Many hotels have spas. A very, very few are spas right down to their bones. The Royal Mansour in Marrakech is one of this rare breed. Of course, it depends how you define a spa. In my opinion, it goes way beyond a sense of luxury or comfort. It’s more, too, than simply the treatments on offer or the skills of the therapists. All of these are important but there is a good spa must have, too, a sense of the retreat, a feeling of withdrawing from the world into a place of calm. The Royal Mansour exudes this from every pore.
Of course, in Marrakech, you’re going to need a place of calm, given the riotous parade of life that goes on at its very heart. And Royal Mansour is almost at that heart – within the pink walls of the medina itself, yet with a predominant sound of birdsong. In fact, the hotel is modelled on the medina – or an idealised version of it. It’s a hotel without rooms, too. Here, there are only riads, those typical Moroccan houses that face inwards onto themselves around a central tiled courtyard open to the sky and soothed by the tinkling sound of fountains. Inside, a thousand local craftsmen have carved and painted wood, turned plasterwork into tracery cobwebs, embossed with gold leaf, tiled floors and walls, forged iron and brass lanterns, woven carpets and sewn silken cushions. As if you needed any more convincing that you were living in a work of art, in your sitting room books about this place read like modern-day Baudelaires or Mallarmes.
“Play of mirrors and moucharabiehs,
The bedroom’s quiet is as deep as the velvet of the cushions;
Only the rustle of a shawl, slipping like a sigh,
And the soft tread of bare feet on the parquet break the silence.”
And, you truly can withdraw into the tranquillity of your riad. If you want, in fact, you never have to leave. There are two great restaurants (one French, one Moroccan) but you can also have your meals delivered to your dining room or your roof-top terrace, complete with plunge pool, with its views over the medina and the Koutoubia mosque. Food arrives, served by immaculate white-gloved waiters, from hidden passageways with a service lift to the floor your require within your riad.
Of course, you do go out because Marrakech is a city that is the most diverting and exasperating, fascinating and chaotic imaginable. But then you return to the pink-walled oasis of Royal Mansour and the massive carved green door to your own riad and that tinkling fountain.
You can take it further, though, and go to the spa itself. This is another fantasy, a giant white birdcage of a place, bright sunlight filtered through muslin curtains that waft gently in the breeze. Here, I am met by Nadera who tells me she comes from the desert and has the calm stateliness of the Queen of Sheba. There are many treatments here – but this is Morocco so I had to have the real hammam experience.
Of course, we have the hammam to ourselves – a series of rooms and pools that vary in temperature from almost unbearably hot to icy. It may seem odd in what is already a hot country that its foremost therapy makes you even hotter. But this is a therapy that goes back a very long way and is not dissimilar to the baths of ancient Rome where, on a daily basis, you would sweat, clean and scrape the skin to leave it in prime condition to be massaged and oiled. It was seen as the very basis of good health. The underlying principle is that the heat makes you sweat out dirt, impurities and toxins while simultaneously relaxing taut muscles.
I begin on a very hot marble slab and Nadera scrubs me with Moroccan black soap and a traditional kessa massage glove, occasionally sluicing me down with buckets of water, not quite cold enough to take my breath away. Nadera’s attention to detail is meticulous – she washes between my toes, shampoos my hair, even my ears are washed. “Like a baby,” she says with a smile. Rendered helpless by the massage and the heat, my muscles have started to dissolve. It must be affecting my mind, too. I would giggle if I were able to do something so exhausting. Then Nadera applies a body mask and I am left to braise gently for a while.
On her return, she sluices me down again and leads me (I’m not sure I’d have made it on my own) to a plunge pool with water that is positively cold. I step in warily, make my way down the steps, take a deep breath and dip beneath. Nadera leads me out again and places me on a warm slab for my massage, oiling and stretching and flexing my limbs. At the end, she sprays me with orange flower water and leads me to a relaxation room and a curtained bed with a duvet and pillows and a little silver table for my Moroccan tea. I rest, my skin and muscles softened, undoubtedly the cleanest woman in Marrakech.
Eventually, I return to my roof terrace. I seem to have slowed down so much, I can barely speak and Marrakech is drowsy in the afternoon heat. So I gaze at the view, put food out for the birds (they’re bulbuls, or nightingales – even the birds here belong in the Arabian Nights), let my mind unravel and read a little more of that poetry.
“Traveller, ask not what this door is.
The star that led you here is inscribed upon it.
Enter here and leave behind – casting it off like a cloak –
The hubbub of the outside world.”
A one-bedroom riad at Royal Mansour Marrakech starts from £825 approx (12,500 MAD) per night. This rate includes VAT and service charge and excludes local taxes. For bookings please contact: T +212 (0)52 98 08080 E firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, including more sumptuous photography, visit www.royalmansour.com.