First Look

The Bransons take Morocco

Morocco seems to be a Branson family obsession. Sir Richard, the adventurer and Virgin Airlines owner, and his stylish art-collecting sister Vanessa, have recently opened hotels in the country—and the catalyst, in the case of Richard's new Kasbah Tamadot, was their mother. In 1998 Eve Branson visited the casbah (then owned by designer Luciano Tempo) in the Atlas Mountains just outside Marrakech and loved it so much she persuaded her son to buy it. Over the course of seven years, he turned the salmon-colored castle into a flamboyant country retreat that serves as a home base for such Bransonesque activities as 4x4 off-roading and climbing Mount Toubkal. The 17 rooms are just as energetic, each done in a unique color scheme (the owner is partial to the yellow-and-green suite) and furnished with a jostling mix of black-and-white Syrian chairs, metal tables, Murano glass chandeliers, and carved wood wardrobes from India.

From most of the rooms, you can look down at the peach-tiled courtyard's indigo reflecting pool and out at the hypnotic red hills, a reminder of how far the casbah is (in attitude, at least) from the busy, ancient streets of Marrakech, where Vanessa's Riad el Fenn now reigns as the coolest address in town.

El Fenn means "art" in Arabic and "hip" in local slang; Vanessa couldn't have picked a more fitting name—or, for that matter, two more fitting managers. Viviana Gonzalez and Frédéric Scholl personify the hotel's slick, in-the-know vibe, as they watch over the eight suites, dining room, hammam, rooftop lounge, and contemporary art collection that decorates the space. Scholl, originally a psychologist, oversaw the interior design, choosing bright paint for the walls and traditional rugs for the floors (Richard liked the decor so much he asked Scholl to help at the casbah). Clearly the chic and cozy style has as much to do with pleasing the spirit as it does the eye. Everywhere you look there is another nook or corner or chamber in which to recover from a day in the souks. Kasbah Tamadot: rates, $425-$1,445; 800-225-4255; Riad el Fenn: rates, $360-$600; 21-2/4444-1210;