Pirates and turtles: La Belle Tortue Lodge flaunts the allure of Silhouette Island in Seychelles
Charming by day, stylish by night - the open dining area at La Belle Tortue Lodge, situated on the Seychelles island of Silhouette, is welcoming no matter the hour. (La Belle Tortue Lodge)
(Seychelles News Agency) - On a mysterious island overshadowed by mist-covered mountains, the cosy ‘La Belle Tortue Lodge’ [meaning ‘the pretty turtle lodge’] has emerged as a modern and luxurious small tourism establishment.
Behind its clean white walls, where padded loungers on each veranda face a clear turquoise sea, a recently-completed interior renovation links the lodge more firmly to the island’s natural surroundings and its swashbuckling pirate history.
Sadly, gone are the days when fearless pirates, explorers and merchants roamed the world’s oceans in search of a perfect spot to hide chests of stolen treasures, new land to be conquered, as well as somewhere to stop for supplies, but islands such as Silhouette are filled with the clues to their long-ago existence.
Time for solitude and relaxation
Located at the far end of La Passe, the main village of Silhouette, which is the third largest island of the Seychelles, the lodge has recently been renovated and upgraded to six rooms under the management of a French couple, Mariannick and Emmanuel Bellanger.
|A room with a view: the charmingly elegant villas at La Belle Tortue Lodge overlook the stunning scenery of Silhouette. (La Belle Tortue Lodge) Photo License: All Rights Reserved|
“When we first arrived here, we were excited in bringing something extra to the island,” stated Mariannick Bellanger in an interview to SNA.
She explained that they did not wish to compete with either the nearby luxury hotel, the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa which is located at the far end of La Passe, or the simplicity of the Island Development Company, (IDC)-run guesthouse, which attracts mainly Seychellois nationals.
“Instead, we wanted to attract the handful of people who really wanted to experience luxury, nature and historical discovery,” Bellanger said.
|It's the small details that count - a sign for guests to indicate that they would like their rooms serviced is beautifully-made (La Belle Tortue Lodge) Photo License: All Rights Reserved|
Unlike some of the Seychelles’ other islands oft-visited by tourists and locals alike, Silhouette has until recently kept many of its secrets hidden from the world. With a population of less than 500, most of whom are contract workers, the island still maintains its lost-in-time feel, making Silhouette the ideal destination for those seeking solitude and relaxation.
Although only around 40 minutes away by boat from the most populated island of Mahe, the imposing Silhouette remains a mystery island to many of the 90,000 inhabitants of Seychelles.
Constructed in 2010, the La Belle Tortue Lodge has developed at its namesake's pace. The lodge with three small houses and six rooms is now a well known tourism establishment on Silhouette, the third largest island of Seychelles, as it provides an alternative to guesthouses and luxurious hotels, both types of accommodation which can also be found on the island. (Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
A connection to the sea - and pirates - in every room
Constructed in 2010 as a self-catering establishment, the lodge was unobtrusively tucked away in its corner of the island until the Bellangers took over in late 2014 and began to renovate their newly-found treasure trove.
“We thought this was a jewel but it needed a lot of work. So we set out to make it something special,” Emmanuel told SNA, while opening the doors to one of the six rooms of the lodge.
The spacious rooms and suites now boast a modern luxurious look and feel, and the sights and sounds of the sea is present in every room.
Interestingly, each room is named after a female pirate, eerie perhaps, considering many of the local pirate legends that surround Silhouette.
Steeped in legends of long-dead pirates, the bright and breezy rooms of La Belle Tortue Lodge are not only filled with the salty aroma of the sea, located just meters away, but also the air of mystery which has never really left Silhouette Island, even if centuries have passed since the days of pirates, slaves and plantation. (Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
“This is the suite named after Anne Dieu-le-Veut,” said Emmanuel, showing off a room design in fiery red corals and décor. “She was a very spirited pirate and her story is quite interesting... true, she never came to Seychelles but her story lives on through this room. The guest has a chance to learn about these real-life pirates through our handbook in their rooms.”
Charlotte de Berry, Maria Lindsey and Grace O’Malley are some other famous names given to the rooms of La Belle Tortue Lodge.
Not a far-fetched idea when one realises that pirates once roamed this part of the Indian Ocean. The island of Silhouette itself is rumoured to be the resting place of several Arab seafarers, leading to one of the beaches being named ‘Anse Lascars’, the Creole name referring to Arabs.
Another popular legend is that Silhouette is one of the possible resting-places of a substantial treasure hidden by Jean-Francois Hodoul, a former French captain turned wealthy businessmen who lived the latter days of his life on Mahe, the most populated island of the archipelago.
|A telescope and board games provide alternative entertainment to those who are seeking an escape from the stresses of everyday life (La Belle Tortue Lodge) Photo License: All Rights Reserved|
An uncertain future with climate change
At a rate of 380 euros per night on half board, the airy Creole-styled restaurant of La Belle Tortue Lodge provides an assortment of dishes prepared by Emmanuel. Most of the ingredients used are from their home-grown garden or are transported twice a week by boat from Mahe.
“We cannot exist without the good relationship that we have with IDC and Labriz as we are neighbours on a small island,” said Emmanuel, adding that Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa transports the majority of their guests to Silhouette.
After two years of hard work, the Lodge is now facing another challenge from coastal erosion, which according to the Bellangers, can take several metres of their precious garden of greenery away each year (Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
With free Wi-Fi and a library with a collection of over 200 books, guests can relax on one of the hammocks stretched between the trees lining the beach. The only other guests here are the large grey herons which stalk the beach at low tide before heading back to the tranquil lagoon on the other side of the lodge.
A view of the old quicklime storage, a carcass of an old shipwreck on the beach and a silent but watchful eye of a tiny white statuette of Saint Anne, believed by Roman Catholics to be the patron of seafarers, are among the many constant reminders that the past is still ever-present on the island.
At high tide however, the coconut trees and mangroves lining the shore take a heavy beating from the waves, creating an uncertain future for the property.
“Ever year, we lose metres of land. Although we try to keep the vegetation, we are uncertain how long our garden will hold on,” said Mariannick, referring to the severe coastal erosion which has until now wreaked havoc on this small strip of land leased from IDC.
With its new breath of life however, La Belle Tortue Lodge is hoping to ride the ever-increasing tide of tourism arrivals in Seychelles – at its own turtle’s pace, naturally.