Author: C.C.

Baltic Coast Germany: White Sands And Crisp Sea



With gabled facades and cobbled streets, this is a small, photogenic city that joined the Hanseatic League in the 13th century, but spent most of the 17th and 18th centuries belonging to Sweden. The entire Old Town is Unesco-listed: check out the carvings in St Nikolai Church, the main square dominated by the 1602 Wasserkunst (waterworks) and the Rathaus Historical Exhibition.

Rathaus Historical Exhibition

Rathaus Historical Exhibition


This vibrant city was once the second-most important member of the Hanseatic League after Lubeck. Its square gables, Gothic turrets, ornate portals and vaulted arches make it a leading example of Backsteingotik (classic red-brick Gothic gabled architecture) in northern Germany. Stralsund’s Unesco-recognised Old Town is on its own island, and its historic streets and many attractions make it an unmissable stop.


A former summer residence of the Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, this town’s treasures include the Munster- a church on the site of a once-powerful Cistercian abbey, with an intricate high altar and an ornate pulpit. Organ recitals and choir performances are held May to September, usually at 7.30pm on Fridays.



In 1886, the steam train Molli began puffing to Heiligendamm. In 1910, the line was extended along the coast to Kuhlungsborn. Today, Molli still departs Bad Doberan several times daily, showing off the coastal scenery. For an enjoyable walk, get off at Heiligendamm, walk to Steilkuste station and pick up the train again.


Nature lovers and artists will be captivated by this far-flung splinter of land between Stralsund and Rostock, which hosts 60,000 migratory cranes every spring and autumn. The area is picturesque so, not surprisingly, it’s home to an artists’ colony in Ahrenshoop, which has an especially wild and windblown beach.The tiny town of Prerow is renowned for its model-ship-filled seafarers’ church and lighthouse.

Ahrenshoop, Germany

Ahrenshoop, Germany


With its white-sand beaches, chestnut, oak, elm and poplar trees, charming architecture and a national park, Rugen offers myriad ways to enjoy nature. Despite the island’s popularity, its 400-square-mile surface area, fringed by 360 miles of coastline, has plenty of quiet corners. You can enjoy Rugen on a day trip from Stralsund, but consider staying. Sail & Surf Rugen hires SUP boards, catamarans and windsurfing gear, and offers lessons.

Food & Drink


Smoked-fish stands dot Stralsund’s harbour area, but this fish bar has the best of the Baltic and beyond. Choose from the glass-fronted counters, get a beer and wait at a picnic table. People love the fish sandwiches. Around town, drink locally brewed beers by Stortebeker Brewing.


Binz is Rugen’s largest and most celebrated seaside resort, full of ornate Victorian villas, white sand and bluewater, and also home to this top restaurant. Seasonal dishes are combined in menus (one veggie) that delight with their creativity. A relaxed vibe and tables outside let you revel in long summer nights.

FREUSTIL Restaurant

FREUSTIL Restaurant


Gloriously hokey, Karls is a roadside attraction in the cheesiest tradition, eight miles northeast from Rostock. It’s a hodgepodge of petting zoo, playgrounds, cafes, shops and strawberry fields, but what you’re really here for is the fresh strawberry ice cream. Watch staff make preserves, then listen to mechanical bears sing Elvis.

Mini Guide To The Cinematic London



This West End oldie has a fantastic lineup featuring the best indie films, plus shorts and mini-festivals. Regular Q&As with directors draw film enthusiasts, too. It’s possible to make a night of it at the Curzon, thanks to the Konditor & Cook cafe upstairs (the cakes are a highlight) and an ultra-comfortable bar.


Tucked under Waterloo Bridge is the British Film Institute, with four cinemas that screen thousands of films each year (mostly arthouse), a gallery devoted to the moving image and the mediatheque, where you can watch film and TV highlights from the BFI National Archive. It also has a film store for books and DVDs, a restaurant and a gorgeous cafe.

