The wildly exclusive Frégate is the perfect place to play out your childhood fantasies of being lost on a desert island, writes Max Johnson
You know you’re going somewhere really fabulous when the best way of getting there is by private helicopter. As I flicked through the in-flight magazine on the way to Mahé, the Seychelles’ main airport, I couldn’t help but notice the various ads for this island excursion or, particularly, to one man-made place that was suspiciously called ‘Eden’. I was relieved to find the only mentions of Frégate Island Private were accompanied by the words ‘the most exclusive resort in the Seychelles’ and ‘a luxurious castaway experience’. Sounded promising.
No more than twenty minutes after landing at Mahé Airport, we were taking off in our twin-seater helicopter. The fifteen-minute ride went over the Indian Ocean and some 35 miles to the Seychelles’ most distant island, Frégate — a 2.19-square-kilometre private island in the middle of the ocean, with an Oetker Collection conservation haven, and our home for the next four days.
As we circled over a prominent headland, the pilot pointed out a set of villas perched on a cliff edge — the owner’s compound. If ever there were a setting for a Bond villain’s hideout, then this was it. Islands do seem to capture the imagination like no other places. The isolation from the rest of the world creates a childish sense of excitement that you’re in a playground where rules no longer apply. You can play out your fantasy of being lost on a desert island.
We touched down and were whisked off by buggy to our villa, skipping any sort of check-in process — our stay on the island had begun seamlessly. As we drove along the beachfront, which also doubles as an airstrip, we looked up at a sky teeming with birds. The tree canopies housed dozens of fruit bats — hanging, swinging gently in the breeze, waiting for nightfall. Some of 2,300 giant Aldabra tortoises lazily reared their heads, forming a guard of honour for us as we passed, but seemed uninterested. I knew then that we were not the resort’s new guests but rather the island’s; our hosts were the exotic birds, the turtles and giant centipedes. It still felt like an uninhabited island — a sanctuary and a jungle paradise.
But the jungle stops right at your front door. First and foremost, this is an eco-lodge of rapturous luxury and, as you would expect, every dreamt-of activity is catered for. For the water-sports enthusiasts, there is a Padi dive centre with deep-sea fishing, windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, water skiing, wakeboarding and banana-boat riding. For the naturalists there are seven miles of hikes through the jungle and along ragged coastal paths, barely visible among the foliage, adding to the sense of adventure. For the sun-worshippers Frégate has seven beaches, one of which has been described as the most beautiful in the world — Anse Victoria (just setting the bar high here). Most of them are empty all day. For those who just want to relax, head to the Rock Spa, which offers Ayurvedic delights. And children — for whom there is no charge up to the age of eight — are also entertained spending afternoons on the hunt for Robinson Crusoe treasure or meeting the baby tortoises at the sanctuary.
One beach, Anse Macquereau, even has a sign which you can switch from ‘free’ to ‘private’. Make your way down the steps to the beach below and it’s all yours for as long as you want. If you were worried you might be thirsty or fancy a spot of lunch down there, never fear, there is a daily stocked drinks box, fresh towels, and a telephone in case you want some lunch sent over.
Each villa has its own private butler. Ours was a delightful young man from Sri Lanka called Thushantha. He was as helpful and on hand as we needed, answering our questions, coming up with plans for the day that could be completely upended without the slightest sense of irritation. The in-villa dining menu came along with a fine selection of wines, spirits and beers, all included in the package, and we took great advantage of being able to eat in whenever we liked.
If you do venture around the island you can dine heartily at the main restaurant or have one of the chefs set up a private barbecue on the beach. The giant Madagascan shrimps are particularly good. Rather wonderfully it is quite common not to see any other guests for the whole stay, most of whom have all they want in the villa. All of the sixteen beautiful pool residences — and there are one- and two-bedroom options — are perched with their own view of the ocean and in our case a short walk into it. We took our breakfasts on the terrace, spent afternoons lazing on the decking, and walked over to the beach bar for lunch or sunset drinks. If you are coming with a large group, the Banyan Hill Estate — a cluster of three villas — is also available for rent, a perfect retreat for exclusive family holidays.
Earlier this year, Frégate was selected as one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. Costas Christ, the magazine’s editor-at-large, explains how it was chosen: ‘When travel is done the right way — the sustainable way — then future generations will be able to enjoy the very things we ourselves love to see around the world.’
Managing director Wayne Kafcsak leverages his significant experience to preserve the island’s heritage, so that parts of it still look and feel as they must have to the pirates seeking refuge between attacks on the British East India Company and the French settlers of the 17th century. The plantation is back up and running growing pineapples and coconuts, bananas and tomatoes. The biodiversity management is taken incredibly seriously to preserve the island ecosystems.
There is a resident ecologist who can talk at length about all aspects of the wildlife, and conservation is very much at the heart of the hotel’s philosophy. Frégate is a granitic island, the seventh largest in the Seychelles, and has a number of species that are unique to it. The great Takamaka is one such indigenous tree that has been revived, along with the Seychelles magpie-robin, which was on the brink of extinction, and your strolls in the night-time surf are shared with turtles nesting on the beach and hermit crabs making a dash for it. And then there are the tortoises, roaming freely like on the Galápagos.
The most inquisitive of the island birds are the fairy terns, which like to dive and swoop as you pass by, protecting their young. We had gone on a walk to visit one of the highest points of the island. Another plus is that the highest point actually requires getting a sweat on. Unlike in the Maldives, where the highest point is 2.4 metres above sea level, to see the sunset we walked about 30 minutes up through rocky outcrops to Mont Signal. There we sat as the dying embers of the sun warmed our cheeks with a rosy glow. A fairy tern hovered in mid-air fixing us with its gaze, and deciding we were neither friend nor foe, passed on by.
We left the island wanting more and already missing our friendly geckos, which would visit us at breakfasts, or even the moorhen that liked to use our pool as a short cut on its morning exercise. Our hosts had been there long before we arrived and they will endure long after we are gone, thanks greatly to the efforts of the team behind Frégate. This is sustainable tourism done the right way.
Residences from €5,600 per night (high season)
www.fregate.com | +49 (0) 7221 9009 922