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The Seychelles: Emerald isles of the Indian Ocean

By George Webster for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Seychelles is a picture-perfect sailing getaway
  • An eco tourist's dream, the archipelago is brimming with exotic wildlife
  • At-a-glance itinerary for a trip to the Seychelles
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(CNN) -- Scattered across the topaz blue waters of the Indian Ocean, floating between the east coast of Africa and India's southern tip, are 115 immaculate islands that together encompass the Seychelles.

Once thought home to the Garden of Eden, this unspoiled archipelago is renowned for its palm-fringed, white-sand beaches bounded by granite boulders, clear seas and coral reefs.

With its carefully protected rare and exotic birds, giant tortoises and inland jungle trails, the Seychelles has justifiably garnered a reputation as a Mecca for eco tourists. At the same time, its remote setting and secluded anchorages make it a haven for passing sail-boats.

From the relatively cosmopolitan atmosphere of Mahe, to the extreme tranquility of Desroches, here is Mainsail's five-day itinerary for those thinking of a trip to this paradise getaway.

Day 1: Mahe

The journey begins on Mahe, the largest island in the Seychelles, and home to the town of Victoria -- one of the world's smallest and most peaceful capital cities.

A necklace of coral circles the island, providing shade for its 70-strong, picture perfect beaches -- all of which are still refreshingly free from urban development.

Don't miss: Victoria Botanical Gardens. This remarkable park, established in 1901, exhibits a bewildering array of exotic plant-life. Cannon ball trees, with pink flowers on their trunk and, true to name, cannon-ball shaped fruits, flank the park's entrance.

Day 2: Praslin

A swift 30-mile sail north brings you to Praslin, the second largest island in the Seychelles and home to a primeval rainforest that sits, contrastingly, against a smattering of designer boutiques.

The island is most commonly associated with the Coco de Mer palm tree -- known for it's erotic fruits. The female variety produces a huge seed shaped astonishingly like a lady's belly and thighs, while the taller male specimen has a blush-inducing phallic-shaped catkin.

Don't miss: Bon Bon Plume. Perched on one of the Seychelles's most pristine beaches, this seafood restaurant is an exquisite treat for all the senses, with sweeping scenery and the aroma of freshly grilled fish. Roads to the restaurant are too rocky for most cars, leaving it accessible only by boat and creating an additional sense, if one were needed, of fine-dining exclusivity.

Day 3: La Digue

Coconut palms, magnificent bone-white beaches, a bounty of bicycles, a few ox carts and a smattering of shops give La Digue a quintessentially relaxed island-style way of life. Boats are built and repaired using traditional methods and nobody is ever in a hurry.

Don't miss: Grand Anse beach. With huge waves crashing in directly from the Indian Ocean, body surfing along the shore-breakers is a very popular activity, although not for the faint-hearted.

The strikingly beautiful beach is regularly visited by white-tailed tropical birds, as well as enormous fruit bats, also known as flying foxes. A rustic beach restaurant operates irregularly at Grande Anse.

Day 4: Fregate

Sail 50 miles south from La Digue and you will reach the exclusive, privately owned island of Fregate.

Known for its distinctive variety of exotic and endangered species, Fregate is home to a rare breed of magpie robins, of which only 100 or so are left in the wild. It's also one of only three islands that support the delicate yellow Seychelles fody -- who are regularly found in local restaurants sharing breakfast with the guests.

Don't miss: The Rock Spa and Sanctuary. Situated up high on a hillside, the spa offers a variety of health and beauty packages exclusive to the island -- including signature Fregate botanical treatments. There is also a Zen and yoga garden with meditation coves and a plunge pool.

Day 5: Desroches

Although Desroches is 130 miles southwest of Fregate, the journey is definitely worth the effort.

A sandy cay on the rim of a submerged circular atoll, Desroches is the ultimate get-away-from-it-all island. The only sound you're likely to hear above the ocean waves is the gentle cooing of Barred Ground Doves.

The southern shore, which is a favored spot for fly fishing, is guarded by a wide reef that almost dries at low tide. During the northwest monsoons, hawksbill turtles clamber onto the beaches to lay their eggs, and it's possible to see them during the day. A few giant Aldabra tortoises roam freely around the island seeking out deep shade in the heat.

Don't miss: A bicycle tour. It's possible to cycle around most of the island on flat easy paths. Visit the coco plantation and look out for the old cemetery, perhaps even climb to the top of the lighthouse. Keen bird watchers should bring binoculars as migrant birds often stop over.