Madagascar

Because I’ve always wanted to…

Issue 57 / November 2023

Winter Greetings,

It’s that time of year again when the temperature drops and we can’t help thinking about hotter climes. This autumn and winter are seeing a surprising number of our clients on the road enjoying long-awaited and well-deserved sabbaticals.

Over the years – and with its 20th anniversary is coming up – laterallife has sent a lot of people all over the world on sabbatical trips and is renowned as the premier travel company in the UK specialising in 100% tailor-made sabbaticals. We appreciate that the opportunity to take a sabbatical is very precious time to take (often with families) and you can’t afford to get it wrong. It gives the opportunity to travel further afield in a more coordinated and detailed fashion than a usual holiday allowing the time for wonderful experiences at destinations along the way. This very much plays to our strengths with the laterallife team having detailed knowledge of over 60 countries throughout Africa, North & South America, Asia and Australasia. We have testimonials aplenty which you can see on our website.

If you are planning a sabbatical we would be delighted to meet you to discuss and plan your sabbatical – please feel free to get in touch for some (no obligation) inspiration to get you started.

In the meantime, enjoy the incredible journey Nico embarked on earlier this year to a very unique destination: Madagascar.

Laterally yours, Nick, Helen, Nico, Jess and Maza

Madagascar explored, Laterally

With its melodic name, an ambiance reminiscent of the Indian Ocean, historical ties to France, and an array of peculiar flora and fauna, Madagascar stands out as truly distinctive. Even its iconic baobab trees provide a lesson in biodiversity: while mainland Africa hosts only one species, Madagascar boasts six.

This extraordinary island nation is dotted with precious remnants of tropical forests where the air echoes with the calls of frogs, chameleons, and the swift movements of colourful birds through the trees. However, it is the lemurs that steal the spotlight, adorned with foxy faces, bright eyes, and fluffy fur, making them the coveted creatures for every visitor.

Antananarivo, The Capital

Antananarivo, fondly known as Tana, will be an unavoidable stop at least once for any traveller to the country. This colourful and busy city develops over a majestic mountain range at around 1400 metres above sea level giving it scenic landscapes and a large network of hiking routes. It’s also blessed by a lively vibe, featuring local live music and great food at a variety of bars and restaurants and brightly coloured ancient Renault taxis whizzing everywhere add to the old French charm. Explore palaces, museums, and streets adorned with faded colonial architecture, peruse bustling markets and boutiques, and savour the offerings of a vibrant contemporary dining scene. Madagascar’s gastronomy offers unexpected culinary fusions between European, African and Indian Ocean flavours and a single menu can feature baked camembert, vanilla chicken, zebu steak with Madagascan peppercorn and nasi goreng (Indonesian stir-fried rice with vegetables and meat), transforming dining into a true pleasure. Recommended is a meal with a view from the terrace of the quirky Hotel Restaurant La Varangue, a boutique hotel oozing with maximalist charm: its walls and surfaces are covered in antiques collections ranging from a number of saxophones in the café to numerous antique candle holders at the entrance and passing from jukeboxes, religious items, restaurant signs from the 20s, and more.

Considering the diverse landscapes of hills and vibrant neighbourhoods, along with pockets of heavy traffic and chaos, selecting the right accommodation in Tana becomes crucial. Opting for tranquillity and a serene night, the Antananarivo Waterfront Hotel by the lakefront proves to be an ideal choice. Nestled at the end of a private cul-de-sac and conveniently close to the airport, this haven offers peaceful lake views, providing a well-deserved escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. For the cosmopolitan traveller seeking elegance, the Maison Gallieni stands as the epitome of sophistication. Housed in a majestic colonial villa—its ground floor serving as the consulate of Monaco—this four-suite boutique hotel is a haven for interior design enthusiasts. Showcasing a blend of modern African design, adorned with iconic pieces such as Artemide lights and Charles Eames armchairs, Maison Gallieni is indeed a très chic retreat.

Heading South: Toliara

Affectionately dubbed the ‘City of the Sun’ by locals, this coastal gem is completely off the tourist radar and mainly serves as a launchpad for those gearing up to explore the Great Reef. Nestled on a sprawling coastal plain surrounded by towering dunes and charming mangroves, Toliara’s vibe is laid-back and tropical, featuring colonial-style buildings and dusty lanes buzzing with brightly coloured rickshaws known as ‘pousse-pousse.’

