In Abuja, Nigeria, we experienced a warm ‘Nordic feeling’: a unique fusion between Nordic design and Nigerian hospitality. We share the story behind Nordic Hotel, Abuja, one of the most exciting expressions of innovation in the nation’s capital.
The distance between Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city and Copenhagen, Denmark is approximately 7,206.8 km. Copenhagen regularly gets sub-zero temperatures in winter while Abuja regularly bakes in plus 30°C (86°F) heat at the same time of year.
Globally, Copenhagen is highly regarded as a bastion of Scandinavian design and architecture while Abuja is known for (pauses to scratch head)…being the capital of Nigeria. However, in Abuja, we found a bridge between both cities.
I went to high school in Kwali, a small village on the outskirts of Abuja. I graduated in the mid-90s, a few years after Nigeria officially relocated her seat of government from Lagos on the south-west Atlantic coast to her shiny new capital city in the centre of the country.
Back then Abuja, also known as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was a vast forest, unbroken Savannah and one huge construction site. On a recent visit to Nigeria, we scheduled a few days to visit Abuja to find out how much had changed (read our follow up Abuja article here).
Despite a late afternoon arrival at Abuja’s Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, we were not spared the harsh Abuja sun. With the city’s high elevation (2,760 feet) and comparative proximity to the Sahara Desert, air conditioning is a welcome treat.
We jumped into our friend Tony’s car and were grateful for the cool air and shelter, noticing the impressive Abuja City Gate as we made our way to Nordic Hotel in the district of Mabushi, our base for the next two days.
Following the relocation of her capital from Lagos to Abuja, workers in Nigeria’s federal civil service and other government agencies formed the core of a huge human influx to the purpose-built city. An acute housing shortage resulted in the hotel industry having to step in to fill the void.
The civil service migration was followed by the relocation of embassies, international non-profit organisations, and big business. The growing city naturally became a magnet for other urban migrants in search of better opportunities and political hand outs, swelling the population even further.
Although full of rich natural beauty, Abuja is not regarded as a tourist city, attracting more business travellers than any other kind. In addition, the city’s major landmarks are not designed to cater to inquisitive tourists. Nigeria is no Zanzibar.
Meanwhile, for many years Abuja lacked world-class luxury hotels befitting of her status as the capital city of Africa’s most influential nation. The local hotel industry gained a lacklustre reputation resulting from overpriced, uninspiring accommodation and poor service.
In recent years however, a number of contenders have stepped in to address this trend and provide decent alternatives for the slim tourist traffic which the city receives.
Design: Where Copenhagen meets Abuja
A colleague had recommended that we check out a relatively new luxury boutique property called Nordic Hotel, Abuja. In a country where hotel names can often be misleading, we did not know what to expect. However, we were in for a jaw dropping surprise as Tony pulled into a secure parking lot in a quiet Mabushi neighbourhood.
The Nordic Hotel reception conforms to the principles of modern contemporary Scandinavian interior design: simplicity, minimalism and functionality. The open, white space was only interrupted by giant Tom Dixon copper pendant lamp shades and specially handpicked furniture from Danish designers including Bang & Olufsen and Nanna Diztel.
Floor-to-ceiling glass windows ensured unfiltered access to Abuja’s abundant supply of natural light. The invigorating air conditioning ensured that we stayed cool as we enjoyed some Danish coffee served in Royal Copenhagen cups while using the high-speed (and free) WiFi available throughout the hotel.
According to Jonas Schwarz Lausten, co-owner and co-founder, the concept behind the reception is one of a multi-purpose space that serves as a reception and as a work, collaboration and event space. Disappointingly, we had just missed an art exhibition the week before and would be gone before a planned jazz concert in November!
The minimalist and functional design continued through to our room. Our room key was made out of polished, shipwrecked wood. We were allocated one of Nordic Hotel’s Executive Suites. With a range of room types available, Nordic Suites is considered top of the range, offering an extremely spacious lounge, a balcony, a work desk, egg chair and a retractable 42 inch Bang & Olufsen screen.
Blending work and relaxation easily, the bedroom and the lounge area combine to form one seamless unit. A custom-made king-size bed with mattress and pillows that envelope you in true comfort sits in the centre of the room while a second B&O screen and balcony extend the space further.
The overall use of white space seduces the brain into decluttering itself and the body. After the craziness of Lagos, we embraced it all!
Nordic Hotel, Abuja – an origin story
Curious to know the inspiration behind this unusual piece of Scandinavia in Abuja, we met up with Jonas over a coffee in the reception which had become our favourite part of the hotel.
Jonas is a Danish expat whose father lived in Nigeria in the 70s. His was the first Danish-Nigerian accent we had ever heard. It was musical to the ears. While doing business in Abuja, Jonas, his brother Christian, a business partner, Anders Mogensen and their Nigerian partner, Collins, set upon the idea of creating a space that they would be happy to live and work in.
Thousands of miles away from Copenhagen, their first project was Nordic Villa in the Jabi area, a private boutique hotel with 15 rooms targeted at business travellers. That project was successful enough to influence an expansion of the idea into the 30 room Nordic Hotel, recently rated number one by TripAdvisor.
By partnering with Abuja’s premier relaxation venue, BluCabana, Nordic Hotel are able to offer authentic Nigerian and Continental European cuisine, access to the ‘best swimming pool’ in Abuja (according to locals), a world-class gym/spa and a large children’s play area.
Jonas explained that his passion is to create a bridge between Scandinavia and Nigeria through cultural exchange and collaboration. He wants his guests to experience a unique ‘Nordic Feeling’ which he described as a fusion of elements including high-quality service, world-famous Nordic design and genuine hospitality.
The rise of staycations in Nigeria
Any discussion about Nigeria invariably turns to highlight the country’s rich potential and its many missed opportunities to leverage its vast natural and human resources. We explored some of the complexities of running a world-class hotel in Nigeria including the ever present challenges with electricity.
We exchanged travel stories with Jonas. His description of his hikes through middle-belt Nigeria’s Mambilla Plateau and visits to Zuma Rock evoked a desire to see those places for ourselves. We talked about Lagos and its uncanny ability to frustrate and delight visitors in equal measure.
Unfortunately, compared to other parts of Africa, Nigeria does not see too many tourists due to a combination of factors including poor infrastructure, undefined or inconsistent government policies, complex visa procedures and poor local capacity in the hospitality industry.
What Nigeria lacks in inbound traffic, it makes up for in outbound travel. Nigeria ranks in the top five countries whose citizens spend the most shopping in places like Dubai, Paris, London and New York.
However a crippling recession currently gripping the country is forcing a rethink of travel attitudes, with staycations growing in popularity over international travel.
Through a growing reputation for quality and attention to detail, Jonas hopes to capture some of the local tourist traffic by hosting events such as craft beer tasting, technology events and art and craft exhibitions at Nordic Hotel.
After a quick tour of the city to satisfy our curiosity, we said goodbye to Jonas and the Nordic Hotel team and headed back to Lagos for the rest of our Nigeria trip, carrying with us memories of the Nordic feeling.
Nigeria remains home and we hope to share more stories about its rich cultural diversity and the growing local hospitality industry. Watch this space for more!
We flew Air Peace from Lagos to Abuja.
First time in Abuja or planning a trip? Check out this comprehensive resource from Nordic Hotel.
Disclaimer: We were guests of Nordic Hotel, Abuja. However, all views and opinions remain ours and we were not paid to publish this article. Our sincere thanks go to the staff and management of Nordic Hotel, Abuja for sharing their unique ‘Nordic Feeling’ with us.
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