Monday, March 5, 2012

The Joys of Morocco: Design and Style

Step Into a Palace — The New Royal Mansour Hotel in Marrakech 

“The beauty of Moroccan palaces is made up of details of ornament and refinement of sensuous delight too numerous to record.” —Edith Wharton, ‘In Morocco’, 1920

Moroccan royal style: Interiors of the Royal Mansour include elegant and exotic enclosed courtyards with dramatic carved cedar balconies and gently splashing fountains. 

About Royal Mansour Marrakech
Morocco! I couldn’t have imagined how much I would love Morocco on my recent visit. The air is fragrant with jasmine and palm trees and olive groves, and every moment was totally unfamiliar, a new adventure. I love traveling to places I’ve never seen before. 

It’s a culture and a country that love beauty and craftsmanship.

With every building and interior, artisans pay homage to traditional ornamented style with jeweled glass, marble floors, carved and painted ceilings, incised plaster, shimmering tiles, dappled walls of infinite silence. Colors are vibrant—of soft and sun-struck and dusty. 

In Marrakech every moment is pure discovery. And so I was fortunate indeed to stay for a few nights at the new Royal Mansour Marrakech. I was told it is owned by the King of Morocco. It’s clear he wants to welcome guests there with lavish Moroccan style and opulent hospitality.

(I heard that royal families from the surrounding kingdoms often visit, as well as paparazzi-avoiding stars and heads of state.) 

The hotel’s private avenue is framed with lovely olive groves and jacarandas. The grand gateway studded with bronze insignia opens to the inner courtyard entrance, discreet and hidden from public view. Surrounded by the high terra-cotta stucco medina walls and palm-shaded gardens, the hotel feels apart from the bustle of the souks, the clang of traffic.

I was told the hotel has five hundred staff members to take care of guests. 

With its grand arched portals, shimmering pools, sunny terraces, roof decks with private pools, private dining rooms, elaborate plasterwork, mysterious enclosed balconies, decorative marble floors, and discreet service, the Royal Mansour feels like a Moroccan palace. 

Built into the medina wall, the expansive property covers over eight acres.

Guest accommodations are in individual riads. Riads are the traditional enclosed residences surrounded by high walls, where Moroccan families live in total privacy and comfort.

At Royal Mansour, my riad front gate, surrounded by high walls, opened to a lovely garden, and the sunny residence within. My one-bedroom riad had two sitting rooms with tiled fireplaces, a study, a lovely bedroom suite on the second level, and an open terrace with a pool on the roof. 

Interiors are ornamented with exquisite handiwork, painted silk fabrics, hand-woven Moroccan carpets, intricate tiled walls, traceried stucco, carved and painted cedar beams, recessed windows with carved shutters, gold arabesques of decoration, and lavish silk- embroidered divans. Every vignette offered delight and surprise.

Tile work and mosaics cover courtyard floors and riad walls while interiors are furnished with fascinating French and Moroccan antique furniture. Top local craftsmen were recruited, and their level of skill and attention to detail has created rooms of unusual splendor.

3BIS Architecture Decoration, a Paris-based design firm, took part in the Royal Mansour Hotel project in Marrakech.

“We wanted the experience here to by like in a place with a history rather than staying in a hotel. Guests enter a stately home, a palace. We have none of the usual hotel codes, like check-in desks. We stayed true to spaces that obey the rules of Moroccan architecture, solidly anchoring the project in its setting and forging its credibility.” –Nicolas Papamiltiades, 3BIS, architect for Royal Mansour

Extravagantly luxe, each riad (ranging in size from 1,400 square feet to 19,375 square feet) showcases Moroccan classical design.

The top local craftsmen were recruited, and their level of skill and attention to detail literally make the property a work of art.

The fifty-three riads are true to the classic riad style, configured around a central, open-air courtyard with few openings to the outside.

The estate’s landscape is dotted with imported ancient palm and olive trees ranging in age from three to seven centuries in addition to grenadine trees surrounding the entrance and orange trees outside the spa. 

“From far off, through circuitous corridors, came the scne of citron blossom and jasmine, sometimes a bird’s song, before dawn, sometimes a flute’s wail at sunet, and always the call of the muezzin from a high minaret at night.” –Edith Wharton, ‘In Morocco’ (published in 1920)

Royal Mansour Riads
The focus is very inward, as in all Moroccan houses.

All roof terraces provide private views of the city, minarets, the gardens or the Atlas Mountains, and have their own plunge pool, sun beds and fireplaces. The larger riads also feature outside dining areas and Moroccan tents.

Royal Mansour offers a choice of restaurants, supervised by Paris chef Yannick Alléno.

La Table serves Mediterranean cuisine from its beautifully decorated dining room and alfresco terrace. 

Royal Mansour’s offers two fine-dining restaurants, one featuring French culinary traditions, the other celebrating Moroccan cuisines.

I must tell you, I loved dining in my riad dining room—‘order anything you wish’ suggested the butler. Lovely. 

The Spa
I’m not a spa fanatic, I must admit.

But I wanted to experience the traditional Moroccan hammam. I’ve been massaged and scrubbed and pummeled in the centuries-old hammams in Istanbul and these same steamy/soothing/meditative baths are an essential visit in Marrakesh.

The spa is 27,000 square feet and has endless treatment rooms. A friend of mine spent all day there, pampered and primped, swimming and sunbathing.

The spa also contains a fitness center, a gymnastics area for pilates and yoga, a salon, and an indoor swimming pool.

