Paradisiacal views from just about everywhere, swaying in my hammock in green light and dappled shade with the sea lapping the white sands beyond my villa and birds in my foot bath; shaded walkways amid carefully tended sand gardens between villas and lodge where “mbalatsara” (colloquial greeting in Sakalava) with a friendly staff member easily becomes a conversation, or an invitation to peek at some turtle hatchlings. Constance Tsarabanjina, an hour’s boat ride from the north side of Nosy Be island off the coast of Madagascar, is- trite as it sounds- an island paradise.
I’ve visited the area broadly known as Nosy Be before and thought I’d seen the best of it. Clearly not.
Reviews are relatively few for this place. Why? Because guests- and brass plaques mounted in the bar counter attest to how many returnees there are- want to keep it to themselves? I’ve enjoyed Constance resorts elsewhere and raved about them. Here, the Constance DNA is continuous but it is very different, very intimate, low key and super chilled. Barefoot is encouraged- so just take slops and cover your bits in something more elegant than a cozzie at mealtimes.
Constance Tsarabanjina has 25 beachfront thatched villas along south facing and north facing beaches with a bar and restaurant area on an in-between beach, a reception and boutique (with lovely Madagascan fragrances) set further back. South and north are a little different- south beach is flatter and more tranquil- not that it’s ever rough- while the long, curving strip of north beach has arguably better views of the sunsets and neighbouring islands. It’s a five minute walk between them, so hey-ho.
The only tv is one used solely for presentations in the sand- floored bar about various activities and excursions on offer. Wifi, similarly, is limited to the bar and restaurant area or reception.
I didn’t miss tv and never used my headphones. The susurrating sea was music enough and so very relaxing that I did not get around to the U Spa kiosk for a massage. And, for the first time at an all-inclusive, hedonistic hideaway, I actually dropped a little weight- enervated despite the heat and walking, diving, snorkeling or swimming daily.
It’s hot. I’ve had cooler baths than my sundowner swim on my arrival day. Everything, apart from the service from the amazing staff, is paced accordingly.
It’s easy to see why Henri Arnulphy, the consummate, charming and confident host, was head-hunted to run the resort at the unusually young age of 26. 2IC Elena Zanella is friend to all and Maître d’ Eric Jao Soa is another charmer, looking after diners in the elevated restaurant where seafood is high on the food agenda, from fish to oysters, squid or octopus to shrimp and lobster.
Food has a Malagasy twist to even the most European dishes. The tobasco infused ice cream is a winner, as was the white chocolate cake, fried pork cheek with wild black pepper sauce, sweet potato puree, roasted lamb and other non-fishy dishes. I didn’t hear the vegetarians grumbling either but, understandably, most were going for dishes such as lobster tail with local vanilla sauce or grilled grouper fillet with leek fondue.
The endemic fruits are a must, as is the wildlife, but more about that next week.
Check out www.constancehotels.com