Seychelles: Life's a beach on this Indian Ocean island idyll...
The term 'paradise on earth' is bandied about way too much. But here it stands true... complete with indigo waters and coconut ice-cream.
My sister looked at me like some form of epiphany had swept over her. She grabbed me by both sandy shoulders, looked me straight in the eye, and said: "Niamh! These are the beaches they show us pictures of in brochures to trick us into going to the mediocre places in Europe."
A couple nearby wrapped up in each other started laughing. They'd obviously already been let in on the secret.
And she was right.
The term 'paradise on earth" is bandied around way too much. But here we were frolicking in the middle of it.
Powdery white sandy beaches lapped by blue and indigo waters stretching out as far as the eye could see.
Behind us, a row of coconut trees, against a backdrop of lush green hills and giant mountains.
A cold coconut ice cream shake in our hands. And Dee was bang on the money - it was in fact the most photographed beach on earth.
Anse Source d'Argent on the island of La Digue is that idyllic picture you reach for in your mind's eye on grey rainy days on the walk to work or when you're stuck in traffic, staring at the bumper ahead of you, wondering if you'll ever escape the incessant rat race.
It is the image you see when your yoga instructor tells you to 'go to your happy place' to shut out the stresses of life.
Even before we took off we knew we were heading somewhere special.
If you want to gauge how coveted your holiday destination is watch the till girls reactions as they ring in your bikinis and summer clothes.
The small talk always amounts to the same question.
"So where are you off to?" they'd ask nonchalantly. France, Portugal, Ibiza - they'd all get the same "ah lovely" before waving you off with a half-hearted "enjoy".
But the moment "the Seychelles" passed my lips, they'd look up.
"WHAT?" the response was hilarious.
Because the next question would always be 'are you going on your honeymoon?"
Why should it take a life-defining moment to give yourself the right to experience what heaven on earth is truly like?
Money would be the obvious answer - but when you tot up the amount you spend on flights, accommodation, drinks, food and your holiday wardrobe, most people are already into the hundreds.
To get this bucket list experience all it would take is that little extra bit of saving, sacrifice, staying away from the pub every so often and you'd find yourself jetting off to the most beautiful beaches in the world.
The holiday experience itself was like finding yourself in an advert for a tropical soda.
Remember those commericals which showed sun-kissed, bikini-clad girls chilling on the beach, mangos for sale nearby, locals pulling in a fishing boat?
They captured pure unadulterated tropical island pleasure.
And that's what you've got right here.
We spent most of our trip in the five star Constance Ephelia Resort which in a nutshell ensures your holiday on a luxury island is going to be exactly that - luxury from beginning to end.
Hey! You know what I say? Go hard or go home.
It stretches over the narrowest part of a small peninsula on Mahe Island's western coast and overlooks two stunning beaches and secluded coves.
It is also the place where dieters go to die.
The buffet selection in the five restaurants would make a Victoria's Secret model have all the willpower of a basset hound in a sausage factory.
From the fresh red snapper that I'm still dreaming about to avocado mousse salads, mango ice cream and their freshly picked exotic fruit - I have never tasted food as dreamy as the local produce here.
That coupled with a shuttle car to and from your room and we needed to find some resort activities pronto.
And so for the rest of the week, not a cooped- up gym, but the Indian ocean became our playground.
Snorkeling,windsurfing, diving, big game fishing, body boarding, boat excursions and kayaking. Most of which are included in your stay.
For me, paddle boarding became an obsession.
I started off at the beach edge afraid to go out too far, not being a strong swimmer. But by the end of our stay I was out at the horizon with giant turtles bopping up from under the turquoise green ocean around me. The young guy who oversaw the watersports area went above and beyond to help me. In fact the staff at the resort were the funniest, friendliest and most helpful I have come across yet.
When I became scared, seeing I was so far out from the shoreline, and lay on my board afraid to stand up again he gave me a speech about overcoming your fears that I swore I would bring back home with me long after my holiday.