The Hammams
This is an experience I highly recommend—a dip into the traditional bathing culture of Morocco. Participants lie naked on white marble slabs in a softly-lit atmosphere of fountains, and there is a leotard-clad masseuse and endless washing, splashing and scrubbing, massage, brushing, steam, quietness and calm, and blissful forgetting. After: Moroccan mint tea, a snooze, nothing frenzied, certainly.

There are two hammams (ladies and gentlemen) each with three areas (hot, warm and cold in each). Product lines include Maroc Maroc, Dr. Hauschka, and Sisley.

Within walking distance of the Royal Mansour

Djemaa el-Fna Square (a tourist favorite, too raucous for me)

Koutoubia mosque
Old medina and souk

Saadian tombs (highly recommend)

Bahia Palace
Marrakech Museum
Ben Youssef Médersa

Within driving distance

Royal Golf Course

Majorelle Garden (the jewel of Marrakech, now maintained by the Pierre Berge/ Yves Saint Laurent Foundation. Be sure to visit the book shop, gallery and boutique. Loulou de la Falaise jewels.)

Ourika Valley

A Rare and Special Art Exhibit At Royal Marrakech 

Royal Mansour Marrakech will welcome local Moroccan artist Hicham Benohoud starting March 3. Born in Marrakech, Benohoud bases his work on the familial, religious, and hierarchical structures of his culture.

Benohoud’s exhibit, entitled ‘La Salle de Classe’, features striking black and white photos of local Marrakech students during the school day. The images reflect the provocative sensibility that permeates much of his work. Despite their haunting quality, the images in ‘La Salle de Classe’ are beautiful, otherworldly.

This exhibit is part of the Royal Mansour Marrakech ongoing commitment to showcase top local artists. These temporary exhibits join the hotel’s permanent art collection of over 80 contemporary Moroccan artists. The artwork is dotted among the hotel’s public spaces and private riads, a bracing contrast to the Moroccan décor.

For more information about Royal Mansour Marrakech, please visit the new website,

The designers

3BIS architecture décoration
3 bis, avenue Foch – 92250,
La Garenne Colombes,
tel. 00 33 (1) 47 80 05 30

Photography of the Royal Mansour Marrakech hotel and the art exhibit are used here with express permission.

Rue Abou Abbas El Sebti,
40 000 Marrakech, Morocco
tel. +212 (0)5 29 80 80 80


Windlost said...

Diane - what wonderful posts. I hope to visit one day and I will keep your notes for reference!!
I just re-listened to you on the Skirted Roundtable (I do this on the treadmill to pass the time...) while I was home visiting my Mum. I appreciated your remarks about researching one's trips so thoroughly before one leaves. I am a planner but yet did not research my trips too thoroughly. I have started doing more research and find it truly enriches the trip to have more depth before you go! I was doing it for shops and restaurants but have started to read more about historical buildings, museums, etc. and it really improves the experience! So thanks for that sage advice. I loved the podcast and have listened to it more than once...

Gosh, I would love to be your personal assistant. haha. I admire you so much - I love the same things are you but just did not have the same exposure growing up, so I am making up for lost time. You would be an incredible mentor!

Warm regards, Terri

Claudia Juestel said...

I have been dying to visit Morocco for years!!! What a delicious tease your story is. The Hammams of the Royal Mansour may top the list at this very moment, but all of Marrakesh beckons my visit.



Beryn said...

What a wonderful sneak preview to whet the appetite for a much longed for trip to such an exotic place. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights.

peggy braswell said...

Will send this to travelers!I know. thanks for taking me along to the fabulous hotel. said...


The look of the hotel is really so beautiful and more than that the feel I get when I look at the photo's is one of great calm and peace....

I use to love going to spa's and destination spa's was my love.. I can say I have had some of the most spiritual experiences of my life at spa's..

I think It is one of the places I feel safe enough to just let go...

Do you ever venture out to the Southwest?
If you do I have a few suggestions for hotels and food, and the best hidden talent...


Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Terri-
Thank you for your enthusiasm and insight. Yes, researching and keeping files for travel make it all work. I keep working files on Paris and India and London and update them always--so that I have all the essential info (museums, hotels, restaurants, new exhibits) when heading out. Happy trails. DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


The key to Morocco travel: select the perfect season.
A friend was in Marrakesh last August--and it was 104 deg f F every day. He could not go outside during the day. Spring and fall are ideal. Do lots of research. There are now wonderful hotels--notably the ones I've written about that have authentic Moroccan style. Another friend recently booked a stay via and is staying at the residence of a noted architect. Creative idea. I adore Morocca and especially love Marrakesh. I hope you go there soon. best DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

HI Beryn, Greetings PEGGY, Hello, Melissa-

I love your spirited responses.

Morocco has not really been on the radar for American travelers for some time. Getting there is not necessarily direct or simple (especially from the West Coast0> Some travelers my have wondered if it is safe. I would absolutely say that I traveled all over Morocco--and never had a moment's concern. Never. I had a driver--and went to many neighborhoods. People are charming and friendly. Hotel staff are cosmopolitan and incredibly helpful.
I can't wait to return. very best, DIANE

Philip Bewley said...

This is my third visit to this post, and my first comment -there is a treasure trove of useful information here, but what has kept me coming back to revisit this is the delicious writing, the quotes by Wharton and the whole exotic romance of it all...a place where tradition, craft and high style conjoin. This, like all your posts, is an extraordinary and thorough reference -a real keeper for the both the world and the "armchair" traveler alike.
Loved it!