Etymology is a great tool to face the enigmas of the world. Why do I feel somewhat uncomfortable and stressed in my first hours as a guest in a hotel beyond five stars and that has been designed for maximum enjoyment, maximum relaxation?
Luxury comes from the Latin luxus, dislocated, out of place. Its current meaning is what the Royal Spanish Academy says — “Abundance in adornment or in sumptuous comforts and objects” — but at its root is that idea of dislocation, and thus I find myself alone in the bed of my private riad. 140 square meters and three floors in the Royal Mansour hotel in Marrakech. It is four in the afternoon of my first day as a guest, they have welcomed me with a lamb couscous of the highest quality; Now I should be taking a majestic nap, and yet I can’t get any peace of mind. Self-diagnosis: medium-low stress due to Caliphate luxury.
It’s all a matter of habit. In a few hours I’ll get used to it. And they will tell me that as the years and decades go by, adapting to the extraordinary can become as natural as to the ordinary. In this hotel there is a French lady who is staying permanently. She lives here. I won’t be able to know who hers is or try to chat with her because she is a discreet person. The guest is a friend of the owner and promoter of the Royal Mansour, King Mohamed VI.
The allusions of the staff of the establishment to the monarch are scarce. Sometimes they use euphemisms like “property”. They explain that he does not want to take away the prominence of the place, inaugurated in 2010 and created at his initiative as a tourist jewel and showcase of Morocco’s rich heritage. At the end of this year another will open in Casablanca.
Royal Mansour, a French and an Arabic word, literally means “the royal achiever.” Built from scratch, it occupies six hectares within the walls of the old city of Marrakech. It’s like a 21st century medina within a 12th century medina; It is built, more specifically, towards one of its edges, against the historic wall in an area where there were orchards and a municipal swimming pool, a 10-minute walk from Jemaa el Fna square, an intangible heritage of humanity.
The architecture of the hotel, in charge of the OBMI studio, is made up of a set of 53 riads —traditional mansion built around a patio— characterized by its sober exterior, with the ocher-reddish color palette of native materials. Inside, quite the contrary and according to the dialectic of Islamic architecture, the filigree opulence stands out. Some 1,000 artisans worked in carpentry, ironwork, tiling, marquetry, upholstery, furniture restoration…, so that the hotel is a compendium of the best of the old trades and a vindication of its potential. “It is a wonder. It’s more luxurious than La Mamounia!” exclaimed a Belgian guest, comparing it to another hotel in the city, the legendary La Mamounia, which Churchill called “the most delicious place in the world”. If he lived, the premier could see what he thinks of the Mansour, where as a dignitary he would be accommodated in the Grand Riad, a 1,800-square-meter palace —the most exclusive within the exclusive.
The Royal Mansour, run by Jean-Claude Messant (former director of the Crillon Hotel in Paris), has five classes of accommodation, starting with the superior riad, the one that corresponds to me, and whose 1,400 euros per night are the base of the price scale of the hotel. It consists of a ground floor with a charming patio and living room, a first floor where the overwhelming bedroom is and a roof-terrace with a pool. According to the hotel’s website, in the upper riad “the decoration seduces intuitively”, “the privileged space of the room opens like a cozy cocoon to a bathroom dressed in porcelain, onyx and marble”. “Soothed in silky sheets, your eyelids shine with a marvelous light”, he says and continues: “The most delicate silks rub shoulders with the creations of our florist artists”. As a guest and journalist, I subscribe to it.
The medina-hotel covers half the surface of the estate and the other half is dedicated to the garden designed by the Spanish landscape architect Luis Vallejo. It is an oasis inspired by Andalusian gardening and the orchards of Marrakech. Orange trees, palm trees, olive trees, cedars, aromatic plants, flowers, dirt roads to get lost in, benches where you can stop to meditate (or look at your cell phone) and fifty fountains that provide freshness, musicality and the symbolic significance of water in the Islam. Although it is a relatively new garden, work began around 2005, a few years before the opening of the hotel, it has the shape of a resting garden. “When they tell me that it looks historical, it is a compliment, because, although I am not a historicist who tries to copy models, we have managed to give it a timelessness that required very careful work,” Vallejo explains by phone.
The landscaper says that he has not had a direct relationship with the king, although he knows that he has been consulted on everything and that it has been key for him to bet so much on the garden. Part of the land surrounding the hotel could have been converted into an upscale shopping center, he says; however, the monarch did not want it that way. “It seems like a great option to me. It may not be the most efficient from an economic point of view, but decisions like this are the ones that really add value to a project. Because what is a garden for? For nothing and for a lot. It is soul food. Culture is how progress is measured”, reflects Vallejo, who has one of the most valuable bonsai museums in Europe on the outskirts of Madrid and was Felipe González’s teacher in Japanese ornamental art.
Walking through the garden on the second day of the visit, almost over the stress syndrome due to excessive luxury, I think of the Muslim representation of paradise. When I return I will speak with Abdul Hadi Sadoun, a philologist at the Complutense University. He will say: “In the most important palaces and hotels of the Arab-Muslim world there is always a garden that symbolizes the beautiful life that the believer will find in the afterlife.” In the holy book there are references like this: “But those who have believed and done well, they will dwell in the Garden forever” (Quran, 2.82). Like the discreet French guest friend of the monarch Mohamed VI.
On a more earthly level, know that the possibility of enjoying the Royal Mansour is not limited to those who can afford to spend the night. From its origin, when it was almost a private club, until today, the hotel has been opening to the public to fulfill the fundamental purpose of exhibiting the wonders and hospitality of Morocco. Without being housed you can access the restaurants. Two of them, La Grande Table Marocaine and La Table, have been under the direction of French chef Hélène Darroze since spring, with six stars in the Michelin guide. You can also use the spa or pay for a day pass to the garden pool. All this expensive, but not exorbitant.
Unlike the visit to the hilarious architectural complex created in Marrakech by the legendary perfumer Serge Lutens (Lille, 1942), a resident of the city. Those who are staying at the Royal Mansour can participate in a guided tour for about 700 euros per couple. The number is disconcerting, yes. Having said that, let us add that the place that Lutens has conceived throughout 44 years of work, a work that he has no intention of finishing, is of radical beauty. It is radical because it is the product of a true fanatic, passionate about beauty. There are 3,000 labyrinthine square meters of corridors, patios, halls that pay homage to Moroccan architecture and crafts in a shocking aesthetic display. Or perhaps Monsieur Lutens’s homage points higher. His right-hand man on the project mentions during the visit that his attraction to Islam is such that he is contemplating becoming a Muslim. One would say that a work like this—which will be the property of the Moroccan royal family upon his death—can only be in dialogue with the metaphysical. So far, the only way to get in is through the king’s hotel.
Another notable aspect of the Royal Mansour is the number and quality of its service personnel. There are 550 employees. Their uniforms are diverse and finely designed, based on traditional clothing. They are ubiquitous and at the same time stealthy, almost hidden. Beneath the surface of the Royal Mansour is a subterranean network of corridors that allows them to move imperceptibly between the different parts of the complex and the rooms, to which they pass through a back door as long as the guest has left. As we said: califal luxury, from the beginning to the end. On the third and final day, thinking I had more or less assimilated the experience, I went to the gate to be taken to the airport. A Bentley turned up. The chauffeur took me alone—stunned in the back—in a burgundy Bentley. He drove slowly, with balmy smoothness.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits