Almost every trip begins or ends in the Malagasy capital, a city of tiered streets built in and on the twelve surrounding sacred hills, around a long, narrow rocky ridge.
The summit near the centre of the ridge was easy to fortify, surrounded by marshland suitable for rice cultivation and provides an excellent vantage point. It became the site of the royal palace (rova) and centre of the Merina kingdom. The conquests of King Radama I elevated the city to capital of Madagascar, a position retained under the French.
The skeleton of the Rova dominates the city. You can visit the Rova, which is being painstakingly restored, the royal tombs and the former prime minister’s palace, where the items rescued from the Rova are displayed. Wander the cobbled lanes to admire the churches and the pretty houses and the views over the plain.
Where to Stay
Enjoy the panorama over a drink on the terrace of the Grill du Rova.
Still in the Upper Town, trendy Isoraka has a nice old museum, crafts shops, the fabulous BioAroma, for essentials oils and natural beauty products, and two of our favourite small hotels. Résidence Lapasoa has 10 rooms, most with a balcony from which you can watch the world, and a very fine restaurant. The delightful Pavillon de l’Emyrne is an elegantly-furnished, traditional Malagasy home with exceptional amenities and services.
Near the Presidential Palace, ministries and banks coexist with top-end jewellers and Tana’s landmark Hotel Colbert, with its refurbished patisserie reminiscent of 1950s Paris. Around the corner, at the top of a steep cobbled street, La Varangue is a delightful small hotel with a refreshing garden and renowned restaurant. Two streets away, the Hotel du Louvre was the BBC’s choice in Tana for many years. There is a brasserie in the central courtyard and some rooms look over Lac Anosy and the flower market.
The lake assumed its heart shape in 1830 under the direction of the Scots missionary and architect, James Cameron. It is encircled by jacarandas which present a magnificent violet display in October and November. On the west bank, the Hilton offers international-standard accommodation with a large outdoor pool and well-equipped gym. In the Mahamasina Stadium behind it, Madagascar declared its independence in 1960.
The Royal Palissandre Hotel & Spa overlooks the Lower Town and the facilities and views from the rooms, terrace, pool and restaurant attract tourists and business travellers. On the Avenue de l’Independence, the Lower Town’s main artery, Hotel de France provides good value, comfortable accommodation.
Despite massive investment in the last decade, but the combination of heavy traffic, underemployment and topography makes Tana difficult for many first-time visitors. It remains a vibrant, discomfiting juxtaposition of traditional artisans and markets and French shops; of superb restaurants and ragged beggars; of traditional architecture and modern building. Many of our clients patronise the crafts shops of inspirational projects like Akany Avoko and Père Pedro, where the benefits go to those most in need.