British Film Institute

British Film Institute


Although technically dedicated to British film, this museum currently hosts only one exhibition: Bond in Motion. Get shaken and stirred while browsing the largest official collection of 007 vehicles, including Bond’s submersible Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me and his iconic Aston Martin DB5.



This 1770s Palladian masterpiece fronting the River Thames is home to two galleries, including the Courtauld Gallery, and is often used as a filming location: period drama Down ton Abbey, several Sherlock Holmes films and action movies Golden Eye and X-Men: First Class all shot scenes here. An outdoor cinema is rolled out in its courtyard during warmer months.

The Courtauld Gallery

The Courtauld Gallery


Nicknamed for its unusual shape, 30 St Mary Axe is arguably the City’s most distinctive skyscraper. Built in 2003 by award-winning Norman Foster, the Gherkin has become an emblem of modem London and often appears in films. Searcys restaurant on the 39th floor can be booked for private hire and has occasional public-dining nights. The Gherkin is sometimes open during the September Open House London weekend too.

Filming locations


Portobello Road Market trades an eclectic mix of food, antiques and street fashion. Scenes from 2014 film Paddington were shot here, but this heaving strip of West London life is most famous for its starring role in the British romcom Notting Hill. Book to see a film at the street’s Electric Cinema or stop for a bite at its appropriately retro diner.


Clink78 is a fantastic 630-bed hostel in a 19th-century courthouse where members of The Clash stood trial in 1978. There are pod-bed dorms plus private rooms – some in converted cells.



The four adorable, spacious suites at Main House in Notting Hill have vast bathrooms; the uppermost suite occupies the entire top floor. Owner Caroline is full of local knowledge.

Handsome and luxurious, the Beaumont in Mayfair is all Art Deco opulence. Rooms and suites are swish, with a 1920s Modernist aesthetic. Prices include local drop-offs in the hotel’s vintage Daimler.

Switzerland’s Sublime Landscape Comes Alive In The Summer

The restorative power of a few days spent in the peace and tranquillity of the countryside can never be underestimated – it’s succour to the soul. And if that’s what you’re in need of, Switzerland certainly won’t disappoint. Wherever you are among its 26 cantons, you’re never far from a mountain, forest, lake or river. In short, the whole country is a haven for nature lovers. Ticino, the southernmost region, is Switzerland with a bit of Italian flair. With palm trees, clean lakeside beaches and rustic villages with narrow alleyways leading to piazzas, it feels like the Mediterranean starts just south of the Alps. Lake Lugano and the larger Lake Maggiore straddle Switzerland and Italy, both offering dramatic mountain scenery. The pretty town of Lugano offers a cultural hit too, with regular music festivals and the new LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura centre. It’s from here that you can catch the Gotthard Panorama Express to Lucerne.


It takes 5 ½ hours from Lugano, and the route, which first opened in 1882, is fantastically picturesque. Sit in the photography carriage of the train, where you can open the windows to get that perfect shot. Just minutes after you pass through the nine-mile-long Gotthard Tunnel (the world’s longest when it opened), keep an eye out for a rock in Goschenen, known as the Devil’s Stone, 12 metres in diameter. At Wassen, the line’s two horseshoe-curve tunnels will disorientate you, as they give you three different views of the village. And your journey will take a turn of a different kind in Fluelen, where passengers transfer to a pad die steamer bound for Lucerne.

After a leisurely cruise, the steamer arrives in Lucerne, where you’ll feel on top of the world among the mountains. The city of Lucerne has a good choice of museums and galleries, and it’s full of historic sites such as the famous wooden Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) dating from the early 1300s. But it’s the region’s countryside that’s the real draw. Take a boat trip across Lake Lucerne, or hop on the world’s steepest cog railway to the top of the mighty Mount Pilatus, which stands at 2,132m. If you’re more of a walker, head to the Alpine valleys, tranquil lakes and mountains.

