By Musa Jibril
The view is enchanting. A cool-blue ocean and a brown-faced river; a greenery of towering coconut palms, swayed by sea breeze with the attendant heaves and sighs of sashaying fronds; then, a sprawling, golden beach, caressed by gently lapping waves, and, a picturesque mangrove forest. These well-synced natural elements add up to a riveting vista of postcard quality, described as a vision from a “holiday brochure” by an enraptured reveller.
The scenery exerts a subtle déjà vu. It is a panorama that bears a reminiscence of 1980s TV’s Fantasy Island, a luxurious, but remote tropical island resort ,where secret dreams of well-heeled guests come true.
This palm paradiso with a Caribbean backdrop is La Campagne Tropicana Beach, 2014 Africa Travel Award Best Beach Resort in West Africa, that has lived up to its billings as a premier holiday destination.
The resort’s first ‘thumbs up’ is its remote location––far away from the contamination of the Lagos chaos. By the time you arrive there, at Ikegun village in Ibeju-Lekki, some 90 minutes away from Victoria Island, you have left behind for good the noisome human congestion and the vexing traffic that is patently Lagos. No honking horns, no hawkers, no hustle. A trip to La Campagne, as one visitor rhapsodised on TripAdvisor, is “a wonderful way to wash away the wahala” of everyday Lagos life. In my own estimation, a visit is a timeout to luxuriate in unspoilt nature, a retreat for a snappy cultural therapy.
As a day picnicker, I found plenty options of gilded pleasures. The beach is a playground with a slew of attractions and activities. If you are short of ideas of how to kick-start your leisure, try the bars first.
Bolekaja – built in the fashion of the old Bedford truck – is where you can buy palm wine close to a kitchen that serves traditional food and delicacies. Perhaps, you crave a dish of isiewuor Nkwobi? Or you want your pounded yam with Ogbono or eforiro? Such culinary yen are fulfilled inside Bolekaja, which is usually brimming on weekends with guests wining and dining, while being serenaded with folk entertainment.
Yorubar, a kitchen bar, with mortar and cooking utensil in full view, affords you the epicurean treat of wait-and-watch-the-chef-prepare-your-order. Surrounded by a rich aroma of delicious cooking, patrons of Yorubar enjoy the pleasure of musical performance, while cradling a cupful of palm-wine. And, of course, the chef’s preparation of your favourite meal in full view is an opportunity to pick new recipes and requisite culinary skill of your choicest foods, if you are so inclined.
Deep in the mangrove forest, Sekankomi bar re-creates a “Palm-Wine Drinkard” aura, complete with the camaraderie of a village setting.
The good thing about the bars––they never run out of stock.
The beach’s farrago of outdoor activities, from horse-riding to beach soccer, to basketball and volleyball – all for free – serves good doses of adrenalin for the hyperactive type. There is tennis and badminton and even catapulting, as well as loads of children activities.
Those who love to swim will find themselves with a delightful dilemma: where to swim. A dip in the Atlantic Ocean, a dive in the lake-like freshwater river, or slow, languid strokes in the longest pool in the world?
La Campaigne also claims the world’s longest “ool” – the longest pool in the ‘whole wide world’, according to my guide. Should a swimmer get tired in the course of swimming, the lengthy pool end-to-end, six bars at strategic stops offer chilled refreshment. Each bar is named after a drink type such as palm wine, cocktail, champagne, liquor and beer. The pool ended with the fruit corner.
Those lacking the skill or spirit for swimming may opt for a shower on the beach after their activities, and thereafter, replenish spent energy at Eebi o Restaurant, the resort’s main eatery.
Visitors desirous of quiet, subdued time can rent one of the 20 thatched-roof cabanas, wall-less, free standing shade structures with adjustable curtains. You can lounge all day in the open air, and when in need of privacy, let down the suspended curtains.
Couples in search of romantic thrill will find pleasure in the sanctuary of Ololufe––a brilliantly painted wooden hut with its bonfire––that caters to the whims and caprices of couples, especially, honeymooners. “We serve fruit and breakfast for honeymooners and couples in twos or fours,” said Debbie, my guide, “and when we have a modest number of guests, the bonfire is lit.”
