The sun comes up between Morocco’s Atlas Mountains and one of the world’s most iconic luxury hotels, La Mamounia, Marrakech. It was built in 1922 in 17 acres at Arset El Mamoun Gardens, at one time owned by Prince Moulay Mamoun – today, the 209-room beauty, which also has three, three-room riads, is owned by HRH Mohammed VI of Morocco, via the royalty-owned state railway company. The gal took this photo looking out over the balcony of the Winston Churchill Suite, #300, a whopping 1,110 sq ft in total.
Why Churchill? This was a favourite retreat of his, and he came here on several occasions to paint, and relax. He spent the whole winter here, 1935-1936, and in 1943, during a summit in Casablanca with FDR and Allied chiefs of staff, he metaphorically kidnapped the US President to show him what he called ‘Paris of the Sahara‘. Once the war was over, Churchill returned again and again. His suite has a miniature full-length bronze of the great man, in front of a portrait: it also has all 36 volumes of the 1974 Library of Imperial History’s Centenary Limited Edition of all his printed works (this set is numbered 1316).
Some people simply never leave campus when staying here. The grounds are exactly, in military order, dotted with orange trees. There are avenues of olive trees, harvested to produce fabulous olive oil sold in the hotel’s own boutique (great retail here, fashionistas, check out the Barbara Rihl bags, from Paris, and the floppy panama hats – you also have Dior and Prada, galore). I took this picture at 7am, walking back to the main building from the gym. Yes, they had opened it specially early for me, at 6.30am (warning to other early-birds coming to Marrakech, everything is pretty late here).
And then breakfast, one of the world’s best pool-side buffets, on a par with that of Hotel Cala di Volpe at Costa Smeralda. In both places, sit by the pool but go inside, to an inside room, with working kitchen, to choose your hot dishes. Here, I could not believe the spreads of fruits (try the prunes!), fruit-topped cakes, cheeses and cold cuts and really fabulous healthy brown breads. The servers are all in nautical white, with the top-guys in the smartest possible royal blue blazers. Bet they stand two inches taller the moment they attain that coveted promotion.
It is elegant eating, in fact, from the moment you arrive. You are greeted, on arrival, with almond milk, and dates. Both edibles are necessary parts of the diet here. Almonds seem to be in everything, and locals just need dates to perfect a meal, at any time of day.
We dined in the Italian restaurant, or rather on its terrace, listening to music wafting out from the quartet playing in the hotel’s inner promenade (an area that shows designer Jacques Garcia’s utmost theatrical DNA, with stained glass windows and reams of deep burgundy velvet). Don Alfonso is consultant here, at L’Italien, and his caprese has changed from my last visit – it is now an elongated sandwich of tomato and mozzarella slices.
My last meal at this delicious luxury hotel was lunch, back out by the pool. One of the blue coats brought a round of just-baked tannour Berber bread, straight from the oven. The asparagus was bright green, the sky matched the colour of the water. Pool attendants wear white.
Nearby was a large gold bear, one of the Jeff Koons-type sculptures by Frenchman Julien Marinetti, on temporary display throughout the gorgeous gardens. GM Pierre Jochem is always up to something, say arranging art or sculpture shows, or the annual La Mamounia literary prize for Moroccan writers, or helping with the annual Marrakech film festival, or just greeting VIPs, with almonds and dates of course.