TRAVEL: Venetia van Kuffeler escapes to her own private world at Royal Mansour in Marrakech
Royal Mansour is a meticulously designed hotel replicating a typical North African medina, right down to its five-metre-high perimeter wall and imperial entrance gate. King Mohammed VI of Morocco commissioned the project in Marrakech, and some 1,300 workers were said to have been employed in its construction. Designed to his high regal standards, the King often hosts guests in its 53 private riads that are set in fragrant gardens dotted with lily ponds and fountains.
Modelled on traditional Moorish architecture, the Royal Mansour buildings are beautifully intricate, exemplifying generations of local carving and craftsmanship. Ceilings, floors, archways and pillars are adorned with the finest zellij (geometric mosaic), cedar wood, stained glass, stuccowork and inlaid marquetry. To top it off, guests can arrive and leave in style – in the gold house Bentley if you’re lucky.
Upon arrival, we were whisked through the Medina and gardens to our traditional Moroccan riad. Each three-storey residence is arranged around a central open-air courtyard and contains at least one bedroom as well as a living room, bar and a roof terrace with plunge pool and open fire, plus state-of-the-art technology that includes a glass roof that automatically closes upon sensing rain. Interiors are decorated with silks and brocade fabrics, and original works of art sit beside traditional custom-made furniture. Larger riads also have dining rooms, private hammams, swimming pools and Bedouin tents. Guests are tended to by 450 staff who access the riads by a series of discrete underground tunnels, guaranteeing the utmost privacy.
We were happy to live, swim, eat and sleep in the privacy of our riad, but could not resist the run of the newly extended lush gardens that opened early this year. Set over one and a half hectares, grids of olive trees, palm groves and date palms rise above the ramparts, interspersed with ponds and waterways. Nothing can be more evocative of Morocco than the fragrances of orange-flower, and as dusk falls, night-blooming jasmine. At the garden’s centrepiece, the new 30-metre swimming pool surrounded by sumptuous loungers and poolside pavilions was a wonderful place to pass the afternoon.
At night, the hotel’s candle-lit courtyards are enchanting enough to silence even the most seasoned of travellers. Other highlights include Le Bar, a stunning pink gold leaf-adorned cocktail bar, and the spectacular spa where an enormous wrought-iron atrium evokes an elaborate birdcage. While I enjoyed an indulgent hammam, my husband had his first ever pedicure in the studio by famous podiatrist Bastien Gonzalez. Like the bathrooms, the spa is stocked with sumptuous ‘marocMaroc’ products, created with traditional local ingredients.
Exemplary standards continue in the kitchen, with Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno overseeing the four restaurants. We happily ate lunch each day at Le Jardin, the hotel’s newest offering. We were wow-ed by Chef Alléno’s methods of sourcing and preparing meat, slow-cooking garden vegetables and preparing sushi, sashimi and ceviche. Iconic dishes not to be missed include beetroot carpaccio with orange, spiny lobster sashimi from Oualidia, vegetables from the garden in hay crust, ‘Toro’ tuna sofrito style and lamb chops with kombu seaweed. The sweet and sour flavours of the frozen coconut served with lemongrass and vanilla foam remains on the tongue many months later.
Royal Mansour is a celebration of Morocco – it’s architecture, culinary arts and beauty. Ground-breaking, precious and mysterious, Royal Mansour certainly has an air of regal exclusivity and privacy; the riads enable you to escape to your own private world.
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