Every year, Madagascar produces two thirds of the world’s vanilla, a spice boasting inimitable flavors whose popularity has remained unchanged over time. We took a look at this far-flung island and its diverse, enchanting landscapes. An invitation to discover a veritable treasure trove of unexpected experiences…
A brief history of vanilla
Throughout the year, we enjoy vanilla in ice creams, creams, pastries, teas, and more, without even realizing this spice is a natural treasure whose rarity continues to bolster its value.
But how many of us actually know where it comes from? Vanilla is the fruit of a vine in the orchid family (the only one to be grown for non-decorative reasons) commonly known as a vanilla orchid. This plant produces long, dark-colored pods containing a paste filled with little black seeds. After being harvested, the vanilla pods undergo several long, delicate processes before they can be used in cooking. The entire transformation takes around one year, which explains why vanilla is such a sought-after spice!
The most prized variety is Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar, which owes its popularity to its unique aroma and the quality of its refinement. This vanilla was originally found in Mexico, and was then brought to Réunion Island – known as Bourbon Island at the time – before being planted in Madagascar. The official name of “Bourbon” was registered in the early 1960s to distinguish this precious product from the other vanillas produced in the Indian Ocean, in Madagascar, the Comoros Islands, Mayotte, Mauritius, and Réunion Island. Today, Madagascar produces more than two thirds of the world’s vanilla every year.
The international vanilla capital is the Madagascan region of Sava (a name inspired by its four main cities, Sambava, Antalaha, Vohemar, and Andapa), which spans some 10,000 square miles. This magnificent stretch of land contains almost all of the island’s forests (around 70%). It is also home to other fruit cultures including coconuts, mangos, and pineapples, as well as spices such as cloves.
A whole host of other charms
Madagascar is one of the world’s largest islands, and its staggeringly diverse landscapes alone are worth the detour! Numerous parks and nature reserves are home to incredible plants and animals, including the two local icons – the lemur, a species of primate only found on the island, and the majestic baobab tree. Not far from Antananarivo, the Madagascan capital strewn with bustling streets and colorful markets, visitors will find a spa resort perched at 1,500 meters of altitude and ringed by three superb lakes. As for the coast, expect scintillating turquoise water, long beaches of white sand, and dense forests brimming with exceptionally varied fauna and flora. And no trip would be complete without seeing the sandy desert, whose color has lent Madagascar one of its nicknames – the Red Island.
When it comes to Madagascan gastronomy, foodies the world over are sure to find something for them. The island’s cuisine is founded on generous dishes in a mixture of surf ‘n’ turf, created using fresh, local produce such as rice, vegetables, meat, and fish, all rounded off with a vast number of spices. The result is an authentic culinary experience made to share.
If that weren’t enough, as part of the 2017 Joy Index, a ranking of the happiest destinations compiled in partnership with Bank of America, Condé Nast Traveler placed Madagascar in fourth place! In the report, it stated that “Madagascar is often described as the eighth continent. The Indian Ocean’s largest island broke away from Africa 165 million years ago, and, to this day, it’s an unspoiled melting pot of cultures set in an otherworldly combination of landscapes. Take your pick: deserts, baobabs, rainforests, and 3,000 miles of turquoise coastlines.”
Convinced? Then pack your bags and set off for an adventure across this magical island!