Live The Summer Dream In Santa Cruz

Back in 1967, a teenage Frosty Hesson spent his summer alternating between listening to bands in Golden Gate Park and surfing the cold waters of neighbouring Ocean Beach. A few years later, along with many other young San Franciscans, he had drifted down to Santa Cruz, a classic Californian beach town to the south of the Bay Area. ‘You had hippies, students and surfers all mixing together, a bunch of non-conformists finding away of life they enjoyed,’ recalls Frosty, standing on the dramatic headland at Steamer Lane, a renowned surfing spot. ‘There’s still a lot of radical thinking around here. Perhaps there’s something in the water,’ he says, as a classic campervan pulls up next to him, with a ‘Keep Santa Cruz weird’ sticker brandished on its bumper.


Santa Cruz

In the ocean below, a pod of younger surfers look like seals in their sleek wetsuits. Not far beyond them, an otter plays in the forest of kelp. A pelican swoops past and the barks of sea lions reverberate out from underneath the town wharf – signs that the decades-long clean-water campaign here is working to good effect. A short stroll away, the sandy sweep of Cowell Beach and vintage fairground rides on the boardwalk are beginning to fill with holidaymakers. At Steamer Lane, Frosty is soon joined by other silver-haired surfing legends who’ve been in town since the ’60s. One of them, Jane McKenzie, arrives on her bicycle carrying her long board. ‘You see those waves and feel humbled by an entity greater than you. It’s a certain kind of person who’s drawn here,’ she says, looking out at the growing swell.

By late afternoon, the engorged tide is too enticing to resist. The old-timers slip into the water. On the cliff above, a circle has formed around a guitar player. Nearby a group of students are hula-hooping, their neon rings glinting in the setting sun. Here, at least, it seems summer might last forever.

Berkeley: Dive Into An Unforgettable Lifestyle

HEN SUMMER TURNED TO autumn, most of the flower children returned to university or settled down in conventional jobs. But not everyone was ready to give up their newfound alternative lifestyles. Bob Bernstein was one of those who ended up on a commune in the Californian countryside. ‘They picked me up when I was hitchhiking and I’ve been there ever since,’ says Bob of Porno Tierra, a collective north of San Francisco which he joined in 1971. ‘It was pretty wild. No-one had ever farmed before. We just knew we wanted out of the city.’ Nowadays Bob and his apples, juices and cider vinegars are a regular fixture at the Berkeley farmers’ markets, where he is known to many as ‘Bernie’, thanks to his resemblance to the senator Bernie Sanders.

Just across the water from San Francisco, on the east side of the bay, Berkeley remains a bastion of counter-culture. During the ’60s, the university was at the heart of the anti-Vietnam-War protest movements, and many students never left town after graduating. There must be a higher percentage of proudly grey, longhaired citizens here than anywhere else in America. This is a place where holistic centres abut biofuel garages, bars serving kombucha fermented health drinks are more numerous than Starbucks, and grocery shopping is carried out conspicuously with canvas bags at the tri-weekly farmers’ markets.



At the Thursday market on Shattuck Avenue, locals are joined by out-of-towners, drawn by the promise of produce so good that North Berkeley has acquired the nickname ‘the Gourmet Ghetto’. Wiggly-shaped baby squashes, corn with the husks still on and peppers popping in reds, yellows, greens and purples form a tableau that is almost psychedelic in its explosion of colour and pattern. Still-warm loaves of spelt bread, Bernie’s apple juices and a stall selling raspberry-basil sorbet and bran died cherry ice-cream tempt shoppers. Baskets of plump peaches are so fragrant that they demand to be eaten right there and then.

Given that so many hippies stayed in Berkeley, it’s not surprising this became the crucible of the organic food revolution. ‘Living in Berkeley in the ’60s, there was this sense that we could change the world. Everyone knew someone who’d dropped out to join a commune and you just absorbed the understanding that we had to care for the land,’ says Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse. Since opening on Shattuck Avenue in 1971, the restaurant has been one of the earliest champions of local and sustainable food, pioneering now widespread practices, such as changing dishes daily according to what’s in season and naming producers on the menu. Gourmands from around the world continue to make the pilgrimage here, passing under the vine-trellised entrance into the small serving room, where warm wood and brass finishing give the appearance of a homely French-style brasserie. Dishes are seemingly simple – a wild salmon carpaccio, roasted lamb with green garlic – but when the provenance is this good, it’s best left unadorned.

