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Madagascar Press Reviews
This selection of articles about trips we’ve arranged provides independent views on the places, accommodation and arrangements that we provide in Africa and Madagascar. Any prices mentioned in articles were current at the date of publication.
Paradise in Peril
The Telegraph Magazine
Author: Richard Grant | Date posted: February 11, 2012
Richard Grant lands in Madagascar, a place he has always wanted to visit yet has “always sounded so far away and unreachable, like somewhere in a dream.” Here Eighty per cent of Madagascar's wildlife and plants are found nowhere else and the country is one of the poorest in the world.”
Grant is greeted by Diary Andrianampoina in Antananarivo and soon they “pass through Ambohimigangritra, not to he confused with Ambatofinandrahana.” Diary teaches Grant about many of the Malagasy customs that seem so strange to many people. He points out the zebu, “humped cattled with long dewlaps and lyre-shaped horns grazing buy the roadside and pulling wooden carts.” Here they are used for “milk, meat and world but they are also like a bank account, everyone can see…to get married, you must pay many zebus to your brides family.” Another strange custom is “turning the bones” when every seven years, the dead are taken from their tombs and wrapped in “a fresh silk shroud.” Another tradition that Diary describes as “striking” is when “grandfathers eat the foreskins of two-year-old boys with bananas…to help them become good men.”
23 hours after leaving Heathrow, Grant encounters “a towering wall of rainforest by the side of the road as the air fills with bird calls, insect noise, a burping chorus of frogs.” On the edge of the Andasibe Grant gets his first nights sleep “in the strange, wonderful land of singing lemurs and fore-skin eaters.”
The following morning, after a hearty breakfast of “big bowls of rice cooked with milk, ginger and greens and topped with grilled zebu meat” Diary takes Grant into the forest where “the largest predator is the fossa, a peculiar cat-like mammal that looks like a cross between a puma, a dog and a mongoose.” Grant describes stranger creatures like the aye-aye and describes spotting several Parson’s chameleons, an indri family and a diademed sifaka.
However, a rapidly growing population and a growth of illegal logging means that only “three per cent of the islands forests are left. The most valuable tree is rosewood… and the market for it is in China where factories are turning it into reproduction antique furniture for the new bourgeoisie. The Malagasy people’s culture of slash and burn farming and the deforestation have led astronauts to “have reported that Madagascar appears to be bleeding to death” from the high levels of erosion. As the “Duke of Edinburgh put it with characteristic brusqueness when he was here, ‘The island is committing suicide’”. On leaving Antananarive for the North of Madagascar, Diary begs Grant “you must tell people in your country to come to Madagascar. We need more tourists to spend money in our parks and make jobs. It’s the best hope. Please, Mr Richard, you must tell everyone.”
On arriving in Diego Suarez on the northern coast, Grant is struck by the African feel that this area of the island has. He is met by his new guide Laurent Jaovita who has limited English but “has no problem expressing himself.” While villages that they pass are “incredibly poor…they don’t feel poor because they have plenty of zebus, no shortage of food and home-brewed beer, and very little knowledge of the outside world.” While driving down one of Madagascar’s roads, Laurent excitedly points out “a fantastically overladen 30-year-old Renault 4” with 15 people inside. On the roof were big sacks full of khat, a narcotic leaf “chewed on for its stimulating, euphoric effects in Somalia, Djibouti and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa.” According to Laurent, “khat is sold all over the island…so what happens to the oney? If you get money, you buy drinks for everyone until its gone.” Grant describes how everywhere they go, “the children wave, the women smile and flirt and the men welcome us with politeness and grace… they display an obvious pleasure in being alive.”
Each village that Grant visits has a different handicraft, whether it is rum, brooms or sapphires. They pass through a village called Isessi, meaning ‘Place of the SS’. Here “a Waffen SS officer called Schultz arrived after the Second World War, opened a store, married a local woman and stayed here until his death in 1992, presumably because he was a war criminal.”
Grant notes how, like Diary, Laurent “feels a deep saddness at the disappearing natural wonders in Madagascar…but ultimately he hopes for better protection from a new and better government.”
Grant concludes that “there was an almost relentless quality to the daily parage of wonders, curiosities and astonishments. We saw crabs scuttling sideways in a forest many miles from the ocean, a bird of seven colours, a Muslim swineherd leading his pigs to market, a bottle of rum left next to a human skeleton in a cave.” Finally Grant states that’s Madagascar, “so easy to fall in love with, and so quick to break your heart.”
