La Petite Traversee is a small hotel located on the northern edge of Ile aux Nattes, a tiny island off the southern tip of Ile St Marie. Despite its French-sounding name, it is owned and run by a South African, Ockie Snyman. Several tourists staying in smaller hotels on Ile St Marie told us that they had struggled a little to be understood by the French-speaking staff, so finding a hotel with English-speaking staff may be an advantage for non-Francophone tourists - provided you consider that South Africans speak English ...;)
The location of the hotel is glorious, as it faces out onto the narrow channel between Ile St Marie and Ile aux Nattes. The transfer from the airport to the hotel (a distance of less than 2km as the crow flies) is an experience in itself, as you are loaded into a taxi, driven on an atrocious road around the perimeter of the airfield and deposited at the shore to await your pirogue (dug out canoe) - the only means of transport between the two islands. The narrowness of the channel means that the current running through it is extremely strong, and the pirogue boatsman has to work very hard - you on the other hand, can just sit back and enjoy the lovely scenery as you watch your hotel approach ever closer!
La Petite Traversee only has 7 rooms, one of which is a family unit with two bedrooms. The rooms are self-contained and rustic but comfortable, and each is no further than 50m from the shoreline. Another nice feature is that - unlike several of the other hotels on the island - the vegetation around the huts has been retained, which provides shade and gives an added sense of privacy.
Accommodation is on a half board (breakfast + evening meal) basis, and the food is excellent. As an interesting counterpoint to the dominantly French-influenced cuisine on the island, Ockie has taught the cook some South African dishes, and we were amused to be served potjiekos (traditional South African meat and vegetable stew cooked in an iron pot over a fire) one evening! There is no a la carte option, but rather a choice of two main courses, and the cook is very accommodating in terms of organising child-friendly options if your kids aren't adventurous enough to tackle the adult fare. Breakfasts are generous 'farm' breakfasts, with eggs, chips and tomatoes as well as toast and muffins (again, a nice contrast to the continental breakfasts elsewhere which can be somewhat minimalist). Should you still be hungry, an old boat has been converted into a pizzeria (the 'Lucky Dube' after a famous South African reggae artist) which serves excellent pizzas and does a brisk trade.
All meals are served at a single table, which means that you get to meet interesting people - for the second half of our stay, the hotel was occupied by South African and American missionaries who had been working in Madagascar for many years, and provided us with a very interesting perspective on the country .
La Petite Traversee offers a range of activities, including deep sea fishing. We were lucky enough to be there during the humpback whale season (see travel tip) and can also thorougly recommend a pirogue ride around Ile aux Nattes (see travel tip). There is a glass bottomed boat which was a great hit with the kids (see travel tip) and there are plenty of excellent snorkelling spots around both islands (the coral in the channel opposite La Petite Traversee is in good condition). Ockie is also able to organise other customised packages to Ile St Marie and the mainland - see his excellent website below for more details.
Ockie also runs a guest house (Country View) in Tana, which is located fairly close to the airport. The guest house's driver collects guests from the airport, transfers them to the guest house for the night and transfers then back to the airport the following day for their flight to Ile St Marie (since the timing of the Air Mad flights from Johannesburg is such that it is seldom possible to connect through to Ile St Marie in one day). Being effectively in the hands of a single operator from arrival in Madagascar to Ile aux Nattes may particularly appeal to first time visitors to Madagascar who are nervous about travelling through Tana (which can initially be a little confusing).
Due to the communal dining arrangement and the sociable atmosphere of the hotel, La Petite Traversee is probably not for honeymooners or those seeking absolute seclusion from the rest of humanity. Although comfortable, it is also not ultra-luxurious, so would not appeal to those seeking 5 star accommodation. However, if you're looking for comfortable, well appointed, hospitable accommodation which offers a range of activities and interesting company, it would be hard to find better value.
I have to confess that we didn't actually stay at La Crique, but as a result of glowing reports from fellow travellers, we did stop off there for lunch, and were so impressed that we vowed to stay there should we ever go back to Ile St Marie.
La Crique is set in a small bay with a coral beach. Unlike many of the resorts along the west coast of Ile St Marie, it is utterly secluded both from neighbouring hotels and villages, which we liked very much.
The bay is very calm, with no currents, and is therefore ideal for children (who also adore beach combing and crab collecting on the coral beach). There is snorkelling around the rock outcrops on the margins of the bay and on a reef a couple of hundred metres out from shore. La Crique is apparently a particularly good spot for whale watching from the shore as the humpbacks move along the channel between Ile St Marie and the mainland.
The units are clean, well constructed and maintained, and there are some family units (the most upmarket of which also have a dedicated lounge area as part of the main bedroom). This is an ideal arrangement for parents who don't yet want to retire when the kids go to bed, and is also handy if the weather turns nasty - yes, it can bucket down, even/especially in a tropical paradise!
The food is French/Malagasy and apparently good, although there is limited choice.
There is a range of activities available, including boat trips, fishing and whale watching. One family we met had rented quad bikes and driven over to Hotel Paradis on the east coast of the island for an apparently delicious lunch, which sounded like huge fun.
The only minor word of caution that I would add is that the seclusion of the location may work against those who are planning to spend a lot of time exploring the island: if this is your intent, then a more central location may be a better bet.
A stay at the Princesse Bora Lodge gets off to a great start when you are collected from the airport by Zebu cart! (There is a car if you prefer).
The hotel is set right on the beach and offers very good quality accommodation in an idyllic setting. The staff are welcoming and attentive; you are provided with a welcome drink on arrival and the hotel's facilities are explained.
Accommodation is in individual bungalows, most with full or partial sea view. They are spacious and well appointed. The hotel is very quiet and would not suit anyone looking for a party atmosphere or exciting nightlife. However it is very romantic; guests are able to walk out on the jetty and watch the sunset on a sunlounger made for two.
The restaurant offers a limited selection of food each night, but it is of a high standard (and there is always pizza if you don't fancy the other choices.)
There is a small pool, very clean and very cold (in the winter months)
Our stay was lovely - everything we had hoped for, although prices are very high for Madagascar.
One of the key features of this hotel is its connection to the 'Megaptera' organization. They are based at the hotel and provide Whale watching trips on a daily basis. The hotel shows films in the evenings about whales and the work of the organization; interesting if you can understand French!
We stayed at the hotel for 5 nights and had 2 complimentary whale watching trips included with our stay.
Small but comfortable cabins (2 persons or more) about 30 meters from the small pebble beach. Between beach and cabin a tranquil garden with grass and coconut trees. Ducks, hens and dogs amble about. Food is simple but good (full board only).
Good bathrooms in all cabins (some shared).
Chambre single 130 FF, Chambre double 127 FF
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