Ravishing and regal, La Mamounia hotel is set in lavish royal gardens, styled with handcrafted Moorish opulence, and as sensuous as a seraglio. Aware that its guests (Winston Churchill was a fan – his eponymous suite pays tribute) expect the best, the legendary den of decadence recruited luxury-lifestyle luminaries including Jacques Garcia and Olivia Giacobetti for its thorough – yet deferential – refurbishment, and world-class chefs to captain its restaurants. Its refreshed incarnation is swathed in velvet and hand-set Zellige, and its perfumed with orange blossom, jasmine and cedar. This is a stay that's truly whatever you want it to be: want some hardcore hammam time? The spa has several to choose from. Fancy dining from a different country each night? The hotel's four restaurants will oblige. Craving ice-cream? There's a parlour in the grounds… Throw in a proud team of staff and you have a stay that bends willingly to each and every whim.
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Free round-trip airport transfers from Marrakech airport
A total of 209, including 71 suites and three standalone riads.
Noon (flexible subject to availability and possibly a charge). Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £567.48 (MAD7,239), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of MAD50.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates do not include the extraordinarily lavish buffet breakfast of home-made jams and pastries, fruit and juices, meats, and hot dishes (MAD410 an adult; MAD205 a child aged 2–12). On arrival, guests are welcomed with a tray of dates and almond milk.
Sweep through the hotel's boutique for elegant, handmade souvenirs. Splurge your dirhams on Berber-stitched handbags, olive oils and argan-laced products from a local collective, Barbara Rhil leather goods and bespoke fragrances. A haggle-free experience all-round. Come afternoon, take a sun-kissed stroll through the garden (admiring its more than 1,200 species of plants), where genteel tiers of cakes, sandwiches, pastries and house macarons are dished up at Le Menzeh's afternoon tea.
At the hotel
Gardens, expansive spa with hammams and twin beauty salons, fitness room, tennis courts, ping pong table, tea room, boutiques, library (including CDs and DVDs) and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, minibar, free bottled water, babouches and bespoke bath products by Olivia Giacobetti. Deluxe category rooms and higher have either a furnished terrace or balcony.
Our favourite rooms
Book a Classic or Deluxe Room according to preferred view: Koutoubia Mosque, the gardens or the Atlas Mountains (of course, rooms on the higher floors have the best perspectives). The suites are stunning, but we have soft spots for two in particular. First up, the very English Churchill Suite: the prime minister’s favourite room, with a Chesterfield desk and distressed leather sofa. (Churchill’s hat and a sculpture of the PM himself are also permanent features.) For a more feminine feel, book the Baldaquin Suite; a romantic cream and white expanse with a king-size bed topped with a lavish canopy of ruched fabric. The suite also has a decadent but cosy sitting area and a balcony with garden views. Book a Suite or the Riad and enjoy additional in-room treats: fresh flowers, fruit, pastries, Moroccan wine and champagne.
Set amid the gardens and flanked by palm trees, the vast (650sq m) and glittering pool is decorated with fish-scale tiles. There are plenty of places to perch by the side and a smaller hot tub to soak in. Breakfast is served here in the morning and by night, lanterns make it a lovely spot for clinking champagne flutes. Alternatively head to the photogenic indoor spa pool; gilded columns and grand ogee arches surround the elaborately tiled looker, and there's a swim-up day-bed for posing on.
La Mamounia's Zellige-tiled, Majorelle blue-splashed and tadelakt spa is a cavernous space offering each and every treatment you could wish for. There are his and hers hammams, and a private one for couples to book exclusively, saunas, beauty salons, both a barbers and hairdressers… All of your primping, preening and pampering needs are met, and there's a petite spa within the spa (with its own hammam, treatment rooms and plunge pool) if you don't want any other guests cramping your style. If you want your massage alfresco, no problem, there are beds under open pavilions which can be curtained off for privacy. Marinade in moisturising rhassoul mud, be slathered in soothing argan oil or be scrubbed with sugar and seeds.
Kaftans, Cavalli and couture.
