Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sea, Sand, Soul and Sakafo, and Whales and Wine – At Princesse Bora Lodge on Ile Sainte Marie in the Indian Ocean

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Johary Rakotoson, Chef and Food & Beverages Manager, Princesse Bora in the Wine Cellar of Princesse Bora

On the magic Island of Madagascar there is now a growing number of fine lodges, which offer lodging in the paradise with world class food. One of them is Princesse Bora Lodge on Ile Sainte Marie off the east coast of the Grand Ile de Madagascar. There are 2 things that are very particular about Princesse Bora Lodge, as far as I am concerned. First, it is a good place for whale watching during July to September, when the whales migrate from the Antarctica and arrive in Malagasy waters to give birth and to mate. Second, Princesse Bora Lodge has a good selection of wines, but does not have a wine card; you go - with or without the Sommelier - into the wine cellar and you select your bottle(s) of wine there.

Il Sainte Marie – Sea, Sand, Soul

Il Sainte Marie is a beautiful, unspoiled island that lies in the lee of Madagascar’s east coast. Protected by coral reefs from the sharks that patrol these waters, the long narrow island is a haven of pristine beaches and has seen little in way of development. Ile Sainte Marie is just paradise. You can go there by boat or by plane. Ile Sainte Marie is about a 50 minute flight from Antananarivo.

Pictures: Unspoiled Beaches and Little Development

Pictures: Ile Sainte Marie Impressions

Princesse Bora Lodge

Princesse Bora Lodge is owned and run by the Swiss/Malagasy Francoise-Xavier Mayer, whose ancestors arrived in Madagascar in 1825. Francoise-Xavier was born in Madagascar, but left the country with his parents during the period of the “Socialism Malagasy” (in the 1960s and 1970s), when the enterprise of his parents was nationalized. His family was a big player in the rice sector.

Built in the Sainte-Marienne tradition of local stone, wood and thatch, the beautiful villas lie at the edge of a lagoon. Each villa has a wide veranda with chairs and hammock, and direct access to the beach. The beds are king sized with Mosquito nets so you can open the windows for air and light.

Pictures: Princesse Bora

The gardens are immaculately maintained and still keep that wild exotic feeling. The main building is a series of wooden houses interconnected with walkways.

Pictures: The Garden and Art

There are lots of things to do...or you can do nothing at all. I recommend a day or afternoon trip to Ile aux Nattes on your own: grab a bike from the hotel (free), then cycle to the little beach where guys will take you into their pirogues with the bike in their boat to Ile aux Nattes and then discover the inside of that tiny island and its beautiful shores.

Picture: Biking on the Landing Strip of the Ile Sainte Marie Airport

Pictures: The Boats to Ile aux Nattes

Princesse Bora Lodge also has a spa - the jungle spa. There are various relaxing spa treatments available from well trained therapists. There is a beautiful infinity pool with a large deck with very comfortable beach chairs and umbrellas. On the beach, there are palapas with back rests and cushions. There is also a sea swimming pool off the long pier. The resort has all kinds of water gear for use for free.

Pictures: Princesse Bora Pool and Spa

Whale Watching at Princesse Bora

July to September is a very busy period for Princesse Bora, when people from all over the world come here to watch the whales. The whales migrate from the Antarctica and arrive in Malagasy waters between July and September. They come here to give birth and to mate, and remain in the protected channel for four months until their calves have grown big enough to return to the waters of the South Pole.

Guests can whale-watch from the lodge or from boats (to get closer to the whales). Francois-Xavier is the founder of Megaptera, an international association for whale protection. I have never seen the whales in Madagascar, but in Hermanus in South Africa; it is breathtaking.

Sakafo - Princesse Bora

Sakafo is the Malagsy word for food. Generally, the Sakafo in Madagascar is very good. You can dine in its capital Antananarivo and other Malagasy towns like in France, but at much, much lower prices. Before becoming a sovereign country again in 1960, Madagascar was a French colony for over 60 years. The food in Madagascar is thus French-Malagasy. French food in Madagascar ranges from basic bistro food to one star Michelin food.

I have written on Malagasy food and restaurants: Wining and Dining in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar – Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo, Madagascar and Schiller’s List of Restaurants in Antananarivo that Serve Malagasy Wine - Madagascar on schiller-wine.

At Princesse Bora, for dinner, you sit in one of the open wooden houses of the main building, close to the beach and eat a set 3 course menu, with 2 choices for each course. I was very impressed by the Sakafo at Princesse Bora Lodge and would put it at a par with the restaurants in Tana that I have given four stars. Here is an example:

Salade folle a la Sainte marienne ou Terrine de foie gras; my wife Annette and I both chose the foie gras.

Cuisse de canard confite aux thyms frais de l’ile ou La grillade du jour: Brochette de merou a la papaya verte, Riz safrane, fondant de poireaux; we both chose the brochette.

Chaud-froid a la banana ou Ananas rotie au caramel

Pictures: The Menu

Wine - the Princesse Bora Wine Cellar

When it came to ordering the wine, the sommelier informed us that there was no written wine card at the Princesse Bora restaurant. But there is a very interesting wine cellar adjacent to the restaurant and the sommelier invited us down there and instructed us how to proceed.

The wine cellar - underground, temperature-controlled and totaling about 40 wines - consists of 5 sections. Unusual for a top restaurant in Madagascar, the selection is very broad and not so much focused on French wines. First, there are about 10 different wines from South Africa, with an average price of Ariary 55.000. Second, there is the same number of Latin American wines, on average a little bit more expensive. Third, there are about 10 different wines from France on average at Ariary 150.000. Forth, Princesse Bora does not carry any traditional Malagasy wine, but the new star on the Malagasy wine scene, Clos Nomena, rouge, blanc, rose, for Ariary 60.000. I have recently benefited from a tasting at the house of the owner of Clos Nomena in Antanananarivo and have posted about it: Clos Nomena: Taking the Wine of Madagascar to New Heights Finally, the wine cellar is complemented by a range of Champagnes.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Sommelier Randrianaivo Mandimbisoa

Here is how it works: Whenever you are up to, you just go down to the cellar and look at the wines available. When you have made your choice, you put the bottle on the table in the center of the cellar. The Sommelier keeps an eye on the table and brings the bottle to your table and serves the wine.

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Wining and Dining in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar – Christian G.E. Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo

The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines

Christian G.E.Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo That Serve Malagasy Wine

Clos Nomena: Taking the Wine of Madagascar to New Heights

Fine Wine and Fine Oysters in Madagascar: Oysters from Fort Dauphin and Wine from Clos Nomena

Restaurant and Hotel AKOA – An Oasis of Tranquility in the Buzzing Third World City Antananarivo in Madagascar

Tsiky – Charming Restaurant in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Serving Good Food and Malagasy Wines

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