Banyan Tree Seychelles, Mahé Island When I first visited Anse Intendance four years ago, it was nothing more than a half-mile-long, white-sand beach that attracted weekend picnickers, bodysurfers, and the occasional European exhibitionist. In the early 1970's, friends George Harrison and Peter Sellers were so seduced by this patch of paradise that they bought it—although they never got around to building anything. So it seemed fitting that when Paul McCartney and Heather Mills honeymooned last year in the Seychelles they spent part of their trip at the Banyan Tree, which opened in October 2002 on what had been Harrison's land.
The first venture outside Asia for the Singapore-based Banyan Tree group, this 37-villa resort is practically a carbon copy of its phenomenally successful sister properties. Almost everything has been imported, including the spa menu, which features the same spiced honey wraps and tamarind-and-oatmeal body polishes found in Phuket. Many of the employees are from abroad; the main restaurant, Saffron, serves Thai cuisine (though a more casual dining room offers Creole dishes); and the shopis filled with products from Asia. But that's not to say that Banyan Tree hasn't responded to its setting. The plantation-style public area, called La Grand Kaz ("the big house"), was inspired by regional colonial architecture. The Creole-by-way-of-Asia spa and villas are carefully positioned amid the vegetation and granite boulders so as not to harm the landscape. Banyan Tree has also preserved an adjacent 30-acre wetland: "This serves an important ecological function," says company chairman Ho Kwon Ping. "It's a filter for water that flows into Intendance Bay."
By law, all beaches here are public, so anyone can use Anse Intendance. Visitors are welcome to take a peek at Banyan's grounds—a democratic gesture that has its drawbacks. As I was relaxing by the pool, a sweaty sightseer wandered around, trying to strike up conversations with me and other guests. The staff barely flinched at the annoyance, instead offering glasses of ice water to the overheated lost soul.
In fact, Banyan Tree goes to great lengths to ensure that everyone stays hydrated in the intense sun; the resort is just seven degrees south of the equator. At check-in, we were presented with a concoction of apple, honey, and ginger, along with a chilled towel. A pool attendant passed out glasses of sweetened citronelle, brewed from an herb that resembles lemongrass. Then, just when I was feeling saturated, there was the spa therapist, coaxing me with ginger tea after my lomilomi massage.
The cooling off continued back in our villa, which had a plunge pool skillfully art-directed by the housekeeping staff—they scattered hibiscus blossoms on the water every morning. Perhaps the only complaint that I could lodge against Banyan Tree concerns its emphasis on poolside dwelling: the beach itself is more or less ignored. I was surprised that there were no services such as a café or beach umbrellas. On the other hand, who wouldn't want to hang out on a teak chaise longue by a 75-foot infinity pool that fades into a turquoise horizon?
Lémuria Resort, Praslin Good things come to those who wait at Lémuria. James and I initially nicknamed it Lé-nightmare-ia, after twice requesting and failing to receive a bathrobe, and then cooling our heels for an hour at the pool bar in anticipation of a club sandwich.
Our mood started to improve that afternoon, during a hike in Praslin's Vallée de Mai rain forest, home to the famed coco de mer palm, a plant that produces an erotic-looking nut that some say was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Later, I had an aromatherapy massage at the Guerlain spa, where a masseuse worked her magic in a garden treatment room. Cheered up, James and I went for a sunset swim on Petite Anse Kerlan, one of the resort's three beaches, and discovered talcum sand ringing crystalline water. I began to see why Lémuria has become a top destination for stylish European travelers (we heard that Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana were recently here). Not to mention an Indian Ocean fusion restaurant from French chef David Laval, who uses inventive ingredients such as geraniums, and the Seychelles' only 18-hole golf course, designed by Rodney Wright (the man behind the links at Hawaii's Mauna Lani).
At first glance, Lémuria—with its Asian-inspired architecture, multi-tiered pools, and golf course—seems like a place that would have little regard for its environment. Actually, the design integrates the resort into its rain-forest setting, including lighting kept low so that it doesn't disturb turtles laying eggs on the beach at night. But this only enhances the man-made pleasures. The 96 suites are spacious and stylish: peaked ceilings, slatted rosewood shutters, oceanfront terraces. Eight two-bedroom villas are modeled on Indonesian pavilions, and a personal villa butler is on hand to attend to every whim. That's one way to get around Lémuria's shortcomings.