MARRAKECH EXPRESS: LA MAMOUNIA
“In Marrakesh the sky is a Wagnerian celebration: indigo with pin-pricks of starlight, deep sapphire, cerulean, its colors are funnelled down through the horizon in the wake of the setting sun. The vivid sounds of the medina are borne towards me: dramatic cries instantly stilled, metallic clashes, the whine of an engine and the distant hum of Jemaa El Fna, its location given away by smoke from the food stalls. To the south the crescent moon hangs over distant battlements, riven with dark gashes as if partly ruined, and over majestic ramparts enclosing the King’s Palace. Beyond, a minaret to rival the Koutoubia rises stark and luminous against the backdrop of night. The fairy tale buildings seem to float above the feathery tops of the palm trees in the stark but serene radiance.” – Anthony Gladstone-Thompson
Each year I try to take a creative pilgrimage to keep my design juices flowing. Next month I am beyond excited to embark on the adventure of a lifetime with my design pals to Marrakech. The intrepid travelers include Julia Buckingham of Buckingham Interiors, Holly Phillips of the English Room, Tami Ramsay and Krista Nye Nicholas of Cloth and Kind. I can think of no better shoppers and bons vivants with whom I love to travel.
Marrekech has intrigued me as long as I can remember…the mystery of the riads, the labyrinth of the souks, the pattern on pattern everywhere, and the exuberant colors have always fascinated me. I have fallen down the rabbit hole trying to learn as much as I can before our trip. Indulge me as I share my research on everything from rugs to tiles to design history in my upcoming posts.
The grand finale to our trip will be a brief stay at La Mamounia. Not only has this legendary hotel hosted everyone from royalty to rock stars, it was also renovated by favorite designer Jacques Garcia in 2009. Designed in 1922 by architects Prost and Marchisio, La Mamounia combined the Moroccan architectural tradition with Art Deco design and decoration. The hotel originally had 100 rooms, but was expanded in 1946, 1950 and 1953, and now includes nearly 200 rooms. Inspired by centuries of history, Garcia created a mythical setting evocative of a Moroccan palace. In lieu of the original Art Deco style, the designer used oriental influeneces, zelliges, mosaics, woodwork, wrought iron, stained glass and marble.
La Mamounia takes its name from the surrounding gardens called the “Arset El Mamoun” which are over 200 years old. The Park once belonged to the Prince Moulay Mamoun, the fourth son of Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, who reigned in the 18th century. It was customary for the Sultan to offer his sons, as a wedding gift, a house and garden located outside the Kasbah. For his marriage present, Moulay Mamoun received the park, which has since always carried his name. It is said that the prince used to hold extraordinary garden parties here amongst the palms, bougainvilleas, amaranths, agaves and ancient olive trees.
La Mamounia’s most renowned guest was Winston Churchill. He described his stay at the hotel,”This is a wonderful place, and the hotel one of the best I have ever used. I have an excellent bedroom and bathroom, with a large balcony twelve feet deep, looking out on a truly remarkable panorama over the tops of orange trees and olives, and the houses and ramparts of the native Marrakech, and like a great wall to the westward the snowclad range of the Atlas mountains—some of them are nearly fourteen thousand feet high. The light at dawn and sunset upon the snows, even at sixty miles distance, is as good as any snowscape I have ever seen. It is five hours to the ridge of the Atlas and they say you then look down over an immense area, first a great tropical valley, then another range of mountains, and beyond all the Sahara desert.”
Churchill was so inspired by the views that he often painted while in Marrakech. He would wander from balcony to balcony, following the sun on its route in order to render the color of his painting as real as possible. He always stayed at La Mamounia because he thoughts the views from the roof were incomparably “paintaceous.”
The plethora of gastronomic options at La Mamounia is endless…Every bar, lounge and restaurant has a different theme, yet are all cohesive due to the talented touched of Jacques Garcia. From Le Marocain tucked into a riad in the middle of the park to the elegant Bar Italien with saffron banquettes and ornate decorative surfaces, I am sure our squad will be up for the challenge to try every unique experience.
Finally, no trip to the oasis of La Mamounia would be complete without a visit to the spa. Recognized by its large red glass lanterns, the spa is comprised of a series of treatments rooms and 2 hammams that include rooms for steaming, stone massage, and showers.
Exactly one month from today, you can find me right here!
Images via La Mamounia.