Morocco as a destination has something for everyone. Ditto Marrakech, where those seeking luxury are spoiled for choice with the plethora of hotels, resorts and riads on offer.
But right here, under the watchful gaze of the majestic Atlas mountains and the star-filled night sky, I pulled up in the hotel car and discovered another reason to keep coming back here: the oh-so-special Mandarin Oriental. For this, Marrakech’s only hotel inspired by Berber roots and therefore not typically Moroccan in style (as in no gold and glitz), is gracious, laid back and the stuff dreams are made of. At the risk of sounding clichéd, it’s an oasis outside of the frenetic and exciting city where it’s based.
Opened to visitors in the second half of 2015 with 29 villas and seven suites in operation, the second phase to include an additional 25 villas (all 54 with their own pool and hot tub) will open in April 2016 and guests will be segregated into a family section and a couples-only section for the most part.
I didn’t expect such style, finesse, modernity and polished service. I didn’t expect such natural beauty all around, and I certainly didn’t expect such gardens, flora (100,000 roses) and fauna. I expected a five star resort in this, the ‘Red City’ of extremes, to be relaxing, exotic and, indeed, very special, but I never imagined that I would love it this much.
If your life is busy, hectic and fraught with life’s daily travails, then turn your phone off and stay awhile. This is truly the place to forget there’s a world out there and let everyone else (the 220 staff members) take over. Even a few hours in the 1,800 m² (19,375 ft²) world-class spa will have you rejuvenated and ready to take on the world.
- Daily breakfast for two
- Buffet breakfast
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability
- Hotel credit
- US$100 or equivalent to be used in the restaurants, bars or Spa (one credit per stay)
- Early check-in / Late check-out
- Subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
- Detailed Review +
- Facts & Amenities +
“Marrakech taught me colour,” said Yves Saint Laurent back in the day. Like this style icon, I too felt the same way when I drove up the very long driveway here at sunset to check in. The orange trees lining it had me thinking of Florida, where the fruit may grow but you will never see any sign of citrus on the streets. Here in Morocco, the orange tree is an ubiquitous sight. And here at this property, so is every other local plant you can imagine.
A new build, the hotel’s main building and surrounding villas are a reddish, ochre-colored marvel and the trees and greenery all around make it a veritable botanical garden. Chatting with staff later, I learned the landscaping was started several years before the property was constructed. It shows.
Pulling up to the porch under a 600 year old olive tree, several suitably dressed doormen stood waiting to welcome me and I was ushered into the hotel lobby area, through a security check set-up.
After a welcome drink and an explanation of the hotel facilities and dining options, I was taken by buggy to my villa. There, the guest services staff member checked me in and went through a long list of all the features and how they worked. A bad habit, I hardly ever pay attention, considering myself to know it all as a seasoned traveler. So I had no one to blame but myself when I didn’t understand how the steam shower worked, whether the butler would stay all night (just checking), and why the phone in my villa would ring when staff wanted to come in…
Rooms and suites
The butler set to unpacking my clothes while I wandered around this absolutely stunning and vast villa (423 m² / 4547 ft²) and got to know where things were. Two bedrooms, one is the master suite where the bathroom is bigger than the bedroom and the living room cum office is located, and the other is a smaller en-suite room, smaller meaning huge by city standards.
Inspired by Berber and Moorish decoration techniques, I liked the fact that there is no artwork in the rooms but rather traditional motifs on the walls in various colors and that there are mirrors everywhere to reflect the light; each room is different. The floors are wood and marble, with Berber-style carpets here and there. Each villa has its own bush outside the front door, and each is painted in its own particular shade of rose.
And with their very own secluded wall garden, swimming pool, hot tub and areas and set-ups for sunbathing and dining outdoors, these villas hold you within their arms. A further nine suites, located in the main building which can be combined with others to become even larger, come with their own rooftop plunge pool and boast stunning views of the mountains, the gardens and countryside. Some have fireplaces; all boast beautiful marble from Italy and Guatemala.
Impeccably appointed, the bedrooms throughout want for nothing, including some special surprises like a pop-up TV inbuilt at the base of the bed; connectivity galore and free WiFi; Bose sound systems; yoga mats; an enormous mini-bar; some deliciously-scented organic Moroccan bath products; towels, towels everywhere; slippers and flip flops and hats for the pool; you name it.
Here in my villa, the sparkling pool beckoned, even if it was too cold outside for a swim that day. The hot tub was a better option and all I had to do was step right out of my bedroom through the sliding doors and gauzy, billowing curtains to get in. Placed beside the poolside seating and lounging areas were baskets of towels, hats and more flip flops. Several little alcoves are also located off the pool area, including one with a fireplace and huge sofas; an eat-in kitchen, complete with a Nespresso machine, tea service items and pottery plates and tagines of all sizes; and another which is a simple, traditional lounge area. Wafting across this bougainvillea-draped courtyard of local, white stone flooring each morning for my coffee fix proved to be the only exercise of the day. Well, almost…
For there were bicycles outside the villa door and rather than walking or calling for a buggy to get to the spa, restaurants, or to leave the hotel, I hopped on one each time to ride to the main building. The staff and security guards on the paths, most kindly, did not snigger as I weaved my way down the path. No Lance Armstrong here.
The housekeeping and the evening turn-down service came in a team of four or five at a prearranged time. Of course, with a villa this size, such numbers are essential. Candles were lit at night all around the pool area: a romantic touch.
The only thing missing were earplugs by the bed at night. For while the usual background sound in Morocco of barking stray dogs at night was out of earshot, the 6am call to prayer from the nearby mosque was not.