On my last day at the resort - after a relaxing massage at the spa village in the heart of Ephelia's tropical gardens -I was cautiously checking out some fish with my snorkel and fins a stone's throw from the beach when I felt someone reach for my hand underwater. It was the watersports instructor. He signalled me to come follow him and we ended up in the middle of hundreds of stunning iridescent neon-coloured fish - pinks, yellow, orange, blue, green-striped and spotted. It took my breath away.
For our trip we had a driver named Chris and if I can give you one tip it is to hire someone for two hours to take you on a tour of the most beautiful beaches on Mahe Island.
On the first day after touchdown Chris could see my sister and I looking a bit forlorn in the back of the car because our first night's accommodation had been so far from the coast.
"Beatches" he said into the drivers mirror without looking back.
"Excuse me?" I jolted upright.
"You wana see beatches? I'll show you beatches!"
And thus began the road trip of a life time. One white sandy strip of happiness after the next - the only way I can describe the sand is by saying it's akin to a really luxurious golden exfoliator you would pay a small fortune for by the pot back home.
The weather was in the early thirties in April and I'd pick this month at the best time of year to visit the Seychelles because it also happens to be when the International carnival is on.
The people here know how to throw a party and the music and theatrics had people dancing in the streets. Slim bronzed girls shaking their tail feathers and coconuts to banging tunes, a cocktail in hand and the sun blazing down - they could teach us a thing or two for St Patrick's Day.
The beaches on Praslin Island are a must-see and a cycle around La Digue is another highlight you cannot miss - both are a short boat ride from the main Mahe Island.
As I was free-wheeling back down the hill to catch my boat home, legs in the air, singing to Blue Lagoon at the top of my lungs, whizzing past 100-year-old giant turtles (they have sex as loud as frisky teenagers by the way) I spotted a wizened-faced old man in shorts with a long white beard sitting outside his cottage and staring out at the sea.
"You have the life!" I shouted over to him.
He simply nodded and laughed back.
As if he needed to be told!
Seven nights for the price of 6 at the 5-star Kempinski Seychelles Resort BB from €1,959pp including taxes. Travel 1st September to 31st October, flights from Dublin return. Booking includes early booking discount of 10pc if booked 45 days in advance of travel. Half Board option is €65pp per day. Honeymooners can save up to €500 for a week’s stay and receive a 25pc discount on half board option.
Classic Resorts, Tel 01 8745000
Email email@example.com www.classicresorts.ie
Seychelles Tourist Office for UK and Ireland
4th Floor, 130-132 Buckingham Palace Road,
SW1W 9SA. Tel: +44 (0) 207 730 0700
Bord Mer Villas, Seychelles: www.bordmer.com
Constance Ephelia Resort: www.epheliaresort.constancehotels.com
Britannia Hotel: www.britanniapraslin.com
Etihad fly to the Seychelles at an economy return fare of €439.00 (plus taxes €307.52 = €746.52)
Business return fare is €2265.00 (plus taxes €488.52 = €2753.52) www.etihad.com
If you want your toes in the sand while you eat great food and overlook one of the nicest beaches on Mahé Island then the Cafe Anse Soleil is for you. I loved this small, family-run, open-air cafe which serves delicious Creole dishes. Try the ginger crab curry—it’s legendary. Once you are done, you can grab a spot under a nearby coconut tree and lap up the paradise view.
Of all the beaches in the Seychelles, and there are many, my personal favourite has to be Baie Lazare. Situated on the south western coast of Mahé it is at The Plantation Club Hotel and Casino. You can see the miles of uncluttered safe-bathing beach coastline - and walk in the most beautiful sand on earth, passing scores of real coconuts that have dropped off the trees.
THE fresher the fish, the better the flavour - and what could be better than a beautiful red snapper, line-caught and simply barbecued that day. Don’t leave the Seychelles without trying one of these beauties. It could well be the best meal you’ve ever had. Try with avocado mousse and a coconut milkshake. I’m almost weeping into my computer wishing I was back there as I type this.