What's it like? This hotel was built in 1991, as a gift from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to the Senegalese Government, in time for the Islamic Conference. As a result, it is home to the largest conference centre in West Africa. The lobby is huge, with a central atrium. It was late when I arrived and as I was not yet acclimatised, I found myself sweating profusely as I waited for my room to be assigned. I went straight to bed when I reached my room. Next morning, I walked through the lobby, past a real Baobab tree (growing inside), and was rewarded with the lovely hotel gardens, pool and a view of the ocean. Business travellers comprise 80 per cent of the guests here, and although a lot of business is local, there is also plenty of traffic from Belgium, Spain, France and the US. I had flown from London via Brussels with SN Brussels, but new flights from Heathrow have since been launched by Bmed.
Where is it? The hotel is 15 minutes' drive from Dakar airport. Free airport transfers leave hourly, and can be arranged through the concierge. You can arrange to be picked up from the airport if you let the hotel know before your arrival (when you enter the arrivals hall, bear to the left and you will be allowed through the gate into a welcoming air-conditioned lounge, away from the crowds, where you can await your hotel pick-up). Although only six miles from Dakar's centre, the traffic is atrocious and it took over an hour for both of the journeys I made by taxi from the hotel into town.
How many rooms? 360, including 72 suites. There are three types of rooms: deluxe, superior and standard, with the main difference being that the deluxe and superior categories have better sea views.
Room facilities My standard room was decorated in cream, red and peach, and felt a little dated; however, the hotel is starting a two-year programme of refurbishment in 2007 that will see the guestrooms updated. All rooms have balconies, and huge beds with blankets in case the air conditioning is too cold. Internet access is available (80 per cent of the rooms have wifi and the remainder have broadband), and there is a minibar, which I raided for mineral water – the hotel advises that although you can drink the water from the taps, some stomachs may be sensitive. There was also a safe. I borrowed an adaptor from reception to charge my mobile. During my stay there were two very brief power cuts, which lasted no more than a minute, but I was relieved to have my laptop battery so that I didn't lose any unsaved work.
Restaurants and bars Restaurant Les Jardins de l'Océan is a terrace restaurant by the pool with views of the sea. I loved it so much I ate here, à la carte, every night (prices are around £10 for a main dish). The restaurant specialises in fresh fish, cooked African-style, and it was always delicious. The buffet here is popular, and the restaurant can seat up to 500. Inside the hotel there is Café la Piazza, a pool bar (Le Snack Piscine, open 1000-1800), and, in the centre of the hotel, Le Dizzy Gillespie Bar, which has lively music. There is also a nightclub, popular with expats, on the way out to the pool. Breakfast is served in Le Manguier, a dark-blue room decorated with African artefacts. There is a large buffet, with crepes and omelettes made to order.
Business and meeting facilities The hotel has 465sqm of conference space, spread over three floors and reached via magnificent marble corridors. There are two amphitheatres, which can accommodate up to 160, and 20 meeting rooms with space for up to 650. There are six language translation facilities. International meetings are often held in the hotel. For large events the banqueting room can hold up to 400. The business centre is on the ground floor, and opens 0800-midnight. Next door is an internet room – make sure you ask for an English machine unless you are adept in French. Internet access is charged at about
E4 per half hour.
Leisure facilities There is a beautiful pool at the back of the hotel, by the sea. On my visit it was far too hot for the beach, so I took up one of the poolside loungers where I could get some shade (a snack/bar service is available here). The hotel also has four tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course.
Verdict Staff were exceptionally friendly, although I did get mistaken for a flight attendant a few times. The concierge was helpful, and advised me on how to get around the city centre, and on hiring a cab to wait for me while I visited appointments. The hotel is a long, hot drive to the city centre – so is not ideal if you have all your meetings there – but for conference delegates it makes for an excellent stay. The refurbishment should lift the rather dated look of the rooms.
Prices Internet rates for a midweek stay in early December were €221 for a superior room and €236 for a deluxe room.
Contact Le Méridien President, Pointe des Almadies, BP 8181, Dakar, Senegal, tel +221 869 6969, starwoodhotels.com.