Within and beyond the fortified city of Marrakech, the revival of the riad is fueling a tourism boom to Morocco’s storybook imperial city. Exhibiting traditional North African architecture, dazzling zellige tilework and the principles of utmost luxury, Marrakech’s haute riad hotels confirm an age-old adage: All that glitters is gold.
A magnum opus from award-winning French designer Jacques Garcia, Selman Marrakech veers from ostentation, conveying Garcia’s vision of the marriage between an intimate, design-driven hotel and a private Moroccan home.
Garcia’s signature touches like modish leather end tables are instantly recognizable; however, his profound use of a purple color palette and his role as architect in the hotel’s construction breaks new ground for Garcia. In fact, Selman’s Moorish architectural edge—thirteenth-century Marrakech meets Andalusía hacienda—stems from Garcia’s structural vision following his first meeting with owners Saida and Abdeslam Bennani Smires. It was also during this meeting when Garcia learned of Abdeslam’s passion for Arabian Thoroughbred horses, instigating an ingenious brainstorm to weave equestrian elegance into Selman’s fabric.
Nowadays, dozens of these prized horses live like royalty on-site in trendy Garcia-designed stables. They freely roam the property twice daily under supervision of the stable manager, allowing guests to witness their blazing glory flush against the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains. Their photos grace the hallways of the common areas, horse sculptures abound and several rooms overlook their manicured domains through arched windows.
Another of Selman’s standout features is the 13,000-square-foot lifestyle spa, Morocco’s sole Chenot spa. Based on Dominique and Henri Chenot’s founding principles of biontology—“the study of the essence of life and its evolution,” which commingles Chinese and western medicine—the spa utilizes a holistic approach to health, wellness, skin and diet. It specializes in hydrotherapy, massage and beauty treatments as well as more med-spa-like cosmetic procedures and an all-out physical rejuvenation and rehabilitation program. (selman-marrakech.com)
While great debate surrounds the wisdom of expanding the hotel rating system from five to seven stars, few would argue against the notion that Royal Mansour resides in a league of its own. A sumptuous collection of one- to four-bedroom riads (courtyard houses)—each with a solarium, plunge pool and vaulted sky roof—Royal Mansour is part living museum, part hotel and 100 percent apex of extravagance. Its decadent detailing and adornments are evident throughout—from carved plaster, hand-painted woods, zelliges and mosaics valued at several billion dollars to a Disney-style back lot that serves as ground zero for the legion of butlers, who appear in an instant to service any request.
Beyond the enclaves of salmon-hued low-rises, a garden of orange and lemon trees leads to Mansour’s 26,000-square-foot spa. Inside, a colossal white atrium comes to life over tiers of arched, latticework frames housing two Moroccan hammams and mammoth spa suites, most with a private terrace and a plunge pool. Adjacent to the spa, Mansour’s water garden lobby is enveloped in bespoke zelliges and silver handrails. Surrounding the lobby are style-driven common areas, such as the house library—where the ceiling opens like a book at the touch of a button.
In the evening, Royal Mansour’s “wow” factor continues with the glow of thousands of custom lights and candles. It’s during this time when the hotel’s two restaurants take center stage. Both are helmed by Executive Chef Yannick Alléno, whose Paris restaurant received three Michelin stars earlier this year. At La Grande Table Marocaine, anticipate an evening of fine dining centered on authentic Moroccan cuisine; at La Grande Table Française, indulge in refined French cuisine in an ultra-romantic setting where minutiae like handmade tableware exclusive to the restaurant are simply the norm. (royalmansour.com)
La Sultana Marrakech
In the heart of the Old City, La Sultana strives for an unlikely concept of understated Moroccan luxury, showcasing a boutique product of 28 rooms and favoring individuality over bling.
Among Marrakech’s colorful and clamorous markets, an unimposing entrance gives way to a serene collection of five riads, each with a its own worldly motif—such as Riad Scheherazade, inspired by the African savannah, and Riad Bahia, defined by intricate white stucco work and minimalist decor. Details differ dramatically in each of the riad’s rooms, adorned with disparate furnishings, fireplaces, antiques and paintings. At every turn, La Sultana’s splendor dazzles, but guests quickly learn the term “understated” is relative in Marrakech. An amenity like Sultana’s pillared swimming pool—constructed of rare pink marble—may seem over-the-top but is considered modest in this storied city. (lasultanamarrakech.com) «