Truth or Dare?

So, you want to reclaim some land, build an island paradise containing some 500 residential apartments, maisons and luxury villas, add retail outlets, restaurants and a hotel component and, of course, make it commercially viable?

A tall order in anyone’s book.

Then, just to jazz it up a little, you throw in a couple of logistical challenges, such as a five-hour flight from Johannesburg and being in the middle of the Indian Ocean, an area with limited, if any, natural building resources. Top it off by surrounding your proposed new island with 115 of the most beautiful islands in the world, defining a standard of beauty that many argue can only be replicated by nature, not man, and there you have it – the challenge taken on by the developers behind Eden Island in the Seychelles.

So, boarding the weekly Cape Town–Mahé flight that was recently launched by Air Seychelles, I was excited to return to the islands that I had first visited back in 1993. The Eden Island prepared itinerary for the week’s visit had had me salivating for over a week since it arrived, although, to be honest, I was sceptical about this man-made island, very much a work in progress, being a highlight of my visit, and wondered whether some of the other islands on the itinerary would add to my lasting memories of this paradise.

A great believer in business before pleasure, I was expecting the usual lethargic meet-and-greet at the airport and to be whisked off to back-to-back meetings. Three paces off the aeroplane steps, surrounded by more new gold wedding rings than in a Shimansky store, a voice said, ‘Mr Vaughan?’ My immediate reaction was to fear I’d been reincarnated as either a foreign president or as a drugs mule… I looked up to see the smiling face of Rosemary and realised that the extraordinary hospitality afforded to every visitor to Eden Island had just begun!

With tourism in 2009 contributing 37,5% to the Seychelles’ gross domestic product (GDP), and with 34 000 jobs (or 86,9% of the available workforce, or 1 in every 1,2 jobs) utilised in this sector, you can imagine the important role played by the Seychelles Tourism Board. Enter Alain St Ange, former opposition party politician, now the magnetic and enigmatic director of tourism marketing for the Board. Close your eyes and you hear Obama; yes you can – albeit with a French accent! ‘Here in the Seychelles we’re defying the trend: visitor numbers are up year-on-year by 12%.?We must be the only destination in the world reporting such growth in this economic climate,’ said Alain. ‘Quite simply, we’ve transitioned from a government led sector to a privately led sector fully backed by government, we’ve let go of the reins, we’ve allowed the private sector to take control of what is in their best interests, and it’s working. We’ve also launched the “Affordable Seychelles” campaign to move the perception away from the idea that we only exist for the rich and famous!’

When asked about the relationship with, and contribution from, Eden Island, Alain became even more excited: ‘Eden Island fits our strategy perfectly; it is an affordable Seychelles to the tourist, and it also pioneers a largely untapped market: that of a residential solution, not just another hotel.’ He didn’t hold back either as he continued to truly put the significance of Eden Island to the Seychelles in perspective: ‘Previously,’ he said, ‘we used to refer to the main islands in the Seychelles as Mahé, Praslin and La Digue; now we have added a fourth island, and we now refer to the main islands as Mahé, Praslin, La Digue and Eden Island! Eden Island is a big partner to the Seychelles, is socially responsible, and is playing a big part in pushing the name “Seychelles” globally. Also’, he continued, unafraid to be somewhat controversial, ‘when the Seychelles were discovered, there were no residents, and we have developed our own unique style of food and unique islands to be the true rainbow nation – we’re a unique combination of the best of Mauritius and the Maldives combined; plus we’re below the Cyclone Belt, away from tsunamis, and we don’t get earthquakes – we’re unique by every definition!’ Hearing such enthusiastic support from the Seychelles Tourism Board, I was intrigued to find out first-hand what Eden Island was all about, and I wasn’t about to be disappointed, either.

Eden Island flirts with convention. Firstly, the overall design of the island, being man-made, surprises in that it is not a ‘conventional’ island shape; instead, large parts of the island have been excavated to create more waterways and much more of an ‘at one with nature and water’ experience than you would expect, creating an interest, a character that defines the island.?A feeling that, had nature been involved in this design, it would have been proud of its achievements. From an architectural style and space perspective, it works – you never feel that space is limited, nor do you feel that design awards were the priority for the architect; the style has presence without being overbearing – it has logic without stiffness, and it has beauty that fits all but the most peculiar of palates.?Inside the apartments, maisons and villas, the flow, space and logic also applies, with even the smallest of apartments offering exceptional views and cleverly designed terraces and outside areas.

I must admit that I was expecting a building site and reassurances from the developers,?and I got exactly that. Though that’s only half of the story, as more than 50% of the island is developed; not ‘developed to still be completed’, but developed, snagged, and occupied, with the small roads for the golf carts (the only form of transport on the island) completed, the swimming pools in place and two of the four man-made beaches fully operational. The island’s development has been carefully orchestrated in phases that respect existing owners and tourists successfully. In fact, the only real disturbance to the peace and tranquillity is the ‘start work/stop work’ siren that sounds twice daily across the other side of the island – a reminder that this island is, amazingly,?artificial.

The incompleteness that I’ve witnessed at too many golf estates in development, for instance, the clubhouse being run from a shed until nearly the end of construction, is certainly not apparent at Eden Island. The marina boasts some magnificent feats of engineering, with the frequent stopovers by a couple of superyachts humbling all but the richest of people – even some of the smaller vessels here can have that effect.?Many boats adorn the island waterways too, as owners receive a berth with their purchase.

A recent addition to the island, and a pleasant deviation from what I’ve come to expect from premium residential products, is a restaurant from the Bravo group (made famous by Bravo restaurant in Mouille Point in Cape Town). ?The ‘posh nosh’ restaurant style that too many developers slip into has been avoided, and residents, tourists and locals alike now experience Bravo’s famous burgers, pizzas and pastas, as well as local dishes, which supplement the menu. Open for mere weeks, Bravo is already the busiest restaurant accessible by road from Mahé, and deservedly so.

With approximately 50% of the owners on Eden Island originating from South Africa, there’s already significant groundswell towards realising investment or living objectives, and there’s no doubt that Eden Island in partnership with the Seychelles is a match man-made in heaven – a match that bucks current trends and carves out a win-win scenario for all parties in paradise.

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