Mövenpick – A Winner In Magical Marrakech | Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi
SO WHAT’S THE STORY?
We love a hotel with history, even better when there’s a fascinating back story too and we really didn’t expect that the five-star Mövenpick hotel in Marrakech would have either. We were so wrong, the Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi & Palais des Congrès Marrakech (to give its proper title) has got history and stories – in camel loads.
When it opened nearly 25 years ago, it was one of the first luxury hotels with a conference centre in north Africa, let alone Marrakech. Built and owned by a local visionary businessman who had the foresight to realise that one day, businessmen and women would travel to conferences and events beyond the boundaries Europe. A hotel of dreams, so to speak – build it and they will come.
WHO IS THIS MANSOUR EDDAHBI?
The most famous of all rulers of the Saadis, Ahmad al-Mansour was a real legend and to this day he’s still a local hero. That latter part of his name means ‘The Victorious’, just imagine being introduced as Mr Victorious? How cool is that?
This Moroccan sultan also went by another name, Eddahbi, meaning ‘The Golden One’, thanks to the ransom money he managed to squeeze out of Portuguese for the return of their prisoners of war after the epic Battle of the Three Kings.
WHEN DID MÖVENPICK GET INVOLVED?
Over time the hotel started to become a little tired, luckily Mövenpick saw its potential and sprang into action. The hotel was closed for a major three-year refit costing a whopping $100m. It reopened in October 2016, and its impressive design, opulent splendour and obvious luxury would have been fit for the Golden One himself.
IMPRESSIVE DESIGN YOU SAY, WHAT’S IT LOOK LIKE THEN?
When we pulled up in our private transfer it was more like arriving at a palace than a hotel. Like most other buildings the exterior walls were a beautiful rose-pink (Marrakech isn’t called the Red City for nowt), but what really caught our eye was the courtyard’s water feature complete with bursts of flame – what an entrance.
WHAT ABOUT INSIDE?
We arrived after sunset and the whole walkway to the main lobby was twinkling with light, in fact the walls are lined with 1001 lanterns (not that we counted them). You are welcomed by the doormen into a lobby dominated by three huge cages filled with metal birds of prey, apparently Ahmad al-Mansur was into his falconry.
Actually, French architects Studio MHNA used the life and passions of Ahmad as inspiration whilst designing the interior. Water being a common theme, literally running through the whole hotel. Ahmad and his mighty army travelled from oasis to oasis whilst on his ‘journeys’ around North Africa. And these lush areas of watery calm are scattered around the complex, the most impressive of which is in the main lobby. A huge golden rain drop surrounded by a web of lights hangs above a bubbling fountain whose stream of water trickles away into an ornately tiled channel.
There’s a very strong five colour theme running throughout the entire hotel too.
1) Majorelle Blue, a vivid almost indigo blue famously used on the walls at Marrakech’s Majorelle Garden and a favourite colour of Yves Saint Laurent.
2) Turquoise – to represent the sea.
3) Golden brown – the colour of the Sahara sand.
4) Red – an obvious choice this is the Red City after all.
5) Purple – probably the most self-indulgent, the French architects Studio MHNA house colour.
ENOUGH ABOUT THE DESIGN ALREADY! WHAT’S THE HOTEL ACTUALLY LIKE?
This is a luxury complex – with a whopping 503 rooms, six restaurants and bars, three swimming pools, a huge conference venue and the recently refurbished Ô de Rose Spa and wellness centre.It’s feels a little like lots of hotels in one, with all the bedrooms (and suites) divided between seven buildings – six named after his sons and one named after his mother. At first it’s a little tricky to navigate, but don’t worry you’ll soon get used to it.
ARE THE ACTUAL BEDROOMS AS OPULENT AS THE MAIN LOBBY?
No, luckily the rooms weren’t quite so bling, they were a lot calmer and relaxing and thankfully had decent air-conditioning. We stayed in a superior room (from £125 per night) which was more than big enough for the two of us, especially with its spacious balcony.
The bed was huge and oh so comfy, perfect for a restful night – exactly what’s needed after a day navigating the Medina’s maze of streets. We loved the deep square bath and the powerful waterfall shower attached to the ceiling.
WHAT ABOUT THE HOTEL’S OTHER FACILITIES?
We’ve already mentioned the three beautifully styled swimming pools (we preferred the smaller one by the spa, it felt a little more exclusive and private) but there’s also a well equipped gym and a kids club (not that we saw any children.)
WAIT A MINUTE, DIDN’T YOU SAY THAT THERE’S A SPA?
Oh yes, that’s the fabulous Ô de Rose Spa and wellness centre to give it its full title. As soon as you walk in through the doors you are met by the fragrant scent of jasmine and instantly you begin to feel relaxed. Facilities include a jacuzzi, sauna, hammam, nail studio and even a hair salon.
Ô de Rose takes its name from rose water – a perfume that adorned the Saadian nobility for decades. And from pictures we’d seen online, rose petals are scattered around the spa. Unfortunately (and to Saff’s great disappointment,) this wasn’t the case during our visit.
We treated ourselves to the purifying steam of a hammam ritual using authentic Moroccan products such as argan oil, beldi black soap and rhassoul mud. A relaxing sequence of hot showers, washing, steam, scrubbing and massage – a rather intimate treatment unlike anything we’d ever had before.
YOU VISITED DURING THE HOLY MONTH OF RAMADAN, HOW WAS THAT?