Notable local attractions include the Arboretum d’Antsokay, an impressive botanical garden showcasing over 920 plant species, as well as lemurs, radiated tortoises, and chameleons. The nearby Ifaty beach beckons with its pristine waters, expansive golden sands, and stellar diving and snorkelling opportunities.

Overlooking the ocean is Bakuba, a unique and artistic lodge created and designed by Bruno Decorte – a visionary Belgian decorator with an passion for creativity. The hotel’s architecture blends Gaudi’s iconic curves with diverse ethnic influences and inspiration drawn from many journeys. The lodge presents six distinct accommodations, each meticulously adorned to reflect its unique theme. The use of light stone and curved walls creates an authentic and magical atmosphere. The lodge offers a plethora of excursions and activities: embark on a 4×4 adventure to explore the Tsinjoriake Protected area, birdwatching, or opt for a serene canoe journey down the Onilahy river to Saint Augustin – the village of The Rhum. Trek along the path of the Moringas to discover caves where lemurs often gather for an afternoon drink. For those seeking elevated experiences, trek to the summit of Table Mountain, visit the Tropic of Capricorn – located just 800 metres from the lodge, explore the Antsokay Arboretum, or wander through the Baobab Forest.

Primordial landscapes: Isalo National Park

The picturesque journey from Toliara to Isalo National Park passes through villages shaped by the sapphire rush and crosses a dry deciduous forest, with the first baobabs marking the route along National Road 7. Within the southwestern Ihorombe region, Isalo National Park unveils its varied and primordial landscapes. Shaped by centuries of wind and rain erosion, the park boasts deep gorges, expansive canyons, and surreal sandstone rock formations against the backdrop of palm-lined oases and vast grasslands. A magnet for hikers, the treks range from a few hours to several days, allowing exploration of striking vistas and natural swimming holes. Residents of the park, including lemurs and endemic wildlife species, add to the allure.

Hiking takes the traveller through Isalo’s canyons and oases, immersing in its lunar landscape to reach waterfalls and natural pools. This Jurassic-aged environment showcases unique flora, home to 77 bird species, including the rare Benson rock-thrush, as well as rich cultural practices: the high cliffs along the way serve as burial grounds for the Bara people. Initially, bodies are interred at a lower height on the cliff, and after a few years, the bones are ceremoniously removed, oiled with zebu fat, relocated higher up the cliff face, and covered with rocks. Young boys play a crucial role in this process, climbing the cliffs to move the bones.

After a swim in at the oasis, our hike continues to a hidden lush jungle, deep into one of the gorges. Here one encounters different lemur species, including the renowned ring-tailed lemur. Certainly one of Madagascar’s most renowned creatures, some of the ring-tailed lemurs in this area have become quite accustomed to human presence, allowing for a close-up observation of the troop.

For the keen trekkers, a multi-day camping trip takes deep into the national park. If camping isn’t your preference, there are several hotels situated along the southern border of the park. Many of these hotels offer tailored excursions within the park, including activities such as horseback riding and rock climbing.

Comfortable and stylish, Isalo Rock Lodge features 60 beautifully decorated big rooms, each equipped with luxurious en-suites, a private balcony offering views of the park’s magnificent rock formations, and access to a restaurant and pool bar. Alternatively, Le Relais de la Reine showcases granite architecture along with family-favourite amenities like a swimming pool, a tennis court, rock-climbing area, mountain bikes and horses.

Lemur tracking in Andasibe

Nestled in the Moramanga District of eastern Madagascar, Andasibe is a bustling village surrounded by protected rainforests and parks, providing a haven for unique wildlife encounters. In the Analamazaotra special reserve, an easy 2 to 3-hour hike through the secondary rainforest unveils the world of Madagascar’s largest lemur, the “Indri Indri.” Amidst the lush landscape, we encountered two groups of Indri Indri, along with a diverse array of lemurs, birds, chameleons, and endemic flora and medicinal plants. The hike, though generally easy, takes an adventurous turn as guides may go off the beaten path to follow wildlife, making it less suitable for elderly travellers, very young kids, or those with mobility issues.

