Marrakech, Morocco: Mandarin Oriental
Dynamically enveloped by the arid landscape of the Sahara Desert and the wild organic terrain of the Atlas Mountains, the vibrant city of Marrakech has garnered a reputation as an exotic and coveted global destination. Appealing to a fusion of international visitors, the brilliant antiquity of Marrakech was founded on time-honored cultural traditions, exceptional craftsmanship, immaculate landmarks, beautifully intricate architecture, and towering mosque turrets that serve as your visual guide from the distant city limits. The historical district of Medina is a magical region brimming with surprises at every turn. Centered around the Souks (a very dense marketplace), this is the hub for cultural exploration and a satiating experience for all of the five senses. The walkable scenery is populated with an array of meticulous master craftsmen; livened by the sound of ethnic instrumentals; filled with the scent of towering piles of spices; highlighted by the vivid hues of naturally dyed cloths; and invigorated by a taboo yet seductive aura that beckons you to partake in every possible sensation. At the heart of the Medina, “The Square” is animated with a life of its own. As night falls, characters of many kinds begin to emerge such as snake charmers, adorable trained monkeys, courageous flame throwers and an overwhelming assortment of vendors with freshly prepared mouth-watering local fare.
Manicured gardens, streamlined architectural silhouettes and tree-lined vistas of the mountainous backdrop characterize the magnificent property of the Mandarin Oriental in Marrakech. Just a short drive from the city center, the vast palatial grounds of this luxurious getaway closely resemble the feel of a Sultan’s countryside escape, yet remains within the city limits. Only the Mandarin Oriental could have created such a perfect urban oasis.
Checking into your residence is seamlessly performed and almost unnoticed as you are welcomed to relax with a cold drink in the main lounge. Escorted by buggy, I arrived at my sprawling estate – a 3,000 square foot Mandarin Villa (one of 54 varying residences) with a massive 2-story double-door entry that leads directly into the pristine private indoor courtyard. Flanking the vestibule are two quaint niches at either side with an assortment of charming amenities to enhance your comfort during your stay. One contains a small prep kitchen prepared with a tray of artisanal herbal tea and fresh mint leaves and the other is an intimate seating enclosure with a very enticing sofa. The villa’s central atrium is vital to the deluxe allure of this residence. To the right side of the incredible open-air space, it is composed of a streamlined outdoor living room and dining area highlighted by a raised built-in fireplace and lined with a collection of designer furnishings all under a dramatic wind-swept canopy. To the left there are coordinating chic lounge chairs accompanied by side tables topped with mini Moroccan lamps and baskets brimming with outdoor accessories and amenities such as sun-bathing hats and stylish slip-ons. At the central axis of this space is a stunning swimming pool that spans the entire length of the open-air atrium - from the entrance, to the connected Jacuzzi and beyond to the glassed-in private master bedroom at the opposing end of the villa. All of the beautifully decorated indoor-outdoor spaces are ingeniously connected in the tradition of Moroccan Riad construction to create a fluid yet private experience that can be customized to your personal levels of comfort.
Within each room, every detail has been thoroughly conceived and composed. Full-height windows flood the interior with sunlight and illuminate the marvelous yet subtle Moroccan motifs. Uncommon to traditional expression, the spaces are graced with a light and airy palette, however all elements are still reminiscent of native culture from the leaf-like arabesque screens, geometric carpet patterns, precious metal accents and organic construction materials. The floors and surfaces are articulated with both dark and light marble that extends through each room including the spacious bathroom. Larger in size than the living area, the bathroom encompasses a massive round bathtub and a shower that also serves as a luxurious private steam enclosure. This space flows into an expansive vanity room, which has a beautiful garden view, accompanying chaise lounge, as well as an over sized walk-in dressing area that can accommodate a large wardrobe or two. Walking through the doors from the vanity, you immediately access the master bedroom. Elevated on a regal platform the bed is raised a step up from ground level and draped in soft contemporary finishes that let you know you are still in Morocco.
It is imperative to experience the phenomenal in-villa dining while staying at the Mandarin Oriental and there are a variety of way in which you can do so. One option is to have breakfast arranged on your terrace facing your picturesque pool and gorgeous lounge. You are presented with a charming assortment of local specialties and American favorites, fresh-squeezed juices and sweet ripened fruit. Another option would be to host an on-site barbecue where fresh-cut meats and seafood are grilled just for you. As the sun comes to rest, the tone is set with candles and Moroccan lanterns that are illuminated every evening by the staff, which also makes for an intimate poolside in-villa dinner.
The Mandarin is home to four highly-acclaimed restaurants where you can choose to enjoy the flavors of Moroccan cuisine including delicious tajine, couscous and riffa with a modern twist; explore a deluxe selection of international plates; or fawn over a Mediterranean menu that is highlighted by one of the most beautifully prepared Nicoise salads in the world. The newly opened Ling Ling by the world-renowned Hakkasan brand is where they embrace the innovative “izakaya” approach to food and drink pairings. Much like the environment itself, the menu is very creative and has been specifically crafted around the immaculate cocktail selection. The extraordinary cuisine features tender meats, fresh seafood and artistic desserts to culminate your scintillating meal. The modern and minimalistic Asian flair enhances the well-decorated indoor dining area and outdoor terrace spaces that are framed by lush greenery and perfectly oriented towards the illuminated fountain features. The combination of culinary genius, inspirational vibes and impeccable pairings make for an incredible evening.
Fortunate to have experienced many of the Mandarin spas around the world, I found that this location exceeds expectations just as all the others. The sheer size of this 20,000 sq. ft. facility is simply astonishing and also by virtue of the architectural division of the treatment areas, at times you may feel as though you are the only one there. It was amazing to see how the décor and menu of services had been cleverly adapted to regional offering and specialties. To start, the interiors are coordinated with a soothing visual combination of brick and wood with authentic Moroccan details. Many unique decorous touches can be found such as triangular wall cutouts (some filled with painted hand-blown glass panes), geometric ceiling coffers and screens, as well as traditional dark marble, wood and metal accents. Though the tailored wellness treatments are expertly performed by practitioners with impeccable skill, the impressive Moroccan Hammams are not to be missed. With one dedicated to men and women, the hammam is your own private and completely separate place to silently relax and reflect. The spa’s top-notch services and intended solitude evoke a profound sense of inner peace that is reinvigorated throughout the details of the serene property and this quieted state of mind stays with you throughout your entire visit to the Mandarin.
To recall the beautiful setting outside of your private villa, it is a pleasure to walk among the colorful prim gardens, otherwise a private buggy escort is just a call away. The resort’s massive main pool spans almost the entire length property cross-section and has a very unique design. The calm edge of the water is not disturbed by railings or stairs as the undulating marble-tiled floor of the basin presents the perfect way to ascend and descend while wading. Underneath the hot sun, the terrace surrounding the pool is specified of a special stone that surprisingly stays cool to the touch. These are examples of the distinguishingly considerate fine points that separate the Mandarin from anywhere else. There is an elevated level of hospitality standards among the Mandarin brand properties and this location in particular makes you feel abundantly pampered, genuinely at peace, and deeply elated. This resort is perfectly-suited for weddings, groups of adults, couples as well as spa getaways and when I return to Marrakech this is where I would stay without hesitation, as I am truly a fan.