by Nana Ocran
“A total city, tailor made for adventure.” –Odia Ofeimun
The scribe and social commentator, Odia Ofeimun has said a lot of other things too, but there’s no arguing with his description of West Africa’s most vibrant metropolis. Many others have had even more romantic notions of the city, whether their opinions are based on being there, or perceptions of Lagos from afar. “Hard where you expect it to be soft, soft and graceful where you thought it was all hardness” comes from writer Teju Cole, while “ … a megacity of ten million people and more, who are busy taking over the world” was part of the introductory narrative from the BBC’s provocative Welcome to Lagos documentary, which aired back in 2010. A potent city, Lagos constantly courts a strong reaction from anyone who experiences it, and this is generally down to the dynamic vibe and rhythm that’s created by its art, culture, and even its social politics. The last few years have seen an upscale in international interest in Africa’s urban areas, and Lagos has lately become a buzzword for luxury in a way that’s set to grow. A so-called ‘hotspot’ for elite international brands, this former Nigerian capital is set to develop as a shopping destination for well-heeled Nigerians (and non-Nigerians) who may, over the next few years, start to turn their gaze away from Europe and the United States when it comes to some of their shopping habits. It’s a changing landscape in which this city is taking small bites of what some might view as the more extravagant approach to consumerism. This attitude also extends to accommodation. The options of where to stay in Lagos have blossomed over the last few years, with multi-starred hotel choices gaining more and more ground. This destination guide provides an overview. A few selections of the best of the city’s arts, culture, lifestyle, shopping and leisure options are highlighted to provide omething for those travelling to Lagos’ various areas, from the sland to the Mainland or to the commercial hub of Victoria Island orresidential Ikoyi.
Art and Culture
We trust with such a strong history of art, literature and various levels of invention and innovation, Lagos (and in fact, Nigeria in general), should have far more art-related spaces. Lagos is the undeniable nerve centre of creative expression and in terms of contemporary visual art, the city is leading the way in terms of key galleries that are worth visiting. In Ikoyi, the Nimbus Gallery is located above its partner venue, the Bogobiri Guest House on Maitama Sule Street, behind Falomo Shopping Centre. The gallery has artworks from Nigerian and other African artists on sale, or simply available to view – and the space also offers art valuation, advisory and auctioneering services. Down the street, the African Artists’ Foundation on Raymond Njoku Street, Ikoyi has a labyrinth of art rooms festooned with the works of Pan-African and other international artists. AAF is also the Head Quarters of the monthlong, LagosPhoto Festival, which takes place every October. The National Art Competition is also an annual AAF initiative. With numerous strings to its bow, the Omenka Gallery on Ikoyi Crescent in Ikoyi hosts exhibitions in fine art and photography, and importantly, has a permanent collection of work by the late artist, Ben Enwonwu. A dedicated foundation uses education and public debate to increase the global perception and appreciation of contemporary African art. Terra Kulture in Victoria Island is a gallery space, a theatre venue and a sometime auction house. Contemporary African art and culture is at the heart of its numerous programmes, which also include Nigerian language workshops. On the Mainland in Yaba, the Centre for Contemporary Art on McEwen Street, highlights the work of national and international artists, often exhibiting experimental work through diverse themes. The Video Art Network (VAN Lagos) is also housed here, and is a dynamic project that showcases sound art and moving image from a range of artists.