The Mitsinjo private reserve, reached after nightfall, adds another layer to Andasibe’s allure. Established by a Malagasy NGO and now guided by Marie, the daughter of its original founder, this reserve offers a unique night walk through the forest. Recommended for its evocative atmosphere, this activity allows glimpses of pygmy and mouse lemurs, frogs, chameleons, and various insects, creating a memorable experience.

Further enhancing the Andasibe experience is the Vakona reserve—an island surrounded by freshwater and explored by canoe, serving as a home to habituated lemurs. Ideal for families with young children, this reserve offers a very close wildlife encounter where lemurs remain unfazed by human proximity.

As the area ticks so many wildlife boxes, there are plenty of accommodation options in and around the rainforests and national parks. Two noteworthy accommodations in the region include the recently opened Manjarano Lodge and Spa, owned by the Vakona reserve and lodge proprietors. Positioned as the top-tier option in the area, it offers modern and minimalistic industrial design, and self-contained cottages situated along the banks of a natural lake. The stay is enhanced by potentially the best food experienced during the trip. The second pick in the region is Mantadia Lodge perched high on the hills, offering breathtaking views of the rainforest. With 29 rooms, including 4 family rooms and 1 suite, the lodge features wonderful modern amenities like a spa and pool with a view.

Pristine Coast at Anjajavy

Idyllically remote on Madagascar’s northwest coast, Anjajavy is a destination accessible only by air, and stands as a haven of biodiversity, featuring pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and tropical greenery, adorned with rosewood and baobab trees. As one approaches the airstrip, dense forests abruptly give way to the sea, revealing white-sand coves separated by limestone headlands. In the waters, a handful of dhows and pirogues gently bob, while clearings reveal the thatched huts of Sakalava fishing villages.

Covering 450 hectares, the Anjajavy Private Nature Reserve predominantly features dry deciduous forest. Forest walks unveil chameleons, frogs, traces of bush-pigs, and the elusive fossa. Diurnal lemurs, including the common brown lemur and Coquerel’s sifaka, are easily spotted, while nocturnal species like sportive and mouse lemurs add to the area’s magic. Boat trips venture into the enigmatic islands of Moramba Bay, home to sacred baobab trees and Sakalava tombs nestled high in caves and on ledges within limestone cliffs. Along the reserve’s length, a series of small, increasingly beautiful coves inspire exploration. Interconnecting paths invite picnics and snorkelling afternoons on remote beaches, and the turquoise waters are ripe with fishing opportunities.

Anajavy Lodge, surrounded by lush mangrove forests, coastal dunes, and dry forests, beckons nature enthusiasts. In proximity to the Ankarana Special Reserve, guests can spot lemurs, chameleons, and diverse bird species during guided excursions. Activities abound, from beachside relaxation and spa indulgence to lemur sightings and savouring fresh seafood – truly embodying its moniker, “the lost world.”

The lodge itself, built with unique rosewood architecture, stands as an elegant reminder of the travels of the past. Main areas open onto a green lawn frequented by resident lemurs, providing daily entertainment. A 5 pm tea time in the garden adds to the charm, offering a view of lemurs at play. Beyond the lawn, the vista extends to the pool and open sea, presenting breathtaking sunsets over the Indian Ocean.

Idyllic beaches of Nosy Be

Meaning “Big Island” in Malagasy, Nosy Be is renowned for its stunning beaches, diverse marine life, and a unique blend of cultures influenced by Arabic and Indian heritage. Traders from Arabia and India established trade routes with Madagascar, bringing with them spices, fabrics, and cultural practices that have left a lasting impact on the island. The Arab and Indian influences are evident in the flavours of local curry dishes and the vibrant colours of the fabrics used in traditional clothing.

In the main town, worryingly named Hell-Ville, the bustling covered market, “Le Grand Marché,” is a melting pot of cultures and mirrors North African markets with its diverse offerings of spices, fruits, basket weavers, and butchers. Adjacent to Hell-Ville is the jetty leading to Lokobe Reserve, covering around 740 hectares and housing the last lowland rainforest on Nosy Be Island. Known for its Black Lemur and other nocturnal species, Lokobe is also home to endemic birds, panther-chameleons, local frogs, and snakes. The stand-out sightings were a massive boa lazing on the branches at eye level, the minuscule Brookesia minima, known as the world’s smallest chameleon, and finally the leaf-tailed geckos, aptly named because their flattened bodies and fringed edges resemble leaves, allowing them to mimic their environment perfectly.

