Morocco Spa Break: La Mamounia, Marrakech
This historic hotel makes for a truly memorable stay in Marrakech. Its gardens are almost as renowned as the city’s Jardin Majorelle; staff members take wonderful care of guests; and the beautiful spa offers a not-to-be-missed opportunity to experience a first-class traditional hammam treatment.
The huge outdoor pool is also one of the best spots in the city for a refreshing swim when temperatures soar.
La Mamounia’s location could scarcely be better. Its borders are the walls of the medina, and you’re a 10-minute drive from the airport and a 10-minute walk from Jemaa el-Fna square.
While impressive views of the Atlas mountains are lacking; the hotel’s beautiful gardens and the attractive swimming pool are sure to draw appreciative glances.
Despite being set just back from a very busy main road, the hotel is so vast that once inside its gates, you really do feel a million miles from the chaos of the city centre.
Dating back to 1923, this is the oldest purpose-built hotel in Marrakech. Following a three-year closure and renovation, it reopened in 2009 and today could be described as a Moorish palace with touches of art deco glory.
Staying here is a bit like staying in the Alhambra: you’ll never tire of the tiling. Rooms are decked out in the same plush, richly coloured fabrics as in communal areas, but with the complement of the tiles the decor feels tasteful rather than blingy.
My suite had a romantic, softly lit bathroom with freestanding tub, walk-in rain shower, twin sinks and separate WC; and an additional WC by the entrance.
The lobby and corridors are dark and sultry, their velvet upholstery finished in a regal gold and maroon palette. Public spaces are heavy with the hotel’s signature date scent, and the sound of trickling water is audible nearly everywhere. The vibe is glamorous, moneyed - you’ll want to look your best at all times.
Set aside a morning or afternoon to simply enjoy the serenity of the property. Marrakech is famed for Yves Saint Laurent's Jardin Majorelle, but the hotel’s own is a hidden retreat, resplendent with palm and orange trees, and an impressive cactus collection. The spa’s courtyard entrance is Instagram-famous.
Spa facilities 8/10
In keeping with the surroundings, this isn’t a hugely modern, high-spec spa, but it is an aesthetic triumph. The main pool (indoors, and insufficiently heated) has tiled pillars, art deco stained glass and mirrored doors, and is surrounded by beds - the best spot is a golden-columned, cushioned platform at one end. If you manage to bag the space, think of it as a local take on the Buckingham Palace balcony, a place from which to survey your kingdom at leisure.
Should the pool prove too chilly, the separate whirlpool is slightly warmer, and there's an outdoor pool for sunbathers too. Additional facilities include two hammams and a gym. The treatment area is an immediately calming space, softly lit by lanterns and featuring decorative pools. Of the 10 treatment booths, two are suitable for couples.
The treatments 9/10
For a high-end take on a traditional hammam experience, this is the place to go. I had the Royal Hammam treatment, consisting of an hour’s hammam followed by an hour’s massage. I began by lying in a black-marble steam chamber for 15 minutes, which sounds like a long time, but this isn’t the kind of intense steam that leaves you immediately drenched; it’s more moderate, so that the skin perspires gently.
I was then showered down with traditional black soap by my therapist (she wearing a swimsuit, me just in paper knickers) before being laid down on a bed and scrubbed with an exfoliating mitt. The good-humoured therapist took my request that she go easy on my delicate skin in her stride, and made me feel very much at ease despite the undignified circumstances - by this point the paper knickers were barely intact.
This was followed by another washing down, which I would describe as very thorough - prudes will want to think carefully before signing up for this! Thereafter came the application of a purifying green clay body mask, as well as a white clay mask for the face.
Visiting a hammam is considered a grooming ritual in Morocco, and is a weekly affair for many locals so La Mamounia customers shouldn't expect any time for quiet contemplation - the procedure is vigorous and the space echoey, you will hear noise.
Once fully washed off, however, Royal Hammam treatment clients are then taken for an argan oil massage, which provides a blissful hour of complete relaxation. By the time my visit concluded, I felt fresh as could be and completely at ease.
Food & drink 6/10
Marrakech has a lively gastronomic scene, and La Mamounia doesn't quite keep up with the competition. Of the four restaurants, Le Marocain offers atmospheric Bedouin-style dining, with tables tucked away behind curtains.
Expensive for Morocco (two courses are MAD750, or £59; three are MAD900), dishes include a decent, decadent lobster tagine but we were less impressed by a starter of mixed Moroccan salads which at times was overpoweringly sweet and floral. Dessert is similarly variable and too few wines are available by the glass.
The Italian Bar is a wonderful setting for an afternoon or evening drink (and more atmospheric than The Churchill Bar, to which the addition of leopard-print seating has not been beneficial), with plush rouge velvet seating, dramatic Majorelle-painted ceiling, and terrace overlooking the gardens, but avoid eating here - coming in at about £25, a meagre Caesar salad consisting of a single anchovy and not much else apart from lettuce leaves was below-average international hotel fare.
The Pool Pavilion is a lovely spot for breakfast, with a buffet featuring a good selection of fruit, yogurts, cereals (including three types of Bircher muesli), cheeses, cold meats, smoked salmon and salads. Interesting and tasty hot options include roti-type pancakes, delicious with either eggs or Nutella.
The hammam treatments really are exceptional, distinctive spa experiences.
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Could be better
The low temperature of the main spa pool, at least outside of high summer, is uninviting.
Double rooms at La Mamounia cost from MAD4,500 (£355) in low season; and from MAD6,900 (£545) in high. Facials and massages from £63; the Hammam Royal treatment costs £157.
La Mamounia, Avenue Bab Jdid، Marrakech 40040, Morocco (00 212 5243 88600).