In the middle of the Atlantic and four hours away by direct flight from Europe (Lisbon), among another 88 islands, there is a paradise called Rubane, where dreams come true and paradise takes shape. Rubane, the dream island, is in Guinea-Bissau, in the Bijagós archipelago.
In 2007 this island welcomed an exotic figure of French nationality, Solange, who decided to create a wonderful project of sustainable tourism there. Bijagós traditions and animism dictate that this island is sacred and it is forbidden to build permanently, to fight, to bury people and animals or to shed blood.
It is hilarious to hear Solange describe what her first encounter with the Bijagó population was like, when the dream of creating a sustainable project in this archipelago, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1996, came true. She gathered with traditional entities, took part in animist rituals involving analysing the colour of chickens’ innards to assess the goodness of her project, and carried the head of a bloody cow on top of her to comply with local requirements. Then, she finally became part of them and a daughter of the island.
Following this probation and after the fulfilment of some compensations, she was authorized to create an eco-resort on the island of Rubane, facing the beautiful island of Canhabaque with the islands of Bubaque and Soga for neighbours.
The wooden huts erected on stilts between palm trees and baobabs and touched by the full sea are fabulous, are made with enormous refinement. Every detail exudes sophistication, from the ceiling, the decoration, to the rough wooden doors worked by local artisans. On the veranda, above the sand, beds and large armchairs invite the contemplation of this hidden paradise of the world, where you can watch the sunrise and sunset, watch hundreds of fishes flying, dolphins playing in the water or birds diving with a sharp shot from which they always return with a fish in their beaks.
Upon our arrival by boat, Solange awaits tourists impeccably dressed and in high-heeled shoes on the sand, with hair flying in the wind and a smile on her face, welcoming us with a friendly “Soyez bienvenues”. Once arrived, just leave things in her hands and I assure you that it will be an experience for life. From the kitchen, with a chef of impeccable quality serving us carpaccio of delicious fish and high quality dishes, to the staff with a professionalism and contagious friendliness, everything adds points to make the holiday truly unique. The meals are always composed of starters, mains and desserts, with a touch of French cuisine combined with the best of the Bijagos Sea: its fish of a superior quality.
Solange is a permanent presence. Always at work, whether in the kitchen, in the bar, taking care of any problem that may arise in your accommodation, suggesting excursions in this vastness of dreamland that are 88 islands so different from each other.
The beach, with white sand, calm and warm waters, invites you to bathe from sunrise to sunset. Between a walk by the sea and a siesta, there is plenty of time for many dives and a bit of padlle.
This resort is home to fishermen, tourists in search of authenticity, internationally renowned actors, retired top financiers, French counts and countesses who arrive here every year in their private plane and walk barefoot with their haute couture brands along the extensive sand, escaping the severity of the European winter.
Solange has the quality of not excluding anyone and, above all, values each and every one of those who make an effort here to leave tourists the best memories of the days spent in Guinea-Bissau.
We know them all by their names, bar staff, waiters, cleaners or sailors, and from one year to the next. Like Herculano, a Bijagó guy less than 50 years old, with a deep disability in one foot. I met him in this hotel in 2009, taking care of the gardens of the cabanas, and now he has gained skills and is today a distinguished waiter, always with a smile and a gesture of kindness for us. Even if his disability makes his movements and deftness very difficult.
Getting to this island is not easy. However, it is more difficult still to get the island out of your imagination once you’ve left.
I visited Rubane for the first time twelve years ago and have never stopped coming back. It leaves unforgettable memories of a few days of the exquisite simplicity that is found in few places. Where people smile with that purity that only the distance of modernity conserves, and where nature and the waters of the sea bring us back to the essentials. To us. To our deepest essence.
Hotel: Ponta Anchaca Eco Lodge, Rubane Island, Guinea Bissau. www.pontaanchaca.net
How to go: transfer by sea or airplane from the hotel or on public boats leaving the port of Bissau