Sampling Marrakech’s 5 Star Spa Retreats

30.09.16

One of the hottest global holiday destinations, Marrakech’s exquisite spa retreats are luring five-star travellers in search of holiday karma. Laura Henderson reports

Peppered with Kasbahs and bustling bazaars, most visitors to the ochre-hued city of Marrakech rarely venture beyond the hustle and bustle of the Medina, let alone savour the Zen-like tranquillity of the suburbs or explore the lush green Ourika Valley in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. But aspirations and expectations are changing fast, thanks to the growing portfolio of exclusive retreats offering visitors an authentic oasis experience just a heartbeat away from the city’s attractions.

Anyone who’s been back to Marrakech after a several year absence may have difficulty recognising the place. The most noticeable change is the proliferation of five-star hotel and luxury boutique spa accommodation now available – a growth spurt linked to the government’s Vision 2020 tourism agenda which aims to double visitor numbers in six years to 20m. For newcomers and returnees alike, it presents an embarrassment of ‘where to stay’ riches with difficult decisions on which option to pick until now...

VILLA DES ORANGERS
Intimate, oh so quiet and about as far removed from the relentless whirl of Marrakech as you can get, the peeling away of life’s stressful layers begins as soon as you venture beyond Villa des Orangers imposing carved entrance doors. Built in the Thirties for a Moroccan judge who was in residence until 1998 – this stunning townhouse property just a short stroll from the buzzing Djemaa El Fna Square acquired a new lease of life under French owners husband and wife team Véronique and Pascal Beherec. Nine months of painstaking renovation working in collaboration with local craftsmen has produced what is today a singularly exquisite retreat - the only Relais & Chateaux property in the city and one that feels more like a bijou Moroccan palace than a vintage riad - understated but with a courteous serving of laid-back luxe.

From the exquisite tiled courtyard to the serene pool area, where chaise longues are shaded by olive trees, each corner of the property has been crafted with style to evoke a sense of place; flowered patios with fountains leading to galleries with chiselled plaster archways, hand woven Berber carpets, and finewood used to make the intricate carved furniture and the iridescent colours of the decoration are so harmonious that they create an elegant setting in a refined, tranquil atmosphere.

Each of the 27 rooms is slightly different meshing Moroccan, Colonial and African design influences; many have cavernous fireplaces and spill-over balconies. In one, there’s a fabulous thatch-branch chandelier; in another, a massive antique wood headboard. Some even have fireplaces in the bathroom. There are plenty of personal touches too, such as the Moroccan slippers in your bedroom and “Les Sens de Marrakech” bath goodies in which to soak.

On the first floor, suites with private terraces open on to the medina. The roof, fitted with a pool, gardens and solariums, offers panoramic views of the old city, the Koutoubia mosque, and the Atlas Mountains. Add to this chill zone, a cigar cellar, Moorish hammam offering a range of rejuvenating massage and beauty treatments and a bar open all day so that you can sip espresso and nibble at Moroccan sweetmeats at your leisure. Attentive staff transform each hour of the day into moments of relaxation and wellbeing; a key highlight being afternoon tea in the wood panelled library.  With its cast iron fireplace, deco velvet club chairs, leather couches and Moroccan lanterns – it’s the perfect bookish hideaway.

Foodies are in for a treat with talented French chef Jean-Claude Olry orchestrating the kitchen with a refined medley of Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine. Breakfast is a healthy, yet spoiled-for-choice affair from the fresh-baked flatbreads and muffins, Berber porridge doused in local honey and home-made yoghurt to the organic Portobello mushrooms and olive drizzled sweet vine tomatoes. For bon viveurs with a moreish appetite, six-course taster menus can be sampled at dinner, each delectable course presented with a suitably apposite glass of wine selected by Maitre D Mohamed Ammar. Better still, meals can be enjoyed wherever you choose, lunch around the pool or a candlelit dinner under the stars in one of the secluded vine trellis courtyards.

