The new helicopter — a Robinson 66 — in Miavana’s signature colour of aqua green, sweeps low over the ocean, so I can see the giant stingrays and turtles in the cerulean water. Hein, my pilot communicates with me via Bose noise-reduction speakers, to answer my questions and to inform me about this area of Madagascar. As I settle down to revel in the sublime views, I listen to music that has been curated for our journey from Diego Suarez to the beach at Miavana.
Miavana comprises a public area — with a solid wall of locally sourced, hand-cut stone; a fort-like bar area; and several dining spaces — that seems to float above the water channels and the infinity pool. Fourteen villas edge the sandy coastline of Nosy Ankao, the largest island in an archipelago of five. We land in front of one of the villas, met by staff in elegant designer uniforms of soft cotton.
The villas — by Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, of North Island fame — are masterpieces of design: they’re a radical departure from typical island–style cabins in the shaggy chic of wood and thatch. Each villa is spacious and generous in every way: ultra-modern, but inviting barefoot relaxation. This breakaway from the shackles of conventional design has resulted in a fresh look, where light and space are maximised.
The building is like a big verandah, with a palm-branch-laced roof for shade, and partitions of vertical reeds below. Floor-to-ceiling glass ensures the best possible view of the ocean to the front and forest garden behind each villa.
These glass panels can be opened, to receive the breeze in whatever direction it blows. The floor is an attractive composite, with a lower carbon footprint than wood, saving indigenous trees. Metal has been used for the frame of the villa.
Each private infinity pool faces the beach, palm trees, and the ocean beyond. Paired chairs, of various designs — most of which have been crafted in Madagascar — are strategically placed outside, in sunshine or shade, with some inside the villa. Light accents in turquoise, and vibrant stripes in bright colours threaded through the back of plastic chairs, break the neutral sandy shades of the villa. While I gaze at the panoramic view, my private butler unpacks my clothes for me.
Though tempting to linger in the pleasing spaces of the villa, I stroll to the public area for an alfresco lunch. Expect gourmet cuisine for every meal at Miavana, beautifully presented on designer crockery.
An enthusiastic and knowledgeable sommelier takes delight in introducing me to a range of wines, paired with each course and served in the correct Riedel glass. Some bottles are purloined from the owner’s private collection. Humpback whales cavort in the ocean before me as I dine, luring me into the azure water for a scuba dive.
There is something so luxurious about a shore dive, right in front of the lodge. Clad in Miavana’s new scuba equipment, I feel like a Bond girl as I descend into the house reef to discover a school of big-eye kingfish, black-spotted angelfish, long-nosed butterfly fish, a grey-warted nudibranch, and juvenile emperor angelfish, among the mushroom coral. As it is shallow, we dive for 70 minutes.
I know there are many other activities and excursions on Nosy Ankao and the surrounding islands, but I can’t resist more dives. I head for a site named Nosy Manambiby, where we find scores of tropical fish, a devil ray and several species of nudibranch. Chris Barfoot, my divemaster, could not be more kind.
When I reveal that I would like to snorkel, but am not good at diving down for a close view of a creature or coral, he agrees to teach me some basic free-diving skills. We stay in the water for hours and walk back along the shore, in time to watch the setting sun.
Fancying another spin in the helicopter, I ask to be flown to Cap du Diable, where Simon Andrianiaina — Miavana’s highly knowledgeable guide — shows me some of the weird and wonderful wildlife of Madagascar, including the endemic golden-crowned sifaka and crowned lemur, Madagascar kingfisher, and fascinating crabs, slugs, and insects, as he teaches me about their habitat.
We stroll through the forest at a leisurely pace, stopping when something of interest catches our eye. For me, this is a walking safari with a difference, and I am thrilled to capture some images of this astounding wildlife. Back at Miavana, Andrianiaina finds an Oustalet’s chameleon, which is the world’s biggest, or longest chameleon, at a whopping 68.5cm!
On a walk with Andrianiaina in the forest behind my villa, he points out a sleeping gecko underneath some dead fronds on a palm tree, a male Madagascar Paradise flycatcher and a spherical ant nest, up in a tree, made from layers of leaves.
Just before I leave this blissful lodge, I visit the museum — the Cabinet de Curiosités — brimful of treasures collected from around Madagascar, including elephant-bird eggs, dinosaur bones, and sunken treasure.
Hundreds of books, some antique, line the shelves along the wall. This is a cosy corner for a rainy afternoon. I actually need at least a week at Miavana to try catch and release fishing; explore nearby Nosy Manamphao, where 50 000 terns nest and breed; to investigate the island on a quad bike and climb up the old lighthouse for the expansive view; plus have time to fully experience the cool Elysium of my villa.
No effort has been spared in curating each aspect of this exceptional holiday destination. From the extreme solidity of the walls of stone, acting as a windbreaker, to hand-dyed curtains in every bedroom, and the delicate lightness of huge spherical light fittings that resemble a full moon, Miavana is aesthetically rich. The staff is amazing and ensure that my preferences are considered, that I relish the activities, and that I leave refreshed and invigorated.
HOW TO GET THERE
Airlink flies daily from OR International Airport to Antananarivo, in Madagascar. The Business Class is a significantly more comfortable choice, where you will be served a tasty meal on white crockery, complemented by pleasant South African wines. Gear up for your stay in paradise, as you sip a Tanqueray gin and tonic. Airlink flies direct from OR Tambo International Airport to Nosy Be on Sundays at 9.30am to arrive at 2pm, with additional season flights on Wednesdays from December 13 to January 3. flyairlink.com
ORGANISING YOUR TRIP
Asisten Travel is a reliable, specialised, 100% Malagasy destination management company that can organise your high-end experiential trip to Miavana Island Sanctuary and any other places you may wish to visit in Madagascar. Many of the best lodges are remote, so require charter flights that operate only on certain days, so it is imperative to choose a reputable ground handler to help you design your trip, and to co-ordinate logistics. Asisten guides are educated, speak several languages, and drive carefully in luxury vehicles to negotiate the busy traffic or challenging roads. Services such as private jets and yacht, and security detail, are available. asisten-travel.com