The hotel's resident cat colony is well cared for; each of the floofy residents has regular check-ups and they're all quite used to human visitors.
Smith Junior is welcome. Extra beds (MAD950 a night for children under 12) are available and free cots can be added to all rooms. Babysitting can be arranged for MAD150-200 an hour (request upon booking). Under-16s cannot use the hotel's spa.
Little Smiths of all ages are welcome.
The Executive Suite and Deluxe Rooms interconnect, so are ideal for families.
There’s plenty here to keep kids happy: two tennis courts, a games room, cinema, outdoor ping pong table, flower-packed gardens and a large outdoor pool.
The pool is supervised by a lifeguard (7am–8pm in summer; 9am–5pm in winter). Bring your own inflatables and arm-bands as the hotel doesn’t provide any.
Children are welcome in the restaurants and staff will happily heat up baby food and milk.
Local nannies cost MAD150 an hour from 8am to 8pm and MAD200 an hour from 8pm to 8am; it's an additional MAD25 an hour for an extrachild (two children maximum per nanny). Arrange when booking and note that cancellations within 12 hours will incur a fee.
No need to pack
The hotel has a stash of child-friendly video games and DVDs for little ones to borrow.
Smith Junior is bound to fall in love with Le Menzeh, the poolside hut stocked with home-made ice-creams and cakes.
La Mamounia is committed to Green Key environmental practices, uses solar power and plucks organic produce fresh from its very own vegetable garden.
Eat out on L’Italien par Jean-Georges ’s terrace. On chiller nights at L’Asiatique par Jean-Georges, sit close to the window. Grab a table with a full Atlas Mountain vista at Le Marocain; as close to the pool as possible at Le Pavillon de la Piscine.
Beach glam (denim and silks will do) for Le Pavillon de la Piscine – of course, if you’d rather don something fabulous, you’ll be in good company. When it comes to the remaining restaurants, ‘glamour, glamour, glamour’ is the mantra.
La Mamounia has four acclaimed restaurants. L’Asiatique par Jean-Georges celebrates the culinary traditions of South-East Asia, where you can pile intricately lacquer-topped tables with dim-sum baskets and punch-packing curries. L’Italien par Jean-Georges is styled to look like a traditional, albeit luxurious, trattoria, with walls the coral of Mediterranean villas and olive-green chairs. Alongside European favourites, you can watch the chefs pull pizzas from a wood-burning oven in the centre of the room. Alternatively, crunch along the soft gravel path that leads to Le Marocain, where local cuisine is served to the tune of live Moroccan music, or feast on shared platters poolside at the laid-back Le Pavillon de la Piscine. Sweet-tooths will love Le Menzeh par Pierre Hermé, a little hut in the gardens that serves up sugary delicacies from the acclaimed French pâtissier such as macaroons and home-made ice-cream cornets. Le Salon de Thé par Pierre Hermé, in the gallery has tables under a dazzlingly huge chandelier. Here, you can tuck into delicate pastries and finger sandwiches, French toast, croque monsieur and lobster rolls among other elevated casual eats. Breakfast and brunch are eye-widening affairs – a whole room with stations for different delicacies, breads, pastries, meats and cheeses, fresh fruit, yoghurts, cereals, fish and much more, and a chef cooking fresh eggs at your behest.
Each restaurant has a bar area to match: Le Bar Italien is a stylish setting for martinis, Le bar de la piscine is a shaded spot with the pool in reach and Le Bar Marocain comes into its own at night – sit on the rooftop with a pre-dinner cocktail and admire the Atlas Mountains. Then there’s the tiled Majorelle esplanade, where mint tea and cognac can be enjoyed with the sound of the water fountains trickling in the background (and, if you’re lucky, the thrum of the Moroccan guitar). If sultry piano playing is more your thing, hit the rouged, low-lit Le Churchill bar, where jazz plays late into the night and the Kaviari manu is perfectly paired with sophisticated cocktails.
