A mere 45 kms and an approximate 1.5 hour drive from Tamatave or Toamasina (give or take a few minutes due to some ‘interesting’ roads) lies an absolute GEM of a place called LA CIGALE, in FOULPOINTE. Foulpointe (pronounced full point) or Mahavelona, is the closest ‘beach bum’ destination from the main city centre and offers 20kms of unadulterated sand as far as the eye can see in one direction, and another 20kms in the other, which is more of a wild beach party haven for the locals and the brave tourists and ex-pats amongst us!
Deciding to escape the rat race and the frenzied hysteria that denotes the usual atmosphere of the annual Malagasy Independence Day weekend holiday, MB (Monsieur Bleu) and I were not going to let two days of (rare) constant sunshine go to waste! Reserving our hotel at the last minute via Booking.com and securing the best room in the house for an absolute steal (AUS $110 per night for a huge, top floor space with a sea view), we jauntily set off early on Saturday morning hoping that La Cigale would live up to the excellent reputation for which it is known. We were not to be disappointed…
Having missed our annual road trips around Europe, we went all out and had our first petit- déjeuner on the go, wanting to have our very first takeaway coffee and croissant dans la voiture! Clutching onto our hot and (lidless) Nespresso coffees and munching on warm and flaky buttery croissants, (but spilling and crumbling most of it down my white dress 10 mins after departure), we were like a couple of teenagers off on Spring Break sans the beer and bongs. MB had even made a playlist, and whilst the BeachBoys were wishing for California girls, we were just wishing to make it to our destination with all our wheels…
But our tiny pale grey Suzuki 4×4 held her own over the multiple and challenging pot-holed and pitted muddy roads and we eventually arrived in a cloud of dust at our home for the weekend. Party time!
LA CIGALE means the cicada in French and is a small 4 ****star resort on the beach. Run and owned by Luc, a cheery Frenchman from Salon de Provence in the South of France (where there are many cicadas) and his lovely Malagasy wife, we were quickly and efficiently checked into our modern ‘suite’ (the lovely Luc impressing upon us that yes indeed EVERYTHING WORKS in the room) and then stepped out onto our huge sunset terrace and just soaked up the view and serenity. No children were screaming and dive bombing into the pool and no boom boxes were sounding out the repetitive beats of Jamaican reggae or the brain shattering noise of Ghetto Gangster rap! The only sounds were the waves of the sea and an occasional passing car or lonely zebu crying for its lost herd. Bliss with a capital B!
10 years ago, when MB and I first came to live in Tamatave, Madagascar, you would be hard pressed to find anywhere really decent to stay for a weekend up the coast that wouldn’t involve some sort of issue on arrival and/or broken down amenities at the accommodation and if you were lucky, you were offered a meal of stale baguette, warm beer, claggy rice with fish and instant coffee! Now however, the Tamatave Riviera is awash with hotels and bungalows to rent (mostly in summer) all trying to offer a degree of service that was unknown before. But La Cigale is an exception. I might not ever try anywhere else after our stay here as it would only be a disappointment… sorry but it’s true!
With our table already reserved for lunch, merci to Luc and his crew, it was time for a refreshing swim in the pool, a dip in the calm sea and to soak up some very necessary rays whilst lounging on our little cushioned sun beds beneath a hand built thatched hut. All we needed was a couple of creamy Piña Colada’s in our hands and our spontaneous winter beach getaway was underway!
We had been passionately informed by a local Indian businessmen in town, that the food at La Cigale was exceptional and indeed it was! Over the expanse of our weekend, we indulged in two 3 x course lunches and one 3 x course dinner and neither of us could find fault. The service from beginning to end by Augustin our waiter, was efficient, knowledgeable and friendly at all times and a genuine smile never left his lovely face. From the delicious simplicity of mixed vegetable tempura bites and mini onion quiches with our aperitifs to perfectly cooked duck with a gooseberry sauce, fragrant coconut and saffron prawn curry, giant grilled prawns (Gambas) and tuna tartare with local whole red peppercorns and hand made fries, we had all but died and gone to food heaven! I’m sorry, but are we on the Côte d’Azur? The wine choices (served in elegant stemware) were all French, available and good enough to keep us happy as was the warm Cherry Clafoutis dessert of the day accompanied by tiny cups of rich espresso with hand made chocolates! Wow and wow. Full marks to the chef please!