Although the number of malls in Lagos can’t compete with those in other megacities, mall culture tends to rule when it comes to mass, or one-stop shopping habits. It’s fair to say that not everyone has the inclination (or finances) to go for the high-end shopping centre option, but in the context of specifically discerning travellers to Lagos, we’re looking at the exclusive end of things, in line with much of the international column inches that are being devoted to the city’s modest, but growing potential as a luxury shopping destination. Hugo Boss launched its flagship store in early 2013. It joins Puma and Lacoste amongst many other commercial venues at The Palms in Lekki. Italian luxury fashion house, Ermenegildo Zegna (See feature p.72 ), on Akin Adesola Street in Victoria Island opened a boutique store, a short walk away from a Porsche dealership. Could this activity be the early stages of Lagos’ version of London’s Bond Street? There’s also talk of Prada coming to Lagos in 2014, having already entered Africa via a store in Angola and two in Morocco – one for men and one for women. Polo Luxury in Victoria Island is another exclusive store that has a second Lagos-based boutique inside The Palms, as well as an outlet in Ghana. Offering multi brands including Cartier, Rolex, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Dolce & Gabbana, it’s an enterprise that’s really leading the way in offering high-end products at home in West Africa. A big thumbs up also goes for the MAC Cosmetics store that opened in Ikeja City Mall in February 2013. Also, Temple Muse in Victoria Island is a pioneering favourite that has consistently championed luxury homeware, gifts, fashion and accessories produced by Nigerian and international designers.
Outdoors and Leisure
For a general respite from the regular push and pull of the city, Lagos does have a decent number of indoor or outdoor spaces that offer an alternative type of rhythm. Beach life may not have a full Miami-style kick to it, but the shorelines beyond the city can be good out of town getaways. Kamp Ikare is an enticing resort on a stretch of Lagos coast near Ikare village. Only accessible by boat, it has a main communal beach house and six duplex cabins located around a pool, a few metres from the sea. La Campagne Tropicana is a 65-acre resort with multiple bars, a freshwater lake, a mangrove forest and an expansive stretch of sandy beach. Ibeshe Beach has a spa, tennis and volleyball courts. There’s a children’s corner and gorgeous views of Lagos Lagoon. Lekki and Alpha Beaches along Lekki-Epe Expressway, reasonably close to the city centre. Both beaches have palm frond shelters for hire. They are peaceful retreats that can be wonderfully isolated at certain times of the year. For relaxing indoors, the Clear Essence California Spa and Wellness Resort on Alexander Road in Ikoyi have treatments for men and women, including hot or cold facials and de-stressing massages. There are private rooms for pampering sessions, and a peaceful garden retreat, which is something that can be hard to find in this bustling city.
And so, as a vibrant and energetic metropolis, Lagos with its aural and visual cacophony of sights and sounds will leave a memorable imprint long after a visit is over. Even though it’s a city that’s definitely not built for the faint-hearted, it has its quiet retreats, it’s cultural high spots and a fine choice of high level and home from home options to entice all those who want to experience a taste of indulgence – West African style – when they spend time in the city.
There’s been a surge in high-end accommodation choices in Lagos over the last few years. Starting with one of the newest venues, The Intercontinental on Kofo Abayomi Street in Victoria Island has been touted as Nigeria’s first 5-star, luxury hotel. It opened its doors in September 2013. Complete with bright and spacious deluxe rooms, a ‘Grand African ballroom’, 24/7 business areas and wonderful panoramic views of the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean, it’s a welcome addition to the city’s accommodation options. The swanky terrace restaurant at the Radisson Blu Hotel on Ozumba Mbadiwe Avenue in Victoria Island is a huge draw for many of the city’s visitors. It’s a well-chosen site for weddings and parties and the hotel itself is an undeniably big attraction with its 170 rooms designed in ‘urban’ or ‘ocean’ styles. From standard to terrace and presidential suites, Radisson does 5-star with aplomb. Over in Ikoyi, the Westfoster Harbour Hotel on Oyinkan Abayomi Drive in Ikoyi offers a certain kind of romance in its waterside residences. High ceilings and Victorian era décor are typical of the hotel’s 15 rooms, which are sized as studio or en suite one or two-bedroom apartments. An available butler service is a good indication of the high-end level of facilities on offer. Luxury and boutique also goes hand-in-hand at The Wheatbaker on Onitolo Road in Ikoyi, a residentially-located venue, where facilities include a spa (which should be up and running this year), the Saraya Deli, a grill room for prime steaks, free outdoor parking, a pool, and even an on call doctor – although hopefully, this is a service that isn’t much used. Located close to the Palms Shopping Mall, Kuramo Beach and Ikoyi Golf Club, The Wheatbaker’s a good spot for experiencing other parts of Lagos.
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