The launch of the Mazagan last weekend was a big deal. The beach resort's proprietor, South African hotel magnate Sol Kerzner, spent 15m on an opening party that had a 1,500-strong guest list including the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Gerard Butler and Naomi Campbell who turned up to see the snake charmers, belly dancers and fireworks he'd laid on. Five thousand bottles of champagne were supplied and a peculiar touch, this trained monkeys were on hand to proffer roses to female guests. But all this costly pizzazz was a drop in the ocean compared with the Mazagan's 274m development costs.
Kerzner is something of a dab hand at these colossal ventures. Building his fortune following the success of his Sun City casino resort in South Africa, he is the man behind Dubai's Atlantis, the 1,539-room mega-resort with 17 restaurants and its own aquarium that opened with equally jaw-dropping fanfare last year. In April, he launched the 131-room One&Only Cape Town in South Africa, with an opening party attended by Nelson Mandela, Clint Eastwood and Gordon Ramsay (who has a Maze restaurant at the resort).
Now, Kerzner has chosen Morocco with its sunny location just three hours' flight from Paris and London his sights firmly trained on the European market. Kerzner aims to bring tourism to a remote section of the Moroccan coastline, close to the fortified city of El Jadida (named Mazagan by its 16th-century Portuguese rulers). The magnate has developed 200 of the 400 hectares he owns in the area, testing Mazagan's popularity before developing the rest of the currently unoccupied land for as-yet undecided leisure and entertainment uses.
So far, it is easy to see where the money has gone: the main Mazagan complex, the colossal Grand Riad, looms over a landscaped hillside which comes into view upon arrival up a winding road. Its ochre walls and green-tiled roof are offset by hundreds of specially planted date palms. Ostentatious water features pepper the grounds among the huge areas of lush grass and stone paths that connect the Grand Riad to a nearby spa complex, designed like the Grand Riad in a traditional Moroccan turreted style. There is also the requisite Gary Player-designed 18-hole golf course. The shoreline is being left undisturbed as "virgin beach" which will come to life during the summer months, when waiters transplanted from the hotel will put out deck chairs and serve drinks.
In winter (roughly November to March) it is somewhat barren, though still worth a stroll. Be warned: at this time of year, the sea is rather too choppy to venture into.
The Grand Riad's atrium is organised around a central area where a huge goblet-shaped fountain overflows. Radiating outwards from here lie the Mazagan's 11 restaurants, along with a large ballroom, a bar, and retail franchises such as a mini Lacoste store. Nearby are the resort's massive casino and nightclub. At the far end of the hangar-like casino is the Sanctuary nightclub, replete with VIP areas surrounding the dance floor.
Restaurant highlights include the Market Place, which has a reasonably priced buffet, organised according to geographical region (Asiatic, North African or Oriental), and the Moroccan eatery Morjana, delightfully decorated with peach and pink sofas complemented with a naturally lit "private" area to the rear.
Down a flight of stairs next to the atrium is the development's central courtyard, where a large pool is surrounded by 150-or-so sun loungers. From the central atrium, two corridors lead off to the hotel's rooms these are punctuated by small internal gardens. The dcor includes 150 types of Moroccan-patterned mosaic, along with thousands of fresh flowers woven into wall lattices and hundreds of Moroccan lamps.
The nearest major city is Casablanca, some 90km north-east of the resort. The Mazagan sits in a vast swath of mostly undeveloped land with priority access to a seven-kilometre stretch of beach. Possible day trips are two nearby historic ports: the Unesco World Heritage site of El Jadida and the city of Azemmour, dating back to the 15th century and found on the estuary of Oum Er-Rbia, Morocco's longest river. Highlights here include a captivating synagogue and castle.
The 468 rooms and 17 suites of this five-star property are all spacious and have views of either the central pool area or the Atlantic Ocean. The dcor isn't going to win awards for innovation, comprising inoffensive dark woods and pared-back mosaics in subtle shades. All the rooms are described as deluxe, and come with an en-suite bathroom. The bed sits in copious amounts of floor area, opposite a television offering internet access. There is also Wi-Fi in every room, with ground floors enjoying access to the pool area through French doors. The suites range from the Mazagan (bedroom plus lounge and bathroom) to the Executive (bedroom, larger lounge, kitchen and bathroom) and then up to the whopping 400-square-metre Royal, which has two big bedrooms, a lounge, kitchen, bathroom and extensive balcony.
Mazagan Beach Resort, El Jadida (Casablanca), Morocco (00 212 5 2338 8000; mazaganbeach resort.com)
De luxe rooms with a pool view start at 1,700 dirhams (135) a night, room only.Reuse content