Filled to the brim with French colonial charm, Grand-Bassam is a town within the Lagunes region of Côte d'Ivoire. It was the capital city of the French colonies in the region from 1893 until 1896, until the administration was transferred to Bingerville after a severe bout of yellow fever. The city's inhabitants recovered, and it remained a key seaport until the growth of Abidjan from the 1930s, which crushed its golden era. By independence in 1960, Grand-Bassam was little more than a ghost town, until a surge of tourism in the 1970s led to its resettlement. Today, a modest 5,000 people call the town their home, although some areas still remain largely abandoned.
Grand-Bassam is 45km east of Abidjan and will take about 45 minutes by road.
Bush taxis from the Gare de Bassam in Abidjan are the best option, and will cost about CFA 500. Buses are an alternative, which leave from Gare Routière d'Adjamé in Abidjan for CFA 500.
The town is largely divided into two distinct halves. On the south side of the Ébrié Lagoon is Ancien Bassam, the old French town where most of the colonial buildings and attractions are located. Nouveau Bassam lies to the north of the lagoon, and grew out of the old servant quarters to become the main business centre. The two are connected by a small bridge.
The main area of town is quite compact, so walking is an easy way of getting around. If you feel like venturing further, you will need to organise a bush taxi.
- Cathédrale du Sacré Cœur. Beautiful house of worship built by the French in 1910, renovated in 2004.
- Centre Céramique, Rue Bouët. After tourism, ceramics and pottery are probably Grand-Bassam's biggest industries. This is both a museum of Ivorian traditional ceramic and a exhibition hall for the works of local artisans.
- Mairie de Grand-Bassam (Town Hall), Boulevard Gouverneur Angoulvant. Recently restored French colonial building.
- Musée National du Costume (Costume Museum). Housed in the former French governor's palace, this architectural gem with its large outer staircase is one of the main attractions in town. Its excellent collection of traditional costumes, masks, ornaments and ethnographic photographs provides a fascinating insight in the culture and history of Ivory Coast, both during and outside colonial times. The 4000m2 museum premises furthermore holds various publications, models of traditional houses and life-size dancing scenes. If your budget allows, consider hiring a guide for extra information. CFA 1000.
- Old Post Office. An elegant building that has also been restored recently. No longer functions as a post office.
- Palais de Justice (Law Courts). Constructed in 1910, it was used as a court until 1954. This building has not been as lucky as the other French colonial structures, and has reportedly decayed beyond repair.
- Maison des Artistes. Unlike some other buildings in town, the name of this colorful building actually describes what it's used for. In this "house of the artists" you can watch local sculptors and other artists working and see and buy their creations.
- Swim at Grand-Bassam Beach. The seaside of Ancien Bassam is extremely popular among Ivorians. On the weekends, the place is packed, however, during the weekdays, you may have it all to yourself. Beware of strong currents and the lack of lifeguards.
- Canoe trips. Some local boatmen can be arranged to take you up the lagoon to see some tradition fishing amongst the landscape.
- Fête de l`Abissa (Festival of the Dead). The local N'Zima people honour those who have passed away in this colourful and lively festival, held between late October and early November.
The central market (Marché) is located right next to the Place de Paix roundabout. It mostly serves produce, but you may be able to find a souvenir or two. A much better option is the hundreds of artisan stalls that thrive on the western edge of town, lining the road from Abidjan. Local art is also for sale in Maison des Artistes, described in the See section.
There are some options to eat in and around the central market as described above, as well as the eateries within the hotels. A more interesting alternative is the "marquis" restaurants along the northern, lagoon edge of Ancien Bassam, which serve local and traditional African cuisine. The cost is cheap, hovering between CFA 1900 and 2300.
- Le Quai (Northern edge of Ancien Bassam), ☎ +225 0769 6975, e-mail: email@example.com. Located in the maquis area, along the shore of the lagoon. Serves both African and French cuisine. CFA 3000-4000.
Most hotels and even some restaurants have their own bars that are popular with locals on the weekdays and holidaymakers from Abidjan on the weekend. There are a couple of nightclubs in the north of the town including:
- No Limit Nightclub, ☎ +225 49425560. Fr-Sa: 9pm-6am. The largest nightclub in town and reportedly among the largest in all of West Africa. Set in a modern building in Nouveau Bassam.
- Hotel Boblin la Mer, Route d'Azuretti, ☎ +225 21 301418. Small hotel with the beach on its doorstep. CFA 12000 per night.
- La Maison de la Lagune, Route d'Azuretti (On the Ancien Bassam side, some 7km west of the town). Small 7 room hotel with internet and a pool.
- Taverne la Bassamoise, ☎ +225 2130 1062, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Nice lodge with air-conditioning, a pool and a bit of character. As the name reveals, the establishment is primarily a restaurant.
- Etoile du Sud, e-mail: email@example.com. Probably the most luxurious hotel in town. They have a restaurant, bar and nightclub as well as pools and sports facilities. rates from CFA50000, breakfast costs extra.
- La Nouvelle Paillote, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotel with restaurant, bar, pool and conference facilities. CFA20000-30000.
- Maffouet Hotel, ☎ +225 21 31 28 28. Upscale hotel in the north of the town. Rooms are equipped as average rooms in a western country and there is a bar and a restaurant.
- Abidjan - The country's economic capital is only a short drive down the road.
- Assinie - Another beach town that has grown in popularity among locals in recent years.