Adventure is on the cards for this North African trip. The mysteries of the desert and the aroma of spices will always be a lure. The Rolling Stones were there in the sixties and Crosby, Stills and Nash passionately sung about the Marrakech Express. It’s been home to artists, dropouts, writers and storytellers this phantasmagorical fairytale of a town will always have a piece of my heart.
There is something quite romantic about arriving in Marrakech at night, an adventurous location with a rich history of fame and fortune lying under a canopy of stars. After a quick negotiation with a taxi driver I was where most of us would want to be after a flight from London, in the comfort of a well-run hotel. The perfect time to visit by the way is in autumn or spring when the air is cooler and things just a little less frenetic. The trick with getting the right taxi is to walk confidently past the ‘cartel’ of drivers just outside the airport building and over to the left for about 200m. There you will find more taxi drivers with a better rate. But, as you will find everything is down to personal bargaining skills in Marrakech.
The Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi is a sizable hotel with accommodation stretching over seven buildings separated by swimming pools, restaurants and beautiful gardens. The walk (totally level so no lifting of cases with wheels here) was full of seductive low lighting in reception that prepared one for the ‘luxe seduxe’, an avenue of palm trees, flanked by flickering lanterns, water trickling and wood fires in large braziers by the swimming pool. There are flames on water at the entrance of the hotel as well – yes really!
My room was large at over 40m² and had a spacious balcony. The vibe at the Mansour Eddahbi is modern with a nod to the past, fabulous views of the gardens and the main town beyond. Just opening the window was enough to know where I was with the hubbub of Marrakech throbbing in the background.
The Medina is a lure for the visitor with its variety of street entertainment (think snake charmers and fire eaters) as well as some fantastic food and brilliant stalls and shops where you can buy virtually anything. I also called in on the brand-new Yves Saint Laurent Museum and adjoining Jardin Majorelle. The gardens took artist Jacques Marjorelle over 40 years to create. It is a superb combination of rare plant specimens, calming design and bright cobalt blue. The gardens and planting are very neat and well tended even the sand is raked ‘Zen’ like. The strikingly designed museum is also worth a visit examining the career of Yves Saint Laurent from his first ground breaking collection of Mondrian inspired dresses to an art gallery with changing exhibitions and a cinema showing films about his life and work. The studio café is particularly relaxing as it was once the work place of both Jacques Marjorelle and Yves Saint Laurent. The wide metal Crital windows look out over a small pool and fountain and courtyard where you can enjoy a pleasant mint tea. The whole experience was stylish and satisfying, you can take part of it away with you from the bookshop full of many photographic tomes.
Back at the hotel the options for dining are good. Take breakfast, four types of croissants no less an egg station with chilli and spices on hand, excellent fresh orange juice and what many travelling Britons crave in the morning, a good pot of Earl Grey tea all served with a smile. But things get more serious when it comes to the major meals of the day. I enjoyed a Latino Brunch in the Saray Restaurant with a punchy Venezuelan band pumping out tunes over ceviche, empanadas, meatballs and fresh seafood, all part of the superb buffet. This was great fun and a good way to try some of the cocktails on offer (try the raspberry mojito, it will make you want to dance!).
To say the Mansour Eddahbi is like a small village is stretching it a bit but it has such a large footprint that I found myself discovering new corners all the time. For wellness I tried the Ô de Rose Spa, it was wonderful, they offer sauna, Jacuzzi, essential oils and a whole slate of treatments including hammam and Moroccan exfoliation techniques. I left floating on air (probably the Argon oil) and totally chilled.
As buzzy and exhilarating as Marrakech is it’s just as enjoyable to have a calm evening meal and still have an authentic understanding of the complex indigenous cuisine. The Dahbi Restaurant in the hotel offers just that. With a series of rooms with movable walls to expand or contract your space (think of the movie Lady from Shanghai) I felt cosseted and cosy. The food ticked all the flavour boxes with ginger, coriander, turmeric, garlic, cumin and black and white peppers bursting through the various tagines and couscous. The wine list is also very good with Moroccan wines featuring prominently.
The Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi is the perfect place to check into and leave the rest to the staff. They can organise tours if you want, provide a great variety of food and drink. The relaxation starts from the get go with bag service and a smile. The pools were large and the grounds are full of palm trees and bamboo, it is a welcome oasis in the heady mix that is Marrakech. So kick off your boots, put your sun cream on and get into the vibe that will surely make you fall in love with this fantastic place.
Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi, Avenue Mohamed VI, 40000 Marrakesh, Morocco
Tel: +212 (0)524 33 91 00
The hotel is set in a suburb, only a 15-minute drive (4km) from Marrakech Menara Airport. It is also an easy walk (about 30 minutes) along boulevards and through gardens to the central L’Hivernage district and the famed medina.
Type of Hotel: 5-Star Hotel
Number of Rooms: 503 rooms and suites including complimentary Wi-Fi
Insider Tip: Make sure you spend some time around the pool at night with the fires burning – it’s quite magical. The food is very good and varied whilst the cocktails are just great.
Price Band: Medium
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10
Neil Hennessy-Vass is Contributing Editor for Our Man On The Ground as well as a widely-published globetrotting food and travel writer and photographer.
Photographs by Neil Hennessy-Vass