I've been telling you quite a lot about our travels around the country and by now you should definitely know where to go if you happen to visit Gabon. But what about Libreville, the very city in which we spend most of our time? You can definitely have fun here, too. Let me guide you through my favourite, unmissable places in the ville.
Go for a walk!
As in any city, there are places where you shouldn't wander, especially if you're white and on your own. But Libreville is rather safe and you should definitely explore parts of it on foot. It is a bit intimidating at first but don't get discouraged! The Luis neighbourhood with its small shops and restaurants is very recommendable. On your way to the centre you will be stunned by the huge Presidential Palace (remember not to take pictures!) and the strange statue in front of it. You might also find interesting the huge ministry buildings. Sablière will give you an insight to what the posh part of the city is like, while in the city centre, always full of life and traffic, you can have nice coffee and walk around undisturbed.
Go to church!
Oh yes, excellent idea, not only from the spiritual point of view. But not just any church! You should definitely take a trip to Saint Michel de N'kembo, probably the only example of interesting architecture in the city. It has dozens of beautifully sculpted columns, which represent scenes from the Bible. The mosaic with a black Christ is also worth noting. And the mass itself with its singing and dancing is a must! Even if going to church isn't usually your thing.
Libreville offers a wide range of places to do just that. Personally, I would suggest Petit Paris and the Mount Buet market. The former is the place if what you're looking for is pagne, the typical African-style material, which, by the way, you should totally get and then go straight to a good tailor and have some clothes made to measure. It's an amazing souvenir and it can be done in a couple of days! Straight from Petit Paris you should head for Mount Buet and just take a walk: fruit, shoes, pagne, meat, clothes, soap, make-up, hairdressers, plates, machetes... and more. Everything can be found in Mount Buet. Trust me. If, however, you're looking for a less extreme shopping experience, take a taxi to the Village Artesanal and haggle to buy souvenirs, or to one of the three supermarkets: M'bolo (which is actually a French Casino), Geant CKdo or the Libanese Prix Import. It will give you an idea of what you can get in Libreville and for how much. Be ready for a real price shock!
Libreville, unlike any other African capital, is full of restaurants and clubs. The choice is stunning. You can start by having coffee at Pelisson, a bakery and coffee house, which serves horrible coffee on an absolutely lovely colonial terrace (the fresh pineapple juice is to die for, though!). If you feel like decent coffee in less appealing surroundings, you might choose the Libanese La Genoise, which also has fantastic cakes. And don't forget the Tropicana, located at the beach, definitely worth a visit. For lunch, we usually choose a cheap Libanese restaurant (Les Arcades or L'Emir are equally good) or the absolute king of African kebabs, l'Embuscade. And for dinner... take a walk around Montée de Luis, which is absolutely full of restaurants and discos. Chinese, Italian, European (you might forget you're in Africa altogether), Libanese, African but posh, African but cheap... your call! I personally recommend Mississipi or L'Odika for a pleasant African experience nicely packaged for tourists (it has its price, though), or the famous Jean Paul II, for those of you who are more resistant to the general lack of hygiene in the kitchen.
Go to the beach!
Libreville's location couldn't be better. The whole province is actually called l'Estuaire, and the city is right at the seaside. You might want to take a walk on the urban beach and end up having a drink at Tropicana. You could also go to the very end of the Sablière neighbourhood, and have a Coke on the beach at the SunSetBeach hotel. Here the water is clean enough to have a quick bath and as a special bonus you might see fishermen selling their catch in the morning. For a real beach experience you should take a 30-minute boat ride from Port Môle and relax at the lovely beaches of Pointe Denis, where you can also spend the night in one of the luxurious hotels (Wingombe, Phare de Gombe or La Baie des Tortues to name a few).
If you're extremely lucky, you might actually find the notoriously closed Museum of Arts and Traditions... open. Don't put it off, then, go right in! It's your only chance to see their - usually extremely well hidden - collection of masks. For more cultural experiences, get La Lettre or an event programme of the French Cultural Centre. Every Tuesday at 20:30 there is a film but that's not all - the Centre is actually very active, so don't miss any of their concerts, theatre plays or dance festivals. Not to mention the library, cafeteria and cheap Internet access.
Well, I hope you're ready to explore the city now. And to those of you who actually live in Libreville: what are your favourite places? What did I miss?