Lavish, grande dame, Marrakech classic
Avenue Bab Jdid 40040 212 (0) 524-388-600 www.mamounia.com
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At a Glance
The legendary La Mamounia, which has long offered the best of both of Marrakech’s worlds (proximity to the medina and a parklike setting), reopened in 2009 after a renovation by designer Jacques Garcia, who called the new hotel a “modern day fairytale.”
- The gorgeous gardens including a vegetable garden and native olive trees
- The exquisite craftsmanship throughout (it feels more like staying in a museum)
- The excellent restaurants and rooftop bar with expansive views
- The glamorous crowd
For decades, La Mamounia was where all the luminaries stayed. Churchill roamed its gardens and orange groves, which were given as a wedding present to Prince Moulay Mamoun by his father King Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah. Catherine Deneuve lounged by the pool. (I stayed there with my parents when I was a teenager in the ’80s, when it was still a beloved annual retreat for fashionable Frenchmen with their wives or mistresses, Deneuve and Anouk Aimee look-alikes.) Then the landmark grew tired, underwent an unfortunate makeover and hosted so many conferences that it lost all its charm. Until French designer Jacques Garcia was given carte blanche (and a seemingly limitless expense account) to create what can only be dubbed a truly couture palace.
He tore down ninety-five percent of the hotel (only a few signature details such as the Majorelle mural in the bar remain). He spent three years and more than $175 million so that almost every inch of the vast property could be handcrafted. Some days more than a thousand craftsmen worked on site. They laid millions of hand-cut tiles, pieced together wood marquetry walls, carved intricate arabesque designs into plaster columns and forged hundreds of handmade lanterns. Room numbers along the dimly lit corridors float on a panel of brass filigree that is lit from behind. Closet drawers are clad in hand-stitched orange leather. The Moorish tiles in the bathrooms appear antique even though they have been newly laid.
The rooms vary dramatically in size, view, and layout, with rooms with a garden view being preferable. The rooms are designed in heavy fabrics of rich hues, and all the details from the lantern style light fixtures, to the wood carved moldings and pointed arched doors feel distinctly Moroccan. The spacious bathrooms sparkle with white marble.
Every detail has been considered, from specially composed music for the public areas to an exclusive perfume of dates, roses and cedar wood that was mixed by one of the world’s most famous noses to scent the air. The pools even use an ozone system to keep them pure without chemicals. Two two-Michelin-starred chefs (Jean-Pierre Vigato from Paris and Alfonso Iaccarino from Italy) were brought in to open gourmet restaurants. While I hated seeing the Gucci and Dior boutiques in the lobby, because I prefer buying local products, there are also two boutiques selling a selection of Moroccan-made fashions and specialty products of the hotel. And I am sure that some sybarites appreciate being able to buy labels in the lobby. In fact, many indulgent types may never leave the property.
A 27,000-square-foot spa with extravagant interior pool areas was added as was a large fitness center, a new pool pavilion (where the pool is heated year-round), and a Moroccan restaurant with a rooftop lounge that has become the place to watch the sunset over the mountains and minarets. While Garcia indulges in major drama with lots of velvet and tassels, even loads of leopard print in the Churchill Bar, La Mamounia is a setting where over-the-top effects feel right at home. It’s a palace, after all, in a city that has always loved myth, magic and mystery. Lights are kept purposely low inside because Garcia wanted to create contrast between the bright outdoors and a more intimate haven of privacy and seduction. In fact, he envisioned every space of the hotel as one sanctuary leading to another.
My favorite area may be the one that has changed the least, though, which is the 20-acre garden with its 700-year-old olive trees, sweet-smelling orange blossoms and views of the snow-capped Atlas mountains. Tucked along its edges are tennis courts, large gym and the three redone private riads. As Garcia himself said at the unveiling, “The Mamounia is to Marrakech what the Louvre is to Paris: everybody comes to see it. Only here, some can stay. It’s like spending a night at the museum.”
Indagare Tip: Not all rooms are equal. In fact, the smaller rooms on the ground floor feel like servant’s rooms and at $1,000 a night are astonishingly overpriced, especially considering what half that can get you in one of the nice riad properties. The best rooms face the gardens and are on the third floor and above.
Who Should Stay
Anyone looking for a full service experience with history and a sense of old world glamour. Those who prefer smaller, boutique hotels might be happier elsewhere.
- Melissa Biggs Bradley
Indagare Plus Amenities
- Full breakfast for 2 included
- Resort credit in the amount of $100 USD
- Early check-in subject to availability
- Late check-out subject to availability
- Complimentary WiFi internet access
- Upgrade room category on availability
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