Two newlyweds take a break with their two small children and enjoy warm seas, blue skies - and excellent creche facilities.
The Seychelles - surely the perfect destination for a honeymoon. Like Cuba without the communism, or Goa without the damn hippies. The Seychelles islands have it all: a mellow climate year round, azure seas, white sand, groovy-looking fish, and rare birds.
So when my wife Alice and I got married this summer, it was to just such a place that our thoughts turned. Plus, Wills and Kate honeymooned there, and we're shallow.
The hitch was that, unlike Wills and Kate, we already had a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. We hankered after what many honeymooners do - a bit of tropical warmth, perhaps, and certainly some seclusion - but, with Max still too nocturnal to leave with his grandparents, there wasn't much choice: the brats would have to come. Not every honeymooner can boast a wheelie suitcase shaped like a gruffalo in their baggage. And no, we weren't upgraded.
Getting there is the tough bit: seven hours to Abu Dhabi, and then four more to the archipelago's main island of Mahe. From there, it was just a 15-minute hop on a wobbly twin-prop plane to Praslin, the second largest island and one that had - we were given to understand - a somewhat mellower vibe than Mahe. We'd need it. We all know what kids on planes are like, even if we don't have them; in fact, especially if we don't have them. My late grandmother, when annoyed by some stranger's child on a flight, would slip it half a sleeping pill and tell it that it was a sweetie.
So let me say only that, as you emerge from the airport laden with bags, obscurely sticky, massively sleep-deprived, and perspiring freely, there are few things more welcome than being introduced to an air-conditioned car with a flower on the dashboard, bottles of water beaded with condensation in the cupholders, and cool white face-flannels emerging from their own dedicated chiller compartment between the front seats.
This goes double if, during a particularly tense moment on the flight out - around the time your son and heir was sick onto a copy of Grazia (I know, everyone's a critic) - your wife was heard wondering aloud in a tone suggesting more than an abstract philosophical inquiry what it was that caused her to marry you in the first place.
We chose our hotel, shamelessly, for being the sort of place that made âluxuryâ an adjective rather than a noun. The Constance Lemuria's drive snakes past a verdant and well-tended 18-hole golf course, and within your first ten minutes you're presented with chilled coconut water straight from the nut, a bottle of something fizzy in an ice bucket (not Tizer), and a Balinese lady who will make very free with your bare feet if you sit anywhere near her.
Here is a slick exemplar of the international beach hotel: gated, clean as a whistle, its paths patrolled by Bond-villain golf-buggies, and its pools furnished with swim-up bars. It boasts of being a six-star resort, I suppose in the manner of the Spinal Tap guitarist whose amp went up to 11. Anyway, sneer if you like: it got our marriage back on track.
The luxury is of the generic, blandly tasteful international kind (though one hopes, this being a honeymoon, that the word will also carry a ghost of its archaic meaning, as decried by St. Thomas Aquinas). This is one of those places that seems to have been built entirely out of honey-colored marble, wooden slats, and fluffy white toweling. Every cupboard you open seems to contain another bathrobe. The temptation to put them all on at once and chase the kids about like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters is almost overwhelming.
Naturally, it takes not more than 18 minutes for my two children to turn these pristine spaces into a Lego-and-plastic-moocow-strewn approximation of our living-room floor. Plus, be warned, marble flooring and the wet feet of children are not the best combination. On our first day my daughter went for a burton twice within a ten-minute period: âMummy! Mummy!â CRACK! (pause) âWaaaAAAAHHHHH!â
Lessons learned, it was down to eating, drinking, swimming, and sleeping. This was mostly what we did. There's snorkeling to be had nearby, a nature reserve filled with exotic birds, and Coco De Mer palms (the celebrated pudenda-themed nut is native to Praslin), and a ferry goes from Baie St. Anne to the neighboring island of La Digue if you're touristically minded. I have it on good authority that, in failing to check out La Digue, we missed out on some giant tortoises and glorious views from its 1,000-foot peak. (Can you Digue it?) Post-long haul, though, we'd developed Herbert Lom-style tics about the prospects of taking the kids anywhere. With our progeny and each other to enjoy, staying put, for the most part, seemed the most attractive way to spend our time.
