Off the coast of Africa, there is a secluded spot in the Indian Ocean dotted with an archipelago of over 100 islands. Far removed from the rush and hurry of everyday life is an uncommon place that may be thought of as paradise, and, in fact, was indeed believed to be Paradise itself at one time.
This mystical valley is the Vallée de Mai in the Seychelles island of Praslin. This valley was once thought to be the very site of the biblical Garden of Eden. There grows the coco de mer tree, once believed to be the famous Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. No one can fault General Charles Gordon for making that assumption back in 1881, as the valley is indisputably beautiful beyond compare.
The Mysterious Coco de Mer
This rare and protected tree produces a drupe fruit called the coco de mer, also known as the sea coconut, double coconut, coco fesse, the love nut and the Seychelles Nut. One of its botanical names, Lodoicea callypige refers to the nut’s appearance resembling a “beautiful rump.”
For years, people wondered at the origin of the mysterious nuts found floating in the ocean waters and washing up on the shores of lands edging the Indian Ocean. Dubbed “nuts of the sea” (hence the name, “coco de mer”), it was thought that these large kernels sprouted from trees that grew deep within the ocean. The true origin of the nuts wasn’t realized until 1768 when explorer Marion Dufresne happened upon the coco de mer trees upon a visit to the Seychelles Islands, and saw large fruits growing on the unusual trees. He recognized the fruit’s pit as the mysterious floating kernels in the oceans.
The curiously-shaped nut of the coco de mer comes from curiously-shaped trees. Both the male and female plants display flora similar to the male and female human anatomy. The fruit’s seed looks very much like a woman’s torso and thighs, including her hips, stomach, tops of thighs, and reproductive areas; the reverse side appears very much as the rounded bottom of a woman’s anatomy. The shell even has rough hair-like strands protruding right where one might expect to see such fluff!
Slow and Relaxed
If the Seychelles feel calm and relaxed, it may be that the unusual coco de mer trees set the slow and peaceful pace for the islands. Found only on the Praslin and Curieuse Islands in the warm and humid Seychelles, the coco de mer plant takes 30 to 60 years to begin flowering. Its fan-shaped leaves can grow to over 30 feet in length, and the tree can reach heights of over 111 feet. The coco de mer’s seeds take two years to germinate, and the fruit takes seven to ten years to ripen. These trees are in no rush, and needn’t be, since they live to be 100 to 400 years old.
A mature coco de mer fruit can be about 20” in diameter and weigh well over 60 pounds, containing the heaviest seed pods in the world. These highly prized seeds have a very limited availability, since the few remaining coco de mer trees only produce around 1400 fruits per year. Trading these nuts is strictly regulated, but tourists may yet purchase a Seychelles Nut, although one might cost anywhere from $300 to $800. Coco de mer has been used in cosmetics, for medicinal purposes and as an aphrodisiac in Chinese medicine. The long-held belief in its aphrodisiac qualities may have had much to do with the previous over-harvesting of coco de mer fruit.
Islands of Granite and Coral
111 islands comprise the Seychelles. The outer Coraline Seychelles are coral island groups that are mostly flat and unsettled. A few tourist lodgings can be found in the Coralines, such as the luxury hotel on Alphonse Island, but most visitors head to the Granitic Seychelles.
The Granitic Seychelles are the inner islands composed of granite, although some coral islands are also found in this region. Tall green peaks rise up from verdant forest floor of the Granitic islands, and reach up into the blue sky above. A carpet of green covers virtually every inch of the landscape, with soft, clean sands brushing the edges of the islands to form beaches of intense beauty.
From May to November, the warm, balmy trade wind breezes caress the land and make those months the most pleasant time to visit. But with year-round temperatures hovering between 75° and 87° F, anytime is a great time to visit this island paradise.
From Pirates to Independence
Pirates frequented the islands throughout the 1600s and 1700s. In June of 1977, the Seychelles won its independence from Britain, and is now a multiparty democratic republic of its own.
The people of Seychelles are a mix of African, French, Indian and Chinese cultures that have formed their own unique societal flavor. The official languages are French, English and Seychellois Creole. A portion of the people make their living by farming, fishing and producing food products, but the local economy has flourished with sustainable tourism.
Seychelles: The Ultimate Getaway Tourist Destination
Seychelles stands as a shining example of sustainable tourism, a concept dedicated to generating employment for local people while maintaining a low impact on the environment and on the local culture. This commitment makes tourism in Seychelles a win-win for tourists, tour companies and the people who call Seychelles their home.
The Vallée de Mai with its unique coco de mer trees is a “must” on the itinerary, but there’s much more to Seychelles that warrant exploration.
This secluded locale with warm people and warm temperatures year ‘round is a picturesque place to celebrate romance or to get away for a private vacation. Stunning beaches abound, including the Anse Lazio, thought by many to be the most beautiful beach in the entire world. Just off the shores of these sparkling beaches, visitors enjoy swimming in the crystal clear waters, or exploring hidden coves by snorkeling or scuba diving to discover the underwater majesty of Seychelles. Surfing, boating, fishing and renting motorized water sports vehicles are other ways to enjoy the beauty of Seychelles’ waters.
On land, go for long, romantic walks on the beach, or take a guided walking tour through lush primal forests where you may see some of the 75 species of rare endemic plant life. Art galleries, museums, nature reserves, and eco-tourism sites beckon during the day, and at night, enjoy an evening of gaming in one of the island casinos.
Restaurants serve Creole, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Italian and International dishes to delight your taste buds with exciting flavors. 5-star hotels intermingle with spa hotels, island resorts, villas, quaint Creole guesthouses and other accommodation styles to welcome a wide range of guests to the natural charm and Creole hospitality offered in Seychelles.
A romantic, beautiful paradise with an always-perfect climate: maybe this is why the coco de mer chose the Seychelles Islands as its home. For humans, Seychelles offers affordable exclusivity and the tropical island experience without the overt commercialism of other island destinations.