The Seychelles epitomise tropical island paradise and provide a delightful, once in a lifetime experience for holidaymakers.
The Republic of Seychelles is a small nation of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, 1,600km off the east coast of mainland Africa. Nearby islands include Madagascar and the Maldives, also year-round dream holiday destinations.
The picture-perfect Seychelles were first visited by Arab traders, with the first recorded sighting of the islands by Portuguese explorers in 1505 and the first settlements in the 17th century. A favourite haunt for pirates, they fell under French rule in the 18th century and were named after a French finance minister, Jean Moreau de Seychelles.
The French ceded control of the Seychelles to the British in 1814 and the islands became a crown colony separate from Mauritius in 1903, with full independence granted in 1976. The peaceful archipelago of islands is now ruled by a National Assembly.
The Seychellois are of African, Indian and European background, predominantly Catholic, and tend to be friendly and approachable, with English widely spoken. The local economy is heavily reliant on the tourist industry and facilities for travellers are of very high quality.
With a population of around 80,000, the stunningly beautiful islands cover an area of 455 sq km (176 sq miles) and have 491km of coastline. Covered in lush trees and flowers, with glittering, white beaches, impossibly blue, crystal clear waters, just 33 of the islands are inhabited.
The capital city, Victoria, on the island of Mahe, has just 27,000 permanent inhabitants. It is one of the smallest capital cities in the world and Seychelles main port, with some attractive colonial buildings, shops and houses.
The Seychelles government has implemented an extensive conservation programme, allowing the colourful indigenous species to flourish. During a visit to the islands it is worth taking a nature trek into the rainforests and birdwatchers will delight in the array of species unique to the Seychelles, particularly in the Cousin Island Special Reserve.
The world's largest raised coral atoll, on the island of Aldabra, and also Vallae de Mai on Praslin island, believed to be the original site of the Garden of Eden, have both been .designated Unesco World Heritage Sites and the islands have six national marine parks. Aldabra is also home to tiger sharks, manta rays and giant land tortoises.
With more than 1,000 species of fish in the Seychelles, the islands are surrounded by some of the world's best tropical diving and snorkelling waters.
Although there is no indigenous culture in the Seychelles, the island has developed its own versions of African traditions, which are kept alive by the National School of Music and the National Cultural Troupe.
Restaurants on the islands are, on the whole, excellent, with plenty of fresh fruit and seafood. Accommodation tends to be attractive and comfortable, with resorts located near to impossibly beautiful beaches. The best of the beaches include Anse Lazio on Praslin and those on the main island Mahe, such as Beau Vallon, though there are hundreds of secluded coves and smaller sands across the islands.
The Seychelles are driest from May to October, with January the rainiest month. Always hot, temperatures in the islands range between 24C and 31C. More and more airlines and travel companies are now offering direct flights to the Seychelles.