The Royal Mansour has long been the palace among Marrakech’s hotels. And just when we thought it couldn’t get better, Angelina Villa discovers Le Jardin…
If you’ve already had the good fortune to stay at The Royal Mansour – one of the world’s most lavish hotels, and owned by the Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, no less – then you’d agree that you’d be hard-pressed to come up with any improvements.
When it was devised by the King, as a means of showing off his country’s rich heritage of artisanship, the architects and consultants he employed had no need to worry about bottom lines: for he gave them no budget. As a consequence, no expense was spared with a huge team of engravers, carpenters, textile experts and specialists working every day for three years to get the palace finished. With many of these regional skills dying out in modern times, the finest artisans and craftspeople were sourced from across the country, and the result is an ode to Morocco’s craft culture. As you’d expect the result is breathtaking, with the King often using it to house his own personal guests, not to mention the many A-listers who make it their Marrakech home-from-home.
Conceived around a ‘medina within the medina’ theme – it has been built to recreate the mystique of Marrakech’s old town with each guest staying in one of the 53 private riads. The difference is, of course, that in this version, the winding, atmospheric alleys are pristine and not dusty, the towering palms and succulent plants are clipped to precision and, instead of the noise and chaos that reigns in the real medina, here all is at peace – the silence only interrupted by the watery tinkle of a fountain.
While the wow factor lies in the intricate finishing everywhere: handmade Zellige tiles underfoot, Baccarat crystal chandeliers overhead, pretty, hand-painted doors and tadelakt plasterwork, the hotel hasn’t rested on its laurels. The big news this year is the new opening of Le Jardin.
It’s a new pool area with seven stylish pool houses (straight out of California), a chic bar and al fresco restaurant. Adding to the already formidable food offering in the hotel, overseen by Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alleno, Le Jardin offers an Asian-inspired menu and gets its design inspiration from Berber-meets-Moorish architecture.
You sit on burnt-orange or russet-coloured wicker chairs surrounded by olive trees, palm groves and exotic flowers. The gardens, designed by celebrated landscape gardener Luis Vallejo, are a highlight and have been planted to seamlessly fit with the rest of the hotel’s fragrant grounds which stretch across five acres.
Drawing inspiration from the famed botanical gardens of Marrakech and the traditional agrarian landscapes of Morocco, there are grids of olive trees and tall palm groves, as well as more formal ‘parterres’. Walkways are interspersed throughout – creating shady corners for guests to wander around – these are lined with an abundance of blooms – daturas, orange flowers and night-blooming jasmine – so that the air is continuously fragranced.
Incidentally, scent, it turns out, is a big thing here. Every time you enter a different zone of the hotel, you pick up a subtle aroma. And indeed, leaving no stone unturned, the hotel has commissioned its own trio of perfumes which are continuously spritzed by the staff: rose for public spaces, orange blossom for the spa and a wood scent for the riads.
Also feeding the senses is the new restaurant. Taking inspiration from the writings of 14th century voyager Ibn Battuta who brought coal back to Morocco and introduced the technique of slow cooking to Marrakech, the playful menu explores flavours using the raw and the cooked, and the marrying of the savoury and the sweet. Celebrating great cuisines of the world, dishes range from the freshest sushi, sashimi and ceviche to slow-cooked vegetables with delicate herbs and spices, grilled meats and seafood.
Le Jardin makes for Yannick Alleno’s fourth restaurant at the resort, and his 60 new dishes are simultaneously traditional and thoroughly modern.
The result is a menu bursting with treats: from an inventive salad section (think: salmon and quinoa poke bowl and pain bagna with nicoise garnish) to delicate tapas (be warned: you’ll want to reorder the tuna pizzetta again and again). For light lunches, there’s an exceptional choice of sashimi, nigri and sushi, but it’s the ‘On the Fire’ section which is the main draw. From Tiger Prawns in Spicy Honey to Black Cod Saikyo Yaki – it’s one of those menus that proves impossible to choose from (everything makes you salivate).
When you’ve finished lunch, head to the 30m-long pool and try and snag one of the seven luxury poolside pavilions (which can be hired by hotel guests and day visitors). Their contemporary design also references Moroccan artisanship – with floors covered with fine Berber carpets, pretty pouffes and crafted motifs found throughout.
Like the rest of the offering at the Royal Mansour, Le Jardin is thoroughly original. There are no copies. “Everything you see represents the original creativity of a living tradition,” they say and they are right.
From the elaborate outfits the staff wear – think gorgeous, blood-red cloaks and intricate hand-woven dresses – inspired by regional, traditional costumes and designed by Albert Oiknine, a Moroccan haute couture designer – to the subterranean service tunnels, so no guest is troubled by the everyday workings of hotel – the Royal Mansour has a genius knack of redefining five-star luxury.
Each of the three-storey riads, for example, boasts its own individual interiors with each being furnished by craftsmen from Marrakech, Essaouira, Fès and Meknès. Living rooms have open fires, stained glass windows and velvet sofas piled high with silk tasselled pillows. It’s a feast for the eyes. Bedrooms have suede and silk rugs covering the polished tiled floors, doorways are framed with hand-painted archways. Bathrooms are just as opulent with enough luxury MarocMaroc toiletries to stock your own outpost of Space NK.
The piece de resistance is the terracotta-hued rooftop terrace, each riad has its own private space with plunge pool and an idyllic little fireplace, ideal for cosy evening suppers overlooking the pink city.
Don’t be fooled by the focus on the traditional, however, for the hotel knows that modern-day luxury also means offering cutting-edge technology – such as the touchscreen-controlled retractable glass roof poised to cover the courtyard terrace at the first drop of rain, or the smart air-con system, its workings invisible to the eye behind filigree plasterwork. It has a foot in the past but it’s eye firmly on the future – it’s the best of both worlds.
Stay at Royal Mansour from £780 per night including breakfast. For more information, including details of the riads and special offers, visit www.royalmansour.com.