Wednesday, July 01, 2009


If the British broadsheets are to be believed, a truly relaxing weekend should involve handing over enormous amounts of money in exchange for a stay at some beige hotel close to a major road where you will be subject to any number of dubious 'spa treatments'. I love a massage as much as anyone, but I can't seem to get excited about making it the focus of a weekend.

The Collines de Niassam lodge in Palmarin is more my style. Here you can relax without having to apply slices of cucumber and listen to new age forest dolphin music in a room smelling of pot pourri. There is nothing to do at Collines de Niassam. You are a bumpy drive away from the nearest anything, so all that is left is to indulge in a bit of sunbathing, perhaps have a pootle around the lagoon in a canoe or, for the more energetic, a spot of birdwatching among the baobabs. You can choose a hut suspended over the lagoon, or perhaps a pokey little treehouse. There are no TV's, radios or car rapides at Collines de Niassam, just fresh air, fresh food, and a fresh breeze.

The staff lay on three meals a day, each using ingredients sourced locally. This is not for any high-minded eco-friendly middle-class crusading reason, but out of practicality. Making the trip to the city, and preserving imported chilled or frozen goods w
ould just be too much of a hassle. When you run exerything off solar power and scrapyard assembled wind turbines, you have to make sure every joule of energy is spent wisely.

Bread and Jam for breakfast was a bit tight. It was nice bread, and great jam, but it was the same nice bread and great jam every day. Any chance of a boiled egg? Things perked up at lunch and dinner time though (there, I've done it, used the words 'lunch and dinner' instead of 'dinner and tea'. It's a slippery slope.), when
more substantial meals are presented to us - crisp salads, smoked fish, smooth desserts, and healthy measures of home made fruit-flavoured rum to wash it all down with.

One night we kick off with boulettes of zebu on cabbage.

These get the ball rolling for a number of jokes ("I didn't know Zebu's had three balls" etc etc).

Curried monkfish with taglietelle comes next:

We'll overlook the pasta for a moment (this is a weird francophone thing, serving pasta with curry. Perhaps they just think it's all 'Orientale' and therefore the same thing), and focus on the meaty chunks of monkfish, one of my favourite fishes for throwing in a curry (expensive in the UK, but ten a penny round these parts). While the curry itself was mild, it didn't suffer the usual Senegalese fate of being loaded with jumbo stock cubes. It tasted clear and sharp, and let the subtle (some might say bland) flavour of the fish speak for itself.

But my word, they just knock you out with dessert:

A whipped, creamy chocolate ganache with alternating layers of white and dark chocolate. Richer than Roman Abramovitch and thicker than Wayne Rooney. This one even beat Mrs Jiffler, and left us with our eyes rolling in our heads in need of a stiff glass of rum to sort us out.

I tried to pop my head in the kitchen for a nosey around and to give my congratulations, but was chased away by laughing ladies. Perhaps I caught them licking the chocolate off their spoons.

Lodge des Collines de Niassam
Palmarin Ngallou, BP 08 JOAL - Sénégal

Tel: 77 639 06 39

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