As our dreadlocked snorkeling guide led us around a tiny atoll off the Seychelles' Praslin Island, it didn't take long to realize my skill set for this activity was lacking. Mesmerized by a group of big, striped fish swimming beneath, I suddenly heard him say urgently: "Blurdle! Blurdle!!" I popped my head up and frantically looked around for my daughter, imagining a shark in our midst. Seeing no flailing arms or circling fins, I peered back down and to my relief and delight saw a large sea turtle loll by. As our guide dove down to swim alongside, I felt like we'd traded Jaws for Finding Nemo but that I'd have to get a grip on his snorkel-speak if I was to avoid heart failure.
That, of course, would be unfitting in Praslin, which is about as stress-free and friendly as you can get. The second largest among 115 islands in the Seychelles archipelago, it offered two kinds of attractions: powdery white beaches for my daughter, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries for me. She wanted infinity pools; I wanted to know about turtle protection programs.
It didn't take long to find both. At the Lémuria Resort, large suites and private thatched-roof villas lie hidden by vegetation. The Seychelles' strict conservation ethos means that luxury hotels are required to blend in. "We can't cut down a tree or blow up a rock without permission," says Lémuria general manager Philippe Guitton.
And a good thing that is. The Lémuria's three-tiered infinity pool incorporates the big granite boulders already onsite. And turtle-friendly policies are de rigueur: beach monitors are trained to mark nesting sites (last year the hotel counted 15 nests) and rescue errant hawksbill hatchlings should they head in the wrong direction. "Five-star hotels are quite good for turtles," notes Jeanne Mortimer, an American turtle expert with the Seychelles' Island Conservation Society. Besides monitoring programs that have proved effective, she says, "People tend to stay in their villas instead of running all over the beach."
Further inland, admirers of exotic flora and fauna won't want to miss the Vallée de Mai. A World Heritage Site, the lush, primeval palm forest contains all six of the Seychelles endemic palms, including some 6,700 mammoth coco de mer, whose giant seeds famously suggest the female private anatomy. Kids find these double-lobed coconuts hilarious, but the best way to spot the more subtle plant and animal life is with black-parrot specialist and nature guide Victorin Laboudallon. If you can convince him to find time outside his official conservation duties email@example.com, he'll point out what you'd otherwise miss: millipede palms, vanilla vines, Seychelles skinks, geckos and snails the size of golf balls. There's still so much we didn't see, so I hope we'll return. But before then, I plan to grab my snorkel, run a bath and practice my language skills. www.lemuriaresort.com