Fianarantsoa, also called Fianar, is located in central Madagascar and serves as a base to explore this region. The city is known for its rich history and is surrounded by charming villages and lovely tea plantations and vineyards.
Though there is a small airport here, there are no regular flight schedules and you have to rely on other means of transport. You can reach here by a hired vehicle or taxi-brousse from Antananarivo, which will take around 7 hours. You can also travel by train from Manakara, a port city on the east coast.
Fianarantsoa was built in the 19th-century on the Ivoenava hill, which housed an ancient village. Queen Ranavalona I aimed to make this city the capital of the southern region and hence it was built to resemble Antananarivo, the country’s capital. If you have already visited the capital, you can easily notice how both the cities share similar architecture and layout. The city is divided into three parts – the upper, middle and lower towns, and in the early days, people occupied the towns according to their social status, with the royals at the top.
The upper town of Fianarantsoa is called Ambozontany and it is located on a small hill of its own, overlooking the entire city. You can admire the traditional architecture of the town by strolling through the cobbled alleys lined with two-storeyed brick houses and tiled roofs. There was once a palace as well, but it no longer exists and most of the existing structures in the town are crumbling as well. However, restoration projects are being carried out. The town is also popular for the red-bricked Ambozontany Cathedral and the lovely views of the surrounding valleys and the city.
The middle town is the most urban part of the city and you will find numerous administrative buildings and traces of Portuguese era architecture. The bustling lower town is home to markets and shops, and is the best place to experience the local culture.
A ride on the Fianarantsoa-Manakara Railway is a great way to enjoy the scenic countryside around the city. A full day trip on the railway will take you through lush rainforests, tiny villages and numerous bridges and tunnels. The train departs from Fianarantsoa on Tuesdays and Saturdays and returns from Manakara on Wednesdays and Sundays. This is an authentic Micheline train and the railway line was built from tracks brought in from Germany post WWI.
There are several vineyards located around the city and this is the only wine producing region in the country. The Maromby monastery, about 7 km from the city is where monks have been involved in wine production for centuries. You can also admire the monastery’s church with its stained glass windows while you are here. In the Clos Malaza estate, located about 30 km from the city, you can observe the traditional Malagasy method of wine production. Famoriana and Isandra are other popular vineyards.
Sahambavy is located around 23 km from Fianarantsoa and is famous for its lovely tea plantations. It is also a major destination along the Fianarantsoa-Manakara line. You can take a tour of the plantations and observe the entire process of plucking of tea leaves from the fields to the processing plants. And yes, you can taste freshly brewed tea!
This picturesque town is located 56 km away from Fianarantsoa and is known for its cottage industries, especially the Antiamoro Paper Factory, which produces paper from dried flowers. Ambalavao is surrounded by a beautiful mountainous landscape and there are a couple of wildlife reserves – Parc Communautaire de Sakaviro Miray and Réserve d’Anja, within 12 km from the town.
Ranomafana National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in Madagascar and is located around 60 km away from Fianarantsoa. Its lush tropical rainforests are home to rare and exotic species like the golden bamboo lemur, black and white ruffed lemur and birds like blue vangas and ground rollers. Its popular residents include 12 species of lemurs, 8 species of bats, 90 species of butterflies, over 100 species of frogs and 60 species of reptiles. You can marvel at this amazing collection of wildlife by hiking along the well-marked trails that pass through lovely waterfalls, natural pools and the depths of the rainforest. Note that you can visit the park only with a local guide.
The charming highland city of Fianarantsoa is an important cultural centre in the country. The scenic landscapes, historical buildings and lively local culture offer a unique experience of Madagascar, distinct from its typical coastal destinations. For those seeking a retreat amidst rolling mountains and lush greenery, Fianarantsoa is a perfect choice.
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