It may only be a small, remote island off the northwest shore of Madagascar but Constance Tsarabanjina has become a by-word for barefoot chic among those seeking authentic Crusoe seclusion with a dash of luxury.
With perfect white sand beaches encircled by vibrant coral reefs, an interior of richly bio-diverse hills and forests, and just 25 palm-thatched villas spread over two beaches, Constance Tsarabanjina has all the ingredients for an idyllic holiday hideaway.
What the papers say
This perfect mixture of authentic castaway charm blended with discreet modern luxury has proved a popular combination.
Accolades in recent months have included awards from Tatler for Best Barefoot Adventure 2014, Harper’s Bazaar – who declared it best for a secluded honeymoon – and Condé Nast Traveller whose reviewer Jenny Zarins, described it:
‘This is a no-shoes, no-news, hang-loose place. The air-conditioned thatched bandas, newly revamped by the island’s owners, Constance Hotels and Resorts, have all the basics – hot showers, capacious wardrobes, fridges with cold drinks – as well as outdoor banquettes and hammocks for afternoon snoozes, and fragrant coconut oil to drench sunburnt skin.’
From desert island to exclusive resort
Before 1990 Tsarabanjina was completely uninhabited. The island was then only known to neighbouring islanders as the location of the tombs of their Sakalava kings (the tombs still exist today, a protected spot on the east of the island where Mitsio islanders come to bring offerings).
But in 1990 things began to change for Tsarabanjina when South African adventurer Richard Walker came to the island and fell in love with the place.
In a bid to protect the stunning unspoilt beauty of the island, Walker bought it and built a small resort of 8 bungalows so others could share the unique experience of Tsarabanjina.
A multi-million pound renovation
In 2006 he passed the mantel of protector of his beloved island on to us at Constance and in 2013 we undertook the delicate process of renovating the resort while carefully retaining its authentic castaway appeal and environmental considerations.
The first decision we made as part of the multi-million pound makeover was to ensure that in rebuilding the 25 beach villas to include modern luxuries such as air conditioning and spacious bathrooms, they still retained their rustic Malagasy charm.
We worked with architects who understood local Malagasy design and the importance of using sustainable local materials from the mainland.
We then employed local tradespeople with a tradition of Malagasy construction techniques and local craftsmen specialising in traditional weaving, art and sculpture to create items to decorate the villas.
In supporting the local Malagasy trades we are upholding traditions in building and crafts that have been handed down from generation to generation.
A boutique hotel with laidback Malagasy charm
The result – simple, stylish rosewood villas with traditional palm-thatching, large comfortable terraces, decorated with Madagascan art and sculptures inspired by the island itself.
In keeping with the laidback vibe of the island, each villa has its own private hammock slung by the trees surrounding the villa and its own sandy path leading down to the beach.
While the idyllic setting of crystal waters and lush, verdant interior have always been an important part of Tsarabanjina’s appeal, we believe that the special charm of the place comes from its people too.
At Tsarabanjina there is no dress code, shoes can be kicked off on arrival and put away for the duration of your holiday and the service is friendly and relaxed.
Time for a digital detox
Guests tired of the hustle and bustle of modern life can seize the opportunity on Tsarabanjina to undergo a digital detox.
With WiFi only available in the main building you can leave your phones and modern technology in your suitcase and begin to move at the slower pace of island life.
Traditional Malagasy cuisine
Even dining is a laidback island affair with seafood caught by local fishermen and delivered by fishing boat to the shore in front of Tsarabanjina’s only restaurant.
The fishermen of Mitsio, the only other inhabited island in the Mitsio Archipelago, still fish the same way their ancestors have for many generations.
Using hollowed out wooden boats called pirogues, they cast their nets over the water and only when they’re satisfied with their catch do they travel the 3 or 4 hours to Tsarabanjina to hand over their catch to our chefs.
Our local chefs create a unique menu based around what the fishermen have caught together with the fresh fruit and vegetables they were able to find that day in the market at Nosy Be.
Using local herbs and spices to create dishes of warm curries, grilled fish and other delicious treats, our chefs understand the delicate blend of Southeast Asian, African, European and Chinese flavours which go into creating sumptuous Madagascan cuisine.
Explore the underwater ocean life
Guests are even encouraged to try their hand at fishing the local waters themselves from a traditional pirogue. In true island style, whatever you catch can then be handed over to the chefs to prepare Malagasy-style for your dinner that night.
Those searching for a little more high-octane excitement can pit their wits against the giant sports fish that call the waters around Tsarabanjina home.
Marlins, giant trevally, yellowfin and dogtooth tuna, wahoos and sailfish can all be caught in our waters making the area a Mecca for sports fishermen.
The other ocean pastime which continues to bring visitors to our shores is the opportunity to dive in waters still largely unexplored by scuba divers. One of the last accessible places where you can discover virgin reefs rarely dived before, sponge gardens few but you have ever seen.
The waters around Tsarabanjina offer a rich variety of dive sites for scuba divers of all levels from beginners exploring the house reef to more experienced divers swimming through the tunnels at the Tétons.
The rich biodiversity of Madagascar
Of course nature lovers have always been drawn to the appeal of Madagascar with its famously unique biodiversity, a trait Tsarabanjina shares with the mainland.
Walk around the island and you’ll discover Madagascar’s famous Traveller’s Palm, the Pachypodium and a wide variety of birds including the dazzling fody bird, the beautiful long-tailed Madagscan flycatcher (the emblem of the island) and fish eagles. Biologists even claim to have found the world’s smallest chameleon species on Tsarabanjina.
Our staff share our passion for the island and are happy to give guided nature walks with an explanation of the local flora and fauna to interested guests.
Bird enthusiasts can take a boat ride to the neighbouring Quatre Frère, a series of rocks in the ocean which are home to a rich colony of seabirds including northern gannets, frigate birds and white-tailed tropic birds.
Don’t forget to take your snorkel and discover the plethora of marine life living in the reefs below the waves.
A dash of luxury Crusoe wouldn’t have had
Of course we wouldn’t be a favourite exclusive retreat without a little hint of luxury but on Tsarabanjina luxury is delivered in unique laidback style. So our massage room is a rustic beach villa with a stunning outdoor shower hewn into the rock of the island itself.
Or if you prefer you can have a massage on the beach as you watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean.
The question of how the tiny island of Tsarabanjina became one of the world’s most desirable hotels is difficult to answer. It has a lot to do with the beauty of the island itself, a little to do with the luxury we were able to add, but most of all, it’s down to the spirit of the island itself, a spirit of laidback charm, slow island living and warm welcomes.
- Visit our website to find out more about Constance Tsarabanjina or to make a booking
- Find out why Condé Nast Traveller described it as ‘everyone’s secret favourite’
- Watch our video of the laidback charms of Tsarabanjina
- Discover more about the architecture and design at Constance Tsarabanjina.