Savouring the slow life in Victoria

The Seychelles is rightly known for its luxury hotels and almost otherworldly natural beauty. Yet a visit to its small but vibrant capital, Victoria, offers a rewarding taste of slow-paced island life, complete with delicious Creole cuisine, colonial architecture and laid-back Seychellois charm.

Colourful buildings, bustling markets, mouth-watering street food and endless blue skies… Welcome to Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles, a picturesque port city fringed with mist-capped mountains and a gorgeous turquoise lagoon.

Located on Mahé, the largest of the Seychelles’ remote scatter of islands, it is the country’s largest settlement and its cultural and administrative nerve-centre. Yet with its population of only 27,000 people and its unhurried, easy-going atmosphere, Victoria is not only Africa’s smallest capital city but also an undisputed capital of slow-living.

If you can bear to tear yourself away from the country’s postcard-perfect beaches, it’s well worth spending a day roaming Victoria’s quaint streets and immersing yourself in its wonderful food, history and culture.

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Fresh fruits and winding alleyways

Despite the fierce heat, the best way to get a sense of this pint-sized capital is to explore it on foot. Start your day with a gentle stroll along the old town’s winding alleys, lined with charming little shops and colourful wood and stone houses built in the early 1900s.

The morning – particularly on Saturdays – is the best time to visit Sir Selwyn Selwyn Clarke Market. Beneath brightly coloured arcades, you’ll find stalls gleaming with freshly-landed fish, bright fruits and vegetables, and fragrant spices, as well as handmade souvenirs. Throngs of local Seychellois cram through the covered market’s wrought-iron gates, good-naturedly haggling for the wares on offer. Sip water from a freshly-opened coconut as you peruse the stands and watch local fishermen negotiate the price of their day’s catch.

As you leave the market, go around the corner to Quincy Street and admire the riot of colours that is the Arul Mihu Navasakthi Vinayagar Temple. Built in 1992, it caters to the roughly 5,000 Hindus living in Victoria. Take off your shoes to visit the temple outside of ceremony hours.

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Heritage and history

On the street, you’ll probably find that people speak to you in both French and English, as well as in Seychelles Creole. For a taste of the city’s colonial past, walk over to the Clock Tower on Independence Avenue (known as Lorloz in Seychelles Creole). Erected by the British in 1903, it has since become a local landmark.

Along the avenue and on Francis Rachel Street nearby, you can admire Victoria’s many other colonial-era buildings, including its courthouse, post office and State House – previously the residence of the Seychelles’ British administrators, and now the home of the country’s President.

Spend a leisurely hour in the newly re-opened National Museum of History, housed in the former Supreme Court building (erected 1885). Its exhibits include displays on local entomology, “gris-gris” magic, musical instruments and the World War II – with a particularly compelling section on the African slave trade that thrived here during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Look out for the bust of famed French botanist Pierre Poivre in the cool shade of the gardens outside.

Finally, if you’re in the market for Seychellois art inspired by the country’s extraordinary wildlife and landscapes, pop into Kenwyn House, one of Victoria’s most beautiful examples of French colonial architecture. It houses a gallery displaying Seychellois art and a souvenir shop selling locally-made jewellery.

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Creole food and natural wonders

As lunchtime approaches, you’ll doubtless want to try some of the fresh and delicious Creole food on offer at Victoria’s many roadside street stalls. Alternatively, make your way to Marie Antoinette for some time-honoured Creole cuisine. Located in a handsome wooden colonial mansion, it has served batter-fried parrot fish, tuna steaks and chicken curries – not to mention coconut nougat – since 1972

Thus refreshed, take a taxi to the National Botanical Gardens in the Mont Fleuri area. This 10,000 m2 garden, established in 1901 by French Mauritian Paul Rivaltz Dupont, is home to a huge number of endemic spice and fruit trees. It’s the perfect place to spend a couple of hours in the shade of breadfruit, nutmeg, and tamarind trees, as well as the Seychelles’ celebrated “Coco de Mer”! Take in the beautiful orchid garden and the enclosures for native birds, bats and giant Aldabra tortoises. Then cool off with a cold drink in the gardens’ café, which is also open for lunch and dinner.

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Balmy tropical evenings

At dusk, the ferocious tropical heat begins to fade. Yet you’ll probably find that by 5 or 6 p.m., the streets of Victoria are empty and most shops are shuttered for the night!

Thankfully, there are a few options to round off your day in a suitably laid-back style. With its lounge furniture and beach-bar vibe, the Boardwalk Bar & Grill on Eden Island – an upmarket new residential area and marina to the south of Victoria – is the perfect place for a relaxed evening drink.

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Alternatively, do what the locals do: grab some rum and beer, and head to the beach! Sipping a cold beverage with your toes in the sand is the perfect way to unwind after a day’s sightseeing. If you’re in Victoria on a Wednesday evening, check out Bazar Labrin, an open-air market at Beau Vallon beach. Here, Seychellois street vendors sell cheap and delicious Creole food in a fun and festive atmosphere, with lots of live music. Look out for stalls selling “kalou” – a potent local toddy made from fermented palm sap!

And after all that, you can head back to your hotel and look forward to another relaxing day on one of Mahé’s sumptuous beaches!

 

Best spots

News Café | Trinity House, Victoria | +248 4 322 999

 

Marie-Antoinette | Serret Road, Mahé | +248 426 6222

 

Boardwalk Bar & Grill | Eden Island, Mahé | +248 4 346 622

 

Bazar Labrin market | Beau Vallon beach | Every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.

 

National History Museum | Francis Rachel Street, Victoria, Mahé | historymuseum@nullseychelles.sc | Closed on Sundays and public holidays

 

Seychelles National Botanical Gardens | Mont Fleuri, Mahé | nbgf@nullemail.sc

 

Kenwyn House | Francis Rachel Street, Victoria, Mahé |  Closed on Sundays