This isolated island paradise offers fine beaches, turquoise seas and warm weather. As a result of their extraordinary history, the Seychelles are also rich in rare plants which flourish nowhere else on the planet. No less than 81 species are unique survivors from the luxuriant tropical forests that covered the islands until humanity's belated arrival two centuries ago. Outstanding amongst these is the coco-de-mer (sea coconut), native to Praslin, which grows in the Vallée de Mai. Its seed is the largest in nature.
The Seychelles are also a major attraction for birdwatchers. Up to two million sooty terns nest on Bird Island, and on Aride can be found the world's largest colonies of lesser noddies, roseate terns and other tropical birds.
After French colonial rule, under which the islands were named after the royal accountant Vicomte Moreau de Séchelles, the islands were annexed by Britain. For 150 years, isolated from the rest of the world and all but ignored by the major European powers, the Seychelles developed their own traditions, language and culture. The islands became a Crown Colony in 1903. Internal self-government was granted in 1975 and independence a year later.
To see many species of coral and fish, board a glass-bottomed boat from Victoria to nearby St Anne Marine National Park, which encloses the islands of St Anne, Beacon (classified as a nature reserve), Cerf (renowned for Creole food), Long (closed to the public), Round (reputed for its tuna steaks) and Moyenne (privately owned, but open to visiting tourists).
Tour Mahé island taking in the market, the Botanical Gardens (with coco-de-mer, giant tortoises and orchids), and a replica of London's Vauxhall Bridge Tower Clock in Victoria, before setting off around the island to visit colonial-style mansions in graceful decline and plantations of cinnamon and vanilla.
Discover fine displays depicting the history of spice cultivation in the National Museum in Victoria, which celebrates Seychellois history, folklore and music.
On Praslin, the second-largest island, head for the famous Vallée de Mai, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, which contains the double-nutted coco-de-mer palm.
On Aldabra, the world's largest atoll, and listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, see the giant land tortoises (150,000 tortoises in total, reputedly five times more than on the Galapagos Islands). The atoll consists of 13 islands which make up about one-third of the Seychelles' land mass. Some tortoises have been exported to Curieuse, now a reserve for giant tortoises.
In La Digue, just over three hours by schooner from Mahé or 30 minutes from Praslin, see the black paradise flycatcher, a beautiful little bird endemic to the Seychelles. See old plantation houses, such as Château Saint-Cloud, as well as a vanilla plantation, copra factories and superb beaches.
In Frégate, the most easterly and isolated of the granitic islands, look for the almost extinct magpie robin.
Photograph more rare species at the nature reserve of Cousin. The brush warbler, the Seychelles toc-toc and the fairy tern all nest here. The best time to visit is April or May, when 1.25 million birds nest on the island. All visits to the island must be made as part of an organised tour.
On Bird island, see the millions of sooty terns that migrate here to breed between May and October. In Aride, the most northerly of the granitic islands, see vast colonies of seabirds from October to the end of April.
Discover the rock-pools and tortoise colony of Thérèse, accessible from Port Glaud by a five-minute boat trip.
Relax on Mahé's numerous powdery white sandy beaches (there are almost 70 beaches on Mahé alone) while enjoying its lush vegetation, rising through plantations of coconut palms and cinnamon to forested peaks that afford unparalleled views of neighbouring islands.
Go waterskiing, windsurfing and sailing in Desroches, the largest of the Amirantes archipelago. The diving is particularly good: there are sea cliffs, tunnels and caves - and, of course, multitudes of fish of many different species. Visibility is best from September to May.
Take to the water in the St Anne National Marine Park, a favourite for snorkelling, which encompasses six islands off the coast of Mahé.
Go deep-sea fishing in Denis. Marlin may be caught from October to December. The minimum stay is three days. The location of Bird island, at the edge of the Seychelles continental shelf (the sea floor drops rapidly to 2,000m/5,000ft), also makes it a favoured destination for fishermen. The best spots for salt-water fly fishing are Alphonse and Desroches islands.
The clear water of the Seychelles makes conditions perfect for underwater photography. The coastal waters are a haven for 101 species of coral and over 920 species of fish. The annual SUBIOS underwater festival is held in the Seychelles over a three-week period in November and attracts underwater experts from all over the world.
Hire a power boat, cabin cruiser or yacht to explore the islands at your own pace.
No visa is required for all nationalities, though all foreigners must have passport valid for at least 6 months, and must have proof of accommodation bookings before arrival. An initial entry permit is granted for 1 month but can be extended for a maximum of 3 months at a time up to a maximum of 1 year in total. See the official travel web-site for more details.
The only international gateway to the Seychelles is Seychelles International Airport (SEZ) near Victoria. Air Seychelles flies to London, Paris, Johannesburg, Rome, Milan, Frankfurt, Mauritius and Singapore via Boeing 767 aircraft. International service is also available from Nairobi (Kenya Airways), Dubai (Emirates) and Doha (Qatar Airways), and regular charter services from Frankfurt (Condor) and Amsterdam (Martinair).
The strict controls imposed on cruising yachts in the early 1990s have been gradually lifted and rules and regulations are no longer so complicated. However, some restrictions remain in force, mostly for the sake of environmental protection.