The Litchi Tree

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Date of travel

September, 2018

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Culture / Sightseeing

We stayed at “The Litchi Tree”: outside the Madagascan town of Diego Suarez for three nights.

The house, built in 1902, was formerly the home of Marshall Joffre, a noted French military figure instrumental in organising the area into a strong naval base. There are six rooms and magnificent grounds, with manicured lawns, colourful plants and a huge Litchi Tree. Strong winds, known as varatraza, howled around us as the house is set high up on a hill at 800m.

Our huge room had a polished wooden floor and whitewashed stone walls. There was a double bed, with brightly-coloured bedding and mosquito net, bedside tables and lights. There was an interesting free-standing lamp with metal lampshade with cut-out pattern of lemurs running up the side. There is no wardrobe or shelving just three hooks, a wooden chest, fancy lounge chair and coffee table along with a desk and chair. There were a couple of plug points, but electricity is only available between 5.30pm and 10pm. Although all the lights go off in the dark, and we didn’t fancy sleeping with lighted candles, it wasn’t pitch black in the night although head torches left at our bedside were helpful. There was no Wi-Fi.

The bathroom had a patterned porcelain basin, loo and open shower and although the solar heated water took a long time to run, it was hot and relatively powerful. Family-size containers of toiletries were provided.

Dinner was at 7pm but we had an aperitif in a small grotto-like lounge with brown and red chairs, red walls and a wall of fairy light strings. The small dining area/bar had lots of interesting object d’art.

The Litchi Tree is run by a Frenchman, Herve, and his adopted Malagasy daughter, Madiba, who helps serving meals despite being only 10 years old. Herve is also the chef, and an excellent one and we enjoyed some of the best food of our six-week trip. On our first night we had chicken and cheese vol au vent with a bowl of carrot salad to start followed by fillet of zebu which arrived on two sizzling plates, and bowls of pasta and petit pois, a jug of jus, French mustard and a sweet chilli sauce. The meat was cooked medium and was delicious – it had been in an olive oil marinade for 6 days according to Herve. Pudding was a long choux bun and it was suggested we eat with fingers and were provided with paper napkins. Our coffee was served with squares of dark bitter chocolate. Subsequent dinners were equally impressive and always beautifully served.

There was an extensive wine cellar, but a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc at €34, was more expensive than others we’d had, and on subsequent nights, we stuck to beer and water.

Breakfasts at 7.30am were as good as dinner and served on a beautifully laid table on the front terrace with tea and coffee pots already in position (having been pre-ordered). There were bananas, French baguette, large toasted rolls, plaited cinnamon croissant, jams and butter. A hot option varied from herbed scrambled eggs to a fabulous omelette served on the table in the pan.

We enjoyed two very different lunches. The first, a picnic whilst out hiking in the Amber mountains, comprised of a salad platter with a vinaigrette dressing in a jam jar, followed by chicken legs with rice and chilli dressing and bananas for desert. The second was at the hotel, where we asked Herve for a light lunch and we enjoyed pate and gherkin sandwiches, sardines, asparagus and sliced tomatoes in a balsamic vinaigrette followed by chocolate cake for pudding.

This is an ideal place to stay when visiting the nearby Amber Mountain and I’d recommend staying for longer than one night – the food will make it worthwhile as it was the culinary highlight of our tour.

Helen Jackson

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