With guests regularly asking about the history of the Residence maybe this is the place to provide some of the background information:
Like most regular travellers to the Seychelles I fell in love with the Islands on my first visit. That was in 1977 while I worked in the hotel industry in Kenya and British Airways, then still BOAC, operated by a VC 10 which traveled from Hong Kong to London via Seychelles and Nairobi, a strange routing indeed by today’s airline routing criteria.
However it was the most convenient way at the time to get from Nairobi to East Asia. Having fitted in a short stop over on Mahe on one of these trips, I was soon back for a real holiday. Driving around the island immediately resulted in the desire to own a piece of this paradise.
I then met up with some British expatriates who stayed behind in the construction industry after the building of the Mahe Airport. They had started to actively market properties to foreign visitors. They convinced me that the time was right to build a retreat on Mahe.
After some research I bought a plot at Les Cannelles, overlooking Anse a la Mouche. It had belonged to a former captain of BOAC who had retired on the island.
Foreigners could purchase in their private capacity but not in the name of companies, and the authorities demanded letters from the police authorities of the country of residence as well as country of birth and bank certificates to help establish the credentials.
The policy of not erecting any building protruding out over the horizon was also strictly enforced at the time and we had to dig away part of a hill side to lower the house to meet the above criteria. However we still had a fantastic view over the bay below and out the back we also got some glimpses of Anse Royale.
For the next few years I was a regular visitor bringing along my diving equipment and making a range of friends. Once my father retired my parents became regular winter migrants spending a few months in the sun. A decade later they started to worry about the medical back up they were requiring.
At this point maintaining a mostly empty villa started to become a financial issue.
On a sabbatical from my hotelier’s job I ended up in the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya doing some research on cheetahs. This was in 1980.
One day I came across a stranded mini bus, I stopped and offered the tourists a lift. It turned out to be Jackie Stewart the race car driver and his wife. In the next two days I took them on several game viewing excursions. We hit it off and stayed in touch and got together several times in New York and Switzerland where Jackie now lives.
One day his secretary called me – after I was back in the hotel business but still had my little camp in the Mara – to ask if I could arrange a safari for a friend of his, the business Manager of George Harrison, the Beatle. This was of course a piece of cake and Denis and his family had a good time on safari. I talked about the Seychelles and he told me that George Harrison together with Peter Sellers, Chief Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series, had acquired a big chunk of Intendance Bay in the south of Mahe. It was a small coincident that my wife and I would regularly play in the waves of what we consider to be one of the rougher but most beautiful beaches on the islands.
Then came a time in the history of Seychelles where land ownership and redistribution became an issue. Many underutilised properties were seized to be used for national development. I heard through the grapevine that some of these events also affected the Harrison/Sellers Intendance plot.
A few years later there was a change in direction and some court rulings and former owners were given options to renegotiate the status of plots which were still vacant. I was in Kenya soon after attending a seminar, and met a British investment broker who I told the story of the Seychelles and the status of affairs with properties like Intendance Bay. He went to visit and came back enchanted and interested. I contacted Denis, the former business manager of George Harrison, who told me, “I hope we can still find the files, all that land was written down to U$ 1 in our books”. They did find it and a sales deal was concluded and that is how the Banyan Tree came about. The first real five star property on Mahe.
The authorities by that time had accepted that in addition to the security on land ownership, foreign investors would also need additional incentives for the islands to be able to compete for investment capital with other resort destinations such as the Phuket and Mauritius.
As part of the package, in helping to set up the initial phase of the above investment and development I received a residential plot which was to be part of a larger residential development, to be located in the third row above the hotels beach villas and the next row of hill villas.
Time had come to sell the Villa at Les Cannelles and get back into the design and construction phase for an updated version.
However creating and managing the original set up had been a great learning experience and I was now fully aware of what would be involved in pulling off a much more ambitious project in a much more remote setting.
However the key to a residential development clearly was the availability of a full management/maintenance package where the owner did not have to run to the nearest hardware store in their far off hometown to buy a vital piece of equipment and then courier it to the Seychelles to maintain such basic services as water or power supplies. Clearly the association with a five star hotel operation was going to have back up of the relevant professional maintenance, security and housekeeping staff as well as the necessary stocks of spare parts for emergency repairs.
It would appear that in future many of the 5 star resorts/hotels being built in tropical settings will have a residential component to help with the return on investment, through the sale of plots and then having a captive, paying audience for the residential as well as hotel services. Owning such a branded residence with an en- suite five star hotel taking care of ‘the headaches’ looks definitely like to be one of the packages of the future when it comes to up market residential developments in places like the Seychelles.
