Mandarin Oriental, Marrakesh – Morocco
Unlike the recent trend of ever more ostentation in Marrakech’s five star hotels, the Mandarin Oriental, Marrakesh – Morocco’s luxury doesn’t shout, it whispers.
With the Atlas Mountains as a backdrop and a series of serene ponds as a centrepiece, Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech lies nestled in 20 hectares of olive groves and landscaped gardens, beautifully scented with jasmine, night-blooming cestrum and over 100,000 fragrant roses. Only 10 minutes from the city’s famous Medina, this elegant, contemporary resort feels a world away in terms of serenity, with just 54 luxurious villas and 9 spacious suites, a world-class spa and excellent dining.
The villas and central hub nestle unobtrusively in a fully mature garden that undulates like a dunefield and is planted loosely with feathery grasses and punctuated by centuries-old olive trees.
Inside there is a similarly strong, but subtle sense of place. Material texture, symmetry and visual drama combine the geometric influences from Berber arts and crafts with an Arabo-Andalusian sense of scale and symmetry.
In total there are 54 villas, seven first-floor suites and two spa suites. All of them have private pools and acres of space. The signature villas (either 3,000 or 4,500 sq ft) are designed as mini riads around enclosed courtyards each with an infinity pool in black zellij tiling. Four-poster loungers, sofa seating, a fireplace, dining area and a fully equipped kitchen make the outdoor space as utile as the interiors.
The latter are furnished in MO’s signature palette of cream and mahogany and carry throughout Berber motifs in the handwoven rugs, textured tadelakt and latticework screens modelled on moucharabieh. And it isn’t just the glossy high finish or the retractable TV at the base of the bed that impress; smaller details such as the automated shutter system, a shoe cleaning kit and an extravagantly stocked mini-bar reveal a care for client comfort that often gets lost in the hoopla.
Breakfast is a buffet in the Salon Berbère overlooking large mirror-like pools that seem to draw the sky earthwards and soak the skirts of pretty weeping willows. Hopscotch your way across the water to the Pool Garden where you can graze on organic, vegetarian lunches. Fine-dining dinners come courtesy of Bocuse-trained chef, Meryem Cherkaoui, who’s blazed a trail with her modern Moroccan cuisine all the way from the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris.
WELLNESS & SPA
With a design inspired by the historic cathedrals and mosques of Andalucia, the Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech is a temple of wellbeing dedicated to health, holistic healing and rejuvenation.
With high arched ceilings, long corridors built from red brick and a stunning sun-drenched ornamental pool leading off reception, the spa’s design is one of the most beautiful in Marrakech, providing the perfect backdrop to our long list of treatments and therapies.
Spread over 1,800 metres squared, the spa has six treatment rooms, including two suites, all with private gardens where guests can relax, and some with vitality baths, outside treatment areas and one dedicated Thai treatment suite. In addition, there are two luxurious Moroccan hammams, a hairdresser and a beauty salon featuring both manicure and pedicure stations.
Having been greeted by your therapist at reception, your shoes will be swapped for spa sandals, symbolising the beginning of your journey. Your therapist will then show you to your spa suite, where, following a short consultation, your treatment will begin.
Following your treatment, you will then be invited to enjoy the tranquil surroundings of your suite’s private walled garden or relaxation area, ensuring a suitably relaxing end to your time.
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Prepare for your senses to be slapped. Marrakesh’s heady sights and sounds will dazzle, frazzle and enchant. Put on your babouchesand dive right in.
Bahia Palace and the Dar Si Said are a riot of tilework and intricate floral painted-wood ceilings, the Saadian Tombs are enriched by an opulent bounty of marble, while the Musée de Mouassine and Musée de Marrakech are a showcase of swirling stucco and carved-wood design. And if you choose to bed down for a night in a riad, you’ll be able to sleep amid some of this splendour too. Marrakesh is a city steeped in ancient artistry that continues to thrive, kept alive by the modern craftspeople of the souqs and the contemporary art and design scene of the ville nouvelle.