But the main pull of Nosy Be are the ingredients that make it Madagascar’s number-one beach destination: soft white sand, turquoise waters and wonderful seafood. With its sun-drenched climate throughout most of the year, diving takes centre stage, complemented by ample opportunities for swimming, snorkelling, sailing, and fishing. The island’s beaches offer an ideal setting for swimming, featuring a gradual shelf that extends for miles into the sea. The serene and hassle-free ambiance is accentuated by abandoned pirogues on the sand and dhows floating offshore. The calm waters also provide an excellent backdrop for sailing enthusiasts.

Nearby, a brief boat journey of 75 minutes, Nosy Iranja awaits, comprising two paradise-like islands connected by a strip of white sand. This Instagram-worthy haven boasts turquoise waters, white sands, lush coconut palms, and vibrant tropical flowers. The southern part of the island serves as a vital breeding reserve for hawksbill turtles and attracts rare bird species.

Not far away is Nosy Komba, aptly named Lemur Island, where black lemurs call home. These friendly creatures are so accustomed to human interaction that within moments, you might find three of them perched on your shoulders, eager to share the foo

The standout properties in the area are both located away from the hustle of the main island: Constance Tsarabanjina (on Nosy Tsarabanjina), features a beachfront sand floor bar offering a picturesque setting for fresh seafood and cocktails. The resort caters to water sports enthusiasts with a well-equipped centre and organizes sightseeing trips, including diving activities (PADI).  Tsara Komba (on Nosy Komba) is our top beach choice: undoubtedly one of Madagascar’s most sophisticated retreats, Tsara Komba boasts eight elegant, thatched chalets constructed from traditional, natural materials. Nestled in beautifully landscaped hillside gardens, the spacious chalets all feature a generous private veranda with views of the clear turquoise waters surrounding Nosy Komba island. The food and service are exceptional, and the young chef is very well known in the country and a rising star. The lodge’s restaurant serves an array of Malagasy dishes, with many ingredients coming from the lodge’s own organic garden or from the nearby communities, ensuring a farm-to-table experience.

Up Periscope: Miavana Private Island

The one-hour helicopter flight over the coastal and inland regions of North Madagascar, from Nosy-Be to Miavana is nothing short of awe-inspiring, a breathtaking journey through some of the island’s most unique landscapes. The initial segment flies over the iconic Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park; the sharp peaks of the black tsingys, rock formations that resemble towering, jagged needles, create a surreal and otherworldly panorama. Maintaining a low altitude, the flight swerves around massive Baobab trees, some over a thousand years old, soaring above the canopy of the rainforest.

Continuing the expedition, the helicopter explores remote and untouched villages, settlements seemingly frozen in time with traditional thatched-roof huts and dusty paths crisscrossing the landscape devoid of visible roads. Approaching the coastline, the landscape transforms once more, revealing the crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean. The ocean’s hues here are mesmerizing, with numerous sea turtles gliding below the water’s surface.

Finally, the helis touch down on Nosy Ankao, a private island off the northern coast of Madagascar where Time & Tide Miavana Lodge is located. On arrival, guests are picked up by personal butlers driving designated electric carts and transferred to the main areas for a quick introduction to the island and activities available before being driven to ones private villa.

The island spans approximately 5 square kilometres and boasts pristine beaches with powdery white sand, surrounded by crystal-clear waters within an environmentally protected area. Eight lemurs, introduced from the main island, roam freely, creating a unique opportunity for nature walks guided by the knowledgeable activities manager, Johnson.

The resort prioritizes sustainability, with ongoing efforts to increase solar power generation and reduce fossil fuel reliance. Miavana’s common areas feature a beautifully designed bar, restaurant, lounge, and a well-appointed activities centre and gym. Local sourcing defines the culinary experience, led by Chef Anton, offering delicious, creative dishes with locally procured ingredients.

Exceptional service, professional and friendly, defines the Miavana experience. The resort provides each guest with electric golf buggies, bicycles, and even a Polaris ATV for exploration. While the nightly rate may be exclusive, the unique combination of luxurious accommodations, pristine nature, attentive service, and exceptional cuisine makes Miavana a truly unparalleled destination.

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