Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Talk of the Town Tuesday: Comme Chez Soi

While Bamako, Mali, may be one of the fastest growing cities in the world, a visit to the city can leave you feeling like you are in an urban area competing to be one of the most exhausting!  Dusty work spaces, fumes from cars and motorcycles long overdue for an inspection and congested streets leave you feeling overwhelmed and gasping for a breath of fresh air.  But where in the world can you find fresh air in Bamako?

Hand-tiled pool and plenty of fresh Malian air (lofted lodgings nestled in corner)
Fortunately for visitors and residents of the capital city, a stay or dining experience at the Comme Chez Soi gives you just that.  With 6 luxurious rooms, a hand-tiled pool, a lounge area and a sprawling roof-top terrace open for dinners and brunch - all designed and implemented with loving care by the owners, Sonja and Gael, and a team of artisans - visitors to the Comme Chez Soi have the ideal spot to recharge from the draining chaos of Bamako to bounce back refreshed to their touring of the country or work in the city.  It's also conveniently located in the heart of Hippodrome which, I hear at least, is in the running the be one of the best neighborhoods in the city :)
Downstairs outdoor lounge area
But don't let my subjective review of the Comme Chez Soi convince you, the owners of the hotel are, after all, friends of mine.  Check out reviews of the Comme Chez Soi on TripAdvisor where their hotel is rated #1 in Mali (!).  Their quality service and 5 star dining experience rank them well above established, swanky hotel chains like the Radisson and the Hotel de l'Amitié (a former Sofitel).  Even better, travelers looking to save money need not sacrifice comfort - their prices can't be beat in Bamako.
While rooms at the Radisson will cost you an arm and a leg, rooms at the Comme Chez Soi range in price from a reasonable 29,000 CFA a night ~ $62 for a basic, yet perfectly lovely, room to an only slightly more expensive 39,000 CFA ~ $84*, for more luxurious accommodations.

Glassed in upstairs terrace for relaxing after a long day as well as brunch and dinner
The Comme Chez Soi is great for those of us who aren't just visiting Mali, too.  With brunch from 11-3 each Saturday and Sunday, happy hours from 6-7 followed by dinner (Tuesday - Saturday), the Comme Chez Soi has become my Cheers of Bamako.  Not only does everyone know my name but I'll run into friends I haven't seen all week at brunch and we'll be reminded that even though we live on opposite sides of the river (read: far away!) we do live in the same city (read: we should hang!)

The Comme Chez Soi is owned by a couple from the States, Sonja and Gael.   Here's an interview with Gael:

Where were you born? 
I was born in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.

What brought you to Bamako?
After a motorcycle trip through Southeast Asia, Sonja and I wanted another adventure so we decided to ride 2 motorcycles this time from Barcelona to perhaps as far down as South Africa. We got to Bamako in April during the hot season and were not looking forward to more hot weather followed by rains. Not the best weather for the bikes so we stayed put in Bamako to rest and then saw the opportunity and decided to try to start a small guesthouse which became the Comme Chez Soi.

What's your favorite restaurant/place in Bamako?
I would have to say the new national park built so beautifully by the Aga Khan Foundation. It's so nice to have a green space to enjoy, something Bamako was really lacking a year ago. I'm looking forward to the new Zoo once they finish it.

Do you have a favorite place in Mali/West Africa/Africa (take your pick or all!)
Weirdly we have done very little exploration of Mali. The hotel business is not very conducive to time off. In terms of our exploration on motorcycles, we enjoyed Morocco, amazing country especially in terms of natural beauty. People tend to think of it as a desert country but it has so much natural beauty. We also loved Guinée, the Fouta Djalon area is beautiful, full of greenery, mountains, and waterfalls. It's such a plentiful area with a pleasant climate and where everything seems to grow.

What are the 3 best and hardest things about running a hotel in Mali?
Defining three concrete best and hardest aspects is difficult. The best aspect for me is simply the ability to realize this type of project considering our limited budget and all the errors we made. We were able to make many mistakes and not have to close down because we are in Mali and the competition is less fierce. Those mistakes allowed us to learn so much.

The construction was both one of the best and hardest aspects. The type of projects we tried to do during construction were very foreign to laborers so finding skilled labor was a struggle. The fact that we did much of the work ourselves and were able to train or find workers from the area to do the rest is something we are very happy with. Training staff is also a difficult aspect considering the lack of hotel management options for people who are interested. You have to start from scratch with training and it does take a lot of time.

Where in the world would you like to visit and why?
There are few places in the world I wouldn't want to visit. If we stay somewhere too long, we just start wanting to move on. That time has come for us and we are looking forward to new experiences. Next up on the agenda seems to be a trip almost around the world to visit parts of Asia, perhaps East Africa, the Carribbean, and areas of Central America to explore the option of starting another business.

What's your favorite quality in a person/client?
In a person seems a bit broad so I'll tackle the client part. I guess easy-going? You start to really want those when you run a place. A client who just gets what we tried to do and enjoys it as it was designed. When we first opened the place and we saw the clients using all the spaces we spent so much time creating, it was the reward to all the hard work.

Do you have a favorite proverb or piece of advice?
I guess the fitting one which is one of Sonja's favorites is: "There are no unrealistic goals, just unrealistic time frames." That one really applied to our project since we never thought it would get finished but one day at a time and we got there in the end.

Thank you Sonja and Gael for sharing your business (and for starting it!) and for the interview!  I'm already looking forward to visiting the next hotel you open!

Enjoy below some photos of recent trips to Comme Chez Soi's brunch with prices to give you an idea of the menu price range - get ready to drool (and buy your plane ticket to Mali to come and eat with me!)
Crêpe Ganache Chocolat 3,000 CFA ~ $6.40

Aerial view :)

Café Americano, 800 CFA ~ $1.70
Doesn't Karen's smile make you want to order some coffee??

Shrimp Burger 5,000 CFA ~ $10.70

Crêpe Sallée Crevette Artichaut 5,000 CFA

Eggs Benedict (4,500 CFA ~ $9.60) with a side of hashbrowns (1,200 CFA ~ $2.50)
Salade Asiatique (4,500 CFA) with a side of bacon (1,200)
*at the current exchange rate of 467 CFA/$1USD


Mahesh Pandey said...

pink hostel international accra is a perfect stay to enjoyed every moment spend there ! It han amazing facility and one can enjoy the heritage experience.

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