Hotel review

Hotel Review: Mango House Seychelles

The Seychelles look like a paradise on Earth, with its white sand beaches, turquoise lagoons and prehistoric granite rocks protruding from lush valleys. And while one could spend an entire trip enjoying all that nature has to offer, there is also an art scene to discover, if you know where to find it.

The islands have attracted many well-known artists over the years, including Italian photographer Gian Paolo Barbieri, whose vacation home – now transformed into the newly opened Mango House hotel – was my home for a week. It is located on the main island of Mahé, in the “bohemian south”, named for its stretches of wilder and undeveloped landscapes, where creative people have flocked over the decades, some building villas on the ocean like Barbieri, others setting up studios in the jungle and never leaving.

Mango house exterior

why come here

There are plenty of luxury hotels to choose from across the island republic – the Seychelles was Kate and Wills’ honeymoon destination, after all. But one would be hard pressed to find a resort that has the authentic warmth and effortless style of Mango House. When its creators began dreaming up plans for the island’s resort, they started with everything they didn’t like about luxury hotels: stuffiness, snobbery and formality.

“We wanted Mango House to be the opposite of that; create a home,” one manager told me. They succeeded. The affable, laid-back staff make it feel less like a hotel and more like the villa of a generous friend with lavish taste, whose weekend invite might well extend into a month-long fiesta waterside dining and dangerously delicious cocktails. It’s small enough to feel intimate — there are only 41 rooms — but still has room for four outstanding restaurants, three pools, a spa, and a charming bar that comes with an even more charming mixologist called Devlin.

Twin bedroom

There are signs for the local art scene dotted around the hotel; photographs by Barbieri and paintings by the indomitable Michael Adams hang in the lobby. Adams, who described his work as a “mirror of daily life in the Seychelles”, arrived in 1972 and never left. His paintings are well observed and full of life. His daughter, Alyssa Adams, is also an artist and designed the iconic print on the silk dressing gowns for Mango House guests to relax in.

I stayed at Cliff House, an apartment building built into this iconic rock and a short walk from the main house. One of the three pools was outside my room, and I quickly fell into a daily routine: grabbing a few stolen hours before the sun reached full power to do laps among the treetops, while that the song of the birds called for a new day.

Cliff House Pool

It was the perfect way to prepare for a gourmet breakfast, enjoyed in one of the restaurants with balconies. Platters of local fruits like mango, passion fruit and star fruit come without order, along with a selection of fresh pastries and small cakes. The Kreole menu had a wide offering including a banana acai bowl, Kalamansi lemon pancakes made with local Takamaka rum and coconut French toast with vanilla caramel – a combination that still makes me salivate.

What to do

The studio tour is a great way to meet the local creative community. We were taken on a tour by artist Nigel Henri from Mahé who can be arranged through Mango House. I had the pleasure of touring Michael Adams’ studio and home which is a short walk from the hotel. Hailing from Malaysia, Adams is Seychelles’ most prominent artist and has been recording life there in playful color for nearly half a century.

The gallery is open most days and sells works by Adams and his daughter Alyssa, who told me about her childhood studying art with her father in the jungle. He encourages her to use the organic materials offered by the planet, drawing on the spot with shells as brushes. She seeks to reflect the “magic of Mother Nature”, and her colorful paintings and silkscreen prints are an illustration of the power of nature on the island.

Michael Adams Art Gallery

Another artist inspired by the beauty of the Seychelles was Tom Bowers, whose house I also visited. Bowers was a talented sculptor who was born in Britain but moved there for almost 40 years. Her daughter, Katy, now continues her legacy. She described how the south has developed over the past decades. “It’s always been a mecca for artists and now it’s elite,” she told me. “But we welcome these high-end hotels; they bring in guests with buying power and that raises the level of craftsmanship.”

One could easily spend a day getting to know the close-knit Seychellois artists and, if you’re feeling inspired, guests of Mango House can arrange a private painting lesson with Henri, which takes place in one of the many picturesque locations.

Pool

The hotel is also well located for a lazy day of grazing and sunbathing. Guests can enjoy a massage at the spa, snorkel in the clear, shallow sea, or go kayaking at the nearby beaches along the bay. Tip: Don’t forget the sunscreen and don’t store your phone in your bikini. We had a rather bumpy docking – the boat capsized and said phone blew out in the strong pull of a wave – but even that couldn’t spoil the feeling of pulling into this secluded, magical bay.

Venture further afield, however, and you’ll be treated to some of the world’s best beaches just a short drive away, including Beau Vallon and Anse Louis. The Seychelles government enacted an Environmental Protection Act in 2016, which now includes a ban on plastic bags and a tax on plastic and glass bottles, and all the beaches we visited were pristine.

what to eat

If you don’t feel like leaving the hotel, you can eat in rotation in the four restaurants of Mango House and never be bored. Muse copiously revisits the Italian classics; Azido serves Japanese cuisine to die for, from charcoal-grilled robatayaki to fresh sushi and wagyu beef; and Soley is the pool bar where you can sit in your bathing suit and enjoy a bento box and a mojito.

Muse restaurant interior

Moutya is the Creole offer of Mango House. It is named after a dance practiced by the enslaved Africans who arrived with the French colonists in the early 18th century (and which is now on the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list). The kitchen is overseen by master chef Ralph Ernesta, and his beautifully crafted menu incorporates the heady Creole blend of French, Chinese and Indian influences, with a strong emphasis on seafood.

I had a memorable dinner at his restaurant on the beach, enjoying a feast of red snapper, breadfruit curry, sweet potato ladob, sweet pumpkin dumplings, heart of palm and mango salads and lemon cakes. chilli, with a coconut cake to finish. As the fruit bats beat overhead and the waves crashed onto the patio, I felt alive with the flavors and scents of Ernesta’s cooking.

Restaurant tables Moutya

When the first settlers arrived in the Seychelles from France in 1770, they landed at Sainte Anne with the primary purpose of growing spices. They cultivated nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and chili peppers and gradually spread to surrounding islands. For those wishing to smell and taste this history first hand, a trip to Jardin Du Roi is a must.

The restaurant sits in the middle of a raised garden 2 km above Anse Royale on Mahé and is full of nature’s bounty. The French planted the first seeds here, but when the English colonized in 1794 they set the plants on fire to prevent new invaders from enjoying the fruits of their labor. More than 200 years later, the top of the hill abounds with herbs, spices, exotic fruits and fragrant flowers. I had a delicious Creole lunch on the veranda, prepared with produce from the garden, and met some of Du Roi’s oldest residents: the giant tortoises.

The main island of Mahé has less than 100,000 inhabitants. “I know almost everyone!” joked our guide Nigel. “Actually the police have a hard time arresting anyone here because they might be his cousin.” That may be an exaggeration of the truth, but there’s definitely a sense of an intimate, tightly knit community here. From creative expats to local anglers, the island engenders collective harmony. And such is the open-mindedness of everyone I met, I felt part of this little family, if only for a week.

Rooms start from around £600 a night at Mango House Seychelles; hilton.com


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