|Riads in Marrakech were sprouting like mushrooms a few years back when the economic crisis hadn’t yet touched Europe and USA. The debate of the day was: what makes a Riad a Riad ? Why some places are called ‘Dar’ and others ‘Riad’ ? Is it the shape of the house ? The number of rooms ? Does it have to have a pool ? A fountain? A garden ? Some people think that a pool inside the patio of a Riad is an affront to the traditional architecture. And they’re probably right. Most Moroccans wouldn’t, if they owned one. But then, not many do nowadays. And that is due mainly to many of them leaving the Medina (old town) in the 70’s and the 80’s when residential space was getting scarce. They chose to live in the new town and rented their old houses by the room or simply put a padlock on the door. That is until when in the 1990’s the ‘riad craze’ arrived and with it Europeans looking to have a second home in a city that was safe, close to home, where sunshine was guaranteed and cost of life very cheap. A French couple decided to buy an old house close to the royal palace, belonging to a former judge and turn it into a luxury guest house. A few years later, they added more rooms and joined the very select list of ‘Relais & Chateaux’ properties. Villa des Orangers has become since then a bastion of excellence. Around its manicured gardens, pools and fountains, staff discreetly attends to guests’ each and every whim, completely secluded from the outside chaos of a bustling city. Elegant, intricate, exquisite, opulent, it has managed to never become pretentious, in a city where luxury usually goes hand in hand with flashy. Jean- Paul Compagnon has arrived here in 2003 as general manager and … the rest is history. He was kind enough to share with us some of the secrets behind the success of this underrated palace.
|Sun Trails: When did Villa des Orangers open and what was the building before becoming a guest house ? Can you share a few details about the actual owners ?
Jean Paul Compagnon: “Villa des Orangers” is a riad, a traditional Moroccan townhouse built in the 30s by a judge of Marrakech whose family lived there until 1998. Pascal and Veronique Beherec discovered the house during a short trip to Marrakech. Already
|owners of two hotels in Paris, it was the beginning of a new project: the creation of a luxury hotel, combining tradition and sophisticated decoration, within the walls of this residence, located in the Medina. Nine months were necessary to restore the house and local craftsmen worked there in the total respect of the traditions. The perfect integration of the hotel within the framework of the Moroccan culture creates
a charming palace of 27 rooms and suites.
ST: What about yourself ? Tell us a little about your career and how did you come about working for VDO.
JPC: I worked for many years in Geneve, some of them at the ‘Beau Rivage’ and then as assistant manager at the Relais & Châteaux ‘Hotel de la Cigogne’. I was looking for a new challenge and I had the opportunity to visit a friend in Marrakech. I fell in love with the city and I
|came back a few more times to visit the country when an ad for a management position at the Villa des Orangers was published. I applied right there and then and when the owner contacted me to organise an interview in Paris I told him that I was already in Morocco! That was in 2003 and since then, surrounded by a team of loyal employees, I am happy to say my motivation hasn’t lost an inch!
|ST: The villa has added a few spaces since it was open and it now has 27 suites and rooms. How do you manage to keep the Riad spirit alive, that privacy and personal approach to each guest, that makes people want to stay with you ?
JPC: The Villa has 6 rooms and 21 suites of different types on approximately 3000m ² with 3 pools, different lounges, private terraces and many other private spots. The service is personalized and special attention is paid to every customer whether by my assistant or myself.
But to keep alive the spirit of the Riad we rely on a few details: for example we leave the choice to the guests to have their breakfast or lunch wherever they wish, by one of the pools, in the shadow of the orange trees in the main courtyard or in the garden under the pergola. Moreover, our rates include all non alcoholic drinks – so the guest does not have to sign for a drink taken around the pool. It thus provides the sensation to live in the Riad like in a private home, more than in a hotel.
|ST: Tell us a little about Relais & Chateaux for those who are unfamiliar with the name. Is it that hard to join as they say it is ? Was it worth joining for you on the long term ?
JPC: Relais & Châteaux is an association unique in the world of hospitality, built on the individuality of the properties and the people who make up its membership. To be a member of Relais & Châteaux one must share some passions and give the strength to promote a particular art of living.
|The properties must comply with the 5Cs: Courtesy, Charm, Character, Calm, Cuisine and share the spirit and the soul of the chain. Belonging to R & C requires us to constantly review our quality objectives, to excel so that each guest lives a unique experience and that is reason enough to join that prestigious brand!
|ST: These last few years have seen an explosion of boutique luxury hotels each trying to outdo each other. Amanjena, Palais Selman, Delano, Palais Namaskar, Four Seasons come to mind. Do you see them as your competition ? Why would someone choose to stay at VDO instead of staying with one of them ?
