In the Company of Amazonicas and Aldabras

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“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi


The Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens…

Mostly, I really just enjoy saying it, even when I’m far from its stubby bottles and tall royals, giant Victoria amazonicas and aldabras, and the crimson hues of its Madagascar fody and resident deer. But when exploring the island of Mauritius, in particular the north around the capital of Port Louis where the gardens lie, I enjoy them for the escape they provide, an inner-city horticultural hideaway and one that has been there since 1735.

Named after Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the first prime minister of independent Mauritius, they were started by Mahé de Labourdonnais, a French naval officer and administrator, in the service of the French East India, as a vegetable plot for his Mon Plaisir Château. Nearby is the funerary platform where Sir Ramgoolam was cremated – his ashes are now one with the Ganges River in India.

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From vegetable garden to horticultural espionage

French horticulturalist, Pierre Poivre took over the gardens and used them in the same way the Kew Gardens were used. According to Lonely Planet, around the 1700s, Poivre took to its soils and began planting tropical trees, shrubs and plants he ‘acquired’ from all over the world. His goal was to end France’s dependence on Asian spices.

It was Poivre who introduced spice plants such as clove and nutmeg to Mauritius (as well as Reunion and the Seychelles). Since these commodities were at the time controlled by the Dutch, he undertook sneaky smuggling forays to obtain plants and seeds from the Indies.

While the gardens fell into neglect from 1810 and 1849, British horticulturalist, James Duncan transformed them into an arboretum for palms – talipot palms, which flower once after about 40 years and then die, and other varieties like the raffia, sugar, toddy, fever, fan and sealing-wax palms – as well as other tropical trees – the marmalade box tree, fish poison tree and sausage tree.

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Entering through the towering gates of this 25-hectare garden takes me right back to the dark cinema house where the film, Life of Pi dazzled us on the big screen. Before Pi ends up in the raft with a tiger, that is. Rather, the scenes featuring the impressive Le Jardin Botanique de Pondicherry, the botanical gardens used as the setting for the zoo where Pi’s father works.

Perhaps the similarity has to do with the French and Indian heritage both gardens share. Like the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens, Pondicherry’s was also created by the French, in 1826. The Mauritian gardens also retain strong cultural Indian links and nuances – a heritage originating from the labourers brought over from India to work in the country’s sugar cane fields.

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This is the story I see when I look at the gardens – one of great history, timelines intertwined, different nations and races and creeds coming and going, mixing together like the varied plants and trees from all over Africa, Asia, the Americas and Indian Ocean island that inhabit one of the world’s finest botanical gardens.

The protagonist of this story is surely the long pond of giant Victoria amazonica water lilies. These South American natives would make for a great tea tray – although at two metres, it would have to be a very special tea party. Lonely Planet recommends going to see them in the warm summer months, notably January, when they are at their biggest and best.

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On your visit to the island, hire one of the knowledgeable guides at the entrance (or hop on a golf-buggy tour if you wish) and peruse the grounds. Go in search of the different trees planted by various international dignitaries over the years – such as the late Nelson Mandela, Indira Gandhi and several British royals.

Where To Stay20° Sud boutique hôtel, a delightful colonial mansion in a coconut grove at the water’s edge in Grand Baie, Mauritius. Discover more about this hotel in our blog, The Perks of Paradise.

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20° Sud

The Love Nut. And Other Reasons To Visit The Seychelles.

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Nature’s will to be weird, as Jim Morrison called it, couldn’t be stronger than on an island. Islands may prescribe to some conventions, what with their hammocks and palm trees, the mix of heat and rum urging on that island idleness. But it’s their weirdness that really gets you. The distinct plant and animal life that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Some call it exotic. Or mystifying. I like “weird”. And one island that is much weirder than the postcards reveal is the Seychelles, that collection (gaggle? stream?) of over 115 islands that makes up the country.

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In the middle of the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of the African mainland, the Seychelles is very much the tropical island retreat you would expect – it has a warm, tropical climate and water hovering around 27ºC, with a 30 metre plus visibility.

But the unexpected is the true attraction – the jellyfish trees, the coconut crabs and the Aldabras – the ninjas of the tortoise world, as named by one Mexican biologist after observing their perilous acrobatic acts. For instance their attempts to reach high branches on tippy-toes – the risk of overturning be damned.

One of the largest tortoises in the world, the males can weigh up to 250 kg and the females 159 kg. Both are known to live long after 100 years. They may be classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, but one thing is for sure, the Aldabras have paradise honed, with their very own island home in the Seychelles. Aldabra Atoll is one of the the most remote island environments in the world. At 34 kilometers long and 14 kilometers wide, it is the largest raised coral atoll in the world.

