La Mamounia, Marrakesh $$$$
Concierge.com's insider take:
Three years in the remaking, Marrakesh's most famous hotel, La Mamounia, which dates back to 1923, reopened in September 2009. The challenge of this lavish makeover, led by French decorator du jour Jacques Garcia, was to bring the hotel into the 21st century while preserving the soul of what many view as a national treasure. To pull it off, Garcia employed hundreds of Moroccan craftsmen who worked around the clock cutting tiny tiles, sculpting arches, hand-painting doors and ceilings, and relandscaping the hotel's 20 acres of spectacular gardens. Beyond the main hotel building—which now encompasses 207 guest rooms decorated in Garcia's signature rich colors and fabrics as well as a mix of Moroccan and Art Deco antiques—the designer oversaw the construction of a trio of freestanding, three-bedroom riads with private pools. Also built under Garcia's supervision is a four-story Alhambra-inspired structure that houses a Moroccan restaurant complete with private salons and a top-floor bar. Among the dining options, the reborn hotel has Michelin two-star chef Jean-Pierre Vigato (of Apicius in Paris) looking after the French restaurant and another two-star name, Alfonso Iaccarino (of Don Alfonso 1890 on the Amalfi Coast), in charge of the Italian dining room. The hotel's main pool has been enlarged to lake-size proportions, and the new spa, one of the city's largest, includes an indoor pool, three hammams, and six outdoor massage cabins. While there have been complaints—for example, the food is overpriced and, despite those fancy chefs, can be underwhelming—it's still early days in this legend's comeback. Under the capable watch of general manager Didier Picquot, the kinks will no doubt be worked out. The simple truth is that Garcia has done a masterful job, and one of the world's greatest hotels is now unquestionably ready to reclaim that status.
From the editors of Condé Nast Traveler:For decades, the 87-year-old La Mamounia was the height of Moroccan glamour, hosting everyone from Charlie Chaplin to the Rolling Stones, but by the 1990s, it had become a shabby shadow of its former self following an ill-conceived design. Now, after a three-year, $150 million revamp by French designer Jacques Garcia, "the loveliest place on earth," as proclaimed by habitué Winston Churchill, can again live up to this appellation. The top-to-bottom makeover not only reestablished but heightened the Art Deco meets Arabesque design of the original. Walls are adorned with intricate plasterwork and gem-colored zellij (traditional tiling); sconces and lamps throw off speckles of light through punched metal; arresting black-and-white photography of contemporary Berbers, Tuaregs, and bedouins animate hallways; and dozens of fountains and decorative pools add a tinkling sound track. The 210 guest rooms are lavishly appointed as well, each with painted wood doors, a large etched-glass mirror over a leather-topped desk, and a terrace; alongside are modern touches such as key-operated light fixtures and the ability to lock or unlock one's room door via a bedside switch. New too, are the expansive outdoor pool, subterranean spa, and three restaurants serving fine French, Italian, and Moroccan cuisine. La Mamounia's 20-acre garden is still its most romantic feature, and strolling amid the centuries-old palm, orange, and olive trees is a true retreat within the medina walls. Though staff are unfailingly polite (at check-in they'll usher you to a sofa, proffering figs and almond milk), the service can be unevenhousekeeping has a habit of entering one's room immediately after knocking, and calls to the front desk go unanswered. Other caveats are high prices (continental breakfast costs $42) and the overly dim lighting throughout, in which visibility is sacrificed for a moody ambience. 2010 Hot List
Which room to book: Any facing the verdant garden and the Atlas Mountains beyond .Subscribe now to Condé Nast Traveler for just $1 an issue! ›