The Constance Hotels coffee table book in the bar says that Tsarabanjina is about "harmony, escape and tranquility". It lives up to this promise.
We have stayed at the Constance Le Prince Maurice resort on Mauritius a few years ago, and loved it. That resort is the opposite of this one, quite formal dining, many kids, etc. A typical elegant and special Mauritius resort, lovely design. Many kids who make a noise in the pool area.
On Tsarabanjina one does not find so many kids (maybe people are scared of bringing kids to Madagascar - air-borne bubonic plague, malaria, crime, in Tana etc.), but this suited us, it is a quiet place with beautiful snorkelling close to our chalet. Incredible beaches, and just 26 lovely bungalows.
We visited Tsarabanjina in early January, which is their low season. Occupation was about 50%. The weather changed by the day, but this is not a problem.
We stayed on south beach, and the bungalows are on the beach, the north beach ones have a few steps to the beach below. Looks very similar, it makes no sense to pay more for north beach, but these units are fully air-conditioned, and only the bed area is cooled in south beach villas. Actually perfect, quiter than north beach, away from boats and reception, etc. We were in bungalow 12, on the side, perfect selection.
The bungalows are nice and simple, neutral colours, they have have good, big beds, and good linen and towels. Only showers, no baths, but this is fine. The toiletries are basic, no Hermes or Molton Brown, Acqua di Parma or such, as is the trend in high-end resorts. There is a small bar fridge, well stocked with wine, M & M's, Mars bar, water and soft drinks.
Unfortunately they only have instant (yes - instant!)coffee in the rooms. At these prices one really expects a Nespresso machine in the room! Or even just plungers and real coffee or Rombouts disposable flter coffee pouches. And real milk in the bar fridge instead of horrible powdered milk - this was changed, but only on request.
Maybe a scented candle would also have been appropriate, even a signature scent throughout the lodge, as is the current trend. (Ylang ylang grows on Nosy Be!)
It also often happens that dirty towels and sarongs are removed from the chalet/bungalow, but these are often not replaced. Once we did not have a single towel or face-cloth in the room for our morning shower. And then there is no phone, so you cannot phone reception...
They really need phones in the rooms, in case of emergency one should be able to call, or even just phone room service for a gin and tonic! Once we left the key in the door on the outside, and were locked in for hours. Fortunately I could call reception from my my mobile - and there is a very erratic mobile phone connection!
There are very few bugs, mosquitoes and other insects like sand flies, but they spray poison on the beach every morning and there is insecticide in the rooms.
Bar, restaurant and meals:
The bar is quite nice and casual, beach sand on the floor, and all the guests have dinner in shorts. There is a good vibe and music (compilations made up by the staff), but nothing special. One evening we got sashimi, otherwise it is mostly Pringles chips and peanuts, sometimes pizza and sandwiches.
All the drinks are supposed to be included (there is an inclusive and exclusive bar list) - although they actually charged me for a Margarita, but not for many other more expensive coctails/drinks, strange and petty! There is a good inclusive wine list, from all over the world, and Hector is a great sommelier. They should really include bottle-fermented South African sparkling wine, it is available for less than USD10 in South Africa. The charmat one from SA that they serve costs a dollar or 2 less! (Most of the good and popular wines are from South Africa anyway). They have excellent vanilla and ginger (and other) rum, a Madagascan speciality.
Food-wise, it is a mixed bag. Very French, breakfast is VERY basic, with some very nice bread and pastries (of course croissants..) and egg options, and ham (very basic, no Parma or Serrano although they have it in stock) and cheese. Excellent yoghurt.
Lunch is always a buffet, with a nice selection for vegetarians and others. Sometimes even a prawn or shrimp dish, or carpaccio or Parma ham. And quite pleasant desserts, but nothing to take your breath away. Sometimes grilled chicken is served, always a meat special like pork chops or beef kebab, nothing special for vegetarians.
Dinner is another story. Normally 2 or 3 choices for starters, mains and desserts. Very French, foie gras of course, quite average choices for vegetarians, no green salads ever (only crudites) - and they have a daily boat to Nosy Be! They caught tuna on our first day here, but other than sashimi on day 1, we had to place a special order for dinner, otherwise it is always Kingfish. Quite boring. They served gambas (prawns) a few times, quite tasty big prawns.
Most of the sauces are quite nasty, they really need a sous-chef to train the chef to make proper, lighter sauces. Much of the food is also largely recycled, after a day or two one has had a taste of everything - twice! Last night's leeks inevitably appear in a pankakes for lunch the next day. (Maybe rather keep it for a day or two?)