Richard Grant travelled with Rainbow Tours and Kenya Airways. A similar 12-night Nature and Nurture Madagascar trip costs from £3,295 per person based on two people sharing (020-7666 1252;rainbowtours.co.uk)
Selling Long Haul
Author: Jo Austin | Date posted: February 1, 2012
Austin describes Madagascar as “the Galapagos of Africa” with its “unique wildlife, fauna and flora including over 40 species of lemur.” It has one of the most mixed topography in the world and its culture is a mix of African and Indonesian. Austin argues that it is “a total paradise for anyone with the merest interest in nature, wildlife and geography.” However, it is also one of the poorest countries in the world with “90% of the population live on less that two dollars per day.”
Austin writes about how although the country has some flaws, it has a poor infrastructure and the “pace of life is generally slow… it all adds to the sense of adventure and requires an expert tour operator to make it all come together.”
The Island has a distinct French feel to it and the capital, Antananarivo
“is a bustling, cosmopolitan city full of cars and zebu (ox)-drawn carts”. Austin concludes that she challenges “anyone not to have an amazing time.”
Falling for Madagascar
Author: Hilary Bradt | Date posted: October 1, 2011
My first visit to Madagascar should have put me off forever; instead it instilled a life-long love affair. In 1976 I was lost in the dense rainforest of Marojejy for three days and ate roasted insects, but I still left besotted with the wildlife, enthralled by the landscape and enchanted by the people.
Since then I have visited regularly as a tour leader and lecturer and never tire of its infinite variety. Every visit I find something marvellous – a new beach, perhaps, or a recently opened national park – or something even more exciting: a species I’ve not seen before. I can still recall the utter thrill of seeing a twig-mimic snake in Anjajavy reserve, and a tiny stump-tailed chameleon, Brookesia minima, hidden in the leaf litter of Montagne d’Ambre.
The dramatic improvement in tourist infrastructure in the last few years has led to it becoming increasingly easy to see rare wildlife. For instance, on my first visit I only saw one species of lemur, now I’ll see 20 or so in any two weeks. And now that English is more widely spoken, communication with the Malagasy is easier. A while back a visitor emailed me: ‘The beauty of the land I had expected, but the gentle open-heartedness and hospitality of the people took me by storm.’
You would think that after 30 or so visits I would know every corner of the island, but not so. Madagascar is huge and it takes time to get around. That is one of its strengths. The wise visitor does not try to do too much in a limited time, but rather travel at Madagascar’s own pace, slowly, gently, and with all senses open to the newness and otherness of this extraordinary place.
Author: Meera Selva | Date posted: July 13, 2007
Meera Selva follows in Joanna Lumley’s footsteps staying on the private island resort of Tsarabanijina in Madagascar. Joanna Lumley was there “playing at being a castaway on the BBC’s Girl Friday programme, filmed over 12 years ago as building work for the hotel began on another side of the island.” However instead of the camera crews and builders, “an exclusive, beautifully-managed hotel spread across the island, sits in the Mitsio archipelago and can only be reached by a 90-minute powerboat transfer from Nosy Be, a bigger island in northern Madagascar.”
With 21 wooden bungalows spread across two beaches, and the bar and restaurant on a separate beach, guests enjoy peaceful seclusion. “The whole place is designed to make you flop down, order a cool drink and close your eyes. Leave them open, and you would see the shimmering Indian Ocean with its warm, calm waters, fine white sandy beaches and fellow guests in designer bikinis.” With amazing food sourced locally, delicious South African wines available it is the desserts that are the most “fragrant and delicious… as Madagascar is the world’s biggest producer of top quality vanilla.” The resorts PADI dive centre and day trips to coral reefs allow the more adventurous guests to leave the comfort and relaxation of the island.
Meera Selva then flies to Anjajavy to “see at least one tree-full of lemurs” and stays at the Relais & Chateaux resort. She joins “a walk through the forest…crammed with lemurs and sifakas – monkey-like creatures that look as if they are wearing cream silk pyjamas”. With “only a few yards away from the hotel…the unique heart-soaring beauty of the country is evident.”
Meera Selva then takes “a motorboat to explore the tiny islands around Moromba bay… and after swimming in the deserted coves, stops at a tiny islet dominated by a giant baobab tree where villagers have placed sea shells and cow horns at its base.” She concludes that Madagascar is a “truly unique country.”
A 10-day trip to Madagascar costs from £2295 per person sharing. The price includes Air Madagascar flights from Paris CDG and prepaid departure taxes; domestic flights; four nights at Anjajavy Hotel; 5 nights at Constance Lodge Tsarabanjina, both on full board; and transfers.
Meera Selva travelled with Rainbow Tours, 305 Upper Street, London N1 2TU, 020 7226 1004, www.rainbowtours.co.uk
Bewitched by Madagascar’s eco luxury
The Independent on Sunday
Author: Meera Selva | Date posted: June 30, 2007
Meera Selva explores the dense forest on Hotel Anjajy Forest on Hotel Anjajy’s doorstep and picks her “way through the seashells and zebu horns laid carefully at the base of a baobab tree.” She explains the tradition of placing these objects here “by villagers anxious to invoke ancestral protection against the cyclones that whip through Madagascar… The tree is such a solid presence that it is not surprising that the inhabitants of this fragile island hope that it can turn away a storm.”
