When people talk about the most mesmerizing capital cities in the world, you’d expect to hear the usual rabble about Paris, London, Prague, Budapest, New York – the usual suspects. Personally, I think Edinburgh stole my heart a couple of years ago, and I think it’s going to keep it for some years to come – the spell it cast on me is going to take some wearing off [Read: The Edinburgh Literary Pub-Tour – Best Birthday Ever]. It is, however, a different kind of pleasure to find such disarming charm in places you least expect it – such was the case when I first set eyes upon Port Victoria, a couple of months ago now.
At just over 20 sq. kms, the capital city and prime port of the island archipelago is amongst the smallest capital cities in the world. I vividly remember my first morning in Seychelles, when my friendly host drove me into town, so I could buy myself a local SIM and deal with the mess I created for myself at immigration [Read: Seychelles Immigration: A Backpacker’s Nightmare]. If I’m not mistaken, it was a national holiday and the entire island appeared to have made the short drive to the capital. There’s little stalls on one of roads (Francis Rachel St., unless I’m mistaken) that lead into the city center. You won’t miss them.
Though Victoria is the economic and cultural capital of the island country, it has maintained a bit of the old colonial charm. For a very small town, it is incredibly well planned and well-kept. There aren’t a great many touristy things to do in the capital city, but there are a handful of sights worth watching. What really takes the cake though is its idyllic setting, rolling hills, shrouded in morning mist or evening clouds on one side, and the clear, turquoise blue ocean on the other. It’s difficult to walk through the wide streets of Port Victoria and not marvel at the synergy between the gifts of nature and the aesthetic aptitude of man’s creation and their ability to co-exist 🙂
5 Things Worth Seeing in Victoria
1. The Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market
I don’t know what is with me and markets, but local markets bowl me over, hands down. I mean, come on! I hail from Mumbai – I think they must have invented the term ‘market’ in Mumbai. Nonetheless, the Selwyn-Clarke Market in Victoria’s no exception to this rule. There’s one thing you should know though – the Seychellois are primarily a fish-eating community. Naturally, their local markets are bound to include fish-stalls; but quite frankly, this is the first time I’ve come across a local market that is so blatantly dominated by fish. And if there’s anything you know about fish, you’ll know this comes at the cost of a strong odor. So if the fish-stench offends you, or makes you want to puke your bowels out, you might perhaps want to give this a skip, but if you can manage to hold it together for the first few minutes, this is a real charming place to spend an hour or so at. The stalls are covered and colorful, and I suspect there’s an extra storey in addition to the ground level, but I never managed to get my way up there. You can buy all sorts of local produce here – particularly a treat if you’re staying at a self-catered place. Don’t forget to check out the spice & condiment and souvenir sections too.
The market is particularly upbeat on Saturday mornings; a whole bunch of maverick sellers also set up shop on nearby lanes, selling handmade souvenirs and boutique items to the throngs of cruise-ship tourists that often pile into town on the weekend.
2. Seychelles National Botanical Garden
Perhaps the proudest possession of the Seychellois capital is the century old Botanical Garden. Another friendly warning, if you want to visit, and you’re traveling by local bus, the bus-stop is a little outside (before) town. So you might want to ask the driver to call out when you get there, otherwise it’s a pretty long walk from the town-center. The manicured garden has a great collection of endemic species of flora and fauna, spanning well over five acres of landscaped tropical gardens. If you’re one of those Herbology freaks like Neville Longbottom, you’ll enjoy walking around in the company of giant tortoises. You may even catch a glimpse of the famous fruit bats, endemic to the Seychelles, in one of the taller trees.
Entry Fee: SCR 100
All pictures from TripAdvisor.com
3. Museums & Art
There’s a couple of pit-stops to be made in town for the artsy/museum-nerds, though nothing fancy or extraordinary. There’s the Seychelles Natural History Museum, which, though small, seems to be pretty interesting. While I was sitting at one of the pubs in town, sipping on a SeyBrew, a local recommended I go check it out, but I was quite amazed that the museum seemed to be shut on most of the days that I found myself in town. I’m not sure if it remains open anymore, or if it was simply because it wasn’t peak season, but I’m told the entry fee is about SCR 30-50 and the curator is a passionate old man, who makes it quite worth your while.
There’s also the National Library & Art Gallery; I find myself out of my depth with most of this artsy stuff, so I naturally didn’t visit, but I’m told it’s a pretty decent use of your time with some decent local art and info on Seychellois history. There’s also the French Cultural Center and an Artisan’s Co-op Souvenir Shop which has some real nice stuff you can buy for friends and family, back home. Most of these are around the main square, so you can just hop in and out, as you wish 🙂
4. The Victoria Clock-Tower and Cocktails
Perhaps the most prominent sight in Seychelles, outside of its exotic beaches is the lovely clock tower at the main square of Victoria. The Victoria clock tower or Lorloz, as it is more commonly known in the local Creole dialect, is a strong reminder of the British influence on an erstwhile colony that was, for most parts, occupied by the French. Modelled upon a clock tower at the intersection of Victoria Street & Vauxhall Bridge Road, in London, the clock tower has become the focal point of the pint-sized town. A lot has changed in the town square over the century, with modern buildings replacing dilapidated structures of yore, but Lorloz still stands, as it did more than a century ago – tall, and elegant.
There’s a couple of great joints in the proximity of the Lorloz – there’s the suspiciously American looking Pirate Arms on Independence Avenue, where you can sit and enjoy a fair number of SeyBrews and one or two fancy burgers. Then there’s Le Rendez-vous Restaurant, which is my personal favourite. The view from its first floor deck is probably the best vantage point in town, overlooking the clock tower, the majestic hills just outside of town, and the main town-square. You can sit for a while, sip on some of the best cocktails you can find in town and people-watch (or write a whiney blog-post, like I did).
5. The Hindu Temple
If you belong to a faith that is mostly unique to your own country and travel to a small obscure country on an entirely different continent, only to find a shrine of your faith in their capital city, I reckon you’d probably be at least a little surprised? Well, I wasn’t! I’m a Hindu by birth (and agnostic by choice), but I was hardly surprised to find a magnificent Hindu temple in Victoria. Seychelles has a sizeable expat community from India – particularly Tamilians, from South India. In fact, you’ll be amazed to find out that almost every supermarket on the island country seems to be run by an Indian family.
The shrine is dedicated to the widely beloved deity Lord Ganesha, but also houses icons most commonly found in South India. The architecture of the shrine is also starkly based on the mega-temples of South India. The Arulmigu Navasakti Vinayagar Temple is a major landmark in Victoria, and a strong symbol of the country’s cosmopolitan populace.
Victoria, primarily is a tiny town and you can peek around most of its corners within one day on foot. I spent a lot of time in the capital city – most times waiting for my ‘friend’ who was supposed to be helping me out with my immigration. The two places I loved spending time at was one of the many benches outside the city-playground, and the town’s busy bus-terminal. If you ask me, this is arguably the prettiest bus-terminal I’ve ever seen, and Victoria, one of the most picturesque capital cities in the world. What do you think?