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April 23, 2023updated Apr 24, 2023

Mandarin Oriental Marrakech: Saharan Luxury at its Finest

Featuring 54 private villas, this hotel is the ultimate escape for those looking to explore Marrakech in luxury.

By Toby Louch

Descending below 35,000 ft, it’s impossible not to stare out the aircraft window, pressing my nose to the glass like a child in an aquarium. Except there are no fish, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Beneath me lies a vast landscape, arid and rouge. The terrain continues much in this fashion until the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas Mountains ascend without warning, beyond this final topographical hurrah lies the endless sand of the Sahara. This is where you will find the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech.

Its neighbors are some of the finest luxury hotels in not just Morocco, but Africa itself. Not that Mandarin Oriental Marrakech has anything to worry about. Stretching across a 50-acre estate of immaculately manicured gardens, olive groves, and crystal-clear teal pools, this stunning destination puts the “O” in oasis. 

Stretching across a 50-acre estate of immaculately manicured gardens, olive groves, and crystal-clear teal pools, this stunning destination puts the “O” in oasis / ©Mandarin Oriental

Marrakech is one of the final bastions of civilization before the Sahara, its position saw it flourish into a trading hub almost 1,000 years ago. The famous large red walls that encase the medina – the oldest part of the city comprised of a thick bustle of souks, spice bazaars and trinket sellers – were constructed by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122. These expansive crimson fortifications gave Marrakech the name “The Red City,” and nine centuries later it still rings true.

Nearing the city, structures become more frequent, bunched together as if sheltering from the beating sun. Early spring in this part of the world should see little rain and a pleasant climate of around 77°F, a perfect counter to London’s persistent drizzle. Except this region is currently experiencing a heat wave, seeing temperatures of around 95°F during daylight hours. It’s also the holy month of Ramadan, so the vast majority of citizens are refraining from eating and, more importantly, drinking during the day.

Even the entrance of Mandarin Oriental Marrakech is a sight to behold / ©Mandarin Oriental

Enclosed within its own relaxed and serene compound, the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech seems a million miles from the hullabaloo of the city streets, but that’s all part of its charm. Situated only a short drive from the heart of the action, those staying at the Mandarin Oriental experience the joy of both worlds. The exciting dynamism that only Marrakech can bring, with the exceptional luxury that you’d expect.

Upon arrival, large gates swing open below an expansive stone archway, an architectural motif that can be seen throughout the hotel. Visitors travel down the long drive before being greeted by one of the most impressive lobby views in the business.  

Stay

Those spending time at the Mandarin Oriental do not do so in rooms. Visitors choose from either suites or villas, which sets the tone for the stay. There are 54 individual villas, all offering the ultimate experience. Private walled abodes stand in perfect rank and file within the enclosed Mandarin Oriental estate.

These villas have been designed to match the same unique feel of the hotel. It’s modern but takes clear inspiration from traditional Moroccan design. The same archway seen at the hotel’s main entrance is replicated in a smaller fashion at the entrance of each villa. It greets you once again as you step inside, this time at the far side of the private pool.

The largest example of this archway stands impressively as the backdrop for the large water feature that runs through the center of the hotel. It’s a small touch, but this recurring archway has an almost monolithic quality. It’s a motif that holds a group of private accommodations together cohesively.

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The design of the villas is modern with a clear nod to traditional Moroccan architecture / ©Mandarin Oriental
Rooms follow a color scheme Mandarin Oriental fans will know and love / ©Mandarin Oriental

The villas are impressive, to say the least. Shaped like a large U that partially surrounds the pool, they feature a three-room format with a large living area, bedroom and bathroom/dressing area. Each room includes its own door to the central courtyard and pool, so you are always just steps away.

The seven suites can be found on the upper level of the main hotel building. While smaller than the expansive villas, these offer the best views across the estate. Their raised position reveals the mesmerizing symmetry of the villas. On days free of a desert haze, the Atlas Mountains provide an impressive backdrop.

Dine

Breakfast is served in the hotel’s main dining area / ©Mandarin Oriental

Many of those staying at Mandarin Oriental will remain within the grounds of the hotel for their entire stay, and who can blame them? For this reason, meals provide a vital structure to the days otherwise spent lounging in perfect solitude by the numerous pools. True to form, the Mandarin Oriental excels with its dining experience.