Among other things, the wildlife comes to you. At one point I caught sight of something at the end of the lawn: was that a big snake? There, next to that rock. I looked closer. It wasn't a snake. It wasn't a rock. What I'd taken for a snake was the rock's head: a hawksbill turtle the size of the spare tire on a Land Rover had crawled out of the sea with a view to laying her eggs at the bottom of our garden.
The island's most beautiful beach, Anse Georgette (in Seychellois creole âanseâ is a beach, though in other French creoles it's âplageâ), is just the other side of the golf course - a couple of hundred meters of white sand that is bookended by rocks and backed by greenery, free of loungers or beach bars. Be warned, though, it's unpredictable. You'll be standing knee-deep, admiring the black and white fish in the clear water beside you, when the sea will, just for giggles, send a wave steaming in unannounced at face height to knock you on your arse and leave your ears ringing.
Better for a swim are the southwesterly beaches by the main part of the hotel, which benefit from lifeguards and a shark net. Plus, you're two minutes on sandy foot from the main hotel swimming pool, and a bite to eat in one of the three restaurants (the usual international buffet, as competently done as they can be, a very good bar and grill, and a âfine diningâ restaurant we didn't bother with).
The key thing, for us, was whether the romance and togetherness you look for in a honeymoon could be combined with the muddle of a family holiday. It just about could. Of course, putting the moves on the old lady when your one-year-old is up all night cutting a molar (thanks, kid) isn't always the easiest. And a romantic meal at the Beach Bar and Grill, from whose terrace you can look down as shoals of big silver fish wash over the rocks below, nearly took a wrong turn after the same angry one-year-old started turfing the cutlery over the side (we managed to put him to sleep in his stroller eventually).
Plus, kids are attention-intensive: after four days there, my wife, reading Fifty Shades of Grey, still hadn't got to a dirty bit. But there is romance, is there not, in watching your children happy and watching the mother of your children happy with them, entirely absorbed and not fretting about cooking, or washing up, or endlessly picking up toys, or wondering how to keep them amused for the last hour of the Long March to Bedtime? There is for me.
When you do choose to unload the kids, you're covered. The resort's formidably well-equipped kids' club will take them from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm if you so choose. It's free for kids of four and over, though younger kids will need a babysitter - about a tenner an hour; London rates. It has a timetable of different activities all week, a mini-swimming pool 40 cm deep (complete with dinky mini-loungers with tiny towels), Wendy house, Nintendo, slides, flotillas of ride-on cars, motorbikes and planes, pretty much every toy or game imaginable.
We - slightly guiltily - dropped them off one day to go for a grown-up lunch and a his 'n' hers massage (you'll know the drill, spa-wise: all jasmine tea and Muji-type slippers; very nice, and if you have a joint massage your wife can fall in love with you all over again as she listens to you snore). When we went back to collect them, my famously anti-social daughter was charging around playing king-of-the-castle with a handful of girls whom she had never met before, and strongly resisted leaving. I think it was the best day the children had.
Most important, I suppose, was that at no point did we get that belittling feeling of being scruffy breeders dirtying up a Sex and the City scenario. There were other kids about. And even that time Max was chasing the peacock round the pool shouting âBub! Bub! Bub!,â those Russian guys and their pretty young girlfriends looked on with indulgence rather than annoyance.
So, friends, if you have a few thousand quid burning a hole in your back pocket, a couple of nippers, and a recent marriage to either celebrate or repair, you could do a lot worse than this. In fact, if your marriage survives the flight back, the prospect of a week in the Seychelles might even make you think about renewing your vows.