We chose Madagascar as a joint destination with ourselves and the Keens and it was Chrissy who did the research on which might be the best travel company to use. She found Rainbow Tours, and in fact they used the company some years ago for a trip in Africa. To our minds her choice has been excellent and we finish the trip with a high regard for the company.
All the arrangements have worked wonderfully well. We have been very pleased indeed with our guides and drivers and the hotel accommodation has been right on the button with one exception. More specific comments are below. We have rated each hotel out of 10 and allocated the rating recognising the type of hotel we were in (e.g. Setam Lodge and Relais de la Reine are in different categories and marked accordingly)
Arrival and first night: The flight from Paris was fine and we were safely greeted by Vola and Mamy on arrival and installed with no trouble at the Relais des Plateaux - the ideal close to airport location. It provided exactly the service that was needed. 8/10
Day one and Couleur Cafe. This is an excellent choice of hotel. Charming style and ambience, beautiful well maintained gardens and a high standard of service from the staff. The decor was wonderfully amusing and the whole style of the place suited all four of us admirably. We got our first taste of Ti Punch here and continued with them for a good part of the trip. 10/10
Days 2 - 4 Setam Lodge. The drive from Antananarivo through Antsirabe to Setam provided us with the most wonderful scenery despite the distressing poverty which is such a feature of Malagasy life. We were struck by people's industriousness as they went about the business of keeping body and soul together and by the smiles and friendliness we encountered.
Setam Lodge was good forest accommodation although the food was pretty unexciting. We suspect that it was probably the best available anywhere in the area, so no complaints from us. And they managed to put a comet moth just outside the dining room for us to admire and wonder at! 8/10
We enjoyed our first proper rainforest walks and were rewarded with some good lemur sightings. The second of the two days was particularly enjoyable as there were very few other people in our area of the forest and so we were not fighting for viewing vantage points. Chantal, the local guide, and her spotter did a great job of finding us some wonderful sights including a beautiful painted frog and the giraffe "bug". It was fascinating to observe how they listened and watched in order to show us the range of forest wildlife.
Day 5 Anja Park and Varangue de Betsileo. Needless to say the ring tail lemurs of Anja Parc stole our hearts, with lots of "Ooohs' and "Aaaahs" as they leapt around us. With respect to the accommodation here we suspect you are in a bit of a bind with little else available within easy driving distance.
To be honest while the location was very attractive and the rooms spacious and clean, our hosts were clearly doing everything on the cheap. The only bedroom chairs masquerading as bedside tables, no water glasses (or water for that matter) and a measly bit of soap in the bathroom, two wire hangers, no curtains on the glass paned doors so that to have any privacy it was necessary to close the door and window shutters, leaving the room in the dark. In response to the question "do you have a hairdryer?", our hostess said that as she had short hair she did not see the need for one! Dinner was a poor affair and the only wine available virtually undrinkable. The final straw was that they charged for water at breakfast and left the offer of eggs until the last minute when we were rising from the table. We turned them down politely.
Recognising that there is probably not a lot of choice as to hotels, we wonder if Rainbow Tours were to have a discussion with them they might up their game. Even if they were to charge 10 euros more a night that would be a reasonable trade off to get some of the amenities which ought to be standard. Rating 3/10
Days 6 - 10 Relais de la Reine. Well, what a wonderful contrast! A beautiful hotel, the most glorious gardens, charming staff, great food, Ti Punches some of the best. The only thing to spoil it all was the news that Trump had won!! Rating 10/10
Here too our walks were splendid and the Black Pool that we found at the top of the ravine was paradise. A great stay. And then on to the Zombitse Transition Forest which too was wonderful. The sifakas performed magnificently for us. The Arboretum visit which followed was also very interesting and much enjoyed especially by the Keens who are much more plantsmen than we are.
The overnight stop in Tulear was fine (Rating 8/10) and we were very sorry to say farewell to Vola and Mamy (sp?). They were a splendid team and really took trouble to make sure that we were well looked after. Mamy drove superbly and at no time did we have the slightest sense that he was not in full control of our safety. It was also touching to see that he quite clearly looked out for Vola as well! She demonstrated liveliness, humour, a strong sense of responsibility for our well-being and good knowledge in responding to our questions. In particular she was very good in controlling things on the occasions that we stopped and left the car, making sure the begging children did not crowd us and that each got his fair share of sweets or bread.
Days 11 - 14 Vakhona Lodge After the somewhat hair-raising drive from Tana to Vakhona (one of us felt really quite uncomfortable with this) we actually had the most magnificent stay here. Our new guide Stephan and driver Nyna were again charming and the local guide we had here (Sacha?) was very knowledgeable indeed. We really enjoyed him and his little twists of gentle humour. They went to a great deal of trouble to make sure we were not in crowded spots and yet still managed to get some wonderful lemur, indri and bird sightings for us.
The lodge itself was very well appointed, beautifully set in the forest, and the food was good - and of course the Ti Punches! We left with great reluctance, but at least we had the up close and personal experience of the lemurs just before we left! Rating 9/10
So finally on to the last week at the Ravintsara. Once more a really wonderful hotel, charming staff whose only wish is to make sure we had a fully relaxed and comfortable stay. The massage and spa treatments were of excellent quality, food was good and varied and the view from our bungalow over the channel was peaceful. The gardens were absolutely beautiful. A perfect end to our stay so we go back to London and France with great reluctance but feeling well set up for the winter. Rating 10/10
Thank you for your help in arranging this trip for us. We will remember it with pleasure for many years to come.
If you would like to contact us regarding any of these comments please don't hesitate to do so. In the meantime our very good wishes to you
Hilary and Kazia' (part of Keen party)