It’s been a handful of years since the four-tonne bronze gates of the Royal Mansour first swung open, revealing not the private residence of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI, but a regal palace by any measure, spread out across 3.5 hectares within the boundaries of Marrakech’s ochre city wall. Legions of planners, architects, gardeners, designers, artists and craftsmen – no fewer than 1,200 of the latter – worked for almost four years to create this masterpiece, set within a calm, palm-studded oasis just minutes from the ever-bustling medina. It is a place that not only touches all the senses, but intoxicates them.
Inspired by stately residences like the Katsura Villa in Kyoto and the Alhambra, the Royal Mansour was modelled on the traditional Moroccan market. Narrow, winding alleyways meander around the elevated guest riads – which boast impressive, alabaster- green wooden doors – passing by brilliant cascades of violet bougainvillea, along babbling fountains and brooks, up to a sunny clearing with old olive trees and date palms that were transplanted here from the nearby Agdal Gardens or the Agadir region. Everything is so meticulously planned that it seems as if it had grown and evolved here naturally.
Like the accommodations, the public spaces – the lounge, bars, restaurants and spa – were also built as riads of various sizes. The central point is the inner courtyard with a marble fountain, surrounded by ornately wrought arches decorated with plasterwork and mosaics. Upholstery, sofas, chairs and curtains are almost entirely fashioned from silk, velvet and brocade, while the tables are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. All the crystal comes from France and the chandeliers from Murano. Perfection down to the smallest detail is celebrated here for its own sake. Even the budgerigars in the lobby chirp from the beauty of a decorative birdcage designed by Yahya, a British-Moroccan artist whose pieces can be found throughout the palace, including a massive copper chandelier over the entrance to the bar, an entire ensemble of lamps, and metre-high doors of worked German silver in the blue courtyard of the restaurant. “It’s a very exclusive place, it’s super relaxed. It’s very ostentatious, in some ways, but at the same time, extremely discreet,“ says the 42-year-old, who plies his trade from a decorous showroom in the Ville Nouvelle.
And how right he is: though there are 500 employees serving 53 riads, guests rarely come face-to-face with any of them. It takes discretion to a whole new level – literally. A system of tunnels runs through the park, giving each riad its own lift access, along with butler and room service, which can depart unseen. Breakfasts are served on the roof terraces of three-storey riads, where a plunge pool, deck chairs, a fireplace, dining table, a Bedouin tent for a nap in the shade and picturesque views of the Koutoubia and the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas all beckon.
The culinary experience matches the exquisite tone set by the rest of Mansour – though the prices also match those of Paris’s top restaurants. Under the direction of Yannick Alléno, Marc Lahoreau and Karim Ben Baba lead La Grande Table Française and La Grande Table Marocaine. Lahoreau succeeds extraordinarily with his pigeon and lamb main dishes, especially toothsome when paired with black truffles sourced from the nearby mountains, and Ben Baba offers a sensational selection of briouates and Moroccan salad variations, all of which are paired to surprisingly refined local vintages such as Château Roslane Les Coteaux de l'Atlas.
The only possible letdown comes with the pool, which is petite and unfortunately wedged between the main public areas of the hotel and restaurant terrace wall (there are other hotels in Marrakech to show off one’s latest swimwear).
Yes, the guests at the Royal Mansour come for the peace and the privacy and the utterly unique atmosphere. The artist Yahya sums it up perfectly: “High-end hotels want to impose very strict dress codes on their guests – and here they can have billionaires who come and just want to chill out in their shorts and trainers – and it doesn’t seem out of place.”
Date visited: May 2014