For those who choose to stay beyond evening in their hired chalet or cabana, dusk is not the end of the fun. Rather, sunset heralds a nighttime primetime as the Atunda Entertainment, the resort’s troupe, takes charge and fill the night with a smorgasbord of entertainment that includes music, dance and comedy––usually by the bonfire.
IN CASE YOU ARE SHOCKED to see a nanny goat and her kids reclining nearby, be reminded the beach is a themed village in a natural environment with corresponding fauna and flora. As for these denizens of the animal kingdom, you hear some––such as birds chirping on trees near the Obi-Eze chalets––and you see some––such as monkeys, squirrels and rodents reveling in their natural habitat deep in the shadows of the mangrove forest surrounding the Anago quarter. Unlike most beach resorts that are bare expanse of golden sand, La Campagne sprawls on 65-acres of expansive lawned-beach, lush tropical gardens and leafy mangroves of pristine outlook. A fishing village next door, accessible via the beach, further accentuates its rustic ambience.
The cultural theme, by no means a Potemkin façade, is deeply engrained in the fabric of the resort. From courteous female staff who greet you in the Yoruba tradition of Osuba to the offer of fresh palm wine on your arrival at Ekaabo (The reception) to the mélange of cultural amusement provided by the resort’s in-house ensemble, you are subliminally inundated with motifs rooted mostly in Yoruba folk culture, for example, an Ola Rotimi Stage and a KSA International Stage, (named after the famous Juju music legend, King Sunny Ade).
The village concept is a stroke of ingenuity. In total, there are six villages. Each village, from Laba (abridged form of labalaba, Yoruba for butterfly) to Oso, from Kodi to Obieze (Igbo for “King’s arena”), is made up of chalets of similar freestanding bungalows, largely of West African hut architecture with slight variations.
We checked in and out from one village to another, I and Debbie, my guide whose full name is Deborah Adebajo. It was Ilerigi village, located east of the beachfront that caught my fancy. As the name suggested, each chalet is literally a “house on tree.” Three-bedroom Obalerigi and one–bedroom Ilerigi are wooden chalets of bamboo, raffia, and thatched roof, each with its private pool on the oceanfront, with a couple of these having a balcony of Jacuzzi and bar.
Out of view, nestling in the mangrove forest is the Anago village, which will appeal to those who fancy being a forest dweller during their vacation. There is also the non-terrestrial Ilerimi, meaning, “house on water.” Exactly what it is.
The chalets, mostly of cool circular rooms and high ceilings, are furnished with modern conveniences. Their décor – paintings of African themes, objetsd’arts, basket-woven chairs, traditional fabrics, handmade furniture locally made of dark, polished mahogany – further reinforced the African theme. Gangan, the Yoruba talking drum takes the place of doorbell at the entrance of each chalet.
“In this our republic, we use talking drum as a means of communication. All chalets have talking drums at their entrances and there is OmoOnile (attendant) attached to each chalet, at the beck and call of guests. You communicate to the guest inside by striking the drum, not by knocking on the door,” Debbie explained.
The shared pool for Kodi village with its unique shape of the continent is a reminder this is somewhere in Africa.
While there is a guide at your disposal, there is no guidebook on how to indulge. The rule is every man according to his inclination. You can choose to do nothing––other than sit under a coconut tree, or on a beach bed in your cabana, basking in the sun, sipping fresh coconut juice, soaking your senses in the scenic view around you––and you’d still come away satisfied.
If you are one for quiet leisure, timing your picnic is important. You may want to avoid certain days. The guide gave a clue: “We usually have a busy schedule at weekends and during festive periods.”
For the record, I asked my guide: “Why should I come here anyway?”
She replied, quoting the resort’s mantra: “Here is a blissful marriage of man and nature.”
She added: “We offer every good thing people forgot exists.”
Debbie did not forget to tell me what this beautiful tropical beach does to a first-timer. “You will be haunted by the nostalgia to return.”
She told me: “When they first arrived, newcomers can hardly conceal their surprise. Frequently we hear them cry, ‘Wao! OMG! Fantastic!’ We have heard a few say ‘WTF!’. And when it is time for them to leave, a few always ask: Can I extend my stay?”
La campaigne’s harmony of nature and culture, its aquatic splendour is a rare idyll. Whether your plan is for a family timeout, a friendly get-together, or a romantic getaway, La Campaigne fits the bill.
A fun place with Old-World charm, New World chic, and Eden-esque outlook.