Selva explains how “Madagascar does not have the infrastructure or capacity to cater for mass tourism. Instead it offers luxurious getaways in remote, beautiful settings” despite 70% of the population living below the poverty line.
Hotel Anjajavy is one of these luxurious getaways. Owned by a French businessman, it “s a major donor to the local charity Amis d'Anjajavy, which provides loans tonearby villages to allow people to buy fishing nets, beehives or fertilisers.” It also protects the 450-hectare nature reserve.
Likewise, tsarabanjina “provides the ideal location in which to forget about the world.” Owned by a South African, Richard Walker, the 60 local builders he hired to build “the 18 bungalows and open-air restaurant and bar…work in the resort” now that the building work has been completed.
Selva achnowledges how both these hotels have “helped the local economy… But it would be better if the Malagasy people themselves could design and run more hotels to showcase their eco-system and give them the economic protection from the cyclones they need.”
How to get there
Meera Selva travelled with Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004;rainbowtours.co.uk). An eight-day trip costs from £1,990 per person, based on two sharing, including return flightsto Antananarivo, domestic flights, all transfers, three nights' full-board at Constance Lodge Tsarabanjina and Anjajavy,activities and one night at Palissandre Hotel in Antananarivo.
Beyond our Wildest Dreams
The Daily Telegraph
Author: Sarah Jacobs | Date posted: May 25, 2007
Sarah Jacob’s describes the dense Madagascan rainforest as being like another world. Her guide, Jean-Jacques describes it as “just like Lord of the Rings” and Sarah revels at being “the only humans in the 450 hectares of protected forest that make up” her hotels back garden. Her hotel is “the French-run Hotel Anjajavy” and she describes it as “romantic island retreat-cum-nature-reserve favoured by the Malagasy president himself.” It is not long before she catches her first glimpse of some of the colourful wildlife in Madagascar. On the journey to her bungalow she is joined by a chameleon and “brown lemurs scamper around as you take tea on the lawn.”
Sarah Jacob’s next stop on her tour of Madagascar is Anjajavy’s sister hotel, “a sister private island to be exact – where the extravagance continues.” Built for relaxation “time crawls so lazily here that even the three-minute potter across the sand to lunch of freshly caught fish seems a major excursion.”
Back on Nosy Be, “Madagascar's most developed tourist destination,” Sarah enjoys the “ heavy fragrance of ylang-ylang blossom” and recommends purchasing “essential oil and greasy vanilla sticks - Madagascar is the world's largest producer of vanilla.”
From here Sarah Jacob hires a guide and a driver. In a country where “there are few motorised vehicles and most of the travelling happens on the verges: cattle carts, barefoot men and women lugging bundles to market and mud-smeared children smiling at visitors in the hope of bonbons… interaction is easy, as the welcoming shouts of "bonjour vahaza" (white person) from schoolchildren as they run alongside the car demonstrates.”
On her drive South to Isalo National Park, Sarah chooses the “two-day “Canyon des Singes” stomping up the steep sides of the sandstone rocks, lined with fire-resistant Tabia trees and squat bulbous pachypodiums.” Her favourite sleepover was her “mid-trek camping night” where the facilities were extremely basic but the “warming traditional meal of thick soup, beef stew and flambéed bananas” and the… early morning dip in the freezing waters of a natural rock pool,” were magical experiences.
All too soon, Sarah continues her journey to Ifaty and Hotel Paradisier, “a quietly developing fishing village on the palm-fringed west coast.“ She visits the “new schoolroom, paid for by the hotel” and enjoys the friendly hospitality of the village.
For travel and visa information: Embassy of Madagascar, 8-10 Hallam Street, London W1W 6JE (020 3008 4550 ).
Read Best guidebook: Madagascar (The Bradt Travel Guide) by Hilary Bradt (£14.95). Background reading: Madagascar Wildlife: A Visitor's Guide by Nick Garbutt, Hilary Bradt and Derek Schuurman (£14.95); The Aye-Aye and I: A Rescue Mission in Madagascar, by Gerald Durrell; Guide to the Mammals of Madagascar by Nick Garbutt (£24.99).
Rainbow Tours (020 7226 1004, www.rainbowtours.co.uk) offers tailor-made tours in Madagascar. The 11-day Madagascar Made Easy, which costs from £2,070 per person, includes Air Madagascar flights from Paris, domestic flights, two nights b & b at Vakona Forest Lodge, one night b & b at Royal Palissandre Hotel & Spa, seven nights full-board at Anjajavy Hotel, reserve entry permits and excursions, an English-speaking guide, private transfers and transport and an Antananarivo city tour. Internal flights with Air Madagascar (00261 20 22 222 22, www.air madagascar.mg).Car hire in Antananarivo with hertz (00261 20 22 229 61,www.madagascar-contacts.com/hertz).