Breakfast starts from 7am to 11am; lunch is from 12.30pm to 3pm (3.30pm in Le Pavillon de la Piscine) and dinner is from 7pm to 10pm. Le Bar Churchill pours from 3pm till 1am.
The 24-hour room service includes options from the restaurant menus.
Marrakech Menara Airport is a 15-minute drive away.
Marrakech station is 10 minutes away by car, with an ONCF service connecting to Casablanca, Rabat, Fes and Tanguer (www.oncf.ma).
Rather than being burdened with a car, it makes far more sense to rely on the hotel transfers and taxis – the hotel is perfectly placed for exploring Marrakech’s main sights, and this is best done on foot (no cars are allowed in the Medina).
Worth getting out of bed for
Wannabe Nadals should take to the hotel’s clay tennis courts. Champion Henri Leconte hosts international tournaments at the hotel throughout the year; so you may be playing in the presence of greatness. If the courts are in use, stake out the ping pong table. If you're not deep within the labyrinthine spa, splashing about in one of the two pools or browsing the high-end boutiques onsite, ask La Mamounia to organise some excursions for you: options include hot-air ballooning in the Atlas Mountains, golfing, a tour of Berber villages or personal shopping. Natural wonders include the Ourikaor Ouirgane valleys, the Lalla Takerkoust Dam or Oualidia Coast; or ask the hotel to whisk you further away, to Essaouria, Casablanca or Fez. Closer to your new home, two of Marrakech’s most famous sights – Koutoubia Mosque and Djemaa el Fna – are only a five-minute walk away from the hotel. Wander into Djemaa el Fna at night to admire the acrobats and snake-charmers and sample local cuisine from the bustling food stalls. The Yves Saint Laurent Museum documents the designer's love for Marrakech – it's best chased with a whirl around the riotously colourful Jardin Majorelle.
Dar Moha at 81 rue Dar el Bacha serves up aromatic Franco-Moroccan cuisine: alongside well-balanced tajines and pastilla, there are fusion dishes such as baked scallops and saffron sorbet. Request a table in the walled garden by the pool (reservations are essential). Eat in splendour at Dar Yacout at 79 rue Sidi Ahmed Soussi, Arset Ihiri. This gorgeously grand restaurant has entertained the king of Spain and Will Smith (but not together) so dress to impress. Be sure to visit Le Fondouk at 55 Souk Hal Fassi, Kat Bennahïd. Dining here is an adventure, from start – being guided down a dusty alley to your table by men in cloaks bearing lanterns – to finish. Book ahead for an evening meal at Le Petit Cornichon where the menu changes daily, but the quality of the ingredients is a constant.
Stop by Cafe Le Studio at the Jardin Majorelle, for mint tea and some briouates in a pretty courtyard. Or take a more leisurely lunch at Aussie-inspired eatery Plus61, where yoghurt, cheese, bread and pasta are made in-house.
Sitting pretty upon grand leather sofas in Mamounia’s candlelit Jacques Garcia-designed lobby, sipping cool glasses of almond milk and nibbling dates, I rather wished all hotel check-in experiences could be so otherworldly. As Mr Smith passed on details about how I, Mrs Smith, would like the next morning’s Royal Hamman spa treatment, my suitcases vamooshed by a troop of robed fez-wearing bellboys, I lounged in a pleasant fug (Mamounia’s signature scent was created by world-renowned perfumier, Olivia Giacobetti), watching European high-society meander past and idly speculating whether the bijoux Gucci outlet did those pumps in their size.
Marble pillars, bold red and white lanterns, vases laden with fresh flowers and a water fountain sprinkled with petals… A weekend spent in the lobby with just a Moroccan throw to snuggle, waiter-service Moroccan-rose deliveries from the nearby Le Churchill Bar would have been a sublime holiday on its own. Mr Smith, ever orthodox, insisted we explore the rooms.
In the Moorish-style boudoirs, you can't help but want to touch the furnishings: studded leather headboards in orange, purple and beige, hand-painted wooden doors, thick rugs and throws from the Atlas Mountains. We stayed on Mamounia’s first floor in a room luxurious, ornate and passionately Moroccan, hand-crafted mashrabiya shutters, cool white linen, stucco’d bathroom, vivid, lovingly laid tilework.
