Sensational SeychellesPosted on: 20 June 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring
Move over Mauritius and the Maldives, says property expert Laura Henderson
The Seychelles is the latest tropical home owning hotspot offering a cushy castaway lifestyle.
If you’re in the market for a paradise island holiday home. You’ll need the basics then-sandy beaches, crystalline turquoise waters, swaying palms - all the familiar tropical clichés but without the body count overload. A low-key alternative to the Caribbean, the time-warped Seychelles archipelago of 115 islands drifts contentedly in the Indian Ocean some 1,000 miles off the coast of Kenya. The islands are humid-being five degrees south of the Equator, but for those moving from shady palm to shady bar, that shouldn’t pose a problem.
As a destination, it can’t compete with the likes of Barbados and St Lucia for a wild time, but with its natural attractions, sailing, reef diving and fishing, it’s not a bad Bounty bar paradise. The majority of the 80,000 hardy islanders are Creole speakers, descendants from mixed ancestry-traders, free slaves, pirates and castaways plus British and French colonists. More recently however, European and US investors are infiltrating the scene, being targeted with a ‘call to palms’ as it were. A strong economy has attracted large-scale luxury tourism to the Indian Ocean, with an expanding network of direct flights easing the pilgrimage.
Those looking to buy can expect to share their island habitat with giant tortoises, pelicans, hawksbill turtles, and little else. Bar a few exceptions, what you get is a Robinson Crusoe-with-frills experience; somewhere impeccable and off-the-beaten track that quickly blows away the air-conditioned fatigue of a 12-hour flight.
Compared with Thailand and the Caribbean, the island chain remains pretty unscathed. Development is rigorously restricted, in fact there wasn’t even an airport before 1971 and the first resort hotels were created from coconut plantations less than 25 years ago. A tight but not-so-very-democratic government, in power since 1977, has done a good job protecting the environment and controlling development, in fishing and in tourism, the cash cows that keep the island socialism afloat, issues that President James Michel is working to maintain. Second home ownership is more in evidence, but a sensible, islands wide edict forbids building a structure higher than the loftiest palm.
Luxury hotels with lobbies the size of football pitches and neighbouring properties, are thus spread out. Of the 115 islands some of which are uninhabited, some privately owned and others government protected, tourism is centred on the accessible islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue. Covered in lush tropical vegetation and ringed by pristine white sandy beaches, fifteen to sixty minutes by plane or ferry time takes visitors to a ring of unexplored Outer Islands. Mahe, the most heavily populated island, sports a mix of hotels, cottages and villas scattered by long stretches of forest and granite outcrops peeping out from among the trees. 17 miles long and composed of impressive peaks descending into a jumble of cinnamon, palms and banyans along the coast, the island is the transportation hub for island hops and day trips.
Victoria the capital is a funky town of some 17,000 residents and several blocks of colonial era buildings-traders, people promenading and sega (regional music and dance) make up the mix - it’s like Jamaica without the jamming, a settlement with easy manners and all afternoon to get there.
“The Seychelles is fast closing the tourist gap,” says local agent Vivian Rassool, who has seen the number of UK holidaymakers rise from 30,000 to over 75,000 in the last five years, “and it’s doing so without the cut-price overdevelopment that’s prevalent on neighbouring emerging islands.”
Vision 21, the island chain’s tourism master plan is in full swing - the focus, a concentration on five-star luxury and priority given to upmarket real estate development, with all residential projects required to submit Environmental Impact Assessments: “Nearly 50 per cent of territory is declared national park, wildlife reserve or a protected area, so revamping the tourism product is a challenge,” adds Rassool. “The focus is getting plenty of your own space plus the main islands rival each other for environmental policies by rehabilitating natural habitats for endangered indigenous species.”
The other challenge the destination faces is safeguarding against a fall back in visitor numbers due to the perceived high cost of the destination. In the past, the country has been dogged by foreign-exchange shortages and high inflation, exacerbated by increasing competition from less expensive destinations in the region like Madagascar and a lull following the 9/11 terror attacks in the States.
Far from being a handicap however, local agents like James Reid see its relative inaccessibility to Europeans and Americans as a bonus: “You have to put up with the long flights to get there, an inconvenience that suits the more discerning traveller. Many of the islands are uninhabited which adds to the destination’s appeal. Most are only accessible by boat.”