Shattuck Avenue

Shattuck Avenue

Opposite Chez Panisse stands another Berkeley institution: the Cheese Board Collective. Founded the same year as the Summer of Love, the deli is a veritable library of cheddars, goudas, American jacks and goat’s cheeses. Inside, chalked blackboards announce seasonal specials, and a cow statue, clothed in multi-coloured crochet knit, stands guard. Next door, a pizzeria serves thin pies with toppings that change daily, but are always vegetarian, and a live jazz band keeps customers tapping their feet as they wait. What makes this place unique is the way it is run, as a co-op. All staff earn the same hourly wage, no matter how long they’ve been there, and decisions are made by the consensus of all 54 employees. ‘For customers who remember the ’60s, we’re a touchstone to that period of political action,’ says worker Cathy Goldsmith, as she carefully slices a wedge of gruyere.

Social consciousness is woven throughout the fabric of Berkeley. Its farmers’ markets, which would be the envy of wealthy communities everywhere, are accessible to those on lower incomes, thanks to food stamp programmes. In the poorer southwest area of town, the Spiral Gardens Community Farm is another example of trying to bring Eden to everyone. Kanchan Dawn Hunter is just visible among the luxuriant jungle of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. A scrum of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are proof of the chemical-free policy here. ‘When my husband founded the gardens 14 years ago, this was a vacant lot surrounded by liquor stores. It was difficult for the neighbourhood to access fresh food,’ recalls Kanchan. Now, the project teaches locals to grow their own and distributes free produce to those in need. Visitors support the gardens by buying seeds, fruit and vegetables, while learning about native plants and sustainable growing practices from the volunteers. ‘It’s environmental justice in action,’ says Kanchan, looking the picture of an eco warrior with her straw hat and dreads braided with cowrie shells.

Discover The Entertainment Of San Francisco

Deep inside Golden Gate Park the soundtrack of modern day San Francisco – the frenetic patter of laptops in techie-filled coffee shops, streets rolling with Uber traffic – seems far, far away. A more primal sound beats out near the Conservatory of Flowers, the park’s Victorian-era greenhouse. On this spot known colloquially as Hippie Hill, drum circles congregate in a fug of marijuana smoke most days. One afternoon, a lone musician is tapping out a rhythm on a homemade drum, fashioned from PVC piping and emblazoned with the words ‘Waste not, want not’. Reclining on the slope, he soaks up the last light, the golden Californian rays playing on his long hair and beard.

Fifty years ago, Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood next to it became the epicentre for a movement that would change the world. The Summer of Love sprung up in 1967 like a field of wild flowers. Tens of thousands of young people from across America descended on this area of less than a square mile. Casting off the corseted fashions and attitudes of their hometowns, they came to embrace the liberated atmosphere. Sitting cross-legged and catatonic on the grass, or dancing and swaying, they listened to bands like Jeffers on Airplane hold free open-air gigs in the park.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

At the foot of Hippie Hill, the tree where Janis Joplin serenaded onlookers still stands. While much of today’s San Francisco would be unrecognisable to Janis, this area remains a time warp. A mint-green VW campervan pulls up next to the Conservatory of Flowers. Out steps local Mark Souza, wearing a ’60s rock band T-shirt and a velvet jacket, joined by his partner Michael Grauer and their four Australian Shepherd dogs, ‘We came to appreciate the dahlias and the sunset,’ says Mark, ‘We like to be free, and the van means we can hit the road – all six of us – whenever we like.’

