A group of 115 granite and coral islands in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles are a luxury vacation paradise of shimmering ivory sandy beaches and magnificent sapphire sea-water lagoons. The islands have extraordinary natural beauty, much of it untouched by modern development. The main island, Mah?, is home to the international airport and the capital city, Victoria. The Inner Islands are the hub of commercial life and the tourism facilities. The Outer Islands are low-lying coral atolls and reef islands, remote and undeveloped.
The islands were colonised by the French in 1770 and later handed over to British rule. The Seychelles became an independent republic within the Commonwealth in 1976. The population is multi-ethnic, reflecting the influx of seafarers, explorers and traders who settled in the islands down the centuries.
French and British colonial heritage is evident in the design of houses, and local Creole music and dance have their roots in African and European cultures. For a small country, the Seychelles has a big tradition of art; painting and sculpture are major activities along with craft work using natural materials like sea shells, coconut husks and bamboo.
The Seychelles has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Aldabra, the world's largest raised coral atoll, and Vallée de Mai on Praslin Island, once revered as the original Garden of Eden.