Breakfast is served in the hotel’s main dining area and features an expansive buffet with options to suit all tastes. From dim sum to homemade pastries, fresh fruit to traditional Morrocan fare of flatbreads, olives and mint tea. Attentive waiters slip by, topping up drinks and taking orders from a menu.

A light alfresco poolside lunch is a must on sunny days and similarly to breakfast, the casual Pool Garden restaurant, sitting beneath a weeping willow on its own small island, comes with options galore. From refreshing buddha bowls to grilled octopus, lamb pappardelle or perhaps just a club sandwich and a slice of pizza from the wood-fired oven.

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Of course if you don’t fancy leaving the villa, room service is extensive / ©Mandarin Oriental

As night falls everyone’s mind turns to dinner. It’s especially true for the many guests and staff members observing Ramadan, who have thus far refrained from enjoying any of these tempting options. As the sun finally sets, the fast is broken and guests flock to the two fine dining options at the hotel.

Shirvan serves traditional Middle Eastern food that takes its inspiration from the Silk Road. It’s the ideal dining experience for those looking to experience travel through their tastebuds. Michelin-starred chef Akrame Benallal has curated a menu that pays homage to traditional delights while elevating them with a modern twist.

Ling Ling by the esteemed Michelin-star London restaurant Hakkasan offers diners the chance to experience something a little different. Frequented by the chic Marrakshi populous, this fine dining experience brings high-level Cantonese food to North Africa. There’s also an impressive cocktail list that can be sampled as you while the night away listening to the hotel’s resident DJ.

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Relax

The hotel also features an impressive indoor pool / ©Mandarin Oriental

A trip to Morocco would be incomplete without making a stop at the spa. Steeped in centuries of tradition, the hammam is essentially a traditional Morrocan thermal spa that utilizes hot steam for a deep and invigorating cleanse. While these hammams can be found right across Marrakech, at the Mandarin Oriental it’s a particularly luxurious experience.

The spa facilities can be found in a totally separate building to the hotel, adding an overwhelming aura of calm to its facilities. An extensive list of treatments is offered from simple massages to extensive multi-treatment rituals that will see you spending an entire afternoon in a state of peace.

Active visitors will love the expansive, modern gym facilities that come stocked with all the equipment you could possibly desire, while the large heated indoor pool is an excellent place to relax in the unlikely event the weather turns.

Explore

It’s easy to see why so many visitors don’t leave the oasis of the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech. While everyone deserves some much-earned rest and relaxation, at some point you may find yourself wondering what’s on the other side of the hotel gates.

There are no tall buildings in Marrakech, the vast majority are three to four stories high, known as riads. These dwellings contain a small open courtyard, promoting airflow and keeping their inhabitants cool.

The only structures that supersede the four-story mark are mosques, many of which possess colossal towers that stretch up to the heavens and decorate the Marrakech skyline. The tallest of these towers belongs to Kutubiyya Mosque which stands proudly at 250 ft. It’s an impressive sight by today’s standards. It must have been otherworldly when it was constructed in 1158

The best way to experience Marrakech is to take a walk through the medina. A short 20-minute taxi ride will get you from the hotel to the outskirts of the walled city, after which you will have to continue on foot. While it’s not huge, the narrow winding streets transform this ancient old town into a seemingly endless labyrinth.

The Secret Garden in the medina offers a rare glimpse of green / ©Toby Louch
The only structures that supersede the four-story mark are mosques / ©Toby Louch

The square of Jemaa el-Fnaa acts as a central hub and is thought to be the busiest square in Africa. At dusk the square fills with tourists looking for a bite to eat at the many stalls. Around the square paths lead off in different directions. These paths are where the majority of the stalls and shops can be found, selling everything tourists may want like clothing, paintings, pottery and souvenirs, it’s a show that’s put on for tourists, but a sight to behold nonetheless.

It’s important not to be blinkered to Marrakech alone, as while the Atlas Mountains line the horizon, they are only around an hour’s drive away. A day trip into the mountains for some hiking or a stop at the majestic Ouzoud Waterfalls should be on your radar.

Marrakech is an engrossing destination that’s bursting with sights, sounds and smells that transport you to another world. A trip to this jewel of North Africa is a must for all those who enjoy a spot of adventure with their relaxation.

mandarinorientalmarrakech

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