Reviewed by Chris Schalkx
A nothing-is-impossible hideaway for adventurous high-fliers.
Set the scene
"Where's your avion privé?" Upon my return from Miavana, the staff at Madagascar's Nosy Be airport couldn't quite grasp that I, emerging from a Miavana-branded helicopter, didn't have a private jet waiting for me. Such is the type of clientele usually jetting off to this northern corner of Madagascar, which is so remote that Miavana's island base, Nosy Ankao, is only reachable by helicopter from the Nosy Be or Diego-Suárez airports. Upon landing on the resort's beachfront helipad, it's easy to see why this tropical hideaway is favored by A-listers: there are no other resorts and only a small village on the island, most of it is covered in thick jungle. I was the only guest during my stay in the low season (which follows the monsoon season from December to March), but even if the hotel had run at high occupancy, the resort is so hush-hush and spread out that I would've been unlikely to bump into many other guests.
Joining the ranks of some of the world's most exclusive island resorts (ultra-plush The Brando and Fiji's COMO Laucala Island among them), Miavana comes with serious pedigree. Its founder, Johannesburg-born investor Thierry Dalais, was one of the forces behind North Island, another plush celebrity honeypot in the Seychelles. In 2010, Dalais met Frenchman Jean-Christophe Peyre, who ran a declining seaweed farm on the island, and together they thought up a way to turn it into an island retreat that didn't only take excellent care of its guests, but supported both the local community and the environment at the same time.
A resort of this size could've easily fitted several dozen villas on its grounds, yet Miavana has just fourteen. This means each villa is pitched in its own palm-tufted garden along a semi-private swoop of powder-sugar sand. The vibe is beachy Palm Springs, with villas built from sun-bleached Malagasy wood and hand-hewn limestone, decorated with mid century-modern-tinged furnishings seemingly plucked from the Anthropologie and HAY homeware catalogs. With their open ceilings, the limestone-clad showers deliver a hint of James Turrell, while the sunken bathtubs make the bathrooms feel like mini spas.
The standard villas sleep four (the lounge, which comes with a separate bathroom and shower, can be remodeled into a two-bed sleeping space perfect for kids), while villas for bigger crews come with additional bedrooms in detached buildings that are just as well-appointed as the master suite.
Food and drink
The Piazza, the resort's Le Corbusier-looking central bar and restaurant, has tables spilling out on the beach and around campfire pits on chilly nights. It's a one-stop shop for breakfast to dinner, with menus that cover a globe-spanning array of farm-fresh salads, Indian curries, and Malagasy-inspired creations drawing on fresh mangoes, local fish and cacao grown on the mainland. The menus change daily and deliver a choice between three starters, three mains and three desserts (in addition to an evergreen list of wood-fired pizzas and comfort classics such as club sandwiches and Pad Thai). But those are merely suggestions, and guests are free to request off-menu items as they please—even if that means the hotel has to last-minutely procure ingredients directly from Paris.
Don't expect a minibar in your villa. Instead, there's a whole kitchen fitted with pastel-colored SMEG appliances at your disposal. The fridge comes stocked with three kinds of beers, a mini wine collection, and local bean-to-bar chocolate speckled with kaffir lime and pink pepper. There are three different coffee stations (from a Nespresso to a French Press), a full-fledged cocktail cart to whip up your own G&Ts, and a range of endlessly replenished Weck jars filled with nuts, dried fruits, and house-made chocolate cookies.
There's no stand-alone spa, but there are therapists on call to deliver treatments in your villa. The spa brochure ranges from seashell massages (which, yes, involve giant seashells covered in coconut oil) to traditional Thai rubdowns and every kind of herbal body wrap, detox-scrub and age-defying facial in between.
Nosy Ankao, the largest island in northern Madagascar's eponymous archipelago, is only home to Miavana and a small village where many of the local staff live. The resort organizes visits as part of an ATV tour around the island, where guests are encouraged to mingle with villagers over local Three Horses Beer and fried bananas at the village's ramshackle watering hole. Guests with deeper pockets use the resort as a jumping-off point for helicopter safaris on the mainland, which can include jaunts to little-visited baobab forests and the other-worldly Tsingy rock formations around Ankarana.
As breezy as the resort itself. Everything is done to a T, but without the stiffness you'd usually find at hotels of this caliber. You can expect the usual top-class butler moves: flower-flecked baths upon return after dinner; neatly folded laundry and cold towels after every excursion. But the resort's butlers go way beyond the rule book: one day, sighing about the (very first-world problem of) white sand blinding my eyes, my butler left me her sunglasses. Another time, I made an offhand comment about my affinity for green juice—upon return to my villa barely 30 minutes later, there was a bottle of fresh-pressed juice waiting in my fridge.
From the moment the resort broke ground, Miavana has been designed to tread lightly on the land and the community that has inhabited the island for well over a century already. Villas, for example, rely on fans and natural ventilation in lieu of air-conditioning (though beds are equipped with a smart air-circulation system to keep cool at night), while water- and waste management limit the resort's eco-footprint. Solar panels deliver most of the electricity, and both food and building materials are procured locally whenever possible. As part of the Time + Tide Foundation, Miavana's in-house marine biologist and sustainability team run a range of environmental conservation projects on and around the island, including daily beach patrols to monitor the local turtles, translocation of endangered lemurs and the maintenance of coral nurseries to replenish damaged reefs.
Challenging, but not impossible. The villas, including their bathrooms, are spacious enough to get around in a wheelchair, and while the restaurant lacks a ramp, the team is always ready to assist.
Anything left to mention?
While a stay at Miavana will get you a Madagascar stamp in your passport, don't expect to feel like you've really seen Madagascar if you stick to the resort's surroundings. The country's signature sights, such as the Tsingy stone forest and the baobab trees require a (pricey) helicopter safari—so do leave room in your holiday budget for that.
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