Marrakech does luxury — if you know where to look

MARRAKECH HAS always proved popular with holiday goers: the vibrancy of the markets, its rich cultural heritage, the array of traditional food on offer and its general mystique continues to draw people in. During the 1930s it became a hub for writers and creative folk and by the Seventies, everyone from Yves Saint Laurent to Mick Jagger had made it their summer destination of choice. La Mamounia, one of the city’s biggest hotels, famously played host to parties in its Churchill bar, named after its regular patron Winston and attended by Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich – but things have changed.

Arriving in Marrakech, the landscape wasn’t quite how I had imagined. Like Dubai, the centre is plagued with new hotels and developments, which often leave you feeling like you could be anywhere in the world, rather than a place steeped in so much history. The Palais Namaskar, Taj Palace Marrakech and Mosaic Palais Aziza are just a few of the big names opening in the heart of the city and The Royal Palm, Balgioni and Menara Gardens are set to open soon.

The expansion is part of a bigger strategy introduced by young King Mohammed VI who recently vowed to attract an additional 10m tourists to Morocco by 2020 – a move seen as a necessary evil to bring the country’s tourism industry in line with the rest of the world. It hasn’t turned everybody off. In fact, the majority of visitors still head straight to one of the many riads (traditional Moroccan houses) in the medina (the old town).

Delano is one of the latest hotels to open in the area and serves as the first stop on my weekend trip. Designed by Jacques Garcia, who directed the renovation of La Mamounia and The Selman, The Delano is the first Moroccan property for New York-based group Morgans (the company behind The Sanderson and St. Martin’s Lane hotels in London). It is situated amid a cluster of new developments just outside the medina, which is becoming known as hub for the city’s nightlife.

The vibe here is similar to their other hotels – sexy, young, darkly lit and aimed squarely at young, affluent twenty-somethings in search of indulgence, nightlife and cocktails. Guests walk across an atmospherically lit footbridge and are bought in to the main lobby decorated with dramatic pillars decorated in carved plasterwork alongside opulent sofas. When I check in, the hotel has been open just four days and they are still ironing out the service and tweaking the rooms. It feels slightly chaotic.

Guests have a good selection of bars at their disposal in the hotel itself and a nightclub is in construction beneath the lobby when I arrive. A newly opened Louis Vuitton store sits next door just in case, you know, you need something to break up the drinking and partying, which seems to be at the heart of what Delano has to offer. It’s not the ideal place for a relaxing weekend retreat – think the City on a Friday night – but it’s not without its charms.

The hotel has a circular pool that hugs the dome glass roof and a spectacular roof terrace overlooking the city walls. At ground level there’s a dimly lit cocktail bar and restaurant, with a spa in the basement in a theatrically lit space equipped with lanterns, charming curved ceilings and all the indulgent hammam treatments that you would expect to find in Morocco. The rooms are slick and plush, with a cleverly designed inner balcony lounge space with doors that open to reveal breathtaking views of the city.

The biggest selling point for Delano is its location. The prime spot means that it is only a stone’s throw away from what the centre has to offer. The medina, known locally as Jemaa el-Fna, is just across the main square and is full of traders peddling ceramics, spices, fabrics and oils, along with mules carrying carts, locals on mopeds and throngs of crowds on the move. The hotel’s restaurant serves sushi rather than local food, making the square a worthwhile visit to sample the country’s culinary delights. The night market is spectacular, with great food on offer there too, and it serves as the perfect backdrop for evenings spent wandering around, soaking the city’s splendour without any fixed destination in mind.

At times, though, it can feel overwhelming in the way that city breaks often do. For some, heading outside the city walls is a better option if you’re after a relaxing experience. Many of the five-star chains have picked up on this and have ventured outwards but there are plenty of affordable alternative places to stay. It’s with this in mind that, after two days of intense scheduling, I made my way to The Four Seasons.

The hotel is one of the most significant new landings in Marrakech. Opened last year, it’s already got off to a flying start, playing host to the who’s who conventions of the luxury world.

What it lacks in charm, it makes up in luxury. A manicured garden leads up to the lobby, a space that features soaring pillars, carefully placed floral arrangements and a welcoming aroma that makes it hard not to be instantly won over.

The design is typical of any Four Seasons hotel but the use of local antiques and other touches helps give it a traditional feel, albeit in a contrived way. That’s not to say it’s not stylish – the hotel is awash with elegant fountains and an impressive rooftop terrace with views of the Atlas Mountains (located at the central Italian restaurant Bleu d’Orange, which serves an assortment of local dishes). As with all Four Seasons hotels, the focus is relaxation rather than nightlife, so if you’re a late night reveller, this is not for you.

The rooms come with all the bells and whistles you would hope for after spending a handsome amount for a room: flat screen TVs, a cavernous bathtub, fresh cut flowers and swanky toiletries. The general facilities in the hotel are pretty good too. The spa has it’s own terrace and sauna, where therapists use a combination of Natural Bissé and local products for the treatments. I opted for a Kundalina back massage, which is part facial, part massage.

What the hotel does particularly well is cater for families. A complimentary kids program ensures that children aged 3-12 years old are kept entertained with games, treasure hunts and excursions. The hotel sits on 40 acres of land so there’s more than enough space for them to run around. There is also a pool for families and a separate one for adults.

While the service isn’t any better than what you would find in any other five star resort, the fact that the staff remember your name is nice, particularly considering the sheer number of guests there at any given time. After mentioning that I have never seen the Jardins Marjorelle, the concierge immediately organises a tour for me to visit. Again, the norm, but a good touch nonetheless.

The beauty of the resort is that, while it’s outside the centre of town, it’s only a 10-minute journey away using the complimentary shuttle (available on demand from the hotel) if you have a sudden urge to return to the hustle and bustle. It’s also a hop, skip and jump away from the airport, not that you would ever realise.

With temperatures averaging 17-20 degrees Celsius at this time of the year while mist, rain and cold continue to roll over London, Marrakech is the perfect place to retreat for winter. The fact that it’s only three hours flight time away (serviced by both BA and budget airlines) and only has a one hour time difference isn’t too bad either.

NEED TO KNOW
Rates at the Four Seasons Resort Marrakech start at £350 per room per night, on a bed and breakfast basis, based on two people sharing, including all taxes. Please visit: fourseasons.com/marrakech or call 00800 6488 6488 for more information.

Room rates at The Delano Marrakech start from 1,985 MAD ($230) per room, per night including breakfast, wireless internet access and parking. For more information, please visit www.delanomarrakech.com or call 00 800 4969 1770.

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