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Even more curious is something called the love nut. The biggest nut in the world, seen in the third stamp in the image above. Belonging to the coco de mer palm tree, which can grow up to 34 metres tall, the nut is endemic to only two of the Seychelles’ islands – the Vallée De Mai palm forest in Praslin Island, with its vanilla trees and rare Black Parrot, and neighbouring Curieuse Island.

The nut’s curvaceous figure, resembling a woman’s derriere, a rather pert derriere at that, is what earned it nicknames such as love nut or butt nut, and its fertility symbol status. It is the Marilyn Monroe of fauna, with its flesh a celebrated aphrodisiac once worth its weight in gold. The nut was nearly hunted to extinction before being protected.

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Where To Stay

The island of the love nut, Praslin Island, is also where you will find the Relais & Chateaux Le Chateau de Feuilles hotel, a short stroll from the beach of Anse Marie-Louise. There are a number of things to do using the hotel as your base, including seeking out the weird and wonderful life forms inhabiting the archipelago. Take a look below for ten of our top suggestions.

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10 Things To Do In The Seychelles

1. Have an island to yourself

“The island is ours. Here, in some way, we are young forever.” ― E. Lockhart

Visit Le Chateau de Feuilles’ private 84 hectare island, called Grande Soeur, all by yourself during weekends. Trek with the friendly giant land tortoises or head into the water, snorkelling and diving in waters where the marine life is prolific, with sea turtles and a variety of fish, and protected by a coral barrier.

2. Scuba diving

With the assistance of a 5 star Padi diving center, beginners or advanced divers can discover the most beautiful diving sites.

3. Deep-sea fishing

Go on personalised fishing trips.

4. Cycle

Explore the sea front by bicycle.

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5. Snorkeling

On all of the beaches…

6. Island Hopping

Visit the other islands that make up the Seychelles, including:

  • “La Digue”, superb island where huge pink granite rocks rise above warm white sand beaches like the famous Source d’Argent.
  • “Curieuse”, national park, home of abundant large land-turtles that can live longer than 100 years.
  • “Coco” and “Saint Pierre”, national parks, with very rich submarine life.
  • “Cousin”, national park, inhabited by over a million birds.
  • “Aride”, national park, famous for its land fauna and beaches.

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7. Relax

“To take a good rest in life time to time, you must know the ways to make yourself a remote island! An island no one can reach…” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

You don’t need much help relaxing in a setting like the Seychelles but Le Chateau de Feuilles‘s swimming pool with its clear natural mineral water, massages and jacuzzi with its 300º view will help you along. As will the fresh fruit cocktails served to you in your pool chair.

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8. Eat

Get a taste of the Seychelles at the Château de Feuilles’ restaurant, considered one of the best in the Seychelles. Using fresh produce from his organic fruit and vegetable garden, exotic and natural ingredients, and fresh ocean fish, the Chef’s creations are based on quality and authenticity.

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  • Try the Passionfruit smoked marlin, mango and octopus salad, Gambas tempuras, Grilled Lobster, Roasted Seychelles giraffe crab, Creole-chicken curry and green papaya chutney, grilled fish fillet with creole sauce and hearts of palm au gratin, Coconut mille-feuille with mango sorbet, Papaya tart with cinnamon ice cream… among other typically Seychellois dishes.

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9. Get Married

Oh, to be invited to a wedding in the Seychelles! Do your friends and family a favour, or simply yourself, and tie the knot at Chateau de Feuilles. Their wedding package offers creative, individual attention and includes fresh flowers arrangements and decoration of the wedding setting in the tropical garden with a panoramic view over the ocean and the neighbouring islands; a ceremony in English with the civil minister; marriage certificate; witnesses and translation in Italian or German, if necessary.

  • Optional extras: Professional photographer and videographer, wedding cake, champagne, bridal bouquet and buttonhole, solo guitarist, hair styling, make-up, manicure and pedicure.

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10. Go On Honeymoon

Follow in Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge’s footsteps and retreat to an island in the Seychelles for your honeymoon. For Honeymooners, Chateau de Feuilles organises a special welcome in your suite, a bottle of Champagne, a sunset lounge with cocktails and appetizers, and transfers in a private car from the airport or the harbour of Praslin to the hotel.

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Contact us to find out more about Chateau de Feuilles and travelling to the Seychelles.

What Does Life in Paradise Actually Look Like?

Most people know about the weird upside down trees and long-limbed monkey people; the baobabs and the lemurs, the images that mark the postage stamps of this faraway Indian Ocean island.

But if you research the destination of Madagascar for long enough you will uncover a rather peculiar anomaly, one that makes you wonder why more children’s books and colonial explorers’ tales didn’t tell you more about it before.

It was the General Manager of Anjajavy L’Hotel in Madagascar, Cédric de Foucault, who first alerted me to this natural phenomenon – the lesser known Tsingy, a maze of rock formations that are surely a throwback to the age of the T-Rex. Or the Lemursaurus.

