Monthly Archives: January 2017

An island unlike any other

Lying in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa, the island of Madagascar has evolved in splendid isolation for more than 80 million years; the result is a unique and startling world full of upside-down trees, stone forests and, of course, lemurs.

Join us on a journey through a wildlife-rich destination that never fails to surprise.

 

Kirindy and the baobabs

Start your trip in the west with wildlife encounters and a walk among iconic trees

Jean Baptiste strolls cheerfully through the forest, arms swaying, flip-flops flapping. For the past hour, he has led the way through a tangle of paths that each looks identical to the last, pausing to point out brown creatures hidden in the brown undergrowth: a twig-like pencil snake here, a fist-sized land snail there.

It takes some time to locate the lemur he spotted with barely a glance, but after much gesticulating (‘To the left of the fork, down from the second branch, no, not that branch, down further’), there it is: a sportive lemur, its teddy-bear head and goggly brown eyes poking out of a tree hollow. The sighting opens the floodgates to an embarrassment of encounters in the forest of Kirindy.

A few steps on, a black-and-white Verreaux’s sifaka appears far above, swinging between the treetops with the elegance of a trapeze artist, the tiny head of her baby peeking out from the fur of her belly. In a clearing nearby, Jean-Baptiste’s guttural ‘whoop-whoop’ is catnip to a family of red-bellied lemurs, and they soon make their way down from the canopy to inspect their human visitors.

The residents of Kirindy have made their home in the remains of the last dry deciduous forest on Madagascar’s west coast. It supports eight species of lemur – and the one creature in the country whose belly starts to rumble when it spots one. The forest is one of the best places to see the lemurs’ only predator: the endangered fossa.

Three of the animals have spent the day in the camp at Kirindy’s ecological research centre. One by one, they slink out from beneath a cabin, stretching and yawning in the sunshine, before hunching down in the dirt. They look like some terrible genetic mix-up between a dog and a weasel, with grey-brown fur, yellow eyes and a tail as long as their bodies. Mamy Ramparany, who manages the centre, would rather they didn’t feel so at home here. ‘One of the major issues for them,’ he says, squatting to check for other fossa beneath the cabin,  ‘is the destruction of their habitat through farming and logging. Maybe they come here because they don’t have enough food.’

Mamy watches as the creatures rise and stalk into the forest. ‘That is the challenge of conservation in Madagascar, to work out how people profit from the forest without destroying it,’ he says. ‘But it is an exciting challenge. As long as there are animals left, there is hope.’

The broad-trunked, spindly-topped trees that rise incongruously through the scrubby thicket of Kirindy give some clue to the nature of that challenge. These are baobabs – ‘mothers of the forest’ in Malagasy –  and the region was once full of them. Lost to deforestation and agriculture over the centuries, they now commonly stand alone, trunks thick as houses, towering over scorched earth cleared by slash-and-burn.

 

The road to Tsingy

Travel is all part of the adventure in Madagascar, and never more so than on the colourful journey along the bumpy 8a road from Kirindy to the north  

‘Apart from its unique biodiversity, Madagascar is also known for its bad roads.’ So says local tour guide Dennis Rakotoson, climbing into the jeep. He is not smiling.

With less than 20 per cent of its road network asphalted, getting from A to B in Madagascar is rarely straightforward. Google Maps will tell you that it’s a three-hour journey from Kirindy up the 8a road to Bekopaka, some 100 miles north. Google Maps is wrong – very, very wrong – but neither does it tell you that a day travelling the route is at least as exciting as a day in the forest with a family of lemurs.

Best cocktail bars in the world

The city boasts more bars than you can shake a cocktail stick at, from spectacular rooftop views to hole-in-the-wall music joints, and whether you prefer to be shaken or stirred, our list will help you find your perfect watering hole.

 

Take in the view from Giudecca’s Skyline Bar

There are plenty of reasons to love rooftop Skyline Bar, despite its slightly awkward location on Giudecca island. First off, you get a free shuttle service from the city across the Giudecca Canal. Secondly, it offers great views of southern Venice and thus multiple photo ops. Then there is the lengthy – and idiosyncratically translated – cocktail menu. A nice touch has been to provide a Venetian take on the classics, with the drinks covering the six sestieri (districts) of the city. The free boat ride makes a cocktail (€16-20) at this glamorous hotel bar an affordable treat.

 

Join the young, hip crowd at Osteria da Filo

Known to locals as ‘La Poppa’, this buzzing watering hole has a great wine list and cocktail selection (€3.50-6), including the Zaza, a mean house speciality involving copious amounts of rum and fresh ginger. One of the few venues in Venice offering live music (early evening on Wednesdays), Osteria da Filo is crammed with a young hipster and alternative crowd. On Wednesdays, arrive early to grab a comfy sofa or seat near the stage; alternatively, squeeze yourself in at the bar. The music ranges from traditional swing to contemporary jazz with local and international acts performing. The staff are friendly and the mood convivial.

 

Bring out your inner Bond on the Terrazza Danieli

A Venetian institution, the Danieli Hotel has been frequented by James Bond, as well as featuring in 2010 comedy The Tourist. From May to September, the Terrazza Danieli is open for aperitifs on the roof. Take in the stunning views of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Doge’s Palace as you sip on a soothing Bellini (cocktails €15-18) after the heat of the day. In winter, head to the ground floor bar for a cosier aperitif.

 

Drink in the luxury at the Bar Longhi

The newly restored Bar Longhi at the Gritti Palace hotel is sumptuous, elegant and the epitome of luxury. The interior is all marble and Murano glass and even boasts paintings by eighteenth-century artist and local son Pietro Longhi. The bar has a delicious eponymous signature cocktail, the Longhi, consisting of Campari, vermouth and stock orange liqueur, as well as an extensive cocktail list (€19-22). Sink into a plush sofa as you look out onto the Grand Canal in one of the loveliest hotels in the city.