British novelist Somerset Maugham, who traveled extensively throughout Africa and Asia, knew well the pleasures of extravagance. “Excess, on occasion, is exhilarating,” Maugham once wrote. Anyone who has ever experienced luxury travel in Morocco can attest to the fact that Maugham’s assessment has never been truer than it is today.
There’s plenty of luxury travel news in this exotic yet thoroughly contemporary North African country in the Western Sahara. A handful of new properties have opened throughout Morocco, and new tour itineraries are also cropping up. “Anybody who has been to Morocco knows that for North Africa it is very progressive,” says Neomie Menahem, managing director of IsramWorld. “They did have some demonstrations in 2010 when Egypt first erupted, but our clients were saying, ‘What demonstrations?’
“It’s an intergenerational destination,” she continues, “and it is warm and inviting. It has history and soft-adventure. It’s great for youngsters. It’s also cosmopolitan with nightclubs and it has a great mixture.” (Picture the Abu Dhabi segment of “Sex and the City 2,” which was filmed in Morocco.)
IsramWorld does mainly upscale FITs or private escorted tours to Morocco, which might include cooking classes, transportation by helicopter to the Sahara Desert, Merzouga or from Marrakech to Erfoud. “Some of our clients have also taken the helicopter to the Widiane Suites & Spa near Beni Mellal for a few days of relaxation before continuing their tour to Marrakech.”
There’s been an avalanche of hotel openings in the last couple of years throughout Morocco, including Palais Faraj in the heart of Fes, which opened in January 2012. With only 25 rooms, this boutique hotel located near the Fes medina sets itself apart with 360-degree views of the city, a spa, health club, and outdoor swimming pool. The hotel can arrange courses in Fassi cuisine, natural cosmetics by Moroccan women, as well as traditional Moroccan brocade weaving, pottery, and stucco. Luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent offers several small group journeys that include this property starting at $6,295 pp dbl.
In Marrakech, there’s the Palais Namaskar, opened in April 2012, the newest property from the famous French Oetker collection (Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Le Bristol). The hotel has 29 rooms and suites, 10 villas and three palace accommodations; there’s a full-service spa and the villas have private pools. But it’s those palace accommodations that might be a great draw for your clients with deep pockets. The Pool Palace, for example, encompasses more than 2,000 sq. ft. of indoor space and almost 6,500 sq. ft. of gardens, and is located in the heart of the hotel facing the pool. The Mountain Palace, so-called because it offers sweeping views of the Atlas Mountains, offers more than 21,000 sq. ft. of private gardens with a heated pool. There’s also 24-hour butler service and a private kitchen. Of course, its sister accommodation, the Water Palace, which is just as extravagant as the Mountain Palace, will also make a perfect palatial home away from home, we’re sure. Rates from $767 dbl.
However, the most talked about Moroccan hotel opening in recent history is Selman Marrakech, which started welcoming guests in May 2012. Four years in the making by designer Jacques Garcia, of La Mamounia fame, Selman is set in a 15-acre park with 56 rooms and suites plus five private riads, a French restaurant, a holistic spa and a stable of 16 Arabian horses. Guests can imagine themselves getting swept off their feet into a fairytale world as they seemingly glide through the majestic halls that feature red silk-shaded lamps, fireplaces and a sultry ambiance. The hotel offers 3-night spa packages starting at $4,100.
Opened in late 2012, the Taj Palace Marrakech is Taj Group’s first property outside of India. Set on 131 acres of palm groves and encircled by the Atlas Mountains, the Taj Palace Marrakech has 161 guestrooms and suites displaying the work of local artisans.
Architect Stuart Church, described by writer William S. Burroughs as “the last of the Orientalists,” was inspired by Indian traditions and Ottoman architecture when creating this Taj property. The hotel/palace has three exquisite restaurants and a grand spa with 14 treatment rooms, separate hammams for men and women, and a 5,250-sq.-ft. green-marble pool. Rates from $433 dbl.
