Never has an arrival at an airport been quite so hotly anticipated as my trip to the Seychelles last month. Arriving into London Heathrow Terminal 4, we were whisked through the Priority Lane and ceremoniously greeted in Etihad’s First & Business Class Lounge. Several glasses of champagne later, I could hardly tear myself away to partake in a little airport shopping. Flying Business with Etihad means several things – namely first-class service and a cabin that makes you forget you’re in the air at all – but even the separate entry onto the plane means you begin your journey without a queue or breaking a sweat.
Stretching out on your flatbed is all well and good (and boy, was it good) but it’s the service and space that sets it apart from other airlines. Sparkling cabins are designed as boutique hotels in the sky. ‘Dine Anytime’ means you choose when you want to eat having ordered off the a la carte menu at the beginning of the flight. They somehow delivered the most delicious tuna tataki and threw in their sommelier’s recommendation of a crisp chardonnay at 30,000 feet. Oh, and I ordered a bowl of ice cream at 2 in the morning to experience ‘Dine Anytime’ in full effect because, I mean, why not? How I’m going to revert to Economy after this is anyone’s guess.
After a short connection in Abu Dhabi (cue: an excuse for more champagne in the fabulous Etihad lounge), we arrived at Mahé Airport and driven the short journey to the helipad. Fregate Island Private is one of 115 islands in the Seychelles archipelago and sits a mere 15-minute helicopter ride from Mahé. It must be up there as one of the best transfers in luxury travel. Flying into land was one of our first glimpses of the Giant Aldabra Tortoises that make this island so unique but also an opportunity to see the island in all its beauty. Fregate are focused on conserving its natural habitat and have only built 17 private villas so, as a guest, you are very much the odd one out. Indigenous birds, jungle trails and 3,000 giant tortoises roaming the paths around the island make you feel like you are very much in your own Jurassic Park.
On arrival, we were met by General Manager Wayne Kafscak, a welcome drink and our private butlers who are assigned to each villa for the duration of your stay. Yannick, my private butler, greeted me in my personal golf buggy (each villa also comes with a golf buggy – oh, the joy) and whizzed me off to Villa #6. It was here that I first noticed the little touches that Fregate do so well. From the bottled water to the homemade cookie jar supplied in the buggy alone, the team at Fregate are all about leaving you wanting for nothing.
We spent our first morning settling into our private villas. Yannick helpfully showed me around the vast expanse that I was to call home for the next three nights. And this is where I discovered that every villa is kitted out for every possible scenario. Walking into the entrance hall (which I later discovered was perfect for a bird-free breakfast), there was a huge sitting room with comfy sofas, coffee station and bar to left. Which makes for one hell of a greedy weekend unless you partake in some serious self-discipline. You can use this room for extra beds for children but, luckily for me, I had the whole place to myself. Because everything is included in your room, you can work your way through the bar to your hearts content. Fantastically pale rosé, local rum, wasabi peas – every day is a rosé day if you so wish. In fact, the wine fridge just goes to show the lengths of detail that Fregate staff go to. They magically replaced the chilled wine glasses almost as soon as I used them, meaning they were always on hand for that afternoon aperitif on your private deck, with a homemade chocolate brownie (or three).
The bedroom is vast, the bathroom a joke – I mean, of course it comes with the option of an indoor or outdoor shower and the bathtub could have fitted a rugby team– laundry is a handy complimentary service after your travels and they even set you up with your own personal mosquito repellent kit. From insect bites to bug spray, there was no way I was cosying up to any local wildlife with this kind of armoury at my fingertips.
And that was the big surprise for me. I imagined the Seychelles to be your standard ‘fly and flop’ destination. White sand beaches, wafting kaftans and honeymoon couples trying to out-romance their neighbours. A bit like Valentine’s Day on steroids. But it’s so much more than that.
This eco-friendly private island is the ultimate hideaway, that’s for sure. If you’re after private luxurious villas, crystal clear blue seas and white sand, Fregate will not disappoint. But it was the local flora and fauna and wildlife that blew me away. The conservation team have restored the island to what it would have been in the 17th century and it’s easy to transport yourself there as you walk past pirate settlements in the jungle from where they once defended their treasure. Birds fly in from Africa (the granitic island is a mere 1,200 miles from Madagascar) and the Giant Aldabra Tortoises live to over 150-years-old. Because of the lack of natural predators, Fregate is also home to the critically endangered Hawksbill and Green Turtles from October to January when they lay their eggs on the shore. In fact, the only dangers the tortoises face is either a coconut breaking their shell which would cause an infection or the male falling over during mating from where they can’t right themselves. Who knew copulation could be so lethal.
With hundreds of thousands of birds populating the island, you’d be hard pressed to get through a lunch without a feathered friend trying to tuck into a homemade bread roll. Fregate’s conservation team have steered several indigenous birds away from extinction (including the incredibly rare magpie robin that rose from a mere 14 to over 200 in numbers). It was a wonderful sight to see so many birds out at sea fishing for their tea. Fregate also has a Tortoise Sanctuary which any adult or child couldn’t fail to leave without a beaming smile on their face. You can also adopt a tortoise during your stay. Little Jet and Isaac took my heart when there but, either way, they have a pretty sweet life ahead of them regardless of my pending adoption papers.
I couldn’t leave out the other highlights of my trip. The Rock Spa is the perfect haven following a long flight. It delivered one of the best massages of my life (and I’m not even a fan of massages). So, there’s that. How about the sushi bento boxes full of sushi which they delivered to one of the island’s 7 private beaches with lashings of pale rosé. Or the Jungle Walk, following the tortoise-made sand slide they’ve created through the jungle where the females retreat to lay their eggs. We walked past giant termite mounds whilst exploring the 11km of forest trails and headed out to sea with the island’s hobie cats and diving equipment. We also had a fabulous Creole evening in the 110-year-old Plantation House with live music and dancing and a breakfast in the treetops surveying the jungle floor below. Of course, less dancing, more drinking for us reticent Brits.
Is it expensive? Yes, eye-wateringly so but boy, is it worth it. When you consider that your stay is all-inclusive, you could certainly go to town with the food and drink . The house wines and beers have been exceptionally well chosen. The food is some of the best we have had on any of our travels. Non-motorised water sports, guided nature walks, welcome massages and introductory yoga sessions are all included in your stay. But I do think a stay on Fregate Island Private is priceless. To be fully immersed in what they describe as a “fully functioning eco-system” is a rare and wondrous thing. To learn about conservation at its roots has a profound impact. You’ll be surprised if you thought you were coming for a good tan and bragging rights. So yes, empty the piggy bank but believe me, you will be completely and utterly blown away.