A long and lazy afternoon stroll along the deserted beach, stopping occasionally to forage for treasure and pretending that we were out of the movie Castaway, helped stretch our legs and inject some rich, salty sea air into our lungs. Creatively designed and painted pirogues (dug out fishing canoes) lay basking in the sun like giant fur seals, and stray dogs and chickens toyed and pecked at the vibrant green seaweed. Even a few friendly local children frolicked and rolled around happily in the sand at dusk, making play things out of anything they found washed up on the beach (no iPads or Toys R Us here) and waved happily, curiously inspecting these two weird looking vasas (white folk)… one sporting a large locally made hat and the other wielding a long piece of bamboo thinking that he was king of the spear fisherman! Oh the tales they must have brought home to their families THAT night!
We gave the other side of the beach… Tamatave’s answer to Playa Blanca in Colombia… a good walk early the next morning, as the tide was out and it was a clear run from the hotel all the way (1.5 hrs) to the end which reaches the reef. It was exhausting! Luckily for us it was low season so we weren’t hassled too much by the beach hawkers and were only offered a massage twice and to buy weed once! We must have looked old and boring!
This stretch of beach is lined with rows upon rows of colourful umbrellas shading pairs of shabbily painted wooden sun lounges, which are all for rent for a small fee, and tiny makeshift bars and restaurants offering rum, beer and local delicacies hover at the back of the pack. There are a few bungalows and a major hotel called Manda Beach which has been there forever and is popular, but not really our scene. A variety of water sports apparatus are available to hire along with trips on a pirogue (another time as it would be fun), the usual dodgy looking henna tattoo guys (why are they always so skinny?) and of course, the habitual massage ladies. I can guarantee that it would be a total nightmare here in summer, so I’m glad we had our reconnaissance run now!
We did, however, purchase a rather large bottle of rhum coco (creamy coconut milk and vanilla laced with Madagascan Dzarma rum…deadly but decadent) from a little man with a basket full of locally made moonshine …um, I mean, concoctions. There were even specially designed ones for women and men. Liquid viagra anyone? Anyway, we had to lug this bloody great bottle all the way back to the hotel, but it was worth it as it’s a very tasty, local lip smacking treat!
Not far along the walk from the hotel, there is a wooden dock where tourists boats to the nearby Île Sainte- Marie (Nosy Boraha) take off during the regular season, but due to the (seemingly never-ending) pandemic, this has been ceased until further notice. Such a shame for the local community. The boats are all lined up and ready to go, but are gradually withering away due to some degree of neglect and a general loss of enthusiasm. They will be back soon we all hope. When the tide is out, there is an 8 foot deep, sapphire blue natural pool that is created and you can even jump in from the dock. It’s quite magical and we threw ourselves in with hot and sweaty glee, happy to finally be away from the madding crowd.
Before our final lunch and after our marathon walk, we settled in for some ‘downtime’ in the sun under our trusty little hut, but this was not meant to be! Just as we got comfortable, we were approached by a small young local fellow (who was very nervy, sweaty and shaky) and offered some of the most sought after and expensive product you can buy. No, not heroin, but VANILLA! Now, as anyone knows, these brown seeded spice pods of gold called Bourbon Vanilla are native to Madagascar, sometimes difficult to find and most importantly, EXTREMELY expensive due to the degree of manual labour it requires to cultivate and collect. So when a huge pile of plump silky beans fresh from the vines are literally shoved in your face and under your nose, it’s enough to make anyone sit up from their comfy lounge bed and take notice!
Vanilla Boy or VB (as we named him) had 2kgs of the fragrant stuff loaded into a large black plastic bag and was very eager to be rid it all in one sale. Someone at the hotel said he’d probably nicked it and needed to offload the gear ASAP, which is highly likely! But we didn’t care and ended up, after a lengthy back and forth negotiation, on buying 1.5 kgs (way too much but YOLO) and paid shaky VB his hard earned cash, handing over an enormous wad of crisp blue bank notes. He even threw in some bundles of cinnamon sticks as a cadeau (present) and then demanded we gift him our hotel pool towels! Hysterical! Unfortunately for him, this counter deal fell through and he skulked off with a wave and a pouty face, vying to return later with appropriate wrapping material if we so desired (and for sure, the rest of the vanilla)! All in all, it was an EXTREMELY pleasant morning deal, done and dusted in under five minutes and MB and I are sure to be featured in an episode of Border Security very soon with our very suspicious looking bundles of wrapped loot!
Our little weekend had finally drawn to a close and we thanked the lovely team at La Cigale promising to return again soon, even if it’s just for a leisurely Sunday lunch. With Vanilla Boy probably still lurking in the bushes with his half kilo of unsold goods, eyeing off the pool towels, we sadly drove away from our mini oasis in our little grey mouse mobile, narrowly avoiding running down yet another stray, mooing zebu. We weren’t really ‘On a Road to Nowhere’ as Talking Heads were proclaiming on the playlist at the time, but on a bumpy track back to the city we now call home and were already planning our next fun StayCay in the sun!
…”difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations”…unknown