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Abdallah El Ghandour
From the Roots Up

MBO La Maison Palmier Header

Words Allison Reiber DiLiegroImages Jessica Sarkodie

Abdallah El Ghandour was always destined to work in the family business, but it’s his first hotel, La Maison Palmier, that feels like his own creation.

Born in Senegal to a Lebanese family, Abdallah benefited from a diverse upbringing that left him worldly, multilingual, and attuned to delicate shifts in culture. He attended university in Geneva worked in Paris before returning to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to play a bigger part in the family business, which spans real estate and cosmetics. “My father, my environment was all entrepreneurship. The conversation at the house was not politics, it was business. We have this in our blood.”All along the way, Abdallah took inspiration from his travels and felt a tug towards the world of hospitality.

“I had the chance to travel a lot when I was young. My parents took us everywhere. When there was a vacation, we were traveling,” Abdallah says with a laugh and a shake of his head. “Then I met my wife, Christina, while I was in university and we started traveling together.” This was the 1990s—the dawn of the boutique lifestyle hotel—and it left a lingering impact on Abdallah. “I remember one of our early vacations together was to The Delano in Miami, one of the first Ian Schrager hotels. I was like, ‘wow, what is this?’” he says. “And it stayed in my mind.”

We spoke with Abdallah about his multicultural background, how he brought these influences together at La Maison Palmier, and his hopes for his first hotel.

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Handcrafted masks symbolize ceremonial traditions

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Abdallah at Galerie Cécile Fakhoury

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New perspectives at Abidjan Plateau Monument

Today, you split your time between Ivory Coast and Paris. What inspires you about your itinerant lifestyle?

My family lives in Paris—my wife, daughter, and son—and we have some real estate in France so everywhere I go, there is some business. But I also try to enjoy and discover new places. I love to try new restaurants. I always have an appetite to discover new things and new hotels, especially when I travel with my wife.

Why did you decide to open your hotel in Abidjan?

The hotel business is more developed in Morocco and East Africa, but here in West Africa, you have only big chains—I call them plastic fantastic. So when you leave your family for work and travel here, there is no ambiance and it can be kind of depressing. But at La Maison Palmier, you just want to come back because you love the hotel.

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Rinaldo Olivieri's La Pyramide is one of Abidjan's most famous buildings

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Inspiration: Abdallah entering Galerie Cécile Fakhoury

“We are from the Middle East, we are from Africa, we are from France. It’s in our roots.”

Abdallah El Ghandour

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A meeting of minds: Talking art with Cécile Fakhoury

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Not far from Abidjan, Grand-Bassam is an important hub for artisanal craftwork

How did you manage to bring your multicultural background into the hotel?

It’s in our roots. We are from the Middle East, we are from Africa, we are from France. The mixture of these three cultures is what I wanted to give to the guests at La Maison Palmier.

When we decided to do this project, I worked with an Ivorian architect, Desiré M’bengue, and a French designer, Maxime Liautard. We worked closely together to create the environment that I wanted. So M’bengue knew about the materials that we can use, the specificity of the climate, and the neighborhood. We did not just replicate something from Europe and put it here. And then I brought in Maxime, who I’ve known for many years because he did my apartment in Paris.

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Ivorian architect Desiré M’bengue (right) lent his local perspective in the realization of La Maison Palmier

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Oh really! Is your apartment in Paris similar to the interior of the hotel?

No, my apartment is very, very Parisian. Here, there is a mix of contemporary neocolonialism, vintage, Art Deco. You cannot really define it. But when you arrive, you can see that the people who made this hotel have traveled a lot. There is terrazzo flooring like you find in the old churches and cathedrals of Italy, which we made locally with Ghanaian stones. The pathways in between the buildings are made from red stones from Marrakech. The pool is made of green marble from Brazil. There are old fans that we brought in from Miami.

I heard your wife, Christina, was also involved in the project?

My wife was, and still is, very involved. Even though I enjoy design, I’m more business oriented. She has this sensibility. She is more, let’s say, “à la page” of everything.

You brought a lot of nature in as well. Can you tell us about the gardens?

We have green everywhere because Ivory Coast is a very humid, green place. Everything grows super fast, so we designed the garden from scratch. Abidjan is booming, but when you go just a bit outside of Abidjan, everything is green. I wanted to recreate this peaceful environment inside the hotel. I think green brings a lot of peace and harmony.

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La Maison Palmier in bloom

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Risotto with local gambas is one of many popular offerings at the welcoming La Maison Palmier Bistro

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Hospitality is key at La Maison Palmier

“I was looking around people were smiling and having passionate conversations. This gives me so much joy.”

Abdallah El Ghandour

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Green marble from Brazil lines the lagoon-like pool, celebrating the hotel’s transcontinental mix of design influences

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Discussing French classics with Chef Matthieu Gasnier

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La Maison Palmier's bar fuses spirits with passions

Where do you go to get away from the city?

I have a beach house in a place called Assinie-Mafia. It’s the best place to go from Abidjan for a weekend. The city can be intense, so on the weekend, you need to relax, be in nature, swim in the ocean, do some water sports, and spend time with friends.

We have had the land for 20 years. The house is a local construction made from wood, with gardens and a pool. On one side you have the ocean and on the other side you have the laguna, so you can only access the house by boat. Sometimes, I take the boat from Abidjan and cross the river to get to the house. You don’t have traffic, you don’t have lights. It’s amazing.

What is something about creating a hotel that surprised you?

I didn’t think that it would be so personal. When I started the project, I thought I would go to my hotel, it’s going to be relaxed, I’m going to invite my friends, and it’s going to be super cool. But I actually, when I sleep here, I have my eyes everywhere. I cannot help myself. When I go to my factories, it’s not the same feeling—I go and do my business. But when I come here, it’s like my baby. I am more concerned because I want it to be perfect for the people who come here.

Last night I had dinner here and the restaurant was full. I was looking around people were smiling and having passionate conversations. This gives me so much joy.

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A quiet moment by the waterside in Abidjan

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