For those of you who have had the pleasure of staying at one of the thirty-two under-the-radar Aman Resorts across the globe, Marrakech’s Amanjena will not shatter the mystique. A short road transfer out of the city, but trillions of miles away from the bustling medina, the resort is an oasis of towering palm trees, lush herb gardens and 49 beautifully appointed pavilions and villas, generously scattered amongst the blooming rose bushes. Each pavilion is decorated in the signature modern and masculine style that the group is so well known for, with just a hint of Moorish design, and benefit from a spacious and light-filled wrap-around terrace and chill-out, perfect for romantic in-house dining. Morocco’s people are naturally warm and our welcome here was well received after a three-and-a-half hour flight from London. General manager Nicolas and his team receive their guests as though they are old friends – in fact, many are – the hotel has a high ratio of repeat visitors. Just a few hours into our visit, we began to realise why. Amanjena underwent a three-month refurbishment project towards the end of 2015 with new villas and a reimagined spa planned for 2017. Rumour has it that seventeen new Aman Residences are planned, together with a scattering of super-luxe berber desert tents in the near future. If true, these will be the only full-on-luxury desert accommodation you need to know about. Many of the staff have been here for 16 years – since the resort’s inception. This should tell you a thing or two about the manner in which not only the guests but the hotel's team are looked after. A lazy afternoon by the heated 33-metre swimming pool while chomping away on fresh octopus salad tossed with potato, almonds and zesty orange was just what the doctor ordered.
Guests select from two main dining options; The Japanese Restaurant, an upbeat haunt offering fresh sushi, sashimi and succulent cuts of meat from the robata grill. And The Mediterranen, offering contemporary, inventive Moroccan fare with Sicilian and French influences, which is housed in the beautiful, recently refurbished high-domed berber tent. Guests are invited to mingle over complimentary traditional Moroccan afternoon tea in the hotel’s new lounge. Introductions can be made to other guests, so the resort lends itself to solo travellers.
Nicolas and his team are on hand to assist with any cultural and adventure recommendations, whilst guests tuck in to local, hand-made pastries and copious amounts of fresh mint tea. If unwinding in tranquil gardens is just not your thing, why not head out to the creamy sand-coloured Agafay desert and partake in some adrenaline-raising quad biking?
Those who enjoy something a little off the beaten track, but who do not wish to compromise on luxury and service, may have spent a dreamlike getaway at La Sultana Oualidia - West coast Morocco’s dreamiest boutique retreat - will know what to expect at sister hotel La Sultana Marrakech. An immaculately presented ancient riad, a fifteen-minute stroll from the Jemaa el-Fna and lively souks of the medina, reimagined, housing a scattering of spacious, thoughtfully decorated suites and rooms, overlooking internal courtyards stuffed with vases of flowering roses. The rooftop offers some of the best views of the city and when the weather allows, which it did when we visited in early April, the plentiful breakfast buffet is served here. We feasted on a very traditional dinner of rich chicken tagine and minty couscous by the atmospheric candle-lit indoor pool.
Right in the centre of the souk, and with the guidance of many a helpful local gesturing the way, you’ll come across Nomad – an upbeat Spanish/Moroccan-owned café-restaurant serving modern local tapas and cocktails. Head straight up to the rooftop where elegantly upholstered banquettes are jam-packed with well-heeled trendy locals and visitors taking respite from the heaving medina below.
Next up, a visit to the Four Seasons, a hotel group where elegance, effortless service and simplicity reign strong. The outpost in Marrakech is set within a staggering seventeen hectares of olive trees, manicured gardens and generously sized guest rooms, suites and one two-bedroom riad. A long, lazy lunch poolside at the informal and upbeat Azzera restaurant is a must. Tuck into salads; juicy prawns with pineapple, citrus, avocado and local argan oil, or zesty nicoise with fresh grilled swordfish. De-rigeur, the jolly and attentive staff exude a pared-back energy which makes each guest feel at ease. All of the 141 guest rooms and suites are equipped with a private balcony and either jaw-dropping views of the historic Menara Gardens or magical snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
Not a million miles away, but altogether more simplified and rustic, family-owned Beldi Country Club is a smart move for those seeking a healthy and elegant dining experience. Enjoy home grown produce at immaculately laid tables under the welcome shade of centuries-old olive trees. Relax by the endless pool so deeply blue in colour and blissfully cool it deserves a dip. Beldi’s numerous berber tents, light-filled lounges and glasshouses make it a perfect destination for birthday parties and weddings, and the luxurious spa offers everything from sea salt scrubs to traditional hammams.
A short ten-minute drive from the bustling and vibrant medina takes us to the newly launched Mandarin Oriental, the group’s first foray in Africa. It is evident that during the eight-year development phase, an army of architects, craftsmen and gardeners have given this project their all, and in doing so, have created a masterpiece in beauty and sophistication. Asmaa and her team of dedicated guests relation managers were on hand to ensure our stay was just so. The grand, architecturally significant main quarters house the reception; Mes’Lalla, a sleek restaurant specialising in reimagined traditional Moroccan fare curated by chef Meryam Cherkaoui; and lounge on the ground floor, with a number of decent-sized guest rooms upstairs. But it is the thoughtfully positioned and beautifully appointed villas that scatter the grounds, which are the piece de la resistance here. Each villa, south-facing and surrounded by trillions of roses which dispense perfume as you pass, offers either one or two–bedrooms, a light-filled bathroom and spacious lounge. A plunge pool, external terrace and Jacuzzi complete the arrangement, within a totally private walled garden. Delightful.
A visit to the in-house The Spa is a must, where attention to detail, age-old tradition and Eastern wellness influences leave you feeling energised and refreshed. My Thai masseuse, Ammy, administered a therapeutic Argan oil deep tissue massage with precision and strength. The resort’s Pool Garden offers guests a chilled, beach-club style restaurant and bar, surrounding a gloriously expansive blue-green pool. Light Mediterranean inspired bites and healthy dishes focus on fresh fruit and vegetables sourced directly from the resort’s garden.
Cantonese cuisine lovers will be thrilled to hear that Ling Ling by Hakkasan, which premiered on the glamorous island of Mykonos last summer - an instant hit - launched at the resort in September this year. It will undoubtedly bring a new buzz to an already chic destination.
Slightly more formal than its high-end counterparts, and boasting an exceptional location just a short stroll from the lively medina, Hotel Royal Mansour is an oasis of tranquility and beauty. Once a former summer residence of the King, and still owned by the royal family, a scattering of generously proportioned one to four-bedroom riads are decorated with elegant Moroccan furniture, sleek marble bathrooms and carefully crafted wooden entertaining areas – yet are filled with the latest technology and are cooled by discreet air coolers. We headed straight to La Table, a secret, abundantly lush oasis to the rear, where we happily devoured fresh crab salads, meaty blue lobster and locally sourced vegetables. A visit to the hotel’s spa, housed in a remarkable light-flooded dome-like structure, is obligatory. Here, space and serenity provide an environment so chilled that even just a wander through it will leave you feeling at peace. Choose the one-hour ceremonial massage and expect to be transported to a level of calm and tranquility rarely visited. The hotel has just unveiled exciting new outdoor dining concept, Le Jardin, an expansive terrace which houses just seven private cabins, scattered in amongst the verdent gardens, beside the gloriously deep green pool. Bliss.
Images 1 & 2: Amanjena
Images 3 & 4: La Sultana Marrakech
Images 5 & 6: Mandarin Oriental Marrakech
This article was written for Arabian Knight and published in Spring 2016.
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