|JPC: All these new prestigious addresses can only attract more visitors to Marrakech, so I do not see them as competitors. Moreover we propose a different experience, the unique way of life in a traditional Moroccan Riad with a Moorish architecture built on two levels around three verdant open-sky patios with water fountains surrounded by galleries of chiselled plaster and a garden. An intimate haven of peace and although located within the medina, you can easily reach the front door by taxi.
|Marrakech is filled with interesting sights and Villa des Orangers has a great location for exploring the city. It’s a very special place to stay where you can enjoy sunbathing on the private rooftop terraces – for most of the rooms or suites located on the first floor of the house. Or experience the Private Riad composed on the first floor of two bedrooms with bathroom and a large terrace.
|On the ground floor, a winter lounge with fireplace and outside in the patio a small pool in the shade of banana trees. The treatments in our Nuxe Spa are inviting you to immerse yourselves in the exotic fragrances of rose petals, orange blossom and Huile Prodigieuse®. In this dream setting, with five massage rooms and a majestic traditional Hammam, the Nuxe Spa draws on all its expertise to bring you detoxifying treatment rituals.
ST: Marrakech has also changed immensely over the last few years. The cost of living has gone up and some have even said it has lost its soul, by becoming too mercantile. Do you think that is the case ? What are your favorite sites in Marrakech, both inside and outside the Medina ?
JPC: I find it positive that the cost of living increases and I am not one of those who say that Marrakech has lost its soul.
|Of course attitudes have changed but the charm of the red city is still there. As for the Badi palace – meaning the incomparable palace, we can easily imagine what that magical place was even if it is nowadays a ruin. And when the city is overwhelmed by heat it is so pleasant to walk in the Majorelle Garden, in that enchanting place along shady lanes, in the midst of trees and exotic plants and among all the fountains.
ST: Let’s say you have friends / family visiting Marrakech and they decide to stay at VDO for a weekend. What would you recommend them seeing/ doing considering the limited time they have available ? What is they can’t miss ?
JPC: In addition to the above sites mentioned I would advise them to visit the Douiria Mouassine, a jewel of architecture in Marrakech, the Ben Youssef Madrasa, an ancient Islamic school, and getting lost in the souks!
|ST: Initially VDO only had a Moroccan restaurant. Then you decided that it is only natural to have a French one as well. Tell us a little about the menu and the chef. What is a dish that stands out ?
JPC: As a Relais & Chateaux member, the gastronomy is a key element. We offer seasonal Mediterranean cuisine and traditional Moroccan dishes. Our French chef Jean-Claude Olry has started at la ‘Ferme Saint Simeon’ in Honfleur and he joined us after a 3 year experience at the ‘Balthus’ restaurant in Beirut where he learned how to marry oriental spices with the French cuisine. One will not miss the ‘Sea Bass carpaccio with its sauce vierge and the seasonal flowers’ or the ‘Candied lamb with spices, caramelized quince and honey’
ST: What nationalities can one expect to meet at VDO as guests ? Do they only come to Morocco to see Marrakech or do they often combine their stay in Marrakech with the Sahara desert, Atlas Mountains or Atlantic coast ?
JPC: Our customers come mainly from England, the United States, France and some other European countries. The European customers come most of the time for a long week-end to enjoy the sunny Marrakech. The American clients are mainly on a circuit including Imperial cities, Sahara Desert, the Atlas Mountains and / or Atlantic coast.
|ST: What is one of your best memories at VDO ? Tell us something funny/ out of ordinary that happened to you lately as manager at VDO.
JPC: A customer recently organized the birthday of his wife and booked the entire house to entertain their friends without his wife knowing. When they arrived everyone was waiting in the main courtyard of the hotel. It was a total surprise with a lot of emotions for her and I would like to think that this special birthday will remain etched in her memory for long.
|ST: What do you think is the main challenge for Marrakech to keep attracting the right kind of tourists ? What are your plans for the future at VDO ?
JPC: The destination is very dependent of the air services and the improvement in terms of airport reception will be a major challenge in the future as well as the ecological development. On our side, I wish we can have some more space to enlarge our fitness room and open a second restaurant dedicated exclusively to the Moroccan cuisine!
|* The term ‘riad’ seems to design a ‘garden inside’. As to the origin of its design and how it arrived in Marrakech, the most likely is that the sultan Ali Ben Youssef, must have brought the concept with him from Andalusian Spain at the end of the 11th century. Son of a Christian mother and the Almoravid dynasty’s founder he had been brought up and educated in Cordoba. When he arrived in Marrakech, then the capital of the Almoravid empire, he found a little more than a warrior encampment. Under his supervision most of the surrounding walls still standing nowadays were built and the house around an inside patio, so common in Cordoba and Granada, was introduced in Marrakech
|Villa des Orangers is currently offered on our Divine level.
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