Room Service: Palais Namaskar, Marrakech
Make a splash in a Moroccan palace
Saturday 26 May 2012
Wander the medina in Marrakech, and you won't find many windows to peer through. That, says Aziz, my guide, is because Moroccans value their privacy. This is a modesty culture, where you keep your bling hidden away. So it makes sense that the Palais Namaskar, a short drive outside the city's ancient medina, doesn't look much as you approach. Only the well-groomed orange trees lining the perimeter hint at the opulence within. Once inside, the squeak of your taxi's tyres on the polished forecourt suggests this is no ordinary hotel – why use gravel when marble will do?
And the magnificence only presents itself by degrees. A darkened room centred on a billowing olive-wood fire serves as a reception space. Fine, you think, but show me the money. After all, this is the latest addition to the Oetker Collection, a group of six luxury hotels that includes Le Bristol in Paris, and the Côte d'Azur hangout-of-the-stars, the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc.
It's only once you have clip-clopped down a shaded marble walkway into the heart of the property that your gob is truly smacked. Spreading out on either side is a vast shimmering pool, criss-crossed with marble walkways; on one side, an arcade of Moorish arches marches into the distance; on the other, there's a lush garden of palm trees and hidden hammocks. Arrive by day, as I did, and the water reflects an intense Colgate-blue sky. By night, it's even more dramatic, a black sea of blinking lights.
The Namaskar is the baby of French businessman Philippe Soulier. Six years ago, after making his fortune in logistics on the other side of the Sahara, he bought himself a villa with views of the Atlas mountains. Soon after, he decided to share his oasis, and brought in the architect Imaad Rahmouni to create 41 suites and villas. Having spent time in the Far East, Soulier has adopted the principles of feng shui in laying out the landscape. And of the five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water – the emphasis is clearly on the last, with each room giving on to its own private pool or Jacuzzi.
The restaurant overlooks the main swimming pool, and there's a tea lounge, with views of the central water feature. In case that's not quite refreshing enough, there's an excellent spa. The only place I didn't find a water feature was the gym, though you could always go for a run around the jogging track: circling the hotel, you're always within flopping distance of a pool.
The hotel is a 20-minute drive east of the medina. Until recently, land here was cheap and largely undeveloped. However, luxury resorts from the likes of Four Seasons and Taj are slowly populating the landscape that surrounds Marrakech. For now, though, Palais Namaskar stands, oasis-like, in a rocky red landscape between the Atlas mountains and the city.
The hotel sprawls across more than 12 acres, of which almost a third is covered with water. Expect to do plenty of walking along marble paths during your stay. For more excitement, take a dawn hot-air balloon ride (2,050 dirham/£149 per person) and watch the sun rise. In the evening, head to the rooftop bar to see the sun set over the city, with the mountains gloaming in the moonlight behind you.
If there were a scale for measuring hotel room sizes, where zero is one of those drawers that Japanese businessmen sleep in, then the Palais Namaskar is a 10. I was staying in one of nine Pool Villas, which, as the name suggests, is actually an individual property with its own pool. Sorry, make that two: one warm, one cool.
While the public spaces have a traditional Moorish vibe, the villas are sleek and modern, all glass walls and horizontal sweeps of concrete. Think David Hockney in his Californian swimming pool period. Inside, the decor is all muted greys and leather sofas. Pool Suites and Lounge Rooms give on to a large communal bathing area. But sealed behind heavy wooden doors and bougainvillea-draped walls, the Pool Villas are the last word in privacy. You don't even need to bring your trunks.
The writer flew from Gatwick to Marrakech with BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com); returns from £162.
Palais Namaskar, Route de Bab Atlas 88/69, Province Syba, Marrakech, Morocco (00 212 5 2429 9800; palaisnamaskar.com).
Suites start at €390 including breakfast.
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