Hilly and multifaceted, FORT DAUPHIN (pronounced colloquially in the Antanosy dialect as “Faradofay” or even “Farady”, but officially known as Taolagnaro) is a complete surprise. Well off the usual tourist routes, with no easy road connections to the rest of the island, this is a breezy, subtropical port where forest-cloaked mountains rise steeply above brackish lakes, and the old town centre shelters behind an indented peninsula, sprayed by the surf of the southern Indian Ocean and fringed by glorious beaches.

Fort Dauphin was the first French toehold in Madagascar, named after the future King Louis XIV in 1642 by settlers from the Compagnie des Indes Orientales. Today, with its mix of squalid poverty and manicured streets (in parts you could be in a French provincial town), Fort Dauphin reflects its colonial past, a wealthy new cosmopolitanism, and the austerity of the hard-pressed deep south of Madagascar, with its steady migration of rural migrants to the towns. Many here are looking for job opportunities with Rio Tinto’s huge titanium mine on the outskirts of town, run by a local corporation called QMM, or at the new port of Ehoala.

For visitors, there’s plenty to do and some excellent places to stay. There’s a fine, equable climate too, with lots of sunshine. The rains are heavier from November to March and there are scattered showers through the rest of the year.

Fort Dauphin has two main centres – the milling shanty town bisected by the road from the airport, and the sleepier administrative quarter near the old port.

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