Renewed interest in the island chain is also palpably apparent, from the presence of big name airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways to the smattering of luxury resorts that have appeared on the scene in the last five years average annual visitor numbers up by over 25 per cent since 2006.
“Property choice is expanding and the Seychelles Tourist Board has focused on bolstering the property rentals market,” adds Reid, “from quaint Creole guesthouses to luxury detached mansions. Large hotel brands such as Shangri-la and Four Seasons are also competing for a chance to be part of the real estate action with new developments easing the path to property ownership for foreigners.”
Billed as the flagship in it’s global portfolio, is the sophisticated Four Seasons boutique resort located in Petit Anse Bay on the southwest coast of Mahe. One of the first developments to offer freehold ownership to foreigners on purchase. 28 private residences perched on granite hilltops overlooking the beach have been up for grabs since 2009. Designed by internationally renowned architect Yew Kuan, fully furnished properties sport expansive infinity pools, secluded gardens and stand alone bedroom pavilions. Residents also benefit from all the facilities of the adjoining five-star hotel including a spa, beach club and 24-hour concierge. Four to six-bedroom villas range from 520sqm to 800sqm, with prices from £4.3m. Owners can opt into the hotel rental pool, which will be managed by the Four Seasons.
Boosting the archipelago’s totally tropical appeal to a more mainstream market meanwhile, is the ‘116th’ island of Eden. Lying just off Mahe, around 100 acres of reclaimed land has been created using the same technology as ‘The World’ in Dubai. Linked to the main island via a bridge, the island resort comprises luxury two and three-bed apartments, mansions, and private villas with private moorings.
Homes are built in Creole style, each water facing and some with private beach. Prices start from a competitively priced £230,000, although the largest villas boasting large verandas, picture windows and views over nearby Cerf and Ste Anne islands hit the £2.5m plus mark. Service charges come in at £200 per month for a studio to upwards of £1,000 per month for a villa and there are additional costs for mooring. Ownership confers the right to apply for residency rights, too. This means no capital gains tax is payable on profits when you eventually sell on.
Every owner gets their own EPV (electrically powered buggy) making travelling around the island a slow-mo pleasure. “Eden is the first formal marina setting on the Seychelles,” says resort spokesperson Christopher Nel, “and one of the few island marinas in the world with offshore deep-water facilities that can handle super-yachts up to 100 metres.” Non-boating enthusiasts meanwhile can take advantage of the on-site amenities including a high-tech gym, tennis and squash courts and water sports facilities with a managed rental pool to tap into to take advantage of the 12-month season.
“We like the Seychelles because it’s a year round destination,” says local resident Eleanor Sweeting from Edinburgh, “Temperatures rarely go below 29C and you don’t get a bottleneck at peak holiday times. It’s no nightlife hotspot though. Most visitors head straight for the beaches, but if you’ve got itchy feet there’s plenty to do. The pace of life is what you make it.”
Buying in the Seychelles
- Overseas buyers must obtain permission from the government before buying property. This is best achieved through the services of a notary.
- Property purchase by a non-national is processed by the Land Section at the Ministry of Land Use and Habitat. Upon approval, the foreign buyer registers the property at the Registration Office, which includes payment of registration fees and duties.
- Foreigners can secure residency for a fee of around 50,000 Seychelles Rupees, which means that the property won’t be subject to CGT once sold.
- Buyers can obtain freehold in certain developments such as Eden Island. Otherwise they are required to buy through a holding company, which is set up and registered to purchase and hold the title of the property in the holding company’s name. This enables the buyer to secure the property in good time. After a period of time, the buyer can then apply to ‘purchase’ all the shares of the holding company. Forming such a holding company is an easy process. Done this way, tax applicable is at the same rate as a citizen of the Seychelles
About the Author
Laura Henderson is a national property journalist and Features Editor of The Good Property Guide. A regular contributor to the Financial Times, Sunday Express and Scotsman newspapers, she is also the author of numerous on-line property guides for among other Channel 4 Homes. Her latest book Tricks and Mortar: The Little Book of Property Wisdom is out now.
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