Remembered as one of Morocco’s great Sultan’s, Mark Nicholls discovers how the life and times of Mansour Eddahbi have helped shape the redesign of a leading Marrakech hotel.
He was named the glorious golden one, a reference to the glittering ransom wealth acquired from military conquest in the late 16th century.
With his coffers overflowing, the Moroccan ruler Sultan Mansour Eddahbi began to spend it; reshaping Marrakech with grand buildings such as the El Badi Palace, embarking on new military campaigns and seeking alliances across Renaissance Europe.
He is remembered for his contribution in taking Marrakech onto a new cultural plain. A powerful and progressive 16th century ruler, his life was culturally and politically rich, with writers of the period observing him as a man of “profound Islamic learning, a lover of books, calligraphy and mathematics.”
It is these characteristics that Mövenpick’s refurbished Hotel Mansour Eddahbi in Marrakech is styled upon.
Born in 1549, Ahmed Al Mansour Eddahbi was a Sultan of the Saadian dynasty, reigning from 1578 until his death in 1603. As a contemporary and ally of Elizabeth I of England, he became an important figure in both Europe and Africa in the 16th century.
Drawing on the artistic influences, the ambient colours, architecture and furnishings of the Sultan’s lifestyle and taste – and perhaps also spending a modern-day Sultan’s ransom of $100m on the project – Mövenpick’s Hotel Mansour Eddahbi takes guests on a mesmerising journey through cloistered gardens and galleries, past fountains and decorative Moroccan arts.
The themes are of desert, oasis, vegetation and wildlife, with colours to reflect this – blue for water, beige for sand, and red for the pallor of Marrakech. Gold, however, is all around.
Water dances in fountains, and flows through ornate gullies bringing an air of freshness, yet also conveying movement and symbolic of the nomadic existence of the Sultan and his entourage.
The five-star Mövenpick hotel re-opened a year ago after undergoing the refurbishment and building programme.
Guests arriving are now transported into an imaginary oasis, passing through lounges and water features and into a lobby dominated by a giant nine-metre chandelier in the form of an enormous water droplet hanging from the cupola.
That theme of golden droplets is repeated throughout the hotel and its spa, whilst oasis imagery continues around the three leisure pools with palms and olive trees.
Originally constructed in 1989, the hotel is spread across eight-hectares, with 503 rooms and suites in six blocks named after the Sultan’s sons. A seventh, newly-built during the refurbishment, is named after his wife Messouda.
It also has six restaurants and bars with traditional Moroccan cuisine showcased at its premier Dahbi restaurant where you can enjoy salads and breads, couscous, pastilla, and meat and fish tagines flavoured with dates, prunes and apricots. The royal beef tagine (175MAD/EUR16/£14) or a monkfish and prawn tagine is 260MAD/EUR24/£20
The walls of the buffet and breakfast restaurant, Saray, are adorned with Moroccan ceramics (dinner buffet is 320MAD/EUR29/£26), while the Nozha coffee shop is a lovely retreat for light snacks, while chocolate hour every afternoon is a chance to enjoy complimentary confectionary in the lobby.
For those seeking rejuvenation and therapy, there are a range of treatments available at the Ô de Rose spa.
The regeneration of the Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi was undertaken by Parisian interior designer Studio MHNA, which saw it reconfigured as a modern reinterpretation of the traditional architectural hallmarks found in noble Moroccan mansions of the 16th century.
As the hotel adjoins the city’s main convention centre, the Palais des Congrès, the entry to the hotel was designed to simultaneously accommodate leisure and business clientele via two distinct guest journeys with separate paths to a dedicated lobby. The group lobby is designed to smoothly manage large flows of people, whilst the individual guest lobby offers a more private service.
One of the appeals of the Hotel Mansour Eddahbi is its location. Set in a suburb, only 15 minutes’ drive 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.
This is one of the highlights of a stay in Marrakech.
The approach is dominated by the square minaret of the Koutoubia mosque, dating from the late 10th century. With four golden orbs at the top of the 69-metre tower, it is a guiding landmark to those looking for the souks.
From there you can cross into the medina’s pale red alleys and absorb the vibrancy of the marketplace. Within, you can haggle for a bargain at stalls selling lanterns and ironware, potteries, spices, leather goods, textiles, and other souvenirs.
Every so often the souk opens into a small square, a foundouk, which was a hotel for travellers and used by the people of the caravanserai who had travelled up through Africa to trade in Marrakech.
If feeling peckish, perhaps try some of the Moroccan medina food on offer. There are tea shops and juice stalls or small openings where the flat, flavoured khobz bread is baked, its savoury ingredients hinting of mild spices and herbs, onion and tomato.
Another shop was selling grilled sardines stuffed with parsley, garlic, coriander and other spices. You will see chickens, eggs stacked high, a butcher preparing lamb on a slab and another stallholder proffering snails.
There are a number of exits from the medina, but we headed back to the main square of Djemaa el F’na – the assembly of the dead – and the rows of food stalls, musicians, dancers, acrobats and snake charmers, and then climbed up to the terrace of a nearby café to drink mint tea and peruse the activity from above before returning to the hotel.
Elsewhere, visit the Arset El-Mamoun gardens or the Majorelle Gardens and the Saadian Tombs, where Ahmed El-Mansour is buried, museums such as the Dar Si Said Museum or the Marrakech Museum of Photography and Visual Arts, or see the remains of the El Badi Palace.
The over-riding themes of the Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi are of oasis, relaxation and the culture of the ruler whose name it today bears.
Living up to those expectations, it is a relaxing retreat where you can soak up winter sunshine, yet also use it as a comfortable base to explore and absorb the culture of one North Africa’s great cities.
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 Rooms: 503 rooms and suites and complimentary Wi-Fi
Insider Tip: Be sure to explore the local markets and the Arset El-Mamoun gardens or the Majorelle Gardens and the Saadian Tombs, where Ahmed El-Mansour is buried.
Price Band: Medium with rooms starting from 1400MAD/EUR125/£112 per room, per night, based on two sharing.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Mark Nicholls is an award-winning freelance travel writer and author, based in the UK and has written for a range of national titles, specialist magazines and international websites and operated as a war correspondent in locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Photographs courtesy of Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi and Mark Nicolls