Destination: Marrakech

Diane Dorrans Saeks discovers lavish luxury and superbly delineated Moroccan style at La Mamounia.

  • Category
    Travel
  • Written by
    Diane Dorrans Saeks

Edith Wharton, who toured Marrakech, Morocco, in 1918, wrote, “The beauty of Moroccan interiors is made up of details of ornament and refinement, and endless sensuous delights.” Her words ring true a century later.

Rich with history and intensely glamorous, Morocco’s dazzling La Mamounia is one of the most compelling hotels in the world. Set amongst a garden of lavish beauty that looks as if it had been dreamed up by Renoir or Cézanne, the hotel was decorated by French leading designer Jacques Garcia in palatial Moroccan style.

La Mamounia first opened its ultra-chic doors to guests in 1923, and today it has retained every gesture and moment of its magical allure. In the 1920s, French architects Henri Prost and Antoine Marchisio created traditional Moroccan themes with a chic touch of Art Deco and French Empire.

The main building (intact today) had been a royal palace for centuries, and the hotel’s palm-shaded gardens were part of a royal estate. It’s all encircled by the city’s massive medieval ramparts, which provide a sense of privacy and a respite from the nearby bustling medina.

La Mamounia has a stylish history that attracted fans like Winston Churchill, who dabbled in impressionistic oil paintings in the garden.

Today, after a complete redesign and refurbishment, the hotel is a tribute to Moroccan arts and crafts. Gracious suites have painted and gilded coffered ceilings, and throughout the hotel are dazzling patterned tile walls and traditional carved and painted cedarwood doors.

Garcia commissioned hundreds of the most skilled local craftsmen to create décor that’s rich in detail and refinement. He orchestrated teams of specialists in marquetry, intricate decorative painting, brass lanterns, carved plasterwork, embossed leather, mosaic work, and tile-inlaid marble floors to give the hotel its distinctive rooms. The soft modulated lighting and handcrafted materials make a strong and welcoming impression.

Garcia furnished the hotel with a Napoleonic rich crimson red for chenille armchairs and sofas, and deployed traditional ornate hand-crafted bronze hardware, including massive locks and door handles, for a sense of theatricality and exuberance.

An exotic mood is created on arrival by the hotel’s exclusive scent with its elusive notes of jasmine, palm leaves, mint, and classic cedar, designed for the hotel by Paris perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. The subtle perfume is said to waft in through air conditioning vents and it’s a hauntingly romantic touch, like walking through a Moroccan garden.

For those who require total privacy within the hotel setting, there are riads (a stylish Moroccan version of a residence) located in the heart of the rose gardens. Each of them features three bedrooms with spectacular suite bathrooms, a large dining room, and a private terrace with a garden and swimming pool. They have their own entrance and guests can arrive and depart with discretion.

And there’s a new and very sweet reason to stay at La Mamounia. Top Paris patissier Pierre Hermé, one of the most inventive and successful macaron makers, recently opened a chic and delicious boutique in the hotel lobby. Hermé developed exclusive Moroccan flavors and confections for this elegant outpost. Among the most tempting are his gold-dusted pink Ispahan macarons, two discs of raspberry meringue filled with lychee cream. Pierre Hermé treats are also on the menu at the delightful summer season tea pavilion, Le Menzeh, situated in the shade of towering palm trees in the midst of the extensive hotel estate. Guests can take a short walk in the garden to sip mint tea, nibble on lemon tarts or chocolate macarons, select sorbets, and while away the late afternoon.

And in the evening, there’s a ritual that brings guests into the heart of La Mamounia’s traditional style. At twilight, guests gather on the terrace of the Bar Majorelle for candlelit cocktails. The bar offers an extensive selection of Champagnes, and an inspiring list of both classic cocktails and provocative exclusive creations such as the new Apothecary cocktail infused with nettle syrup and rhubarb bitters. Meanwhile, a multi-national band—piano, violin, drummer, and bass—plays bouncy Cole Porter numbers.

At 8 pm, a gentle walk in the garden takes guests to the glamour of Le Marocain restaurant and bar, a Marrakech dream of fountains, flickering lanterns, and a menu that includes traditional tajines, as well as light salads.

The delight of the evening and its slow-paced dinner are enhanced by a performance by a group of Moroccan musicians dressed in long cream linen djellabahs. They play traditional lutes and ouds and sing songs of haunting beauty, in the authentic musical tradition of Andalusia. Their mesmerizing sounds float into the star-spangled darkness.

The evening is completed long after blissful midnight with a meditative walk through the garden. Tomorrow there will be visits to caftan-makers and jewelers in the souks of the medina. But for the moment, La Mamounia is casting its spell.

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