WHAT’S IT LIKE? A member of Leading Hotels, the five-star La Mamounia is all about the dramatics. A towering gated entrance leads to a sweeping drive and small central garden, behind which valets await your arrival by decorative pillars finished in white plaster and mosaic.
There are so many doormen and valets in various styles of traditional dress, it can be a little intimidating. Once done thanking the five of them, I headed to the lobby to be greeted by plush purple and yellow carpet and an elegant hostess who set me down on some coaches in a beautiful arched corridor, and brought me mint tea and dates to snack on while I checked in.
The property’s history justifies its dramatics. Built in 1923, it was a favourite of Winston Churchill, who wiled away his days painting the view of the Atlas Mountains and the hotel’s famed gardens from his balcony. He wrote in a letter to Franklin Roosevelt in 1943 “It is the most lovely spot in the whole world.” In 2009 it was made arguably more beautiful, after designer Jacques Garcia spent three years restoring the property’s Arab-Andalusian architectural roots, stripping away the hotel’s much-maligned 1980s Art Deco makeover.
WHERE IS IT? The hotel and gardens are located on a fairly busy road moments from the medina. There is no noise from the road at all however, since both the hotel and gardens are set back behind high ochre walls. La Koutoubia – the mosque, and one of the city’s main attractions – is a five-minute walk from the property and it’s a ten-minute drive to the airport.
ROOM FACILITIES Every room, suite or riad overlooks the gardens, the Koutubia, the Atlas Mountains or the city. I stayed in a Park Suite, which comprised a separate lounge and bedroom, linked by a beautiful arched doorway. On entering, there was a small dressing room off to the right with ample space to hang or fold clothes, and a laptop safe.
The lounge had space for several people, with two dark wood and velvet coaches and a round glass table. The whole room was decked out in rich dark wood, sumptuous fabrics and red tones. Painted green doors led to a spacious terrace that ran the length of the room, from the bedroom to the lounge, with two chairs and two lounge beds overlooking the sprawling gardens. The white marble en suite had dual basins, a standalone bath and walk-in shower.
Other features included a spacious work desk, free wifi, a large flat screen television, mini bar, tea- and coffee-making facilities, complimentary water and a robe and slippers. Next to the infeasibly comfortable king size bed there was a selection of gold switches for the different light settings – it was easy to use and very handy. Attention to detail is the key for La Mamounia, and every element of the room was well thought out, from the light settings to the orange leather bound accessories at the work desk. Room categories are split according to view and floor, and the signature suites are very special places with lavish furnishings, canopied beds and large lounges and dressing rooms. Take a peek at the Churchill Suite, if it’s available, to admire one of his unfinished paintings
RESTAURANTS AND BARS There are three main restaurants named simply L’Italien, Le Francais and Le Marocain. The former two are decadent affairs situated within the main hotel complex, while the Moroccan restaurant – open 7pm-11pm – is located in the garden, with intimate booths set off a central courtyard, where entertainers play traditional music. When I dined here the restaurant was full, with groups tucked away in their booths, illuminated by candlelight from lanterns. The entertainment was excellent and continued throughout the evening.
The menu is full of typical Moroccan fare and I sampled the pigeon pastilla (Dr260/£20), a strange combination of savoury and sweet filled pastry which was rather to large to finish, followed by a generous mixed grill (Dhs 400/£31) of tender lamb chops, merguez sausages, chicken and beef skewers, accompanied by a plate of roasted vegetable couscous. The meal was delicious, particularly accompanied by the crushed spices left at the table in place of ordinary salt and pepper, but was far too much for me to finish.
There is also the poolside Le Pavillion for breakfast and lunch (breakfast, served 7am-10.30am, is a series of bars serving everything from Mediterranean meats and cheeses, to a full English or Moroccan breads and pastries) and five bars, each more opulent and than the last, are dotted throughout the hotel.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES The main meetings space is the Grand Salon, a dramatic space with its own entrance for delegates. The salon is reached via a striking white and mosaic Andalusian courtyard, which can be used for pre-dinner cocktails. It offers 450 sqm of flexible floor space, which can be split into three rooms – combined with the foyer, it can accommodate 600 for a cocktail party but otherwise seats 350 theatre-style. The light-filled, air-conditioned room features a library (a nice syndicate room in itself) and a mezzanine. There is also a business centre with internet, PCs and space for meetings of 10 to 40.
LEISURE FACILITIES The highlight has to be the 2, 500 sqm spa, which has an ozone-treated indoor pool (a beautiful Andalusian-inspired space of white marble arches and turquoise waters), a spa bath lit by lanterns at night and a subterranean warren of nine treatment rooms, a relaxation room, a hair salon and a barbers. There are two hammams, one for men and one for women, where guests can enjoy the traditional body scrub treatment in glossy black marble rooms, beginning with a sauna (from 1,000 dirhams/£77 for 60 minutes).
There is also a fitness room (open 7am-9pm) with Life Fitness machines, a room for yoga, Pilates and aerobics classes, two clay tennis courts and a huge outdoor pool. Surrounding the entrance to the spa and the lounge area past reception are various designer shops including Dior, Prada and Gucci.
HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 136 rooms, and 71 suites, including seven signature suites, and three riads, each with three bedrooms, a private terrace and a small swimming pool.
ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The view – whatever your vantage point, it is incredible, but the view of the famous 200 year-old royal gardens, given as a wedding gift to Prince Moulay Mamoun in the 18th century, are particularly welcome after a day wrestling with the busy city. The rooms are also generous in size, starting from 30 sqm for a guest room, 55 for a suite and 700 for a riad, and traditional touches like the mosaics make it feel very special.
VERDICT A decadent hotel that lives up to its reputation. From the opulent surroundings to the excellent service at every stage of my stay, all my expectations were exceeded. It is centrally located, and my only regret was that I did not have enough time to enjoy the glamorous setting – it is a destination in itself.
PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in January started from Dhs 8, 100/£624 for a Park Suite.
CONTACT Avenue Bab Jdid, 40 040 Marrakech; tel +212 524 388 600; mamounia.com