A short amble away, Haight Street, lined with record stores and shops selling bongs, rock crystals and hand-dyed psychedelia, is similarly full of bohemian romantics. Holding a guitar in one hand, Kaveh Mahdavi is on his way to band practice when he stops for a smoke beside a mural to Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia. Kaveh used to work for IBM until, like so many generations before him, he dropped out and bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco. ‘I was attracted to the neighbourhood because it’s a little weird around the edges,’ he says. ‘People talk about the energy of certain places. Something drew me here.’

San Francisco

San Francisco

The hippie dream was meant to have died with the Summer of Love. The promised paradise of free love and free thinking soon turned sour. Overrun by dropouts, Haight-Ashbury became a dystopic muddle of crime, drug addiction, sexual disease and disaffection. In October 1967, local activists even staged a mock funeral down Haight Street, pronouncing ‘The Death of the Hippie’. But half a century later, many of the hippies’ values, from respecting the environment to celebrating creative individuality, have seeped into the mainstream. And nowhere are these ideals more alive than in California’s Bay Area.

The Sweet Nostalgia Of A Long-Lost Paris

Flower shops and bistros thrive cheek by jowl along die Rue Lepic, gateway to Paris’s neon-dappled hilltop village of Montmartre. Late into the night, the griddle-hiss from burger joints is a siren call to bar-crawlers. One classic hang-out is the Cafe des Deux Moulins (‘Two Windmills Cafe’). Festooned with fairy lights, this invitingly gaudy corner spot has undergone remodelling since its starring role in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s smash hit Amalie (2001).

A coy celebration of Montmartre’s bijou eccentricity and leafy charm as an artists’ haven, the film made an instant star of Audrey Tautou, who played the titular lovelorn waitress. Her face peeks knowingly from a comer display inside Deox Moulins, while the cafe’s ceiling emulates the texture of a Belgian waffle. From breakfast till the 2am close, the pink banquettes are filled with young bohemian couples, who eat crepes and watch the world go by.

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

Just downhill is its veteran namesake the Moulin Rouge, the notorious cabaret venue marked by a red windmill on its roof. Birthplace of the classic can-can, it has given its name to a half-dozen films: John Huston’s 1952 drama is a stuffy granddad to Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 extravaganza, which had Nicole Kidman’s consumptive courtesan swinging from the rafters. These days, clustered around myriad tables set with lamps and buckets of house champagne, audiences enjoy a show so mad and multi-coloured it regularly feels like an absinthe hallucination. During countless costume changes full-stage choreography gives way to circus interludes: whirling podium dances with ropes have you fearing for the performers’ safety, but they never put a foot out of place. The Moulin Rouge can’t be accused of resting on its laurels, so much as fluffing them up and wearing them as a headdress three times nightly.

Paris On Film: Where Cinema Was Born

Hollywood directors have long grasped the luminous romantic appeal of Paris. The Seine was turned into a set when MGM made its studio musical An American in Paris (1951), recreating the cobbled riverside walk along the Quai de Montebello for Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron to dance along at night. Even mid-afternoon a rare solitude holds sway on this charmed stretch, where usually the only sound is the echo of your footsteps. A few steps away is the spot for a reunion between the paramours in Before Sunset (2004), This is Shakespeare and Company, a much-cherished, delightfully ramshackle bookshop where Ethan Hawke’s Jesse begins the him with a signing of his novel.

The shop’s curators delight in books as objects, including Art Deco-embossed reprints of F Scott Fitzgerald. Upstairs, visitors take turns to entertain each other on an obdurate upright piano, while in the poetry comer a box labelled Lonely Hearts and Missed Connections contains tiny outpourings of the heart on scraps of paper and old receipts. ‘Mon cher Noam,’ reads one. ‘Ever waiting for the day you come back to me.’

The Pantheon, Rome

The Pantheon, Rome

The Pantheon – a Neoclassical church-turned-mausoleum – is king of the hill in this part of town. Crouching behind it is the smaller and older church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. The comer entrance betrays none of its cinematic status. A passer-by might perch outside to peer at a map, unaware that on these steps, Owen Wilson sat awaiting his nightly lift in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011), to be whisked back by antique car to the demi-monde of the 1920s.

