There’s no time for hesitation as I rush towards the waiting helicopter, clinging tightly to my panama hat as the spinning blades whip up a breeze.
Once safely buckled into my leather seat, we soar above Mahé, the largest island in the Seychelles, and head across the shimmering Indian Ocean to our chosen target, Silhouette Island – a 20-minute helicopter ride, 20km northwest of Mahé. It’s just the sort of place James Bond might choose to moor his power boat between secret missions.
Author Ian Fleming holidayed in the Seychelles in 1958, and even used the sun-splashed fairyland as a source of inspiration for some of his 007 novels.
Two years later, he published a collection of five short stories, titled For Your Eyes Only, three of which have been made into blockbuster movies. The final tale in the pentalogy, The Hildebrand Rarity, is set entirely in the Seychelles on board a luxury yacht named The Wavekrest.
Ian based himself at the Northolme hotel on Mahé, a secluded hideaway on the northwest coast, with picturesque views of Beau Vallon bay and Silhouette Island.
Originally built by an eccentric retired English colonel, the Northolme has been revamped several times and is now a boutique resort. Each villa is hidden in the midst of tropical greenery and reflects the Creole architecture of the island. The Seychelles is a sanctuary for rare flora, including the cannonball tree, which shades paths to the suites. I cup my hands around a large, spherical fruit as heavy as a cannonball.
As I stroll through the gardens, I imagine a Bond girl dipping her toes in the water and staring out to the Indian Ocean. The warm, tropical waters are home to more than 400 species of reef fish and 300 species of coral. From the tranquillity of our sun deck, I spy a hawksbill turtle not far from the shore, where waves lap granite rocks.
As Ian noted in The Hildebrand Rarity, marine life here is ‘a riot of colour and movement’, especially in the Northolme’s secluded beach cove. Wading into the calm, azure sea, I don’t need a snorkel to see the green parrot fish, schools of reef fish, a baby reef shark and a curious stingray that seems drawn to my legs.
Keen to explore more, we take a kayak out for a paddle across the cove and as we skirt the edge of the coral-fringed granite boulders jutting out from the sea, we spot armies of red crabs basking in the midday sun.
Eager to discover more about the history of the Seychelles, we temporarily leave our beach idyll behind and take a tour of Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles located on Mahé. The smallest capital in the world – I count only two sets of traffic lights – it was named after Queen Victoria during British colonial rule.
There are still plenty of nods to those years, including the Victoria clock tower in the town centre. Inspired by Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, it was shipped from London by mail steam ship and erected in her honour in 1903. Originally black, it was painted silver to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee and is still as shiny as a bullet.
Victoria is a bustling port and the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market is one of its most colourful attractions. Saturday is the busiest day, but we manage to jostle our way into the fishmongers’ corner at the entrance.
Locals haggle for freshly caught tuna, octopus and red snapper, which are displayed in all their glory, while barefoot fishermen hose down their filleting stations. We head to the dry foods section, where bundles of cinnamon sticks, nuggets of ginger and sweet-smelling bails of lemongrass are for sale. Overhead, a kaleidoscope of kaftans and sarongs hanging from the first-floor balcony shops entices me to head upstairs.
I had heard that in the 17th century, pirates would use the Seychelles as a base and many believe there are still hoards of hidden treasure on the islands, including Silhouette, our final destination.
Courtesy of our resort, the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort and Spa, we enjoy a private sunset cruise around the island. As we slice through the waves, I sip a delicious drink with my co-star Giles, whose tastes are as refined as Bond’s. We marvel at the sheer beauty and scale of the granite rock formations that emerge from the sea.
If he visited now, 007 would surely give Labriz his seal of approval. I can even imagine Daniel Craig emerging from the crashing waves in those famous blue swimming shorts.
More than 50 years after Ian came here on holiday, the Seychelles is still a place of beauty, mystery and intrigue – the perfect hideaway for a Bond girl and a secret agent.