Also, the should be clear on what the cost is of the "non-inclusive" meals. They served us lobster on request one evening (not that this should have to be a special request!) and they charged us AR160 000 (about USD60 or ZAR 800) for 2 lobsters, more than we pay at home in Johannesburg. This is an island in the deep sea - why on earth include foie gras, beef, lamb, pork, chicken - but not lobster? We never saw an oyster either (and we asked for this), although the beaches are littered with oyster shells! The prawns were quite good.
It is also quite strange to get vanilla ice-cream (a few times) with absolutely NO taste of vanilla, not even 1 vanilla seed (they can get vanilla pods from the lodge gift shop!). Even the vanilla tea is quite average - Twinings vanilla tea is better! And ths is si near the vanilla island.
The Constance coffee table book in the bar claims that the cuisine at Tsarabanjina is about "fresh fruits and vegatbles, and fish and shellfish". We saw more pork, beef, foie gras, lamb and such, although there was always some fresh fish.
Someone should brief the kitchen on the current low-carb and low-calorie trend, the food is not cutting edge, really done in the old way.
Our snorkeling excursion ("extravaganza") took 2 hours and was great, one sees wonderful chorals and fish, great variety. But then again, very similar to what one sees at the house reef, 5 minutes by foot from your bungalow. We saw a sea turtle a few times and several lion fish at the house reef, great! Water temperature is always about 28 degrees C, incredible.
Be careful of taking excursions in the rainy season, as the weather can change very quickly. We had a very bad of an excursion to Grand Mitsio island, during the excursion the sea became VERY rough. (At least we were not charged for the excursion.)
The WIFI is an issue here, this is very much an on-off affair, the bar wifi sometimes worked, the router was often unplugged. There is an area near reception where there is an average connection (as per the hotel brochure), but everyone wants to use the WIFI in the bar/restaurant area, why not have it on at all times there? Maybe someone can donate a good router to the Constance Group?
The decor in the bar and restaurant needs a serious upgrade, there are even artificial flower display in the restaurant (see pic). Why not just use local greenery? The chairs in the lounge and bar are also camp/bush style seats, very basic and uncomfortable. They can learn from what they have done at places like Quilalea near Pemba in Mozambique, much more impressive. A Kartell chair or 2 would not go amiss. (The Constance Group can really learn from the safari lodges in South Africa as far as bush/basic sophistication is concerned - basic can be cool!)
The staff mostly only speak French, but try their best to help one in English. Maia (receptionist), Anna (excursion manager) and Hector (sommelier) are gems, but most of the rest are average. Olivier, the manager is also cool, helpful and attentive guy, does his best.
Getting to and from Tsarabanjina:
Tsarabanjina is a magic place. With a few minor tweaks it can take your breath away! The BEST advice we can offer anyone is to avoid the 90 (yes - NINETY!) minute boat trip from Hell-ville in Nosy Be - it is a very long trip in a small boat, rather take the helicopter service if you can afford it at all, although a one-way trip costs about Euro 700!
One wonders why Constance does not get a sea-place or automatically include the 15 minute helicopter transfer in the fare, as they do at Anjajavy, this makes far more sense.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Azure blue water, powder soft beaches, private bungalow fenced by tropical plants, choose from one of the 25 Beach Villas at Constance Tsarabanjina. Laid back atmosphere, barefoot chic, intimate retreat, eco-friendly, unspoilt Madagascan Island surrounded by azure water; the resort offer chic Robinson Crusoe style experience. Enjoy our All-Inclusive Cristal Package which includes everything from premium drinks to exquisite cuisine and comfortable accommodation. Be among the first to seek out the hidden depths and gems of the unspoilt location. From ecological thatch roofing to unspoilt clear water, Constance Tsarabanjina is one of our unique resorts. All villas are built and decorated in simple tones with a hint of Constance comfort. Feast on fresh seafood and Malagasy specialities in sand floored restaurant and contemplate beautiful view from your hammock.Discover the island’s unique biodiversity with a guided nature walk or explore water still largely unexplored with guided snorkelling and private cruises. The friendly Akio Diving staff, professional and always available, will take you by the hand breathing underwater, and will make you live new experiences and unforgettable moments. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Constance Lodge Tsarabanjina Hotel Tsarabanjina
- Constance Hotel Tsarabanjina