The fact that Ramadan was being observed didn’t really make any difference to tourists. Taxis were still available (please remind me about the taxis a little later) and restaurants were still open (maybe a little quieter than normal). If anything the whole city seemed a little calmer – even walking around the souks by day wasn’t as frantic as expected. But don’t be fooled, as soon as the sun begins to set and fast is broken normal service is resumed. This is when the souks spring to life in an almost celebratory fashion, it’s actually quite exciting to witness.
DID YOU MANAGE TO JOIN IN THESE CELEBRATIONS?
Another plus point was that during Ramadan, our hotel laid on a traditional ftour – a feast eaten at the end of each days fasting. Served in Dhabi, the hotel’s beautiful Moroccan restaurant with garden views of rose, jasmine and olive trees. This ftour (or iftar) really is a celebratory feast, one for which you should prepare for by having an extremely light lunch – for you will be eating a lot!
As we were seated, our table was already fully laden with traditional Moroccan goodies. Bread, pastries, cheeses, stuffed dates (with an orange flower water and cinnamon flavored almond paste filling), yogurt, nuts, Chebakia (sesame cookies folded into a flower shape, fried and coated with honey), Sellou (a unique Moroccan sweet made from toasted sesames and fried almonds), almond Briouats and cheese Briouats, Beghrir (crepe-like semolina pancakes) and Harcha (pan-fried semolina flatbread). And that is only what we could remember!
After about 20 minutes grazing on what we thought was the entire feast along came more bread and a sizeable bowl of Harira – Morocco’s famous lentil and tomato soup. Although eaten all year round, it’s especially popular during Ramadan. Surely that was it? Nope! There was more, firstly we were offered some sweet Moroccan mint tea followed by five (yes five) different tagines. Luckily they weren’t full size servings but still big enough to make me want to undo the top button on my trousers. My favourite was probably the beef meatball and tomato tagine, closely followed by the more traditional chicken and dried fruit variety.
More mint tea and a fruit platter later we were ready to roll ourselves back to our room for a well-earned lay down. But no, the ftour wasn’t quite finished yet, out came a plate (each) of traditional Moroccan sweets and a spiced coffee. A word of warning, this coffee is rocket fuel, so strong with an epic pepper and cinnamon kick.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER RESTAURANTS ?
Dhabi was just one of six restaurants and bars. A buffet style breakfast is served in Saray from 7.30-10.30am. What a choice, there was everything that you’d ever want (except bacon obviously – but they did serve turkey rashers). A huge counter of local and European bread and pastries, an island of cold meats and cheese, freshly cooked egg dishes and a changing selection of hot dishes. Add to that free-flowing coffee, mint tea and smoothies and you’ll be more than set up till lunchtime.
We didn’t really bother with the Nozha Coffee Shop and take away which was the 24 hour café, ordering our snacks by the pool was much more fun (and less expensive.) But if you want to eat something a little more substantial with a poolside setting, then we’d definitely recommend that you visit Jamra Bar & Grill. Jamra means ’ember’ and fittingly this restaurant serves many local meats, fish and seafood grilled over charcoal in ancestral Saadian style.
Ahmad al-Mansur was also an important figure in Europe in the sixteenth century and the Medi Terra restaurant serves up dishes inspired by his travels around the Mediterranean. But our favourite spot, especially for a nightcap, was the Manso Bar & Lounge. Al Mansour Eddahbi had a real passion for time and astronomy (was there anything this fella wasn’t into?) and the decor in this bar reflects this. Loved the giant hour-glass and the romantic roof terrace. But for us we loved sitting by the electric blue lit pool, under the stars, drinking their very, very good Negronis.
WE ASSUME THAT AT SOME POINT YOU ACTUALLY LEFT THE HOTEL?
Yes of course and luckily for us the Mövenpick is situated in the prestigious Hivernage district in Marrakech’s city centre, close to many historic landmarks, modern attractions and the unmissable Medina souks (2km away). The absolutely beautiful Majorelle Gardens is a mere 3km away. Top tip, wear white to contrast against the clear, intense, fresh blue walls in the gardens – perfect instagram pictures every time.
For more of an adventure book a trip to the nearby Atlas Mountains, it’s a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the Medina. The scenery is breathtaking, the air clearer and the Berber way of life so less frantic. A little word of warning though, check (and possibly get in writing) what’s actually included in the price, additional ‘extras’ can quickly and unexpectedly bump up the price.
And best of all the hotel is just 4km from the airport and costs only 200 Moroccan Dirham, about £15, in a taxi.
YOU ASKED US TO REMIND YOU ABOUT THE TAXIS…
We sure did, thank you. The taxi system (if it can be called such a thing) and its drivers are a law unto themselves. We were told to always ask the driver to turn on the meter. This request was either ignored or we were informed that the meter was broken. Considering the state of some of the vehicles, that wouldn’t surprise us, but nevertheless during all the taxi journeys we made the meter was never used once.
That said, the uncertainty of the fare aside, getting about by taxi was easy and relatively inexpensive. It wasn’t till our last taxi ride (to the airport) that we were told to simply tell the driver how much you are prepared to pay, if he doesn’t want to accept it move on to the next taxi – they soon change their mind.
SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAD A GREAT TIME?
Considering that a flight to Marrakech takes only three hours, the architecture and people are in stark contrast to that of mainland Europe. At its shortest point Morocco is only 14km from Spain, but in cultural difference it may as well be a million miles.
We loved these differences and found Marrakech a magic city of contrast. There are peaceful gardens yet also the cramped maze like streets of the Medina. Go with an open mind, be respectful and don’t feel intimidated in the souks and we believe that you’ll have an incredible time too. Of course it always helps if you have a 5-star Mövenpick Hotel to come back to.