James English and Lawrence first came to the Makasutu area of The Gambia on Christmas Eve 1992 on the last day of a search for some land to set up a project in West Africa. They were captivated by what they saw, and the potential inherent in the land and the location, so they arranged a land purchase there and then. They returned within six months with a vision for a project that would be at once conservation-based, and also offer a unique and luxurious holiday experience. Thus, the idea of the river lodges at Mandina was born.
The forest setting
The setting for lodges and the beautifully realised lodges themselves, do have to be seen to be believed; and its testament to the vision of James and Lawrence that the whole set up is both warm and welcoming, and undeniably plush and exotic, yet never ostentatious – the lodges never feel like they are dominating the surrounding land. Instead, everything feels very organic. This is partly due to the situation and the clever way the plots have been laid out. It’s also due to the fact that everything is constructed from local materials and built with the environment in mind.
There are four styles of lodge at Mandina – spacious two-storey Jungle Lodges are set back from the river, whilst the popular River Lodges are either floating or on stilts. The most recent addition is the Mangrove Lodge which enjoys a high level of pricacy and a spacious sun terrace. The River Lodges each have a private but roofless bathroom and composting toilet. The Jungle Lodges' bathrooms are also al fresco and both the Jungle Lodges and Mangrove Lodges have flushing toilets. Fans are employed instead of electricity sapping air-conditioning. The Stilted Lodge is on two floors with separate bedroom, outside deck and lounge area on the lower level plus upstairs day room, whilst the Jungle Lodges each have their own private roof terrace looking out towards the mangroves.
The ‘communal area’ as a descriptor doesn’t really do justice to the rest of the site – you could easily lose yourself in one of the many relaxation areas and not see another soul for hours! The pool area is also spacious and there’s nothing quite like basking in the warm water listening to the birds calling in the trees. In the evening, dinner is served al fresco in one of the wooden or tented dining areas, and sometimes the fire is lit with the dancing flames creating a magical mood. Alternatively dine privately in your lodge; either way, due to the remote location, menus are simple but of a good standard.