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This ultra-luxe Madagascan resort shares an island with lemurs

It might be hard to reach, but the exclusive Miavana by Time + Tide in Madagascar lives up to its ultra-luxe reputation, writes Chris Schalkx.

Even before my arrival on Miavana by Time + Tide’s beachfront helipad, I know I am in for something special. Nosy Ankao, the resort’s coral-fringed island base that it shares with a small village of thatch-roofed huts and a dozen or so lemurs, is notoriously hard to get to. After the long flight to Nosy Be, an island off the west coast of Madagascar, guests still need to cross to the northeast coast on a scenic, one-hour helicopter flight aboard the resort’s turquoise-striped Robinson R66.

Miavana by Time + Tide
Miavana by Time + Tide

Private island luxury

It takes just three minutes to spot my first chameleon after landing. I am giddy with excitement, but the striped lizard doesn’t flinch. He throws me a look with his lens-like eye and carries on with his slow, jerky walk across the concrete pathway. I couldn’t have asked for a more Malagasy welcome to Miavana, one of the most illustrious private island retreats in the Indian Ocean.

Located on the largest of five islands in a remote archipelago off northern Madagascar, the resort is an ultra-private retreat for A-listers… where nothing is impossible. You could have the likes of Martha Stewart or Tom Cruise as your neighbour and not even know it. A highflier hideaway of the same calibre as The Brando in Tahiti or Fiji’s COMO Laucala, Miavana was founded by Thierry Dalais of North Island fame – the plush celebrity honeypot in the Seychelles.

In 2010, Dalais met Jean-Christophe Peyre, whose seaweed farm on the island was in decline. Together, the pair thought up a way to turn it into a sustainable island retreat that not only takes excellent care of its guests, but the local community and environment, too.

Read: 12 private islands you need to book now

Secluded villas

Now, mile after footprint-free mile of sugar-white beach is shared between just 14 villas with cavernous living areas, separate lounge rooms, two airy bathrooms and an outdoor shower. They all open to sprawling private gardens dotted with multiple sunbeds and Breton-striped bean bags around an ellipse-shaped pool.

Their interiors, designed by South African architecture power-couple Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, deliver a breezy mix of wickerwork, local limestone and mid-century modern furniture accented with nautical touches.

With such a vast amount of private space and more pillow-strewn lounge nooks than I can count on one hand, I slip into beachy bliss. From the sun chairs on my villa’s deck, I stare at the turquoise horizon, watching whip-quick birds chase flies and geckos basking in the sun.

Between dips in my pool and the gin-clear ocean, I challenge my Kindle batteries reading up on the fascinating history of the African island that lies on the horizon.

My butler is just a WhatsApp-message away to deliver fresh pineapple juice, iced lattes or a full-fledged in-room brunch or dinner with everything from vanilla crepes and cheese platters to smoothie bowls topped with local cocoa nibs. Don’t expect a minibar in your villa – instead, there’s a whole kitchen equipped with Smeg appliances, three coffee stations and a cocktail cart. Therapists are on call to deliver treatments in your villa, and the spa brochure ranges from seashell massages to traditional Thai rubdowns, herbal body wraps and age-defying facials.

Bedroom at Miavana by Time + Tide
Bedroom at Miavana by Time + Tide
Butler sets the table at Miavana by Time + Tide
Butler service at Miavana by Time + Tide
Lounge room at Miavana by Time + Tide, Madagascar
Lounge room inside one of the sprawling vilas © Dook
in-villa massage at Miavana by Time + Tide, Madagascar
Relaxation never looked so good

Wildlife at Miavana by Time + Tide, Madagascar

As one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, Madagascar is home to numerous species of lemurs, reptiles and plants that exist nowhere else on Earth. During a guided jungle walk around the island, I spot chameleons, dozens of geckos and orchid species that are only found in this part of the country. The underwater landscapes are just as bewitching: while snorkelling around a nearby reef, a kaleidoscopic collection of clownfish, parrotfish and a lone green turtle slide below me in a coral forest that has, so far, evaded major bleaching events. Miavana’s helicopter safaris, meanwhile, take guests to hard-to-reach corners of the mainland, where the team sets up picnics in little-visited baobab forests or tracks down rare black lemur species with an expert guide.

Read: 28 incredible wildlife encounters around the world

Lemur on an island in Madagascar
Often the only neighbours you’ll see are these cheeky lemurs

Highlights of the resort

The Piazza – Miavana’s beachfront gathering spot – is home to the communal pool and a small museum studded with taxidermied insects and bones from now-extinct local animal species including the Malagasy pygmy hippopotamus.

The restaurant is located here, and during my five-day stay I don’t see the same dish on the menu twice. And with the chefs more than happy to go off-menu, nothing is too difficult: blinis and caviar or a perfectly done beef Wellington? I name it, they fix it.

All this, of course, comes at a price. Rates start around $3,400 per person per night: scuba dives, boat cruises or guided island excursions are included in your stay, as are top-shelf spirits, meals and some wines. For all its lavish bells and whistles, though, it is the magic of Madagascar, this living conundrum of inexplicable natural phenomena and ultra-rare endemic animal species, that will draw me back one day. An island hideaway of this calibre might come at a hefty fee, but coming eye-to-eye with a chameleon on your way to breakfast is priceless.

Chameleon at Miavana by Time + Tide, Madagascar
Chameleon spotting
Toulous Bar at The Piazza at Miavana by Time + Tide in Madagascar
Toulous Bar at The Piazza
Helicopter safaris take guests to hard-to-reach corners of Madagascar
Helicopter safaris take guests to hard-to-reach corners of Madagascar

Find out more at miavana.com