After the business bases of Agadir and Casablanca, it was a joy to return to the sensual beauty of Marrakech. The gal arrived by Porsche at La Mamounia – the luxury hotel that is only rivalled by Dubai’s Burj Al Arab in the number of tourists it receives every day – to be met by Etienne Haro (above), who had actually moved here from that Dubai architectural masterpiece. This was the man holding the fort for his boss, Pierre Jochem, away promoting La Mamounia to top buyers in the USA, though judging by the number of Americans visiting La Mamounia today it does seem that the word has got around. Since it first opened in 1922, indeed, the rich and famous of the cultured world have flocked here: suite 300, indeed, is named for Winston Churchill, with a bust of that great man as well as a 34-volume set of the 2,000-print run Library of Imperial History published in 1974 for the centenary of his birth.
But before moving upstairs, on this visit, I was welcomed in typical style, with medjool dates – the king of the species – and almond milk. The ambience aroma, by Fragonard for the hotel, added to the performance. Then it was time for the lodging part. I have stayed in several suites in this 209-room hotel, which also has three detached villas, three bedrooms apiece. I think my favourite is #180, up 24 stairs, or by elevator, from a long corridor, past the spa and several top boutiques, from the main lobby (see the centrepoint of the lobby, above). Why I liked #180 this visit, is that it is manageable, and not over-stuffed. And it is exquisitely detailed on the luxury stakes: the same top-grade mid-tan finest leather has been used to cover drawer fronts, and the shoe horn, and it forms notelet covers and the bindings for room collateral. That is luxury, to have everything so exactly matched, and even the yellow leather barbouches, Berber slippers, blend magnificently. A copy of 3 Etoiles magazine, the French culinary bible produced by Dominique Faye, has a cover photo, and big inside story, on Pierre Jochem and this hotel (best in the world, said Conde Nast Traveler, October 2018).
In 2009 the hotel reopened, after a lengthy refurbishment closure which has resulted in a lot of what is typical of the designer, Jacques Garcia. You see his style instantly by walking to the rear of the main lobby, where the corridor to the gardens evolves through the day into an afternoon tea and then a live music venue. This space, about 80 feet long by 15 feet wide and 20 feet high, is Garcia theatre, of maroon velvet paired with historical woodwork, a ceiling by Jacques Majorelle, 1886-1962, the whole enlivened, by evening, by the live group playing at the far left, by the entrance to the garden. To the left of the space is the Majorelle Bar. To its right is Le Français. There, on the French restaurant’s terrace, Etienne Haro and I dined in splendour. I started with a sucrine salad with tuna tartare, went on to a Charolais ribeye, carved tableside, with fabulous parmesan-dusted La Mamounia fries. We drank the hotel’s own Cuvée La Mamounia, first a 2018 blend of Chardonnay with 30% Sauvignon Blanc, then an all-Shiraz, 2016: on request, top Sommelier Mickael Rodriguez, who helped blend these hotel wines, will host tastings of his cellars.
The meal finished with presentation of Pierre Hermé macaroons made with lemons from the gardens of this unique luxury hotel. It sits in 17 acres of exquisitely-tended grounds: there are gravel walkways flanked by fruitful olive trees, others with lines of tall palms, there are roses here, oranges and lemons there, and hidden among all this are clay tennis courts, and the gym, and the pool (the gardens are open to the public, the pool is hotel-guests only). I had breakfast poolside, outside Le Pavilion de la Piscine, which holds the splendid breakfast buffet, a cornucopia of everything you can think of, and a couple of chefs can, if they have the ingredients, rustle up what you cannot immediately see. Servers in royal blue jackets and white yachting shoes add yet more to the overall luxury recipe here. SEE SUITE 180, AND TAKE A WALK IN THE GORGEOUS GARDENS