Riza, a freelance tour guide with Za Tours, Rainbow Tours' partner, will regale you with cultural and ecological information, as well as his staggering collection of English idioms. Andasibe National Park is famous for its knowledgeable rangers.
La Boussole, 21 rue Dr Villette, Isoraka, Antananarivo (00261 22 358 10 ). Antananarivo's trendiest place for a rum cocktail, a stylish French restaurant with a lively bar.
Chez Mariette, 11 rue Joel Rakotomalala, Faravohitra, Antananarivo (00261 20 22 216 02 ). Intimate restaurant in a 19th-century villa run by the formidable Mariette. Wonderful traditional cuisine. Book ahead.
Madagascar is a rich source of semi-precious stones. For uncut stones, especially sapphires, the braver can haggle at Ilakaka, a mining settlement south of Isalo. For jewellery, go to An-i-Ra, BP 5219, Antananarivo, for extravagant creations, or La Calebasse d'or, for traditional pieces. Malagasy remedies, essential oils, beauty products and treatments can be found at BioAroma, 51 Avenue General Ramanantsoa, Isoraka. For top-quality crocodile bags (Madagascar farms crocs commercially), visit REPTEL at the Hilton Hotel, Rue Pierre Stibbe Anosy, Antananarivo (00261 20 22 260 60 ).
Akany Avoko children's home, BP29 Ambohidratrimo 105 (00216 20 22 441 58). A positive example of how life has been made better for 120 abandoned and impoverished children. Visitors are welcomed by the English director, Steve Wilkinson, to wander round the school, meet the children and visit the craft shop. Being only 15 minutes from the airport it's a great place to donate your last bit of currency before heading home.
A Different View of Paradise
Author: Mark Stratton | Date posted: March 31, 2007
Stratton begins his stay in Madagascar by staying at Tsarabanjina resort, near Nosy Be where, he notes, there are no lemurs but plenty of “idyllic sandy beaches.” He arrived on the secluded island by speedboat and was “given a welcoming fruit cocktail…and encouranged to wander about the island barefoot," by the manager, Pascal who was wearing “bathers, exposing a considerably hirsute Gallic chest.” While Tsarabanjina is one of Madagascar’s most exclusive holiday resorts it is not 5 star. This is because they “don’t offer television or telephones in rooms (although internet is available.” These luxuries seem unnecessary however when shown the “high-definition view of pure white sands and sea so turquoise it might make photographic filters redundant.” Perfect for couples “wishing to enjoy a private week’s sunbathing and freshly prepared seafood” there is also scuba-diving, fishing and a spa.
Stratton’s next stop was Anjajavy, “an hours flight from Nosy Be” and perched on the edge of a 450 hectare “wildlife-rich dry forest.” Stratton praises Anjajavy for the beautiful “attention to detail” although he explains how “Greg, the genial South African boatman, did confess to once turning down a request to hunt lemurs by a nouveau-riche Russian client.” Anjajavy is also eco-friendly and replants rosewood trees “a highly-prized timber that’s undergone serious decline across Madagascar.” The hotel also employs nearly 100 local Sakalava and has “a strong commitment to the surrounding fishing communities.” During his stay, Stratton spots plenty of wildlife including the “brilliantly plumed cuckoo-roller.”
Next stop is the Hotel Colbert in Madagascar’s capital city Antananarivo. “ Built in 1928, most guests now experience the 4-star Colbert’s newer annexe that offers everything to be expected of an international-standard hotel: satellite television with CNN, safe, mini-bar, plus spa centre,” although Stratton preferred “the hotel’s less expensive rooms in the original wing, with its creaking wooden flooring and sweeping staircases.”
Stratton delighted in Madagascar’s northern Montagne d’Ambre National Park where he encountered “snakes, pill millipedes, butterflies and frogs… hedgehog tenrecs with litters of striped babies… chocolate-tanned Sandford’s bown lemurs.. and the ludicrously tiny (about 2.5cm long) Brookesia minima - the world’s smallest chameleon.” From the forest he stayed at the nearby Le Domaine de Fontenay, owned by “Marie-Jose, her husband Karl-Heinz her brother Raymond and a 300-year old giant tortoise called Galileo.” Where Marie-Jose recounted the recent visit of David Attenborough who, Stratten explains, must have sat, like him, “in disbelief. Who else could’ve cajoled the Japanese embassy in Antananarivo to airlift wasabi sauce for one of her fish soiree evenings?”