A Tale of Two Hotels in Marrakech
Marrakech. A city full of surprise and adventure. But if, like us, you want to be pampered and spoilt on your arrival in this historic destination, you will do well to follow this cautionary tale of two hotels that both speak "21st luxury" in the truest sense of the term.
Katy went to The Royal Mansour Marrakech, notable for its stylish, historic ambience and expert fine dining. Caroline went to La Mamounia - an enthralling monument to the art of calm lush splendour with a few lessons in what happens when traditional Moroccan style meets contemporary luxury.
Here's the verdict, pitting each sanctuary's unique offering against the other.
Katy: A stay at the Royal Mansour promises privacy and discretion at the highest level. Each riad is decorated according to its own unique style but always in keeping with Morocco’s distinctive design techniques. Centred around a courtyard, the riads are arranged over three stories and each contain a library, a dining room, bedrooms, a kitchen, an outdoor swimming pool, a lift and 24 hour concierge service, designed to cater to your every whim. For me, the suites brought a whole new meaning to the word ‘luxury’.
Caroline: Rooms at La Mamounia vary in style and size but it is undoubtedly the six signature suites which steal the show. Each has its own theme but all boast spectacular views across the city and Atlas Mountains. In the Churchill suite, guests will find original, unfinished artwork by the iconic British prime minister and the Majorelle suite enjoys generous splashes of the artist’s signature colour. The complex network of corridors connecting all the areas of the palace feature regularly changing exhibitions by local artists, adding a new art hotel dimension and making this so much more than just somewhere to sleep.
Verdict: Both hotels offer great options but it is undoubtedly the Royal Mansour who takes the lead here with its unrivalled privacy and unusual concept.
Katy: The Royal Mansour boasts not just one, but two fine dining restaurants – one Moroccan, one French - whose menus have been created by Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno. You also have the option to request supper in the sumptuous comfort of your riad, as waiters serve the sublime cuisine from the in-house restaurants straight to your dining room table for the ultimate private and indulgent dining experience. After dinner, listen to sultry piano music at the Bar, savour a nightcap in front of the fire in the Chimney Lounge, or choose from the range of fine cigars and sip on a digestif at the elegant Cigar Lounge.
Caroline: There’s no shortage of fine dining opportunities at La Mamounia. The diverse culinary offerings include Michelin-starred French and Italian restaurants as well as an opulent Moroccan eatery, tucked away in a riad deep in the heart of the gardens. Le Pavillon de la Piscine offers a more informal dining environment, perfect for lunchtime. Finish off evening meals in Le Bar Churchill – quirky leopard print interiors, live piano music and decadent cocktails make this one hard to beat.
Verdict: This is a tough one but the exceptional service at the Royal Mansour has the edge.
Katy: The spa at the Royal Mansour is heaven incarnate. The ornately detailed and carefully crafted walls which encase the main entrance are reminiscent of a traditional bird cage and allow natural light to seep in, bathing the entire scene in the sun’s soft glow. The spa boasts an indoor swimming pool, traditional Moroccan hammam and private suites, where you can have access to your own private terrace, plunge pool and hammam.
Caroline: The number of awards racked up by the spa at La Mamounia during its relatively short existence is solid evidence that this is really something quite special. Again, tradition is embraced here and large, stained glass lanterns flicker throughout the main wellness area, creating a serene ambience and inducing a relaxed state almost immediately. The spa menu is extensive but it seems only right to embrace your surroundings and opt for the indulgent Massage La Mamounia. The combination of Argan oil (a staple product of the region) and deep tissue massage helps to alleviate any trace of weariness and leaves skin firm, glowing and poolside ready.
Verdict: The awards speak for themselves here. The international team of trained therapists at La Mamounia cannot be outdone.
Katy: The hotel boasts small, but perfectly formed gardens in the shape of scented orange groves, but the adjoining CyberPark presents the perfect opportunity for languorous strolls. Alternatively, guests are invited to explore the ground’s labyrinth of quaint passages and pathways, which wind in between the individually exquisite riads.
Caroline: The grounds of La Mamounia are in a league of their own. The legendary 17-acre gardens feel completely removed from the frenetic city and it is rare to see anyone else when wandering around. Old olive trees, vibrant bougainvilliers and a grand swimming pool modelled on the famous Menara are just some of the highlights. Impressively, there is even a large vegetable patch where produce for the four restaurants is grown. It should be no shock then that the majority of guests who stay at the hotel don’t venture off the property at all for the duration of their stay.
Verdict: La Mamounia is a clear frontrunner here with its internationally renowned gardens, which occupy the largest green space in the city and remain exclusively for the use of guests.
Katy Parker and Caroline Vann Jones are travel feature writers for Quintessentially Insider.