Faith & Culture
You’ll understand how religion permeates the rhythms of daily life when you hear the sonorous call to prayer echo out from the mosques. As an old imperial capital, Marrakesh is home to some beautiful examples of Islamic architecture, most impressively the Ali ben Youssef Medersa and the Koutoubia minaret. The city also holds on to a heritage of the other religious communities that once helped it become a vibrant caravan town. Head to the old Jewish district of the mellahto visit the Lazama Synagogue and the Miaâra Jewish cemetery to gain a greater understanding of Marrakesh’s cosmopolitan past.
Think of the medina’s souqs as a shopping mall, but laid out according to a labyrinthine medieval-era plan. Whether you want to spice up your pantry with North African flavours or buy a carpet to add Moroccan-wow to your house, this magpie’s nest of treasures is manna for shop-til-you-drop fanatics.The main market streets are Souq Semmarine and Souq el-Kebir. If you see something you really like there, fine – but understand prices will be higher. Smaller souqs and souqs dedicated to artisan workshops such as Souq Haddadine (Blacksmith’s Souq), where you can buy direct from the producer, generally have the best deals.
Got your map ready? Well, it’s probably of little use to you here. Wrapped within the 19 kilometres of powder-pink pisé ramparts, the medina is Marrakesh’s show-stopping sight of crowded souqs, where sheep carcasses swing from hooks next door to twinkling lamps, and narrow, doodling ochre-dusted lanes lead to nowhere. The main artery into this mazy muddle is the vast square of Djemaa el-Fna, where it’s carnival night every night. Stroll between snail-vendors, soothsayers, acrobats and conjurers, musicians and slapstick acting troupes to discover the old city’s frenetic pulse. The party doesn’t end until the lights go out.
Morocco is a gateway to Africa, and a country of dizzying diversity. Here you’ll find epic mountain ranges, ancient cities, sweeping deserts – and warm hospitality.
Mountains & Desert
From Saharan dunes to the peaks of the High Atlas, Morocco could have been tailor-made for travellers. Lyrical landscapes carpet this slice of North Africa like the richly coloured and patterned rugs you’ll lust after in local cooperatives. The mountains – not just the famous High Atlas but also the Rif and suntanned ranges leading to Saharan oases – offer simple, breathtaking pleasures: night skies glistening in the thin air, and views over a fluffy cloudbank from the Tizi n’Test pass. On lower ground, there are rugged coastlines, waterfalls and caves in forested hills, and the mighty desert.
Morocco’s cities are some of the most exciting on the continent. Join the centuries-old trail of nomads and traders to their ancient hearts, from the winding medina maze of Fez to the carnivalesque street-theatre of the Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh. In the rocky deserts medinas are protected by kasbahs, on the coast by thick sea walls. But it’s not just a heritage trip, as Morocco’s cities are forward-facing too, with glitzy new urban design in Casablanca, Rabat and Tangier looking to the future as well as paying homage to their roots.
Enjoying Morocco starts with nothing more strenuous than its national pastime – people-watching in a street cafe with a coffee or a mint tea. Use the opportunity to plan your next moves – hiking up North Africa’s highest peak, learning to roll couscous, camel trekking in the desert, shopping in the souqs or getting lost in the medina. Between the activities, you can sleep in boutique riads, relax on panoramic terraces and grand squares, and mop up delicately flavoured tajines – before sweating it all out in a restorative hammam.
Morocco is a storied country, that has, over the centuries, woven its ties to Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the wider Middle East into whole cloth. Its mixed Arab and Berber population forms a strong national identity, but an increasingly youthful one, taking the best of its traditions and weaving the pattern anew – from the countryside to the city, from the call to prayer from the mosque to the beat of local hip hop. Morocco has a hundred faces and sounds, all ready to welcome the traveller looking for spice and adventure.