My first glimpse of Félicité Island is from the cockpit of the gleaming black helicopter that whisks us from the chaos of Mahé airport across the vast shimmering Indian Ocean to the remote barefoot paradise that is home to Six Senses Zil Pasyon. It is my first visit to the Seychelles and I am not prepared for the sheer enormity or magnificence of the great granite boulders that rise up from the island punctuating the lush tropical rainforest.
These almost surreal-looking giant rock formations are the result of the break-up of the supercontinent Gondwana some 150-200 million years ago in the mid Jurassic era, and imbue Félicité with a uniquely grounding and majestically soulful spirit. Indeed, our villa - one of only thirty and a spacious luxurious Zen-like sanctuary – is situated atop three impressive slabs of stone and affords cinematic views across the sea to the neighbouring island La Digue. As we sit in our private pool at sunset, watching the fruit bats circle up above the overhanging avocado, mango and custard apple trees and listening to the waves crash against the rocks below, I feel the stresses of normal life begin to recede.
I walk to the spa the next morning – a fat-busting 20-minute walk with some steep ups and downs, so forgo the chauffeured buggies and the high-tech gym if you want a quick natural work out – and marvel at the rare plants and trees, even picking up some fresh mangoes from the path on my way. But nothing prepares me for the staggering location of the spa, built atop, between and even underneath the giant boulders that rise up from the oceanfront on the wilder eastern side of the island. The contemporary architectural designs – everything is built from sustainable materials in keeping with the Six Senses philosophy – seamlessly blend with the raw beauty of the landscape and the result is both breathtaking and, it turns out, award-winning – London architect Richard Hywel Evans of Studio RHE has picked up countless awards for the ambitious project, which even saw him sourcing Chinese basalt, a near match for the local granite, for the exteriors of the villas.
The five treatment rooms are nestled among the boulders – there is even one room you have to scramble through a cave to reach – but still somehow all offer incredible views over the ocean below, with Robinson Crusoe-style rope walkways leading you between the different areas. A must-visit at sunset is the sun deck and saltwater pool located on the very edge of the rock-face. It is a little too exposed and hot for my liking during the day, but in the evening, is cooler and a truly magical spot to watch darkness fall over the nearby island of Petit Anse. I am here to experience Zil Pasyon’s Yogic Detox treatment, which aims to deliver a combination of physical, mental and spiritual wellness. Feeling at one with nature is a key part of the spa’s philosophy, and many of the activities either take place outdoors or involve natural products or ancient holistic practices. There are vigorous yet calming morning yoga sessions on an open-air deck, accompanied only by the sounds of the ocean swirling below; a relaxing three-hour body treatment where you firstly prepare your own body scrub, choosing a mix of herbs and plants from the island to suit your mood, before being scrubbed and massaged; and a series of healing and meditation sessions with visiting practitioners – the spa welcomes different experts throughout the year. My favourite treatments, however, were the nightly Sleep With Me massages, specifically aimed to calm the mind and combat insomnia, which conclude with a herbal tea on a swing chair watching the moonlight dance on the ocean. I could barely keep my eyes open on the buggy rides back to my villa each night.
For my stay, I am put on the Cleanse and Detox menu, which features produce picked from the island’s organic vegetable garden. Served at Zil Payson’s main restaurant, the Island Café, which overlooks a vast curved infinity pool – from which we regularly spot black tipped reef sharks and rays – there are morning green juices packed with healthy ingredients such as detoxifying kale and broccoli and anti-oxidizing ginger and parsley; a plethora of island-grown fruit – the mango and avocado are unbeatable; delicious salads; and freshly caught fish. And one doesn’t feel remotely deprived. Indeed, my taste buds quickly feel as if they have been reawakened for the first time in years.
Of course, between spa visits, there is the Eden-like island and the teeming coral reef surrounding it to explore. I highly recommend a hike around Felicité with the island’s ecologist Steve Hill, who has been painstakingly overseeing the restoration of the island’s plant life, removing the invasive and stubbornly fertile coco-plum trees (bought in as a cash-crop by French colonialists), instead allowing the island’s endemic species to re-establish themselves. His knowledge of plant, bird and sea life is encyclopaedic and his passion infectious. While walking with him, we spot one of the world’s rarest birds, the black parrot, which he explains is only to be found in the Seychelles, and witness two baby hawksbill turtles scurrying down the beach to make their debut foray into the ocean. The snorkelling is also sensational and deeply meditative. We quickly encountered a school of stingrays, enormous parrot fish, bright yellow banana rays, stripy angel fish and even a few friendly black tipped baby sharks. Many of the species can easily be spotted from the shore of the island’s four beaches – my favourite being the windswept Grande Anse, where your villa butler will happily arrange either a romantic castaway or Robinson Crusoe-style family picnic.
The extraordinary and breathtaking natural beauty of Félicité Island, not to mention the warmth and friendliness of all the Zil Pasyon staff, stays with me long after we leave, as do the transformative effects of its truly unique spa. I notice that my sleep is better than it has been for a decade, and as well as being a couple of kilograms lighter, I feel more supple and relaxed and, most importantly, truly connected with my mind, body and surroundings.