As Mr Smith ran a deep bath, availing himself of the sumptuous booty of Mamounia toiletries, I dealt with the diligent squad of housekeeping staff determined to bring gifts. My first instinct was to flip the Do Not Disturb sign, but after the fresh cherries, the still-warm cupcakes and the windblown peaches, I made an executive decision that being ‘bothered’ was rather lovely.
Now, as Mr Smith bathed, I retired to our large balcony overlooking neatly pruned gardens with a copy of Vogue and a large G&T. Distant call-to-prayer cries and the whispery buzz mopeds reminded me that Friday night medina in Marrakech was within strolling distance. After darkness we drifted down to Le Bar Italien and installed ourselves on the decadent saffron-velvet chairs, squeaking with delight that not only were we allowed to smoke a cigarette indoors, like back in the olden days when the pair of us met, but the staff were delighted to fetch packets on a silver tray.
Several wholly elegant flutes of champagne and half a dozen lobby-pianist cover-songs later, we slinked into Mamounia’s Baroque interior L’Italien par Jean-Georges restaurant for a pricey yet perfect feast of spaghetti don alfonso, langoustines, zucchini ravioli and slices of sweet chocolate pizza. A word of warning: don’t visit Mamounia with someone you’re ‘quite fond of’ if you don’t want to fall in love. There’s something in the signature scented air here that makes it rather unavoidable…
Do, however, go with someone who loves you for your curves – the poolside breakfast buffet is dreamlike in its scope and setting. We took a table at 9am, surrounded by resting European footballers and WAGs, plump diplomats and well-heeled families, then let the squadron of staff bring coffee, newspapers and iced water. We ate porridge with fresh pomegranate, freshly cooked eggs Florentine from the walk-up kitchen, too many pastries and fruit from the gardens near to where we sat.
After breakfast, Mr Smith and I made a half-hearted nod towards exercise by wandering in the grounds through orange trees, watching tennis matches being elegantly slugged out by residents far more energetic than us. We also got to the bottom of where our vegetables had been sourced from the night before, with a whirl around Mamounia’s private gardens. Jannah, the Islamic concept of paradise, starts with a garden, and so did La Mamounia, which began life as royal flower-filled grounds; a gorgeous gift from a sultan to his son. Today this eight-hectare haven is planted with 700-year-old olive and fruit trees and vivid, perfumed blooms, tended to daily by 30 gardeners.
Fringed by palm trees, the turquoise pool is as regal as the rest, decorated with shimmering fish-scale tiles, surrounded by a neat cavalry of spotless white sun loungers. Exquisitely kept, the pool area is soothingly silent with a discreet army of staff who will check your expression for evidence of ‘want’. While Mr Smith front-crawled off some of the past-24 hours excesses, I curled up on a white lounger with a novel, preparing myself for my afternoon hamman purge in the world-class spa.
Mr Smith and I signed up to take our steam-and-scrub together, fighting off fits of giggles as we were handed small paper pants and each enlisted a masseur and whisked off to separate saunas. My masseuse was a glorious small, squashy Moroccan lady clad in an all in one black swimming costume and flip flops then scrubbed every inch of me, forehead to toes, then moisturised before returning me to Mr Smith for massages.
Giddy and slightly reborn post-hammam, Mr Smith and I left Mamounia for a whirlwind Saturday night in the ancient medina featuring strong coffee, snakes, some dancing and meetings with various local eccentrics, with the obligatory Cafe Arabe stop-off. Our final day was spent restoratively by the pool, drinking mint tea and eating baklava waiting for one of Mamounia’s Jaguars to take us to Menara airport. Mamounia has its own private room in Menara, for those who find meeting the public frightful. It certainly was a drag leaving Marrakech, but this Mr and Mrs Smith know that one day they’ll be back. After all, after opening in 1923, it was soon Churchill’s stay of choice; he called it ‘the most beautiful place in the world’. Who are we to argue?