my book about the occupation of much of the Iberian peninsula and parts of France by the Moors and try to imagine who, if anyone, in those days lived on, leave alone ‘occupied’ the Seychelles archipelago.
With conviction of a special dedicate nature I say today… Seychelles, truly Another World.
Come visit, no Visa needed but a return ticket, Kenya Airways connects Mahe four times a week with Nairobi as does Ethiopian with Addis Ababa, and a confirmed hotel booking. Air Seychelles flies to Johannesburg and Mauritius three times a week and in conjunction with Etihad almost twice a day to Abu Dhabi, Emirates serves the islands double daily from Dubai and Condor flies in from Germany once a week.
For more information about tourism on the islands see www.seychelles.travel