Welcome to Miavana, a resort on the little-known Indian Ocean island of Nosy Ankao, off the coast of Madagascar.
Three minutes. That's all it took to spot my first chameleon after landing on Nosy Ankao, a palm-tufted island just off the coast of northern Madagascar. I was giddy with excitement, but the striped lizard, about the size of a coke can, didn't flinch. He threw me a look with his lens-like eye and carried on with his slow, jerky walk across the concrete path.
Along with the ylang ylang–scented cold towel and giant coconut I received after disembarking the helicopter that picked me up from Nosy Be airport, I couldn't have asked for a better welcome to Miavana. One of the most illustrious island resorts in the Indian Ocean, Miavana opened in 2017. It's backed by French-Mauritian financier Thierry Dalais, who also invested in the equally fabled North Island resort in the Seychelles. It's a high-flier hideaway for 1 percent of the 1 percent; a discrete and ultra-private retreat where you could have the likes of Martha Steward or Tom Cruise as your neighbor, and not even know.
In my career as a travel journalist, I've been lucky enough to visit some of the dreamiest resorts around the globe, but even before my arrival at Miavana, I knew I was in for something special. Nosy Ankao, the resort's coral-fringed island base, which it shares with a small village of thatch-roofed huts and a dozen-or-so lemurs, is notoriously hard to get to. That's part of Miavana's appeal. After the long flight to Nosy Be, which requires at least one stopover for travelers flying commercial, all guests still need to cross the northern tip of Madagascar on a one-hour helicopter flight aboard a four-seat Robinson R66 helicopter painted in the resort's signature turquoise hue.
But what awaited was well-worth the schlep: mile after footprint-free mile of sugar-white beach, shared between just 14 accommodations. Miavana calls them "villas," but that seems like an understatement: with their cavernous living areas, separate lounge rooms, two breezy bathrooms, and an outdoor shower, even the entry-level villas are more akin to mini-estates. My villa, a two-bedroom retreat, came with a detached fully fitted villa that would've been a top-category stay in many a beach resort. Here, it was just the second bedroom.
Regardless of their category, all villas 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 midcentury modern furniture accented with nautical touches such as copper porthole windows and fist-sized seashells.
With such a vast amount of private space and more pillow-strewn lounge nooks than I could count on one hand, it was dangerously easy to slip into a beachy bliss. From the sun chairs on my villa's deck, I could stare for hours at the turquoise horizon, watching whip-quick birds chase flies in the jungle fringe and geckos basking in the sun. Between dips in my private pool and the gin-clear ocean out front, I'd challenge my Kindle batteries reading up on the fascinating history of the African island that laid on the horizon. My butler was just a WhatsApp-message away to deliver fresh pineapple juice, iced lattes, or a full-fledged in-room brunch or dinner with everything from Malagasy vanilla crepes to cheese platters to smoothie bowls topped with local cocoa nibs. I could've easily spent my midweek stay here, not leaving my villa at all. And as South African resort manager Craig Gemmell told me over dinner one night, many guests would – some for more than two weeks at a time.
I, though, was itching to see more of the island and its surroundings. 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 the planet. During a guided jungle walk around the island, I spotted several more chameleons, dozens of geckos, and orchid species that could only be found in this part of the country. The underwater landscapes were just as bewitching: while snorkeling around a nearby reef, a kaleidoscopic collection of clownfish, parrotfish, and even a lone green turtle slid down below me in a coral forest that has, so far, evaded major bleaching events. And if I had a bigger budget, Miavana's helicopter safaris could've taken me to other corners of the mainland, where the team can set up picnics in little-visited baobab forests or organize treks to find rare black lemur species with an expert guide.
Back at the resort, the Piazza, Miavana's beachfront gathering spot, gave more reasons to leave my villa. It's home to the communal pool – a sweeping white number lined with loungers and gauzy curtains billowing in the wind – and a small museum studded with taxidermied insects and bones from now-extinct local animal species (the Madagasy pygmy hippopotamus and elephant bird eggs among them). The restaurant, too, is located here, and during my five-day stay, I didn't see the same dish on the menu twice. One afternoon, I ordered a table-spanning spread of Madagasy curries and grilled fish for lunch and a perfectly cheesy pizza margarita for dinner. Another day, I could choose between short rib ramen, mezze platters, or tandoor-roasted cauliflower, but was told that the chefs were always more than happy to go off-menu, too. Blinis and caviar or a perfectly done beef Wellington? I could name it, they'd fix it — even if I had wanted an exact brand of soy sauce on my sushi.
All this, of course, comes at a price. With a room rate starting at about $3,400 per person per night, Miavana's price tag makes many a five-star hotel look like a steal. It's among the most expensive resorts in the world, but the rate includes plenty of perks: all meals and drinks, including top-shelf spirits and many premium wines. Guests also don't have to pay extra for scuba dives, boat cruises around the archipelago, or guided island excursions.
Still, it's hard to put a price on a place this special. "What makes Miavana unbeatable is its proximity to some of the Earth's most precious wildlife," says Bjorn Behlert, senior travel consultant for Africa at luxury tour operator Scott Dunn, who regularly books his clients here. "From the tops of baobab trees to down deep in the coral reefs, there are surprises everywhere. Its magnificent biodiversity coupled with a truly unique luxury experience is one of the many reasons guests book – and re-book – this remote island resort."
Scott Dunn customizes luxury travel and offers a five-night stay at Miavana, including helicopter transfers, all meals, top-shelf spirits and bar drinks, a variety of water activities, boat cruises, fishing trips, spa treatments, and a round-trip business-class flight from New York. It starts at $36,900 per person.
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