La Mamounia’s $177 Million Makeover

Ailan Keohane/Courtesy La Mamounia

Departures reports from a Morocco landmark.

For a decade or more, visitors to Marrakech have skipped hotels in favor of riads, or traditional courtyard houses, many of which have been restyled for luxury travelers. In large measure, this was because the city’s high-end hotels were lacking. Take, for example, La Mamounia, once Marrakech’s answer to Claridge’s—Winston Churchill spent winters at the hotel, calling the city “one of the most beautiful places in the world”—but whose slow demise left it a run-down anachronism by the time it closed, in 2006. Unveiled in September after a $177 million renovation by French designer Jacques Garcia, the hotel is back, with 207 rooms and suites and a trio of three-bedroom riads in the historic gardens, all done in an haute Moroccan style with modern accents. While its signature reddish-pink exterior remains, the frumpy, faux–Art Deco interiors have disappeared, replaced by Garcia’s low-lit baroque-lounge aesthetic. Chenille-velour wingback chairs edge the lobby, with saffron-colored rugs over the high-gloss Italian-marble floor. Rich red upholstery fills the new gourmet restaurants Le Français and L’Italien. Moroccan floor lanterns, made graphic with panes of red and white stained glass, line the corridors. Traditional zellij tiling covers the walls of the bedrooms, where leather headboards and dark wood doors with painted motifs whisper rather than shout. A third restaurant, Le Marocain, inspired by a riad, is set on the sprawling grounds of palm and olive trees, and close to another impressive addition: an expansive swimming pool fashioned after a local landmark Moorish bassin.

Do we like it? Absolutely. The test now will be to see if the service lives up to the high standards set by Garcia’s design. Rooms begin at $780, riads at $10,500; 212-52/438-8600;