SEN-SEY-TIONAL; Ed Malyon says the Seychelles are indeed a true paradise.. but if you seek it out there's much more to discover than beautiful beaches.
IF the Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, then those living in the Seychelles must need about 1000 words for blue.
One for the shimmering cobalt of the sea, another for its flawless sapphire sky, a third for the powder-blue coral that helps provide the stunning underwater scenery that matches that above ground.
The list goes on and this Indian Ocean jewel cements with every sunrise and sunset its position as one of the world's premier paradise destinations.
And yet, for all its postcard beauty, you feel there is more on offer here.
There will always be a huge trade for the 2D world of beaches and sunsets - and honeymooners and holidaymakers flock to these islands in search of a relaxing, romantic getaway.
But to travel all this way to ignore everything else on offer seems a waste.
For an idea of what may be lurking beneath the surface, it's worth heading to the history books to work out what makes a country what it is.
As it happens, the Seychelles were uninhabited until the 17th century, with the first recorded sighting only around 100 years earlier.
Control of the islands passed between the colonial British and French and they finally achieved independence in 1976.
While the islands spent years under European rule, the population was mainly of African origin, with immigration from sub-continental Asia, Madagascar and other island nations of the Indian Ocean. The result is a creole culture which mixes the best bits from a global range of influences.
Most visitors - me included - stay on Mahe, the largest of 115 islands that make up the Seychelles. Of those, less than half are inhabited and many of the remainder are nature reserves.
There are some, steepling and granite-based, which rise dramatically out of the sea and afford spectacular views to the energetic traveller willing to forego a day on the sun lounger, while the coral islands are largely for observers of wildlife and flora.
The latter host the largest population of giant tortoises in the world and they are - according to Sir David Attenborough at least - "one of the wonders of the world".
Taking a boat trip out from Mahe to Praslin or Le Digue offers a choice of how to play your days.
The beaches - as we know - are sublime. Le Grand Anse on Praslin, where waves in 50 shades of blue take your breath away, is the pick of the bunch. And Anse Lazio does appear to have simply jumped out of a brochure.
But those in search of more can visit the Vallee de Mai, a Unesco world heritage site of palm forests home to the protected coco de mer tree and the rare Seychelles black parrot.
A day marauding around Mahe's neighbouring islands can be hungry business. Fortunately the food was sublime, both at the AVANI resort and elsewhere.
AVANI's new property on the west of Mahe opened in March last year but is already helping to set the standard for cuisine. Executive chef Ashley Coleman oversees two restaurants, private beachside barbecues and every aspect of catering in this 124-room resort.
The pick of dining is Tamarind, a restaurant overlooking the ocean that serves extraordinary pan-Asian cuisine.
There is an unmistakable attention to detail in the craft of Tamarind's dishes, stemming from the efforts that general manager Manish Jha went to in order to supply his chefs with the authentic, fresh ingredients.
The result is a spectacle for the eye and the palate.
For genuine creole food, head to Marie Antoinette, one of Mahe's most famous restaurants.
Its colonial architecture and high wooden roof take diners back to the 18th century, while the food itself is timeless, locally sourced and every mouthful is as authentic Seychellois cuisine as one could hope for.
The menu hasn't changed since 1972 and features every local favourite you'd expect - grilled, fresh fish, chicken curry, sumptuous papaya salads and more.
Much of the wine comes from South Africa but the advisable thing to do is to move straight on to the Seychellois' favourites, island-brewed beer and the famous rum.
Indeed, a wonderful way to spend an afternoon is to visit the Takamaka Bay rum distillery and follow the process of how they make the spirit on a reclaimed former plantation.
While the home-grown ingredients and production are fascinating, it's the tasting that everyone comes for -and their range slips down all too easily.
The Takamaka white rum is a punchy, straight product, while they also craft a fine coconut variety, another aged for eight years in toasted bourbon casks and the St Andre - a blend of three of their specially distilled versions.
My favourite, however, was the final rum, a spiced spirit with the tainted gold colour that betrays its mischievous palate.
Toasted caramel, butterscotch and local vanilla flavours meet cinnamon, orangey aromas - and a base rum that's not short of punch - to fill your mouth with a dancing, singing party of flavours that is wonderfully fitting.
Indeed, the heady mix of spice, sweetness and beauty is an intoxicating metaphor for the islands themselves, reminiscent of the fluid, cultural crossover that makes them so special and the perfect souvenir to take home to remind you of the Seychelles in those dark winter days.
Getthere? Bespoke luxury tour operator If Only have seven nights B&B at AVANI Seychelles Barbarons Resort & Spa (avanihotels.com) from PS1719pp based on two sharing including flights from London, interisland flights and private transfers. See ifonly.net, 0141 955 4000 ? Emirates fly daily to Mahe in the Seychelles via Dubai from six UK airports. Return fares include Glasgow PS859, Manchester and Heathrow from PS841, Newcastle from PS844. See emirates.com/uk. ? Tourist information: www.seychelles.travel
FLAWLESS Seychelles coastline, top, and Takamata Rum distillery, above
ISLAND BEAUTY Hummingbird and a sensational beach on Le Digue
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|Publication:||Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Date:||Jun 27, 2015|
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