MYS­TI­CAL MADA­GAS­CAR

Food and Travel (UK) - - Arrivals - time­andtideaf­rica.com

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.

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