After three long years of work and a whopping 120 million euros
invested in returning its splendour to the iconic hotel in Marrakech, La Mamounia reopened its doors at the end of September 2009. The only things that remain almost unchanged are the pink building itself and its almost twenty acres of garden, hedged by the Almoravid walls that surround the old sector of the "red city". Inside this oasis, which lies just a stone's throw from the bustling activity of the Jemaa el Fna square, not the smallest corner of a single room has been left untouched.
The art-deco style, brought in with the 1986 refurbishment, is history; everything, from the furniture to the paintings to the magnificent old chinaware, was put under the hammer last June in an unprecedented "everything-must-go" auction. Today, La Mamounia, has returned to its origins as an authentic Arab-Andalusian palace
where the elegance of real Moroccan tradition is combined with the audacious touch of the star decorator Jacques Garcia, whose previous work includes such heralded reforms as the Costes and Beaux-Arts Hotels in Paris and the Chateau du Champ de Bataille. Now, Garcia has returned its true essence to this great hotel built in the Twenties and set in the grounds that, in the eighteenth century, the Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah presented as a wedding gift to his son Mamoun
Around one and a half thousand craftsmen have used all their various skills in the remodelling and refurbishment of this "great lady" of the hotel world, which, since its original opening, has been the gateway through which celebrities of all sorts have passed to explore the mysteries of Marrakech. Today, the new La Mamounia radiates all the mystery and sensuality of the East. Recognising its role as showcase of the best of Morocco, no expense has been spared, no detail overlooked, to envelop guests in a living evocation of the Thousand and One Nights, brought, as if by some magic genie, into the twenty-first century
with confidence and decisiveness but without unnecessary fanfare or fussy ostentation. A scenario designed to seduce, not overwhelm.La Mamounia is on track to become one of the five best hotels in the whole world
, but at the same time not to seem like a hotel, rather a private residence. You should forget about conventional hotel elements such as room signs and arrows pointing to the reception desk; although these may appear discreetly, they will rarely be necessary as there are a score of people on hand whose sole mission is to attend to the needs of guests.
After being met at the airport and taken to the hotel in a Jaguar, as guests cross the threshold, it's as if the dazzling Marrakech light had been switched off; newcomers are greeted in a dim and peaceful room and welcomed with dates and almond milk, in the tradition of true desert hospitality
. The delicate scent of cedar wood
, a fragrance created exclusively for La Mamounia by the prestigious 'nose' Olivia Giacobetti, pervades this central space, which is dotted with intimate couches and from which unobtrusive lifts, upholstered in tooled leather lead to the rooms. Teams of up to fifty craftsmen have worked on the decor of each of the bedrooms
. Everything, from the stucco of the walls and the painted wood of doors and ceilings, to the mosaics that combine with marble and carpets to cover the floors, each last detail has been carefully fashioned by hand. The 27,000 square metres of zelij - the traditional tile work
with which the whole building has been faced - is the main "culprit" for the three years it has taken to complete this extraordinary refurbishment project in which nothing has been left to chance.
Picquot Didier, former manager of hotels including the Ritz in Paris and the Pierre in New York, has been brought in to orchestrate the whole affair. In the kitchen there are consultants of the calibre of Jean-Pierre Vigato, from the Apicius restaurant in Paris, and Don Alfonso, of the eponymous temple of gastronomy on the Amalfi Coast. Both chefs, with two Michelin stars, have designed the menu. Respectively, they are responsible for the French and Italian restaurants
at La Mamounia. There is also an exquisitely decorated Moroccan restaurant, as well as the Pool Pavilion
, where the lunch buffet - complete to the last detail - is set to become, as it was in the past, the usual rendezvous for the creme de la creme of Marrakech. A glass gymnasium, tucked in among the palms, olives and orange trees in the ancient gardens
, and an exclusive spa that pays homage to the traditional hammam
, complete the facilities of this hotel with more than 200 rooms and suites. There are even three independent riads
for those who can afford the luxury of staying in their own private palace within La Mamounia.
But even ordinary mortals can experience the new-look La Mamounia. Non-guests in the hotel can book a table at one of the restaurants, or, as long as a certain dress code is maintained, you can visit the fabulous gardens, savour the delights of the tea room or the bakery alongside the poo
l. Come the evening, you can enjoy a drink at the Italian bar, while a fine jazz trio performs live, or at the famous Churchill Bar
. The latter is the only part of the hotel that has barely changed since the British statesman drank there and Josephine Baker, Edith Piaf, Orson Welles and the whole army of incomparables added their grains of sand over the decades to make La Mamounia the myth it is today. Tips & suggestions:
Room rates start around £560. Explore on-line at: www.mamounia.com