Antsirabe is best-known for its thermal springs. The city emerged as a spa town in the late 1800s when Norwegian missionaries built a health retreat here (still in use to this day). French colonists then turned it into a chic getaway from nearby Tana, hence the numerous turn-of-the-century villas and the broad tree-lined avenues so typical of French cities.
Much of this colonial heritage is fading now, nowhere more so than at the famous Hôtel des Thermes, whose magnificent facade hides a seriously ageing interior. But the city itself is full of life: it is a beacon of industry in Madagascar (the town has large textile, food and drink factories) and many Tananariviens would move here at the drop of a hat if they could. Travellers will no doubt find the city's energy infectious and its wealth of sightseeing, activity and eating options appealing.