View To A Thrill: In the Seychelles with James Bond
Sunday, 9 July 2006
It was the spring of 1958 when Ian Fleming first set foot on Mahé. The author had come to the Seychelles for an extended holiday: seeking adventure, sunshine and inspiration for his latest James Bond book, to be called For Your Eyes Only.
By all accounts he found it here, at the heart of this beautiful string of islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Basing himself on Mahé - the largest of the 115-strong group and home to the capital, Victoria - Fleming spent some enjoyable and profitable weeks exploring, snorkelling and investigating the pirate legends so prevalent in these parts, and, most importantly, writing.
When For Your Eyes Only was published two years later, the influence of this trip was apparent. Among the five short stories that combine to make up the book was one set entirely in the Seychelles, which Bond, like Fleming, travels to from a rainswept London in the spring: "M had told Bond he was sending him to the Seychelles," wrote Fleming. "'Admiralty are having trouble with their new fleet base in the Maldives. Communists creeping in from Ceylon. Strikes, sabotage - the usual picture. May have to cut their losses and fall back on the Seychelles ... Just go and have a look.' M glanced out of the window at the driving March sleet. 'Don't get sunstroke.'"
Upon arrival, Bond becomes entangled with a sadistic American multi-millionaire called Milton Krest and his attractive but unhappy wife Liz. Fleming reputedly took the couple's surname from a brand of tonic and ginger beer he drank here - just one of a number of touches paying homage to the visit.
During his time on Mahé, Fleming stayed at a hotel on the north-west coast, built on an outcrop just north of the sprawling Beau Vallon beach. That grand old hotel, The Northolme, built before the First World War, has recently undergone a dramatic transformation. One of the first hotels on the islands, it has reopened after being turned into a luxury five-star retreat. The hotel now consists of 40 wooden villas within a mélange of paths, elevations and landscaping, all with stunning views of the Indian Ocean and the striking Silhouette Island a few miles away.
Bond fans will find the rebuilt hotel packed with Fleming associations: not only is the pretty private beach where Fleming swam exactly as it was during his visit, but the new management, Hilton Worldwide Resorts, has paid tribute to the author by dedicating a villa to him.
In a move that will surely make The Northolme the ultimate honeymoon destination for 007 enthusiasts, the oceanfront Ian Fleming Suite comes complete with a king-sized circular bed, Blofeld-style spinning chair and, best of all, the complete library of James Bond DVDs and novels. During my visit, there was even talk of adding an 007-shaped Jacuzzi outside, and a version of Monty Norman's Bond theme to be played every time the toilet door is opened.
Among Fleming's fascinations nearly five decades ago were the pirate tales that are told throughout the Seychelles. Many Seychellois believe there are still huge caches of buried treasure, including what is generally considered to be the greatest missing hoard of them all, that of the 18th-century buccaneer La Buse (The Buzzard). The bloodthirsty French captain, whose real name was Olivier LeVasseur, was captured on Mauritius, but not before he had hidden his treasure somewhere in the Seychelles. Standing before the gallows, legend has it he took out his map, tore it into several pieces and threw it into the baying crowd declaring: "Find my treasure who may." No one has yet, though people still look for it.
While following the treasure trail around Mahé, Fleming hired a car, buying a local driving licence in Victoria for five rupees. There's no need to purchase the extra licence today, but a car is still essential. Although Victoria is the smallest capital in the world, with just one set of traffic lights, Mahé itself is surprisingly large - roughly 150 square kilometres. The only other means of transportation is an infrequent bus service.
The tropical temperatures make this maze of islands and atolls an ideal place to visit - provided you avoid the rainy season from December to February. At times the heat oppressed our hero, who complained: "The temperature was 80 in the shade and the humidity 90, and in the enclosed waters of the lagoon the water was near blood heat." But in spite of it all, Bond managed to frustrate the villain, win the girl, and squeeze in a good deal of snorkelling, fishing and sailing along the way; a perfect trip to the Seychelles.
Copyright © 2006 The Independent