The five-star Hotel Scribe, near the Palais Gamier opera house, was a cafe back in the days of the Lumieres, when they premiered their first filmmaking experiments in 1895. Crystal chandeliers abound, and the lobby’s fireside armchairs look built for giants. This was used as the residence of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestley, during the fashion-week section of The Devil Wears Prada (2006).

That film found an ideal venue for the week’s climactic party, at the Musee de la Mode, Paris’s fashion museum housed in the 19th-century Palais Galliera. Sculpted in white stone, the colonnaded building showcases dazzling designs from the likes of Sonia Rykiel, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix, many of them him outfits worn by stars like Catherine Deneuve and Audrey Hepburn.

Hotel Scrib View

Hotel Scrib View

The Eiffel Tower got a prominent billing in the Bond film A View to a Kill (1985) – Grace Jones’s ferocious May Day jumped off it in a black ninja costume, her parachute somehow concealed. The restaurant inside, where she assassinates Roger Moore’s dining companion using a poisoned fishhook concealed in a butterfly puppet, is listed in the credits, erroneously, as Le Jules Verne, on the tower’s second floor. In fact, it must have been shot elsewhere, since the Verne’s three kidney-shaped rooms around the perimeter don’t even slightly resemble the establishment on screen. Mid-afternoon, business lunchers eke out their coffee before the pristine white tablecloths are reset for dinner. Although not the view to a kill, it does have a killer view – you’ll need to book three months ahead for the possibility of a window table.

Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) invents a city of dreams. The architecture student played by Ellen Page is meant to design a series of levels inside the mind of a sleeping target, but needs to be shown a simulation first: enter Paris. At the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, now regularly referred to as the ‘Inception Bridge’, the film creates an endless vista by swinging two giant mirrors closed, so that its metal colonnades go on forever. Alas, this isn’t an everyday feature of this cultish meeting place, which on a typical afternoon serves as a backdrop mostly for street performers and newlyweds’ photoshoots.

Andasibe-Mantadia National Park: Get Up Close With Lemurs Of Madagascar

IT’S COLD UP ON THE CENTRAL plateau of Madagascar. Patches of cloud float across hills swathed in eucalyptus, American sweetgum, azalea and magnolia. Hanging from their branches are bloated water droplets, ready to fall with a satisfying ‘poink’ onto the damp floor. Tree frogs croak and chirp and peep their presence through the drizzle, keeping leaf-tailed geckos and long-limbed spiders company beneath the canopy. Luc Rajeriosa pushes his way through the undergrowth, stepping through the vines of assorted plants and brushing aside the canoe-sized branches of giant tree ferns.


Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

He pauses, pushes his straw hat to the back of his head, and stares into the treetops. ‘They are very far away,’ he whispers, frowning. ‘But still we must be very quiet.’ He plunges into a thicket of bamboo. With every step, his feet sink into the sticky mush of rotting foliage. At the top of a steep hill, he stops again. Within minutes, a high-pitched wail rises up, falls and rises again. More wails join it, as though an orchestra of musicians with broken trumpets has set up within the forest. ‘Now you hear the song of the indri,’ says Luc, and looks once more into the treetops.

Three silhouetted balls are coiled in the upper branches. Limbs appear from furry bodies, and the indri take shape: black feet and hands, white legs and arms, round ears framing a black face, and a long black tail. The three creatures – a male, female and their baby – start grooming in the fine rain, picking at each others’ coats with bony fingers. The male launches itself into a neighbouring tree, and his family soon join him. They swing off through the branches, and disappear. ‘The local people here will not harm the indri,’ says Luc, moving off in slow pursuit. ‘It is taboo. We call them babakoto – father of man. The belief is that one day, long ago, the indri saved a small boy lost in the forest. For that, we will always care for them.’