Another celebrated name made a splash in Marrakech last fall: Delano Marrakech, which opened in September 2012 with 73 rooms in an urban resort-style setting designed by Jacques Garcia (yes, the same Jacques Garcia). The hotel, better known as the glamour spot in Miami, has a 20,000-sq.-ft. spa, three private pools, a roof deck, a subterranean nightclub, and both French and Italian restaurants. For the fashionistas, there’s also a selection of luxury shops including a Louis Vuitton boutique. Rates from $290 dbl.
On the tour operator front, Trip Feast offers a culinary tour, the 8-day Exotic Flavors of Morocco, where clients make bread and other Fassi specialties in Fes and sample wine in Meknes. They will also have the opportunity to meet and speak with olive growers and honey producers in rural villages on the way to Marrakech, where they can shop for spices, experience a cooking class and sample street food. Rates start at $2,305.
The company formerly known as Country Walkers, CW, meanwhile, has recently introduced a new Morocco tour as part of its Select Experiences program. CW has built its name on offering small group trips to adventurous locales with an upscale twist and cultural immersion. Recently, the company rebranded itself to reflect its growing but loyal clientele, offering trips to those who don’t want the group experience but still crave tailor-made itineraries and Country Walkers’ expertise.
“Walking is our love and our passion but we recognize that not everyone wants to take the guided walking tour,” says Carolyn Fox, director of marketing at CW. “We have a new style geared towards the independent traveler. With Select Experiences, we have created a private, exclusive approach. And our past guests have embraced us.”
Fox explains that the Select Experiences itineraries are actually 3- to 4-day modules that can be incorporated into longer itineraries that might include biking or walking. For Morocco, she says, these tours were actually created by CW Select Experiences’ Moroccan guides. “It’s interesting because our Morocco guides have been with us from the beginning. And we worked with them to design the Morocco itinerary—they worked everywhere from Essaouira to the High Atlas Trek because they know our guests and the experience.”
One of these new trips, the 7-day Morocco: Marrakesh + Essaouira, offers clients a historic hotel in the heart of Marrakech’s ancient Arab Quarter filled with winding streets and intriguing shops. Included in the tour is a half-day cooking workshop, a visit to a series of famous souks, and a tour of the Dar Si Said Museum of Moroccan Arts and the Palais de la Bahia (a perfect example of Moroccan architecture). The second half of the journey takes place in Essaouira, which entices visitors with its laid-back, North African vibe. Here, guests will experience a bike or camel ride, a hammam experience, and a fresh seafood feast culled from this former Portuguese port.
rabat is celebrated
In July 2012, Rabat, in the northwest of the country, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its exceptional sights, such as the medina, mausoleum and modern town. On the UNESCO World Heritage website, Rabat is described as “the product of a fertile exchange between the Arabo-Muslim past and Western modernism.”
Here, travelers can visit Oudaya Kasbah, the original medina which is home to roughly 2,000 residents and contains its own mosque, communal bread oven and hammam. Rabat, as Recommend’s publisher and editorial director Lorri Robbins pointed out in the January 2013 onsite on Morocco, “The homes are extraordinary and all boast decorative doors, one more beautiful than the next.” Other sights not to miss: the Royal Palace; the Mohammed V Mausoleum; the Hassan Tower; and the medina/souks. You can get the details on Rabat and Morocco’s other magnificent cities in the full onsite at recommend.com/ magazine/issue-archive: “Authentic Morocco in An (Argan) Nutshell.”
Archived related articles (available on recommend.com/magazine/issue-archive):
Authentic Morocco in An (Argan) Nutshell (January 2013)
Abercrombie & Kent: (800) 554-7016; abercrombiekent.com
CW: (800) 464-9255; cwadventure.com or bff.cwadventure.com/register (travel agent login)
Delano Marrakech: (800) 606-6090; delanomarrakech.com or morganshotelgroup.com/page/travel-agents
Morocco National Tourist Office: visitmorocco.com
Palais Faraj: palaisfaraj.com
Palais Namaskar: palaisnamaskar.com
Taj Palace Marrakech: (866) 969-1825; tajhotels.com
Trip Feast: (347) 380-6959; tripfeast.com