Perhaps the truest mark of a place’s beauty is how well it looks in bad weather. From my hilltop villa at the new Six Senses Zil Pasyon (villas from $1,285), I watch a storm approaching. Dark rain pummels the ocean’s surface, and a drifting mist silhouettes distant islands. As brightness leaks from the clouds, it illuminates a canopy of mango, papaya, coconut, and banana trees below me.
This is the Seychelles’ appeal. Wilder and more remote than most Indian Ocean outposts, the archipelago nation of 115 atolls is a castaway’s dream: the tropics with the volume turned up.
Having escaped the ravages of mass-market tourism and the associated environmental pressures that have impacted other Indian Ocean isles (Mauritius, the Maldives), the Seychelles has a government that’s taken a targeted approach to hospitality by specifically chasing luxury travelers and hotels, a strategy of high-revenue, low-environmental impact. Sustainability has become a developmental keystone because the nation understands that its natural beauty is its greatest asset. The Seychelles is the first nation on the planet to incorporate conservation into its constitution, and almost half of its land is environmentally protected, one of the highest proportions in the world.
So the hotel scene is growing but stealthily. Four Seasons, expanding from its Mahé resort, is opening on Desroches Island early next year, and Platte Island is being developed for an as-yet-unnamed luxury resort. Meanwhile, Mahé’s airport is scheduled to be renovated through a partnership with Abu Dhabi Airports. (Etihad Airways, of the United Arab Emirates, owns a 40 percent stake in Air Seychelles.) Despite the great schlep of getting here—there are no direct routes, and most flights connect via the Middle East—annual visitors from the Americas were up 69 percent through the end of May.
Six Senses Zil Pasyon, which opened last year on Félicité Island, is a significant draw. Whether approached by helicopter or speedboat, it makes a chromatic first impression: gem-blue water, green forest, and sun-bleached sands. The resort has a small footprint; nothing is built above the tree line, and just 30 low-slung villas of balau, acacia, and teak are scattered over the hillside on and around the igneous rocks.
The mode is comfort and character without cliché. My villa was furnished simply with an upholstered daybed, cushions, and rugs in contrasting blues. I played music through a Bluetooth Marshall speaker, and in the bathroom there was a swing—because, why not? It’s the idiosyncratic details, the unexpected extras, that make it fun to stay there.
Much of the island has been left untouched, and thus the resort’s design accentuates the island’s wildness rather than attempting to tame it. To the west, there’s a little-visited driftwood beach, Grand Anse, where the sum total of an afternoon might comprise a good book and a hammock. At the just-opened spa, glass-walled treatment rooms perch atop and between the massive rocks. Reached by a rope bridge and paths that meander through natural tunnels created by the angle of immense stones, the spa comes with a side of intrepidness.
Much of the vibe has to do with the Six Senses DNA, but also the outgoing general manager Eduardo Grosmangin, whose sense of playfulness permeates the resort. In practice, this means the service is impeccable and personable. Generosity prevails, from the house wine offered with as much ceremony as the most expensive one on the list to breakfast delivered to your room at 2 p.m.—with no judgment.
Elsewhere in the Seychelles, not too much has changed, at least not yet. Thirty-five miles east of Mahé, Fregate Island Private (villas from $3,640), owned by the Oetker Collection, underwent a $4.5 million upgrade in 2015, with 16 villas transformed into hardwood-floored, thatched havens with infinity pools and shaded eating areas. The standards are impressive, especially if you like the idea of silverware suppers on white tablecloths contrasting with the island’s Jurassic character. Then there’s North Island, with its 11 villas on a private island that is twice as wild as Félicité Island and far more remote. The unparalleled delights still come with an unparalleled price tag: $6,535 per villa per night. North’s concept of luxury abides by the notion that what’s truly relaxing and memorable is space, privacy, zero timetable, and nature. It’s this kind of untamed spirit that remains at the very heart of the Seychelles’ magic.
Tour operator Cazenove + Loyd has ten-day Seychelles itineraries starting at $5,100 per person; cazloyd.com.