A stroke of beauty: Try an arty adventure in the Seychelles
Seychelles | August 02, 2022 | Natalie Marsh
Travel Weekly’s Natalie Marsh falls in love with island life
Eat a mango,” I’m instructed. Not while being passed a mango, but a cassette tape with these words written across it.
We’ve made a quick stop at what looks like a former house that’s been turned into what seems to be a museum displaying objects that had once been thrown away, as part of a tour of the south side of Mahé, the largest island in the Seychelles.
The owner of this place, affectionately known by everyone as Toto, takes great pride in showing us some of the objects he’s saved from being discarded, including old mobile phones, rusty tools, used books and shells, which all sit alongside a large collection of Eat a Mango cassette tapes – it’s a legendary album from the mid-90s by South African band Mango Groove, I’m told.
Admittedly, it’s unlike our other stops that morning, where we’ve been visiting local artists to really get under the skin of the art scene in Mahé.
But art is, of course, subjective, and leaving Toto’s, cassette in hand, after seeing his passion for his collection, has reminded me to search for beauty in things I wouldn’t ordinarily look twice at. But beauty wasn’t something that was difficult to find on Mahé.
As soon as we touched down and stepped out onto the tarmac, I felt the warm embrace of the island heat as I caught a first glimpse of the beautiful mountains and lush greenery surrounding them. I knew in that moment that I had arrived somewhere special.
Artists by nature
The homely, welcoming feeling that I got just from stepping off the plane, seeing the Seychelles scenery for the first time, was felt again the next day as I perused the paintings adorning the walls of the Michael Adams Art Studio in Anse Aux Poules Bleues.
The colourful paintings were mesmerising and truly encapsulate the island’s warmth and vivacity. A stalwart among the islands’ artists, Michael Adams moved to the Seychelles in the 70s, and paved the way for local creators, helping to put Mahé on the map in the art world.
Together with his wife, Heather, they opened up their home to visitors – quite literally, as the studio is in the front room of their house. A short drive away was the home of Katy Bowers, daughter of the famous sculptor Tom Bowers.
Inviting us into her garden, she showed us some of her late father’s impressive handiwork, including a life-sized sculpture of Esmeralda, said to be the oldest giant tortoise in the world.
These poignant art creations are just around the corner from the new Mango House hotel – our home during our four-night stay.
The boutique property, from Hilton’s independent luxury resort brand, LXR Hotels & Resorts, is steeped in art, not only from how it uses local artists – Michael Adams’ daughter Alyssa designed the prints on the gowns and face masks provided in the rooms, for example – but in its heritage.
The main house on the property was originally built by the famous Italian photographer Gian Paolo Barbieri, a steadfast name in the fashion industry and the residence was named Mango House by Barbieri himself after the white mango tree in his garden.
Mango House curves up the Anse Aux Poules Bleues coastline with serene beaches just steps away, inviting you in for a dip in the warm Indian Ocean. It’s an idyllic location for the LXR brand’s first entry to the Seychelles’ shores.
“Mango House curves up the coastline with serene beaches just steps away, inviting you in for a dip in the warm Indian Ocean.”
The hotel boasts five restaurants and bars, incorporating the very best of Creole cuisine, delicious daytime light bites, and fine-dining Japanese dishes.
Home to just 41 rooms, suites and villas, even with the addition of day or evening dining guests, the restaurants never felt busy. I stayed in one of the five Bay House Villas: rooms are spacious, stylish and are very Seychellois in style, with neutral colours coating much of the room, allowing for pops of colour from the textiles and the artwork on the walls.
All rooms in each villa building can be booked individually or all together, making it popular for families and group bookings, as well as couples.
At the other end of the property is one of the Seychelles’ largest accommodations, Cliff House Villa, with 13 bedrooms. It’s built into the hillside with a stunning vantage point over the ocean and an elevated pool.
Make your own
After seeing what other artists across Mahé have been producing, it was time for us to try creating something for ourselves. “Pas mal, not bad,” I shrugged, attempting my best Creole and looking for reassurance, as I untangled my fingers from the palm tree leaves that I’m attempting to weave into a hat.
It’s a delicate balance between making sure I tighten the loops enough without actually snapping the leaves. It looks easier than it sounds, but I persevere, and end up with a green woven hat that we agree is “pas mal”.
Nigel Henri, our tour guide for the duration of the trip, is also a renowned Seychellois artist himself, whose charisma and enthusiasm for both art and the islands is infectious.
Setting up a hat-weaving workshop inside, and a row of easels on the balcony, it was time to channel the heritage of Mango House and the passions of those we had met along the way into our own artwork.
Staring out over the ocean, with sweeping views up the west coast of Mahé, where the tops of verdantcoated mountains were engulfed by wisps of cloud, and Silhouette Island standing strong on the horizon, I took a deep breath and put brush to canvas.
The result? A painting that definitely isn’t fit for a gallery just yet. I might be taking home some Seychelles art for myself, but I’m leaving a little bit of my heart behind.
Where to eat and drink at Mango House
Perfect for a pre or post-dinner tipple, Kokoye boasts an enviable collection of gins, rums, whiskeys and other spirits from around the world.
The gin stock is impressive, with 46 different gins from South Africa alone, while the rum shelves are stocked mostly with Seychelles-made Takamaka. Guests can take part in cocktail-making classes and assistant food and beverage manager Raven, who hails from South Africa, is a dab hand behind the bar, incorporating fruits, herbs and spices into his creations.
The very best of fine Creole food can be found on the menu at Moutya. The restaurant sits just metres from the ocean, offering local delicacies.
Melt-in-your-mouth red snapper, cut and served by the chef with the crashing waves just behind him, was the definite highlight.
Sharing dishes is what Muse does best. This is the hotel’s main restaurant, which pays homage to Gian Paolo Barbieri with its selection of Italian dishes designed to pass around the table.
Muse is also the hotel’s breakfast restaurant, where delicate plates of fresh fruit platters and yoghurts help you to kickstart your day.
The menu also incorporated everything from moringa oatmeal to smoked marlin.