I’m a little bit country; he’s a little bit rock ‘n’ roll and our son sits perfectly in the middle. And so it was, we opted for an Easter break combining the Atlas Mountains and Marrakech. The variety and contrast of hiking, watersports, cookery lessons, lavish spas and enchanting souks in a relatively contained area, must surely be the reason Marrakech was recently voted no.1 travel destination by TripAdvisor users.
We began our holiday at the further point of the Atlas Mountains and stayed at an intimate 30-bedroom spa hotel. The mostly Moroccan, understated guests told me this was still a tourist free zone and they wished to keep it that way! A few days of clean air, bright stars and stunning scenery left us rejuvenated and ready to make our way to the most famed hotel in Marrakesh.
La Mamounia is steeped in history and has loomed large in my imagination as a must visit destination. Yet the older I get, the more I crave the intimacy of smaller hotels that feel like home with housekeepers, cooks and a new culture thrown in. While grand hotels can be faultless on a technical level, they rarely touch the heart. Still, it was on my list and it was now or never.
As we jostled through Japanese tourists keen to have a snapshot outside the arched entrance, it dawned on me just how iconic this hotel was. We were greeted by immaculately dressed doormen in traditional white robes who ushered us into great marble halls, shaded courtyards and to the dark and sumptuous Churchill bar with its heavy drapes, velvet and leather clad seating. From here we ventured out the 600-sq ft. swimming pool flanked by palm trees and cavernous pavilions. Every inch of the exquisitely tiled façade and 18-acre lush landscaped gardens beckoned us to leave behind the hurried life of the city.
Within striking distance of the Medina, city souks, Jamaa El Fna Square and the airport, the location can’t be beaten. Strolling down the winding lanes of this ancient city, stopping at local mosques, sampling street food and seeing local artisans creating wonderful crafts using traditional skills was a feast for the senses. To see a different landscape and speak a different tongue, knowing we would then be returning to the comfort of La Mamounia was such a treat.
Yet, sat on the edge of the vast pool with all its perfection, I felt strangely underwhelmed. The hotel is undoubtedly spectacular but to feel its heart, I had to step away from the manicured crowd made up of royalty, celebrities and politicians. So I strolled the acres of walled parkland, intoxicated by the flowerbeds, the lawns and the endless rows of glowing lanterns. The three of us swam in the indoor spa swimming pool, played tennis and savoured the exhibition on its grounds. In discovering these quiet corners, we soaked up the magnificence of the architecture and its history and suddenly the hotel felt perfect without feeling precious and all heart. I look forward to visiting again and when I do, I feel sure, I will fall deeper in love with the city and its crowing glory.
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