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Resorts of the Seychelles

Cousine Island Most five-star guests arrive at tiny Cousine, right off the coast of Praslin, by helicopter. The 15-minute ride costs $1,623 round-trip, so James and I opted for the free motorboat ride, a 10-minute trip across the bay that was like something out of Speed II. Just as we were approaching the white-sand shore, the captain yelled out, "Hold on tight—we're surfing in." Before I could ask what he meant, the boat was hurtling full-throttle toward the beach. And right when I thought we were done for, it surged forward and came to a smooth landing on the sand. All of this just to prevent us from having to wade ashore.

The pace slowed considerably after that heart-racing arrival. This 62-acredot has only four simple guest villas for rent and a Discovery Channel backdrop. Nineteen tortoises roam freely, and 250,000 birds live on the grounds, including the world's largest population of magpie robins. As on North Island, alien plants (casuarina trees) and animals (cattle, pigs, cats) have been replaced by native and endangered species. Solar energy is used to heat water; biodegradable waste is composted.

Cousine didn't start off as a resort.Rather, it was the vacation hideaway of Malcolm Keeley, a billionaire granite magnate (which explains the abundance of the stone throughout the property) who is interested in conservation. In April 2000, he opened the island to visitors. "It was solely to sustain the conservancy," says manager Jock Henwood. "Any profit goes toward buying more trees or endangered animals." In addition to its natural setting, Cousine offers a high level of privacy. Sixteen staff members attend to only 10 guests, maximum, and day-trippers are not allowed. "Less of an impact is better for preservation," says Henwood. For customers like Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, who spent another chunk of their honeymoon here (the entire place can be rented for $5,663 per night), an added perk is the fact that Keeley also owns the only helicopter business in the Seychelles, ensuring that spying paparazzi are kept at bay.

Despite such high-profile visitors, Cousine is not a high-style getaway. The four villas have master-bath-in-the-suburbs Jacuzzi tubs, beds that look like something out of an Ethan Allen showroom, and ticky-tacky bird photographs hanging on the walls. In the gazebo lounge, there's a brass lizard embedded in the side of the granite bar. Cousine, however, is not about lifestyles of the rich and famous. There was nothing like waking up in the morning and seeing tortoises outside our front door. Or walking down a path and seeing a magpie robin, one of only 110 on earth.

Alphonse Island Resort Hanging over the baggage claim carousel in the Seychelles International Airport on Mahé is a glossy poster touting Alphonse Island Resort's saltwater fly-fishing, reputedly the best in the world. At first glance, I thought the image was a Madison Avenue computer manipulation, the island redrawn in the shape of a fish, its surrounding blue-green water amped up to look like a Technicolor fantasy. But as the propeller plane came in for a landing after an hour-long flight southwest from Mahé, I saw that Alphonse—part of an uninhabited atoll comprisingthree islands—actually is fin-shaped, with a made-for-Hollywood lagoon.

If only Alphonse's accommodations could be airbrushed. Lined up along the shore are five executive villas and 25 A-frame chalets on stilts that look like 1970's Maine fishing cabins—inside as well as out, with faux-knotty pine wallpaper, rope wainscoting, and pineapple-shaped lamps. The front porch doubles as an outdoor shower (charming, but I didn't love having to leap over water on the deck when I headed to dinner).

What Alphonse lacks in on-land beauty it makes up for with its aquatic options. Deep-sea fishers can snag yellowfin tuna, wahoos, and sailfish. But what really draws the crowds is the fly-fishing, which is booked up two years in advance. The prime location was discovered a mere five years ago by Martin and Anna Lewis, a British couple who moored their 40-foot catamaran on the shallow, sandy flats of St. François, one of the three islands in the Alphonse Group. Stunned by the wealth of bonefish, barracuda, and trevally, the Lewises started running trips to the area, eventually attracting the attention of the hoteliers who established the Alphonse Island Resort in December 1999. To control overfishing, only 12 anglers are allowed on the flats at a time; they catch, on average, 40 fish a day.

Beneath the waves, Alphonse has a number of steep-walled dive sites; one surreally beautiful spot is called Alice in Wonderland. Another popular location is the wreck of a French coal steamer that sank on the reef in 1873. We thought about doing a half-day scuba course, but decided to skip it after meeting one of the instructors, whose leg looked as though it had been gnawed on by a shark (they do live in these waters, but—supposedly—don't attack). Instead, we took a paddleboat just offshore, and found that even snorkelers can get in on the action. Alphonse's encircling reefs have benefited from a lack of human contact, preservingperfect coral formations inhabited by rays, turtles, and remarkable specimens like the Oriental sweetlips, a shimmery, hulking fish found in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific. I almost felt as if I were intruding.


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