The leaves are damp. Twigs crunch. You’re following a hidden track deeper into the forest in Isalo National Park. The rich canopy of baobabs and flame trees glistens with the last of the morning dew. Suddenly, a plaintive moan breaks your reverie. It’s sunrise in Madagascar and the ring-tailed lemurs are on the move. October is a busy time of year for these extraordinary creatures. It’s now when the babies are strong enough to take their first tentative steps before returning to the sanctity of their mother’s backs as they go about their daily foraging and sunbathing regime.
Floating in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar was known to ancient sailors as ‘the land in a forgotten sea’. It’s a breathtaking mixture of rainforest, desert and geographical oddities such as the Grand Tsingy landscape, a labyrinth of 100m stone spikes. Small wonder that an astounding 90 per cent of its wildlife is unique. Traditionally it has been a byword for remoteness, famous for the vanilla that scents the tropical air. However, it’s now more accessible than ever. Several new connecting flights to Ivato Airport make it easier for European travellers, and Air France offers direct flights from Paris. Meanwhile new domestic airline Madagasikara has regular services to 11 regions of the island, helpful for bypassing the country’s bad roads.
Until recently, accomodation has been limited to low-key guesthouses and mid-range hotels that perch on the sandy western shores. Now a spate of luxury openings mean the hotels can now match the world-class wildlife. Most ravishing of all is the new Miavana, Madagascar’s first five-star eco lodge, which can be found on a protected island called Nosy Ankao. Every villa has direct access to glorious beaches, where sea turtles glide over beds of colourful coral. The island’s palette is replicated inside, with local stone and palm branches providing texture and hand-dyed fabrics reflecting the glittering blue of the ocean. Doubles from £1,449 a night, all inclusive.