If Île Sainte Marie’s usually empty airport runway and far from busy tarmac road feel far too hectic for your liking, then Île aux Nattes (also known as Nosy Nato, the “island of palm mats”) might be more to your taste. Just 2km long and 1km wide, it’s a roadless, traffic-free, rural idyll, where uniformed children go to school in canoes, coconut trees rustle in the constant breeze and almost every view takes in the shallow, azure sea, teeming with marine life.
Once installed at your chosen lodging, you can do what most people do here – nothing more strenuous than turning the next page or taking another sip – or you can stroll around the island’s perimeter, passing its clutch of low-key hotels, through fields and gardens and across streams and beaches. Some hotels and guesthouses have bicycles to rent. The best snorkelling spots right off the beach are on the west coast from the northern tip to about as far south as Sambatra Beach Lodge. Further south the beach is narrower and the water deeper.
As for its fauna and flora, Île aux Nattes boasts the world’s only black orchid, the rather sinister-looking Cymbidiella falcigera, but no chameleons (one explanation is that superstitious locals exterminated them), while the island’s lemurs are mostly semi-tame hotel introductions. In season, humpback whales pass just beyond the reef on the west coast.