You're looking to book a private tour around Morocco and wondering where you could pamper yourself and shed off the sand of the Sahara? Sharon Stone stayed here. And the Rolling Stones. Back in the day it was Winston Churchill's favorite hotel. There is harldy a more romantic site in Marrakech than these gardens when the afternoon turns to dusk, here, among the hundreds of well- manicured olive, lemon, pine and orange trees. In a way, being here, is like you have suddenly been sucked out from the white noise of the surrounding medina and its traffic madness and transported into an oasis without ever leaving the city. Even the nearby Jemaa El Fna and its permanent tumult become abstract. It is 4 PM and the only unpleasant part is having to leave. It has been a splendid day here at La Mamounia, that included swimming in the outdoors pool, having a fabulous lunch and enjoying a massage in what has been voted the ‘Best spa in the world’ by Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s readers.
It had all started at 10 AM when I presented myself in front of the main entrance of the hotel- no sneakers, shorts or flip flops allowed here. Good, I wasn’t wearing any… After a brief check, I was shown to the entrance door. The doorbells by the entrance resembled more to extras in a fantasia show, before they mount their horses, start racing and shoot their rifles into the air. Their traditional cape and sarwel are impeccably ironed and clean.
Once through the door, it takes a while to get used to the obscurity inside. The very affable Guest Relations manager shows me the way to the Spa where one of the spa attendees delivers me a bathrobe, swimming shorts and sandals and shows me to the changing room. After fiddling around trying to understand how the digit lock of the cupboard works, I finally make my way to the pool outside, not before getting lost on the way a couple of times. Not that I would mind.
The indoors pool seems to come out of a 1001 nights tale, with its golden columns, turquoise pool and intricate zellige. But it’s a sunny day outside and even if we’re in January, you can easily get your tan right around the vast heated outdoors pool. At this time of day, only a few guests are lounging around busy spraying their sun lotions and browsing magazines.
To my relief, the waiters around the pool area are quite fluent in English so I don’t need to use my French or pretend I speak Italian. Half an hour later I’m enjoying a coffee and immersing myself into the relaxed ambiance. The square-shaped pool is inviting and maintained at a permanent 28 Celsius ( 82 Fahrenheit) temperature. Before long, it’s already noon and I have to head back to the 27000 square foot spa which is pretty much my idea of a tribute to a seraglio. I could go
for the 'Hammam Evasion' steam bath and body scrub where Shiseido and MarocMaroc luxury body line range is generously expensed. But I still prefer the social event which is visiting a local Marrakchi hammam with my Moroccan friends. So instead, I opt for the signature ‘Massage Mamounia’. After a succession of obscure rooms and passage ways, I am introduced to a room where the dim light is just right and the music subtle. I
swear I could never make my way back by myself out of here. Hassan, my masseur, starts working his magic, not before asking me if the hand’s pressure is right. His less than excellent mastering of English is compensated by identifying every muscle in my body and putting it right into its place. After all, this is what I really care about. Back to the changing room, I am now headed to the Italian restaurant.
No sign of pizza on the menu here. Don Alfonso is a Michelin chef and the menu is imaginative to say the least. To start with, I am confronted with a choice of four different Italian bread types, that come with a little bowl of locally sourced olive oil. After the gnocchi and their cherry tomato crust, the lamb chops and their mustard sauce must be the most tender I’ve ever had. For desert, I decide to avoid the ubiquitous tiramisu
and settle for chocolate cake and Sicily – pistachio ice cream – quite the right marriage. The waiters are wearing impeccable aubergine uniforms and their service is professional yet not stiff. This must be among the best restaurants in Marrakech, and there are a few. I had so far I resist the temptation of another coffee and whisk off to the gardens, the major attraction of this place. Twice the size of Majorelle Gardens bar the tourist buses, they resemble closely to the Alcazar gardens in Seville. Then again, you could argue, the two cities share common past, the glorious 12th century.
The story of the Mamounia begins though much later, in the 18th century with the Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah, who used to offer a domain as a wedding gift to each of his sons. Thus the four names- Abdessalam, Mamoun, Moussa, and Hassan became the eponymous gardens they received from their father. These arsats ( gardens) still exist nowadays but only Arsat Al Mamoun thad
belonged to prince Mamoun became famous and inspired the name of La Mamounia. It is said that the latter was used as a place of celebration for the nzaha ( a kind of garden party held by the wealthy, popular throughout Morocco at the time). The magnificence of this legacy enchants the present visitor both with its 20 acres ( 8 hectars) of gardens and its particular flora. Two centuries later, within 37 acres ( 15 hectars) grounds, the hotel opens its doors
and soon achieves international fame. Throughout the years, the hotel was never able to accommodate all the customers who desired to lodge here. Until the late 30s, the hotel housed fifty rooms, it was then enlarged in 1946 to reach a hundred units and refurbished successively in 1950, 1953, 1986 and finally in 2006 to reopen 29 September 2009 with 210 rooms and suites. Before the Second World War, Europeans and Americans were bringing their furniture for their long stays and each of them refurbished the apartments according to their taste and habits.
We still speak wistfully of the time when men put on their tuxedos and where the ladies covered with in exquisite jewelry, wore long evening dresses. Winston Churchill had established his winter quarters at the hotel. He used to go from balcony to balcony to watch the sun trying to better capture and reproduce the colors on his canvases. He also told Franklin Roosevelt about Marrakech in 1943: "This is one of the most beautiful places in the world," and invited the American president to discover it for himself. It is also said that General de Gaulle also spent a night once and the hotel manager was forced to have a special bed made for the rather tall French man. Over the years, the reputation of La Mamounia attracted the attention of French and American filmmakers. Alfred Hitchcock reputedly filmed here ‘The man who knew too much’. The Rolling Stones stayed in 1968. Other guests included Jean Paul Gaulthier, Nelson Mandela, Tom Cruise or Elton John.
Back to present, I’m currently walking past the hotel’s gate and five minutes later I embrace the anarchy, as someone eloquently once put it, as I walk on the Jemaa El Fna square. It's evening now and the place is bustling with acrobats, story tellers, witch doctors, musicians, food stalls, henna tattoo artists and the occasional charlatan. And then, behind me, La Grande Dame with its turn- of- the- century grandeur and reserved demeanor, reminding me once again that Morocco is a land of contrasts.
Sun Trails is proud to exclusively offer a day pass to the most iconic hotel in Marrakech. Holders of the pass will be able to enjoy the stunning facilities of the hotel, whether that is taking a dip into the indoor or outdoor swimming pool, playing a game of tennis, working out in the fitness pavilion or simply fall in love again in one of Morocco’s most romantic gardens.
The pass also includes the difficult choice between a luxurious ‘Hammam Evasion’ steam bath and body scrub treatment or the signature ‘Massage Mamounia’, each comprising one hour of unadulterated relaxation. To conclude, the pass also includes a a la carte lunch at either ‘Le Francais par Jean Pierre Vigato’ or ‘L’Italien par Don Alfonso’, both Michelin star restaurants.