Ultimately however, what guests are likely to remember is Villa des Orangers’ cocoon-like atmosphere - whether you’re soaking up the full bloom scents from the garden, admiring the High Atlas snow caps from the comfort of your roof top sun lounger or sipping a cup of freshly infused mint tea in your kaftan; few places in the world come close for bespoke serenity. www.villadesorangers.com

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NOW AND ZEN - VERONIQUE BEHEREC

What attracted you to Villa des Orangers?
We were on holiday in Marrakech and had the opportunity to view the property. We immediately fell in love with the townhouse architecture, the tranquillity and the oriental sensuality of the place.

How difficult was it to create an oasis of calm in the heart of the city?
Not difficult at all. We simply drew on the surrounding vibrancy and distilled down favourite aspects of it – space, natural light and canopies of greenery.

What memories would you like guests to take away with them after their stay?
The kindness of the staff, the serene character of the property – a longing to return and to treat Villa des Orangers as a home-from-home in Marrakech.

PALAIS NAMASKAR
Secreted away in Marrakech’s most exclusive suburb, La Palmeraie, Palais Namaskar comes with a ‘paradise guaranteed’ preservation order. Despite its centuries-old appearance, the palace has been a living, breathing entity for just two years; its very existence down to the business zeal and eye-for-detail tenaciousness of French owner Philippe Soulier. Working in collaboration with renowned French-Algerian designer, and former associate of Philippe Starck, Imaad Rahmouni, the partnership has worked an eclectic architectural design palette to impressive effect: Middle Eastern and Moorish themes offset by Andalusian and Persian accents, best exampled by the formal gardens, colonnade galleries and open-sky courtyards.

The gardens are a delight – giant Royal palms, citrus orchards, fig trees and olive groves, while the soothing sound of water cocoons individual living spaces; the rippling fountain entrance way setting the tranquil tone through to the network of water features and cascades, culminating in the palm flanked cobalt piscine which dominates the central courtyard.

Soulier, a feng shui master, designed the hotel according to the principles of environmental harmony and the five hectare property adheres strictly to those rules. Among the most impactful design accents are the Le Corbusier style villas with fountains at different temperatures set one against the other, the Murano chandeliers and mirrors designed especially for the bar, with an entire floor of crystals deemed to release positive energy. At the centre sits the hotel’s silk tented restaurant where guests can savour culinary delights created by Antoine Perray, a young chef from Normandy who wonderfully combines fresh local products with an unpretentious contemporary cuisine.

All of the Palais Suites are generously proportioned – cavernous enough to display the handsome inlaid furnishings to best effect. Bedrooms are coated in muted, minimalist luxury – white linen and mohair throws, en-suite dressing rooms sporting hand-carved clothes rails and shelving, while the bathrooms are positively iridescent with their bespoke finishings and satin tadelakt walls. Every suite has a private patio area or terrace, so if trundling to the pool for a dip sounds too much like hard work, you can relax in the privacy of your very own garden. No stay however, would be complete without a visit to the Palais Namaskar Spa where treatments by ILA and Guerlain focus on both spiritual and physical healing.  www.palaisnamaskar.com

NOW AND ZEN - PHILIPPE SOULIER

What are your passions?
Travel. I love the Far East where I studied philosophy, before becoming a specialist of Feng Shui and Astrology. Morocco attracted me for its climate, cuisine, laidback atmosphere and vast landscapes. With this inspiring backdrop Palais Namaskar just had to be realised.

What it was like working on the Palais?
I had the vision and worked hard to ensure that the resources were also available to complete the project. I worked hand-in-hand with Imaad Rahmouni to execute the design. We effectively started with a blank page that we filled day after day. The key was making sure that each step of the creative journey didn’t jeopardise the final outcome.

What is the philosophy behind the hotel’s design concept?
To provide a magical setting - a place to disconnect from the outside world. I want guests to be at the centre of that experience, to feel an inner harmony, not a transitory detachment like a visitor at a museum. For me, interior décor and design should be an extension of one’s inner voice. If you have a clear mind, then the decor should be correspondingly empathetic - simple, neutral and pure.

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