Feon'ny Ala, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

Feon’ny Ala, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

The indri is the largest primate in Madagascar (the giant lemur, the size of a silverback gorilla, has been extinct for some 600 years). Up to 70 family groups live in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, and the rainforest regularly sings with their territorial calls, the sound travelling for more than a mile. It is somewhat trickier to see them, but Andasibe has other distractions should a sighting prove elusive. There are fuzzy-faced, ginger-limbed diademed sifakas, which can only be found in this part of the country; the alien forms of giraffe weevils, heads carried on spindly necks four times the length of their red bodies; fluffy bamboo lemurs stripping leaves off their namesake plants; and Malagasy tree boas wrapped around the trunks of palisander trees, blue tongues flicking beneath black eyes.

Luc is not a man to be swayed from his almost reverential search for the babakoto though, despite several hours scrambling through the forest. ‘I am like the indri,’ he says, emerging briefly into sunlight at the banks of a small lake. ‘I need to be in the forest every day.’ He turns back into the undergrowth, and is soon lost from sight.

The Amazing Road To Tsingy

‘A PART FROMITS UNIQUE biodiversity, Madagascar is also known for its bad roads.’ So says local tour guide Dennis Rakotoson, climbing into the jeep. He is not smiling. With less than 20 per cent of its road network asphalted, getting from A to B in Madagascar is rarely straightforward. Google Maps will tell you that it’s a three-hour journey from Kirindy up the 8a road to Bekopaka, some 100 miles north Google Maps is wrong – very, very wrong – but neither does it tell you that a day travelling the route is at least as exciting as a day in the forest with a family of lemurs.

For the most part, the 8a is more rutted mud track than road. It soon leaves behind the paddy fields surrounding the Avenue des Baobabs, their neat, green lines ploughed by zebu, trailed by squabbling ducks. The landscape becomes drier, the bushes lining the verge covered in sand thrown up by passing vehicles, as though someone has dumped a bucket of orange powder over them. Large patches of blackened earth still smoulder from recent forest clearings.



In the early morning, kids idle along the 8a on their way to school, kicking footballs in the dust. Women in bright skirts march between villages, bundles of maize or firewood balanced on their heads, and their faces covered in a paste made from tamarind bark, to keep off the sun. Families do their laundry in shallow streams, their clothes drying on the banks, or bump along on wooden carts, behind the camel-like humps and long horns of slow-plodding zebu. ‘The Malagasy are so attached to their zebu,’ says Dennis, leaning on the dashboard as the jeep negotiates one of many potholes the size of paddling pools. ‘They are used for transportation and in the fields, of course, but also in rituals, burial ceremonies and medicine. If you rub the oil from their humps into your skin, you will get very strong.’

At the midway point of the journey, the road stops, cut off by the great brown slug of the Tsiribihina River, Jeeps are manoeuvred gingerly down planks onto Heath Robins on-style ferries, seemingly made from random bits of metal roped together. Everyone on board, they chug past people in hand-carved wooden canoes on the hour-long journey to Belo sur Tsiribihina on the opposite bank. By the early afternoon, the town’s market is in full swing, and traders sit beside piles of sweet potatoes, sugarcane, dried red chillies, fried shrimps and fatty zebu humps, waving large flies away from their goods with their hands. ‘The road gets a little worse from here,’ says Dennis, as the 8a heads out of town. It is partially collapsed in places, weaving and dipping a new course around fallen trees and waterlogged craters.



As the intense heat of the day starts to fade, activity is stepped up in the roadside villages. Men cut earth into bricks, or scythe reeds for building, while their wives rhythmically pound rice with poles in giant mortars, Turkeys waiting expectantly beside them. Children race out to every passing vehicle and peer inside, practicing their foreign-language skills with polite requests for pens or bonbons. By the time the jeep pulls into the last stop at Bekopaka, via a final river crossing and many stops to let a brightly coloured giant coua bird, herd of goats or nervous chameleon cross the road, the sun has started to set through the mangrove trees. The journey along the Sahas taken over 11 hours, but, perhaps, it wouldn’t be so bad to turn around and do it all again.