Silhouette Island | So Seychelles

Silhouette Island

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Twenty kilometers to the northwest of Mahé, the Seychelles' best known island, lies Silhouette Island, the third largest of the archipelago's granitic island.

Silhouette Island is home to the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa, a five-star resort, as well as incense trees, 125 year old giant tortoises and an abundance of other rare plants and animals. The island has been a marine national park since 1987. Over 92 percent of the island has been designated a protected area.

The island's white sand beaches rim a mountainous interior. Silhouette's highest peak is Mount Dauban, which soars 740 meters above a virgin rain forest filled with rare hardwoods, exotic orchids and carnivorous pitcher plants. The mountain was named for the Dauban family, which owned Silhouette until the 1960s. In 1982, however, the island reverted to the control of the Seychelles government.

Silhouette's only settlement is the village of La Passe, on the island's western coast. The island has well maintained trails, allowing visitors to explore beaches and some of the rainforest.

The exclusive resort North Island lies just to the north of Silhouette. North Island is a popular getaway for celebrities, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who chose this destination for their honeymoon.

The History of Silhouette Island

Although remains of 12th century Maldivian mariners have been found on Silhouette, the Seychelles were largely uninhabited before Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama first sighted them in 1502. Fourteenth century graves that once lay in the Anse Lascars region were initially identified Arab tombs. If this is true, they were likely the remains of mariners. It seems more likely, however, that the graves postdated the French occupation. In any event, it is impossible to verify their authenticity since the ocean has long since washed these graves away.

For 250 years, the Seychelles remained largely unoccupied, except for the occasional pirate crew that used the islands as a base from which to raid merchant ships. A persistent story concerns the French corsair Jean François Hodoul who some maintain buried a great treasure on Silhouette Island. Corsairs, however, were not pirates. They raided ships at the behest of the French government. Jean François Hodoul only lived for a few months on Silhouette Island before moving to Ma Constanze.

In the mid-18th century, France claimed the Seychelles as a possession. Silhouette Island was named for Louis XV's Minister of Finance, Etienne de Silhouette. The French established spice plantations on Silhouette, growing nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and pepper plants. However, the French Revolution distracted the French from their colonial ambitions and by the 19th century, Silhouette and the rest of the Seychelles came under British rule.

The largest landowners on Silhouette were the Dauban family. At the beginning of the 19th century, they owned a plantation near Anse Lascar. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, the family gradually acquired all the arable land on Silhouette. They are said to have acquired the village of La Passe for the price of a violin.

The spice plantations were never very successful, so the Dauban family turned to coconut farming. Today, coconut trees can be found on every part of the island, even the hills. The family's patriarch, Auguste Dauban, also implemented his own form of social welfare by planting breadfruit trees outside every villager's hut so that the villagers would always have something to eat.

In 1960, the last surviving member of the Dauban family, Henri, sold his land to a French resort consortium. This company subsequently began building a small hotel, which became the precursor to the Hilton Labriz Resort & Spa. In 1982, however, the Seychelles government took control of Silhouette.

Silhouette Attractions

Most of the attractions on Silhouette Island are natural. Silhouette is home to one of only two Seychelles rainforests, administered by the Island Conservation Society. Silhouette is home to many endemic plant and animal species that are protected under the country's laws. Other imported plant species grow in this tropical paradise too, such as coffee trees, vanillas, limes, bitter oranges, papaya trees, mango trees and small bananas.

Grande Case

The Grande Case is the La Passe dwelling that once belonged to the Dauban family. Today the restored plantation mansion houses the village's outstanding Creole restaurant. For many years, however, the Grande Case lay abandoned, and tourists visited it at their own peril. The building was said to be haunted. It was certainly in great disrepair. The building is made of a native wood called takamaka, and all the nails used in its construction are made of copper.

On the Grande Case grounds lies a mausoleum, the final resting place of several Dauban family members. Auguste Daubin himself is buried here. In life, Auguste Daubin was so prosperous, he was referred to as the Rothschild of the West Indies. In death, he sleeps in a large stone tomb, attended by six tame Aladabra tortoises and overshadowed by palm trees.

Diving and Water Sports

Silhouette Island has a barrier reef with some of the healthiest coral in the Seychelles. There is a dive shop in La Passe that rents equipment. The island's sheer granite cliffs make for some spectacular diving even down to depths of 35 meters. Night diving is safe here as the water is warm and very clear.

Prime Silhouette dive spots include:

• Lascars: Lascars is an excellent intermediate dive spot with good visibility and very little current. Blue-spotted rays, white-tip sharks, hawksbill turtles, grey snappers and batfish abound.

• Grand Barbe: Another excellent dive site where the granite outcroppings are overgrown with colorful corals. Divers typically see barracudas, spotted eagle rays, moray eels, lionfish and parrotfish.

• Etienne Rocks

• Roche Mondon

• Point Dauban

• Roche Larai

• Fusilier Bank

• Ramasse Tout

Getting to Silhouette Island

The ferries between Mahé and Silhouette Island are operated by the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa. Ferries make three round trips every day.