The big trip

Mango House hotel review: exploring the artistic side of the Seychelles

This new hotel on the main island of Mahé is a bohemian beauty

The Seychelles looks like paradise on Earth, with its white beaches, turquoise lagoons and prehistoric granitic rocks protruding from the lush valleys. And while one could spend an entire trip taking in all that nature has to offer, there is also an artistic scene to be discovered, if you know where to find it. 

The islands have attracted many prominent artists over the years, including the Italian photographer Gian Paolo Barbieri, whose holiday residence – now converted into the newly-opened Mango House hotel – was my home for a week. It’s located on the main island of Mahé, in the “Bohemian South”, named for its stretches of wilder, undeveloped landscape, where creatives have flocked over the decades, some building ocean villas like Barbieri, others setting up studios in the jungle and never leaving. 

Mango House exterior

Mango House is located in the ‘Bohemian South’

Why come here

There are plenty of luxury hotels to choose from across the island republic – the Seychelles was the honeymoon destination for Kate and Wills, after all. But one would be hard pushed to find a resort that has the genuine warmth and effortless style of Mango House. When its creators began dreaming up plans for the island resort, they started with all the things they didn’t like about luxury hotels: stuffiness, snobbishness and formality. 

“We wanted Mango House to be the opposite of that; creating a home from home feeling,” a manager told me. They have succeeded. The affable, easy-going staff make it feel less like a hotel and more like the villa of a generous friend with lavish taste, whose weekend invitation might well extend into a month-long fiesta of waterside dining and dangerously delicious cocktails. It’s small enough to feel intimate – there are only 41 rooms – but still has space for four exceptional restaurants, three swimming pools, a spa, and a charming bar that comes with an even more charming mixologist called Devlin. 

Twin bedroom

A twin room in Cliff House has views out to sea

There are signposts of the local art scene dotted about the hotel; photographs by Barbieri and paintings by the indomitable Michael Adams hang in the lobby. Adams, who has described his work as a “mirror of everyday life in the Seychelles”, arrived in 1972 and never left. His paintings are well-observed and bursting with life. His daughter, Alyssa Adams, is also an artist and designed the signature print of the silk dressing gowns for Mango House guests to lounge in. 

I stayed at Cliff House, an apartment block built into that iconic rock and a short walk from the main house. One of the three swimming pools was outside my room, and I quickly fell into a daily routine: grabbing a few stolen hours before the sun had reached its full power to take laps among the tree canopies, while the birdsong called in a new day.

Cliff House pool

Take a daily dip at the Cliff House pool

It was the perfect way to prepare for an indulgent breakfast, enjoyed from one of the balconied restaurants. Platters of local fruits like mango, passionfruit and starfruit come without ordering, along with a selection of fresh pastries and little cakes. The Kreole menu had a wide offering including a banana acai bowl, Kalamansi lemon crepes made with local Takamaka rum and coconut French toast with vanilla caramel – a combination that I’m still salivating over. 

What to do

Studio hopping is a great way to meet the local creative community. We were taken on a tour by artist Nigel Henri, a Mahé native, which can be arranged through Mango House. I had the pleasure of visiting Michael Adams’ studio and home, which is within walking distance of the hotel. Originally from Malaysia, Adams is the most prominent artist in the Seychelles and has recorded life there in playful colour for nearly half a century. 

The gallery is open most days and sells work by Adams and his daughter Alyssa, who spoke to me about her childhood studying art with her father in the jungle. He encouraged her to use the organic materials offered up by the planet, sketching from life with shells for paintbrushes. She seeks to reflect the “magic of Mother Nature”, and her colourful paintings and silk prints are an illustration of nature’s power on the island. 

Michael Adams Art Gallery

Michael Adams is the most prominent artist in the Seychelles

Michael Adams Art Gallery

Another artist inspired by Seychelle’s beauty was Tom Bowers, whose home I also visited. Bowers was a talented sculptor who was born in Britain but relocated there for nearly 40 years. His daughter, Katy, now continues his legacy. She described how the south has developed in the past few decades. “It’s always been an artist’s mecca and now it’s an elite,” she told me. “But we welcome these high end hotels; they bring guests with spending power and it raises the standard of the craft work.” 

One could easily spend a day getting to know the close-knit Seychellois artists and, if you’re left feeling inspired, Mango House guests can arrange a private painting class with Henri, taking place at one of the many picturesque spots. 

Swimming pool

One of the three swimming pools at Mango House Seychelles

The hotel is also well situated for a lazy day of grazing and sunbathing. Guests can enjoy a massage at the spa, snorkel in the clear shallow sea or take a kayak out to nearby beaches along the bay. Top tip: don’t forget sunscreen and don’t store your phone in your bikini. We had a rather bumpy docking – the boat capsized and said phone leapt into the strong pull of a wave – but even that couldn’t spoil the feeling of pulling into this secluded and magical bay. 

Venture further, though, and you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world in just a short drive, including Beau Vallon and Anse Louis. The Seychellois government enshrined an Environmental Protection Act in 2016, which now includes a ban on plastic bags and a levy on plastic and glass bottles, and all the beaches we visited were pristine. 

What to eat

If you don’t feel like venturing out of the hotel, one could eat on rotation at Mango House’s four restaurants and never be bored. Muse does hearty twists on Italian classics; Azido serves up Japanese cuisine to die for from charcoal-grilled robatayaki to fresh sushi and wagyu beef; and Soley is the poolside bar where you can sit in your bathing suit and enjoy a bento box and mojito.

Interior of Muse restaurant

Muse restaurant does hearty twists on Italian classics

Moutya is Mango House’s Kreole offering. It’s named after a dance that was practised by enslaved Africans who arrived with the French settlers in the early 18th century (and has now been inscribed in Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list). The kitchen is overseen by top chef Ralph Ernesta, and his beautifully crafted menu incorporates the heady Kreole mix of French, Chinese, and Indian influences, with a strong emphasis on seafood. 

I had a memorable dinner at its restaurant on the beach, enjoying a feast of red snapper, breadfruit curry, sweet potato ladob, sweet pumpkin dumplings, palm heart and mango salads and chilli cakes, with coconut cake to finish. As the fruit bats flapped above and the waves crashed on the decking, I felt alive with the flavours and scents of Ernesta’s cooking.

Moutya restaurant tables

Moutya is Mango House’s Kreole offering, enjoyed from their beachside restaurant

When the first settlers arrived in the Seychelles from France in 1770, they disembarked on Sainte Anne with the prime purpose of growing spices. They grew nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and chillies and gradually expanded to the surrounding islands. For those wishing to smell and taste this history first-hand, a trip to Le Jardin Du Roi is a must.

The restaurant sits amidst an elevated garden 2km above Anse Royale in Mahé and is bursting with nature’s bounty. The French planted the first seeds here, but when the English colonised in 1794, they set fire to the plants to prevent the new invaders enjoying the fruits of their labour. More than 200 years on, the hilltop is once again heavy with herbs, spices, exotic fruits and fragrant flowers. I had a delicious Kreole lunch on the veranda, prepared with produce from the garden, and met some of Du Roi’s oldest residents: the giant tortoises. 

The main island of Mahé has fewer than 100,000 residents. “I practically know everyone!” our guide Nigel joked. “In fact, the police have trouble arresting anyone here because they might be their cousin.” This might be a stretch on the truth, but there is certainly a feeling here of an intimate, closely-bound community. From the creative expats to the local fishermen, the island engenders a collective harmony. And such is the openness of everyone I met, I felt part of this little kinship, if only for one week.

Rooms start from around £600 a night at Mango House Seychelles; hilton.com

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