It took the Banyan Tree owners several years to finalise their zoning plan and decide where exactly they wanted the residential component and where further expansion of the hotel would take place. The next step was to get title to the plot I eventually chose. As the first owner of a residential plot it was a great bonus to end up being able to draw the boundaries around the piece of land which had all the physical attributes I was looking for.
New concessions under the Investment Promotion Act meant that the police and bank certificates of yesteryear were no longer an issue and I could register the plot in the name of a local company. The import of plant, equipment and other building materials for the building in question would also be duty free.
However getting the title through the registration process and paying the stamp duty took another 12 months, involving dozens of phone calls, e-mails and several visits.
In the meantime an architect in Kenya, who had previously worked in the Seychelles, drew up the plans based on my very specific instructions and based on some weekend visits to the Seychelles and the site.
Most of the contractors in Seychelles are ethnically from the Indian subcontinent and they seem to work closely together and to some extent split the market into projects which fit their different level of expertise and capacity. Trying to get one of the two most prominent ones, for a single residence, I was told, would require a minimum contract sum of at least $ one million or they would make it clear, via their bid figures, that they were not interested.
The big surprise came with the plant and equipment in form of the mechanical contract which was separate from the building one.
Thanks to the internet I could now easily compare some of the quoted prices for some very specific pieces of equipment. The cost quoted for the air conditioning plant was six times that of buying the very same equipment directly from a factory in Thailand. The price quoted for the kitchen hood would have bought a new four wheel drive car!!!!!
The alternative clearly was to source the items in question via the internet and go and buy overseas and import directly.
It was probably the best decision I made in the context of building this residence. I clearly wanted it to reflect what I hoped to be my ‘Seychelles Life Style Expectations’ and not those of the architect and even less those of a local contractor.
As a result of this decision my wife and I had a lot of fun traveling and searching local markets in several parts of Africa for interesting tribal art, looking for antique colonial furniture in Northern India and scouting the handy craft markets of Chiang Mai and Myanmar for additional décor.
The four bedrooms (one additional guest cottage came on stream in 2013 below the plunge pool ) were designed around some majestic granite rock formations, however falling back on the Creole style with wide overhanging verandahs and rows of French doors allowing an open air living without the constant need for the AC plant to be running. Creole style is considered a blend of many cultures: French, Chinese, African Indian and English. We certainly tried to get some of what we considered to be the best of the above art and workmanship into the furnishings and decor.
Being able to buy by the container load, and still in the end saving tons of money, was one of the most enjoyable aspects of this project.
In addition we could ensure that we went for recycled old Burma teak timber, for all the doors and the floors and most of the other wood needed (the 16 French doors were all antique and of different size and as such building had to be designed around them). We also found a wide range of antique wrought and cast iron pieces which we bought and managed to incorporate.
I then decided to expand on the ‘green building concept’ by adding a 50,000 liter rain water collection tank under the guest house incorporating solar panels for hot water heating and other energy saving electrical devices.
However, beside the fun items I also had to learn about the more mundane pieces going into a building, like insulating materials, electrical wiring, a solar hot water system, equipment associated with a large swimming pool, rust proof screws, etc. Finding the right pieces and having them shipped in the right format turned into a real challenge.
A project manager to keep an eye on the contractor and interpret the clients ideas and taste clearly was an absolute must. I found a local architect with a German background who met all the criteria I was looking for. (By that time I had bought a wide range of books illustrating life style properties around the world and copied the relevant pages, sticking them into an album, so there could be no question as to the overall look I was going for).
With the project manager we then arranged for our own nearby large store which I shared with the contractor who also used it as the accommodation for the imported Indian laborers.
As it stands the residence is now complete, some 6-8 months behind the proposed one year construction schedule. However I feel that the end product is very close to what I set out to do.
It now remains to enjoy the “Residence on the Rocks’ and find out what unexpected drawbacks might be in store.
Karl Ammann, Mahe, Sept. 2010
P.S. Since the Residence was completed there have been quite a few changes to the original concept outlined above. Since it is still the only such villa within the Ocean Estate of the Banyan Tree, servicing it became an issue for the resort and in the end I had to resort to bring in caretakers, a couple from Sri Lanka, which now live in an apartment built next to the water tank below the original guest cottage and as such are available on a 24/7 basis to take care of guest needs.