The grand and beautiful Mandarin Oriental Marrakech proves an inviting space in which to sample a traditional Moroccan hammam.
The goal: As a busy Londoner, occasionally I really feel a need to get away from it all. To escape the hubbub and professional or social engagements of the city and spend a few days switching off and letting the stresses and strains of urban life dissipate. Taut muscles and tense shoulders are the hallmarks of the deskbound city dweller, so I was aching for a treatment to help me decompress and truly relax.
The treatment: A vast 1,800sq metre space, the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech’s spa is as much of a destination as the hotel itself, the spa menu is similarly expansive – and impressive. Having perused the numerous “journeys” and “experiences” promising to reinvigorate body, mind and soul, I decided to try two: a traditional hammam, followed by a therapeutic massage.
The spa’s design recalls the ancient mosques and cathedrals of Andalusia, with vast fireplaces and high vaulted corridors in warm red brick stretching as far as the eye can see. The choice of materials lends the space an intimate feel – despite its grand scale – which is added to by the warmth of the spa’s staff, who have that genuine sense of hospitality so intrinsic to Moroccan culture.
And so to the hammam. I’ve experienced the traditional North African ritual on numerous occasions, so I knew what to expect – from steam and scrubbing to hair washing and massage, it’s a relaxing yet rejuvenating process. But of course Mandarin Oriental has made an effort to ensure its hammam package rivals variants already on offer in Marrakech’s many established luxury hotels.
The hammam is all opulent marble floors and striking black-and-white tiling, the spa’s luxurious individual hammams undoubtedly add to the experience. In a nod to local culture, the hotel has chosen to use Nectarome’s organic oils during hammam and body treatments. The Moroccan brand employs all of its staff locally, and states that its mission is to make a beneficial contribution to the local economy. Although Biologique Recherche and Aromatherapy Associates products are used during the advanced facials, Nectarome’s rich black beldi soap and rose or neroli-scented oils are perfect for the hammam.
And there’s no doubting the expertise of the spa’s staff – post-hammam, I was left with skin so soft and smooth it glowed. Followed with a hour’s relaxing massage with the same aromatic oils, I felt re-energised and refreshed.
The location: A 15-minute drive from the airport, the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech is worlds away from the hectic hustle and bustle of the city’s medina. For guests looking for a weekend of escape and total serenity, it really doesn’t get much better than this. 57 riad-inspired villas are set amongst 50 acres of lush gardens, with a spectacular backdrop of the Atlas mountains. Fragrant with the perfume of jasmine, bougainvillea and over 100,000 scented roses, the gardens give the hotel a sense of peace, tranquillity and elegance. Indeed, it doesn’t really seem fair to call this a hotel – the individual villas are so impressive in scale and size (our Mandarin Pool Villa stretched across 288sq metres and even the smallest villas are 135sq metres) that resort seems more apposite.
Each is built around its own central courtyard – in traditional riad style – with a pool, Jacuzzi, outdoor shower and various al fresco areas in which to dine, lounge or nap depending on your will. The design (again by Gilles et Boissier) seems conceived to work with the light at different times of the day, adapting and taking on new guises as the sun gradually shifts position. Earthy and sandy tones recall the desert’s own natural colour palette, allowing the elegant alcoves with their white embroidered cushions and the courtyard’s own greenery to take centre stage. Indoors it’s as luxe as you’d expect from the huge marble bathroom (with its own steam room, no less) to the sleek bedroom and living room spaces. Although you might anticipate typically decadent Moroccan style – all jewel tones and boho bling – the design here is refreshingly different in its simplicity, inspired by an understated Berber aesthetic.
Although it’s all too easy to remain in the relaxing space of your villa, it would be a shame to miss out on visiting Mes’Lalla: the Mandarin Oriental’s signature Moroccan restaurant. Created by Meryem Cherkaoui (formerly of the Hôtel de Crillon), the restaurant serves both traditional Moroccan cuisine and the renowned chef’s contemporary interpretation of local dishes. Both are a triumph: reinvigorating the tastebuds and the senses in the way that only Moroccan dishes can – in turn spicy, sweet, sharp and fresh with herbs, spices and the intoxicating flavours of North Africa. Of course, locally sourced produce and vegetables from the hotel’s own organic garden render the dishes even more delicious. The hotel’s pool bar also makes use of the fresh produce; their tomatoes are some of the finest I’ve tasted outside of Italy – and that’s saying something.
Having opened in October 2015, there were some teething problems when we visited the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech – operational faults with the Jacuzzi, bathroom and key cards most notably. However, these were dealt with promptly and professionally – and my companion and I both agreed that, regardless of the problems we’d experienced, we’d return to the Mandarin Oriental without the slightest hesitation. Perhaps to try out one of those extensive spa journeys….
The details: Hammam treatments cost MAD 800 – 1,200 (£56 – £85), while the Therapeutic Argan Massage is priced at MAD 2,000 (£141).
Rates for Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech (+212 5 24 29 88 88) start from €650 (£500) per night on a B&B basis.