The magic of La Mamounia

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There are five star hotels the world over. And then there is La Mamounia. An oasis of tranquility, sophistication and luxury amongst the hustle, bustle and excitement of this age-old Moroccan city – loved by celebrities, politicians and international royalty for generations. And one of the world’s most celebrated hotels. Indeed Sir Winston Churchill named Marrakech “the loveliest place on earth”.

Arriving at Marrakech Menara Airport after our three-and-a-half-hour flight, we were promptly met by the La Mamounia chauffeur and ushered into a private VIP waiting area while passport and customs were cleared for us. Afterwards, we were led to a pristine Daimler, and were duly serenaded during the drive to the hotel by a video playing the atmospheric promotional film of the hotel. But nothing could prepare us for the wonderment at our arrival at La Mamounia.

This hotel, originally built in 1923, is conspicuously excellent in every way. On entering this expanse of Moroccan wonderment, we were led to the lobby lounge area, where we checked in while being given a traditional Moroccan welcome of sweetened almond milk, tiny biscuits and the most delicious dates I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.

La Mamounia has been totally refurbished following an extensive three year restoration project led by internationally acclaimed French interior designer, Jacques Garcia. He has successfully managed to fuse its art-deco heritage with strong Moroccan flavours throughout the hotel.

The interior of the hotel is ornate but surprisingly tasteful. Zellige tiling, carved wooden doors, stained glass, extensive marble, intricate metalwork and crafted marquetry (the art of applying pieces of veneer to a structure to form a decorative pattern) is evident throughout. Fountains in the hotel’s numerous courtyards take centre stage in all of the open spaces, of which there are many.

To gauge some idea of the sheer luxury of this property, there are 209 rooms and 800 staff. A total of 70 gardeners tend the magnificent grounds – nearly 20 acres of them, complete with the tallest palms I have ever seen, in addition to olive groves, orange trees, cactus beds, a vegetable garden and 5,000 rose bushes. It is worth noting that a room above the second floor is certainly a must to take in the majesty of these amazing grounds, which are also home to a fitness pavilion with a state-of-the-art gym. There are also two outdoor clay tennis courts and an enormous swimming pool and terrace, where breakfast is served daily (weather permitting).

Fortunately, our room was on the fourth floor and the views from our balcony were spectacular, incorporating the snow-capped Atlas Mountains as well as the breath-taking gardens.

The room’s interior ensured the authentic Moroccan theme prevailed throughout, complete with a beautifully carved headboard and tiling that reached every crevice. The opulent marble bathroom did not disappoint and toiletries on offer are specially blended for the hotel. Indeed, a shop selling La Mamounia goodies had just opened to complement the fine selection of boutiques already present in the hotel’s arcade.

The exquisite indoor swimming pool is aesthetically beautiful, complete with tiles, columns, arches, golden lanterns and mosaics. But what makes this area so outstanding is the raised platform just above the pool, adorned with pillows and cushions for one to lay and gaze in wonderment at the water below and to contemplate a swim, which was secondary to the sheer joy of basking in this haven.

La Mamounia has four restaurants. Two signature restaurants under the direction of two Michelin star chefs, serving contemporary French and Italian cuisine, while local style food is served at Le Marocain, a beautiful medina-styled restaurant located in the grounds of the hotel. The menu offered a large choice of local food from speciality tagines to perfectly cooked couscous. There was also a good selection of vegetarian and fish dishes. Food was faultless to taste and delightful in presentation – if there is a better place to eat Moroccan food, I haven’t been there yet.

There are five bars to choose from. Non-residents are frequently seen visiting the hotel, simply to have a look around this famous establishment or to enjoy a drink or two at the famous Churchill Bar while soaking up the atmosphere.

The hotel’s immaculate Moroccan themed spa is a marble and tiled expanse of sheer indulgence, offering 80 speciality treatments in nine treatment rooms with archways, columns and lanterns in abundance. There are also three hammams, six outdoor massage cabins, a plunge pool and a hair salon.

There is so much to enjoy in Marrakech. From sight-seeing, such as a visit to the ancient Badi Palace and admiring the exterior of the Koutoubia Mosque, to shopping and bartering in the souk and adjacent outdoor market while absorbing the scents of fragrant spices. A trip to the surrounding Atlas Mountains to enjoy the stunning scenery or to spend the day trekking is worthwhile if time permits.

But one can be forgiven for simply relaxing at La Mamounia and never wanting to leave. But sadly, I did – I simply had to get back to reality. But it won’t be long before I return to the “Paris of the Sahara”. Of that there can be no doubt.

by Amanda Bernstein