From the Sublime to the Bazaar: The Royal Mansour, Marrakech
Be very quiet. You might disturb the house elves…
While all around you is manic, ‘bustle’ doesn’t quite convey the heat and crowds and traffic of Marrakech. Everything within the walls of the Royal Mansour’s estate is calm. And soothing. And perfect.
Staff appear as if by magic, in a manner that would impress even Mr Benn’s shopkeeper. Your every whim is satisfied, often seemingly before you’ve even realised it was a whim. For as long as you are in the confines of the estate, you are wrapped in cotton wool and coddled by experts, yet it never feels like your every move is monitored. Indeed, most of the time you’re not even aware that staff exist.
It’s almost supernatural. The secret behind this exceptional-even-by-five-star-standards service is a network of service tunnels underneath the entire estate. These lead everywhere, including to each individual floor of your private, three storey riad. So, if you’re chilling on your rooftop terrace or in your rooftop pool and your other half is napping in the second floor bedroom, your cold refreshment will be delivered to you without disturbing them. Similarly, it’s very possible to pop upstairs for a little pre-breakfast sun and discover that, in your absence, the rest of your property has been restored to immaculate condition. It is, indeed, like having invisible house elves.
The planning behind this level of service is immense taking into account the number of staff required. The rough figures are, apparently,10 staff per riad and there are 53 of those in the underground city that they spring from. It could be fit for a king. And indeed, it is – personally commissioned by King Mohammed VI of Morocco. The notion behind it was “a spectacular masterpiece exceeding the demands of today’s discerning traveller whilst reflecting the true essence of Moroccan tradition.” That objective has clearly been met. And then some.
It’s impeccable. It’s modern five-star+ service but that “essence of Moroccan tradition” is beautifully observed from the main gate onwards. The marble work in the reception area is stunning, but there are similar levels of craftsmanship everywhere in the sculptured plasterwork and traditional cedarwood features. It’s traditional and opulent, yet also functional and comfortable. It’s a remarkable achievement and a remarkable location. The facilities you’d expect are all present and correct and laid out across the impressive estate: it’s like being pampered by an entire village. The spa features every modern treatment you’d expect but it’s the traditional hammam that’s the stand out. The pummelling and scrubbing you’ll receive is a little out-of-kilter with the rest of your stay but, as the final coating of black soap and redundant skin cells are removed, you’re left with a glow that takes days to dim.
Mind you, that could also have come from the food, wine and jaw-dropping cognac trolley. The two restaurants are under the scrutiny of Le Meurice’s three-starred Yannick Alleno – and genuinely so: he was in the kitchen for our visit.
To the right, you have La Grande Table Marocaine, to the left, La Grande Table Francaise. The latter is superb but, as with so many fine dining experiences, you could be anywhere in the world. Better is Marocaine and a long parade of traditional delicacies distilled –often playfully – via those three Michelin stars. Snail ravioli, for example, was a Parisian plate but one that’s been infused and perfumed with local spices and thus straddles both worlds to wonderful effect, and a dessert of orange, dates, mint and cinnamon gave those Moroccan flavours a molecular makeover into intensely flavoured “pearls” that dissolve, Wonka-like, on the tongue. Even better, post-dinner cigars can still be smoked indoors in Morocco.
Negatives? I’m sure there are some but, with some time for the glow to fade, they still haven’t sprung to mind. Well, save for the fact that you’re not allowed to take a house elf home