The bathroom in the suite is enormous, with a huge, round tub for two, a chaise longue in white leather, a twin vanity unit and a vast steam shower with all the traditional hammam accoutrements provided, in case I didn’t make it to the spa. Luckily I did, because I couldn’t figure out how to use the steam function and I forgot to ask every time someone came by.
Bath products here are locally sourced and smelled lovely. Moroccan-esque bathrobes and towels were in beautiful, soft cotton and comfortable slippers to match. I was so impressed (and grateful) that the marble towel rack under the sink in the bathroom is heated in cooler months. Oh what a glorious feeling…
Surrounded by floor-length windows, I enjoyed the feeling of being in a garden while drying my hair with the powerful hair dryer provided.
Other than the all-day dining option in the Berber Salon overlooking the pool area, there is a pool-side restaurant where, seeking something light on the day of my departure, I enjoyed an organic meal of artichoke and truffle salad and a beautifully-cooked piece of sesame-crusted swordfish. Sipping a local rosé wine alongside, it was the perfect lunch in the sun.
Hard-pressed to leave this nirvana, on two nights I chose to dine in Mes’Lalla, surrounded by locally-sourced ethnic pottery pieces, vases, books and other trinkets from the souks here and there. The room is beautiful; I wish I knew their sources.
And it’s here where Morocco’s local celebrity chef, Meryem Cherkaoui, who studied at the Paul Bocuse Culinary Institute in France and later worked in some of France’s finest addresses before heading back home, offers a menu divided by traditional Moroccan dishes and her more modern and daring take on the cuisine. I tried one option on either night, with the delectable lamb mechoui being the star of the show. The wine list is impressive, but being in Morocco, I went with a delicious local red, the Côteaux de l’Atlas one night and a crisp white the second, Eclipse.
Locally sourced organic produce from the hotel’s garden and some from a little further afield, the vegetables in the salads and those served alongside the meals were outstanding. The service was discreet and impeccable, and I noticed that many of the tables were occupied by local folk, coming here to enjoy the atmosphere and the lights over the pools and the gardens as well as the lavishly-cooked fare on offer.
Breakfast here is a joy; I went for the Berber choices for the most part. Of course the breads are the star of the show, and the yogurts and olives equally delicious. One day, I opted for the spread to be brought to my villa, poolside, which turned out to be so ample and decadent, I skipped lunch that day and headed for the spa.
Editor’s note March 2017: If you’ve tried a tagine or two and wish to broaden your horizons to Chinese sensations on an international scale, look no further. Ling Ling, the hipster cousin of Hakkasan fame at the Mandarin Oriental in Marrakech will wow you from the moment you open the door (and then your mouth). The ambiance and atmosphere is everything you would expect it to be, but specifically, here in Morocco, this vibe really works. Works because Moroccans, at all times, are welcoming and hospitable in terms of service, and accommodating in every way. The personnel here all know, excel in and love their jobs and it shows. The food, as expected, is sublime: refined and innovative. So are the cocktails. You’ll return more than once—guaranteed. The lure is that strong.
Spa and wellness
This massive spa itself is a destination. Andalusian in aura, the long corridor of arches off which the two treatment suites and four treatment rooms are located, reminded me of churches or mosques which often feature similar ceilings.
A plethora of treatments, both for the skin and for the body, are available, but again, sticking with the local flair, I went for a hammam and a scrub down. Emerging an hour later feeling like I had lost half my bodyweight in skin, I left this beautiful environment with a goody bag of products to try and a promise to come back in the evening for a manicure.
I should mention here that there are two, two-bedroomed suites connected to the spa, each with its own infinity pool for those who love to swim and each suite with its own hamman.
Pool and beach
I can honestly say I have never seen so many swimming pools in one resort in my life. Glorious indoor and outdoor options are there even if you choose not to swim in your own pool or feel like a different vista. The spa boutique has some lovely swimsuits and locally-made cover-ups for ladies if you forget yours, and no doubt some for men, although I didn’t look too hard.
A kid’s club is planned for the 2016 season to include gardening and cooking activities as well as the usual offerings. Meanwhile, there are activities for the young during peak seasons. Ask ahead.
Staff and service
As you would expect at a property of this caliber and in a country where people go out of their way to help and befriend everyone they meet, those working here are proud of their jobs and nothing you could ask for would be too much. The staff here anticipate your needs; it’s that simple.
I took a tour of the impressive vegetable gardens here where I asked, in French, to meet the resident donkey, Zeitoun, which means olive tree in the local language. The staff member working here seemed as scared of me as I was of the donkey, but it turned out he was simply shy and perhaps couldn’t understand my French as he went off as fast as he could to find Zeitoun, smiling as he made his way over with the donkey on a rope. It was touching, all in all.
British guests, and Americans with a sense of adventure, seem to love it here. French and Germans too, especially during the film festival held in December every year. Of course, with the two biggest golf courses in town right next door, this resort is a mecca for those who enjoy a swing or two.
Young and old, well-heeled locals favour the restaurants and spa.
I rode my bike to the lobby area and checked out in no time, after browsing the lovely boutique here for any final purchases I couldn’t live without. My bags were in the hotel car when I said my farewells and headed off to the airport, which took about ten minutes.
There, I was handed from one person to another (three in total) who together ensured I waited for no one and was at my departure gate within minutes. This VIP service, included in the package, is essential for those who don’t relish crowds and long waits in less than salubrious surroundings.
How to get there
15 minutes by car from Marrakech Airport
63 Villas and suites