After a few hot days in Toliara on the west coast of Madagascar we feel lucky to find us a driver taking us to Antananarivo. He has an old car that suits the African atmosphere very well. As a matter of fact, we had to push it at every time we leave, but heh it’s… Madagascar and… we are having a lot of fun. But we were also happy when our driver tells us of a nice hotel en route.

This turns out as a huge understatement. We find ourselves at Hotel Le Relais de la Reine; an exceptional hotel in a stunning, dramatic landscape treating us with a sort of luxury one would not expect in the middle of Madagascar. It is built in a gentle valley and is very sheltered. Quite a surprise after the dusty road in this area with a tropical dry climate with only a bit of seasonal rainfall. Le Relais de la Reine is located in the South West of Madagascar, bordering the Massif de l’Isalo. It is the country of the Bara, semi-nomadic people traveling with their herds of Zébus in a fabulous arid desert decor. The views are the best; the hotel is perfectly integrated into an oasis of over 40 hectares, opened on a fantastic panorama with beautiful rocky surroundings, it is the starting point for excursions in Isalo. We are not surprised to find out this is the oldest hotel around the reserve, you can tell this as the hotel does seem to be gently merging in to its surroundings, this is a good thing!

 Take a refreshing dive at the pool

Take a refreshing dive at the pool

The main building of the hotel housing the restaurant and the bar, destroyed by fire in 2007, was reopened in July 2008. This new building, while respecting the original architecture, includes new spaces warm and comfortable, a brighter restaurant, a bar carefully decorated in nobles’ materials. They have their own eco form where you can see all the veggies and fruit they grow, they also farm fish in their hand dug ponds.

It offers all the comforts of a modern hotel: pool, tennis, equestrian center (with very competent guides and beautiful stables), 4×4 vehicle hire and transfers. Horseback riding will offer you the most amazing views over the landscape. There are two walks around the hotel a long and a short one; the hotel has handouts (hopefully you understand a bit of French). Furthermore, you can do 'rock' climbing where kids can join. And how about the pet tortoises that live onside?

As a family you can book adjacent rooms that are spacious with little verandahs overlooking the meticulously looked after gardens. The linen, beds and toiletries were all lovely. All the rooms are nice, but you can ask for a room that looks towards the rocks for the sublime views. The food is delicious, probably the best food we had in Madagascar. Have to say we ate a lot of zebu’s meat (very tough almost leathery meat) at the other parts of Madagascar :-), but still: it is excellent. The restaurant combines the local traditions with a sophisticated cuisine.

Like in every African hotel it’s not perfect. Wi-Fi is strong, but only in the communal areas - which was fine as it is a good excuse to have a drink and/or a coffee. And some customers find the meals a bit expensive, so you might opt for dinner in the nearby town instead. Also, the rooms are very clean, but one simply can’t avoid insects in Africa.

Despite its geographic isolation, access to le Relais de la Reine is easy, using the National 7. This road, the most touristic of Madagascar, provides a permanent scenery. But you could also reach it by the private airfield, reserved for clients of the Relais and the nearby sister hotel Jardin du Roy. The closest town is Ranohira and the closest cities are Toliara and Ihosy.

 Sunset at Isola National Parc

Sunset at Isola National Parc

Hotel Relais de la Reine is nearby Isalo National Park and it is easy to get to all excursions available in the park. The Park is an amazing natural phenomenon and well worth the visit. It is known for its wide variety of terrain, including sandstone formations, deep canyons, a palm-lined oases and grassland. A guide is required for visitors entering the park. Treks in the park can last from several hours to a week or longer. The park includes several natural swimming pools which are great for kids. And there are excellent sites to see seldom seen animals. A total of 340 faunal species are known to inhabit the area, including special birds as the Benson’s rock thrush and knob-billed duck, lots of reptiles, several species of frogs and mammals. Several distinct species of lemur are found in the park. We love the ring-tailed lemurs. Luckily this animal is only active during daylight so might have the chance to see them too as it seems they are still around. As of early 2017, the population in the wild is believed to have crashed as low as 2.000 individuals due to habitat loss, poaching and hunting, making them far more critically endangered.

 In love with the Ring-tailed lemurs, also to be found in Isola National Park

In love with the Ring-tailed lemurs, also to be found in Isola National Park

The pool of Le Relais de la Reine is both for adults as kids an awesome way to escape the heat after a brisk morning trek through the national park. But take into account that it isn’t warmed by the sun. If you or your kids are not that brave to dip into a cool pool: for this you need to book next door Relais de la Roy, the big sister property, a bit more expensive but even more top end and with a heated pool. Le Relais de la Reine also has an excellent spa. They offer massages, facials, scrubs and wraps. You might as well enjoy this while you’re here and had a rough hiking day.

WOW

# This hotel is a jewel in the wilderness and off the beaten track and for children that love to climb: a wonderful place to explore the stunning rock formations. The grounds are incredible. Enjoy some beautiful sunset and sunrise hikes up on the sandstone formations surrounding the hotel.

# It is also the perfect base for nature lovers for trips to Isalo National Park and Zombitse-Vohibasia National Parks.

# The staff is excellent, especially for Madagascar standards. We absolutely enjoyed our stay here and highly recommend it.