For a better understanding, take a look at National Geographic Photographer, Stephen Alvarez‘s images of Madagascar’s Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park and Reserve, a natural city of limestone towers that rises up out of the west of the island.

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Above: Images by Stephen Alvarez. View more here.

Seeing Madagascar through Cedric’s eyes, the island comes alive. Hidden corners leap out from the shadows, like the black and white indri that refuses to be a mere wallflower in the garden of this paradise.

And what does living and working in paradise look like? You’ll find all your answers in our 10 Questions with Cedric below.

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10 Questions With Madagascar’s Cédric de Foucault

1. Five important things to remember when living on a remote island?
  1. Know why you are here: you will need to remind yourself of it in lonely times.
  2. Be safe: you are in a remote place so access to emergency services is not easy.
  3. Keep it clean: avoid polluting any source in a semi-closed system.
  4. Respect what nature has to offer: Access to resources is not as simple as in town, they can be limited. Avoid waste. This is in respect for the source which is generally nature and also for the people who are taking care of the land.
  5. Build trust:Bond genuinely with the people who share the land with you. We all need each other.

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2. Five things travel and island life have taught you about yourself, life and love?
  1. Sharing brings happiness. Give of yourself.
  2. Life needs diversity to be resilient. Be open to tolerance. This will help you to adapt and to stay smart.
  3. Having a land to belong to is a way of bonding between you and your family and your environment over time… as though you were going to live for thousands of years.
  4. Nature is a model for health, protect it.
  5. Having the concern for others in mind will help you keep the ecosystem running harmoniously. I think that this is what love is about.

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3. How did you come to work at Anjajavy?

Anjajavy is a love story between several families and this beautiful land. My family has been in Madagascar for more than a century, since 1894. We own a charter company, a tour operator and a hotel management company on the island. We met Dominique Prat, the creator of Anjajavy le Lodge, in 2009. Because of the 2009 political crisis, tourism in Madagascar was facing difficulties. The hotel was having a hard time. Dominique wanted to collaborate with us to externalize flight operations with his hotel and to get consulting for the management side.

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As soon as we discovered Anjajavy something very strong started between Dominique Prat, my father, Bruno de Foucault, who managed the airplane company and myself. It was a passion for quintessential Madagascar. Soon after that, I was offered the position of GM of the lodge and established myself in Anjajavy with my wife, Hoby, and my two young daughters.

Since then, Amirali Rajabali – who my family has been working with for three generations – acquired the hotel. With Dominique Prat and Amirali Rajabali’s son, Sameer, on the management board, and my father as a partner, we were able to lead the hotel to its present level.

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4. Favourite part about island living?

Working long term in such a remote, semi-closed environment gives you the opportunity of seeing the direct results of your efforts in the community and nature. I love the feeling of achievement it brings, especially in biodiversity conservation, sustainable development and cultural integration. Sharing it with guests in a beautiful nature reserve along deserted beaches is a blessing.

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5. What’s your favourite way to unwind on a day off in Madagascar?

Catching (and releasing) butterflies or snorkelling on a beautiful coral site with my two daughters and my wife.

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6. Most memorable moment at Anjajavy so far?

I am having a hard time to choose between these three: watching the very elusive fossa female in her mating tree with Bill and Melinda Gates; preparing a virgin beach inlet with Sam Branson for his wedding proposal; and taking care of an abandoned baby mouse lemur with my two kids.

7. There is a beautiful quote by Lord Byron that goes, “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more.”
How do you find alternating between the stillness and isolation of Anjajavy and the hubbub of city life when you travel for work or pleasure?

I feel at ease both in the city and in the forest peninsula, I need both nature and technology, loneliness and the crowd, calm and rush. I am rural and urban, European and Malagasy. I like the changes of contexts because you can bring assets of one world to the other. You can instigate changes and introduce developments from one world to the other and vice versa. You become a vector, life becomes richer.

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8. What has surprised you most during your time at Anjajavy?

I am surprised at how fast time can go when you are happy.

9. Favourite time of day at Anjajavy?

I particularly enjoy welcoming my guests in the dust of the Anjajavy airstrip. For many reasons, this special moment is always full of strong and positive energy.

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10. The best adventure so far has been…

Living in Anjajavy is the best adventure. Fighting forest fires, rescuing a pirogue man during the night, saving a baby from dehydration, helping a woman give birth, building a secondary school and managing the continuous improvement of the quality of the lodge.

And the next adventure will be…

Managing the conservation of the reserve after it increased its size in 2015 – from 1500 to 6000 acres, as well as many very exciting research projects in biodiversity.

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Contact us to find out more about Madagascar and planning a trip to this unique island off Africa’s south-east coast.