If New York has the Waldorf Astoria and London the Ritz, then Abidjan has the Hôtel Ivoîre. Founded in 1963 by the first president of Côte d’Ivoîre, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the hotel was an icon of the country’s post-independence boom. The writer VS Naipaul described it as ‘the extravagant, air-conditioned fairground of Abidjan’. Newlyweds from all over the country would flock to have their pictures taken in its plush lobby. Famous people from all over the world (amongst them Nelson Mandela, Michael Jackson and Muhammad Ali) stayed in its deluxe modernist suites.
But as Côte d’Ivoîre’s fortunes waned in the 1990s, so did the Hôtel Ivoîre’s. The civil war broke out and the premises immediately fell into disrepair.
When hostilities ended in 2011, the hotel was acquired by Sofitel who then began renovations. I stayed there last month and was impressed by how faithful the company was being to Houphouët-Boigny’s original vision: that the Hôtel Ivoîre should represent the very best aspects of the national culture.
Côte d’Ivoîre’s economy has always depended on cocoa, and this is reflected in the lounge bar’s menu. While enjoying the fine view of the Lagoon Ébrié, guests can sip white chocolate and passion fruit drink and munch locally-sourced cocoa beans and chocolate macaroons.
Communications Manager Batoul Zaid told me about Sofitel’s policy of exhibiting work by young Ivorian artists around the hotel. Highlights include the rural still-lifes of Paul Sika and the political collages of Abou Dé.
Hôtel Ivoîre’s successful rebranding is a feelgood reminder that Côte d’Ivoîre is renewing itself as a country and as a culture, after the trauma of the civil war. Oh, and the newlyweds have started coming back too.
Words by Tom Sykes
Photographs by C.A.R.
Press contact: Emma Lipman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Originally published in Globetrotter, Sept 2013.