Second Acts

Destiny Deferred

Meryanne Loum-Martin recounts her pivot from Parisian lawyer to luxury hotelier in Marrakesh.

AS A TEENAGER, MERYANNE LOUM-MARTIN was given some sage advice from her West Indian mother: “Open your eyes, open your ears, and remember everything.” Growing up in Paris, Accra, Moscow, and London, Meryanne nurtured her senses and developed the kind of photographic memory befitting an artist. “At age 13, I already had subscriptions to architecture magazines, and I was obsessed with art history,” she says over our video call, as birdsong fills the marigold-colored courtyard of her home. Reinvigorated from hosting a group of mothers and daughters at Jnane Tamsna, the hotel she founded in Marrakesh, Loum-Martin appears elegant on-screen, with pulled-back silver hair and gleaming layers of pearl necklaces.

Loum-Martin’s architecture career was initially a dream deferred, one that seemed impossible due to the rigorous math and physics courses it required. So she went to law school instead.

Loum-Martin’s architecture career was initially a dream deferred, one that seemed impossible due to the rigorous math and physics courses it required. So she went to law school instead, following in the footsteps of her parents, who founded a corporate law firm before her father became a diplomat for his home country of Senegal.

“Since I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to build and design,” she explains. “It was very hard to move on. I was totally depressed for a whole year, which I spent traveling and learning languages.” Once back in Paris, she worked toward a master’s degree in international law, though she didn’t intend to take the bar exam. “I just needed an education,” she adds. “I thought, ‘After that, we'll see.’”

Upon graduating, Loum-Martin was miserable, so she did what many in search of a new life do: moved to New York City. “I had very little means in New York,” she recalls, “and a tiny one-bedroom apartment; but it was beautiful because I had the most wonderful chest from a thrift shop.” Her stint in the city was like a pilgrimage, an opportunity to reset her soul and reconsider her plans. Just as during her gap year before law school, and many excursions after, being in a new place was always a way to examine what she really wanted. Loum-Martin did end up taking the bar in New York. Shortly after, she traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, where she met and began a lifelong partnership with botanist and now-husband Gary Martin.

Then, once again, a trip nudged her to think beyond both law and her life in Paris.

Eventually, Loum-Martin returned to Paris and took the French bar exam. Then, once again, a trip — this time to India in 1984 — nudged her to think beyond both law and her life in Paris. “I had always dreamt of going to India,” she says. “So I just went on my own.”

She was immediately captivated by the country’s earthy colors and Indo-Islamic architecture. One night, at a hotel in Rajasthan with long, shared dining tables and “zillions of candles,” she recalls, the hotel owner approached her and began speaking in Hindi. Soon realizing she was not from India, and that she was traveling alone, he invited her to sit at his family’s table. “Suddenly, my itinerary was very authentic because he created a link to real life in Jaipur,” explains Loum-Martin. “My stay had nothing to do with being a tourist.”

Friends from Europe who had chosen India’s five-star hotels couldn’t relate to the experiences she sought. “I discovered that, for me, the essence of adventure and luxury is an authentic experience,” she says. “It was certainly not about staying at a branded hotel in a big city. It’s about understanding the connection to people's lives and to history. You travel for a real experience, which will have an impact on how you see the world or how you can be useful in it.”

After that month in India, her days in Paris were filled with corporate cases. She became successful in her reluctant legal career, even representing France in international eloquence contests. At the same time, Loum-Martin longed for faraway India, the colors and the familial energy. She began talking to her parents about building a family holiday home somewhere between Senegal and France. Morocco stuck out on the map and seemed like it could be “an India close to Europe,” so in 1985 she went to Marrakech, looking for land.

“I fell in love the moment I set foot on the tarmac,” remembers Loum-Martin, who went back and forth from Paris to Marrakesh before finding the right place to build. “With each visit, I could feel there was a niche market,” she says, “to create a property and turn it into a business, one which would meet all expectations of superb service, superb style, and feeling free.” She could recreate the authentic experience she had in India, along with the nostalgia of European holiday homes, in a way that celebrated the existing culture in Marrakesh.

She became successful in her reluctant legal career, even representing France in international eloquence contests. At the same time, Loum-Martin longed for faraway India, the colors and the familial energy.

One vacation home for her family turned into two villas ready for guests, completed in 1989. Named Dar Tamsna, the property emphasized the area’s natural greenery. “By the time we finished everything, we immediately opened as a business,” she recalls. “The idea was that if it didn’t work out, we'd sell one house and keep the other one, as planned. Instead, it was packed all the time.” Even celebrities waited months to secure their reservations. “I did not expect the success,” says Loum-Martin. “I did not expect that it would enchant such famous people, people who could stay anywhere yet became loyal guests. I realized it was totally innovative, but at the same time, it was very simple.”

Loum-Martin continued her law career in Paris by day and marketed the hotel by night. Legally, she was not supposed to have a side business while being a full-time lawyer in France. After five years of quietly managing both jobs and becoming a mother, she and her family finally moved to Marrakesh full-time. In 1999, she opened Ryad Tamsna, a combined restaurant, shop, and gallery in Marrakech’s Medina, and in 2001, she opened Jnane Tamsna, comprising five houses and five pools on nine acres of Marrakesh’s northern palm grove, known as the Palmeraie.

“We built and designed everything from scratch,” says Loum-Martin of her holistic approach to interior and exterior architecture, which was forged in collaboration with her husband, who designs the gardens. In each project, one sees Meryanne’s keen respect for the region’s Moorish aesthetic, combined with her global sensibilities and Gary’s ecological and organic farming expertise. Her properties have inspired commissions for other family homes, which she takes on selectively: “The key thing is to feel comfortable about the future of what I'm putting together.”

Loum-Martin’s own future includes continued promotion of her newly released Rizzoli New York book, “Inside Marrakesh: Enchanting Homes and Gardens,” as well as permitting for a 50-bedroom property focused on sustainable innovation. While sustainability has come to evoke things like green roofing, farm-to-table food, and wastewater gardens, for Loum-Martin, it also means rethinking how to support local communities. “Luxury should be used as a tool to interrupt the cycle of poverty in a sustainable and permanent way,” she explains. “A lot of things can be made in Morocco by people who are extremely talented with their hands and the younger generation who understands technology. The moment you give people a market, they can have a lasting family business.”

Meryanne Loum-Martin’s Guide to Marrakesh

Hotelier and architect Meryanne Loum-Martin has charted an unexpected and exhilarating life, embracing creativity at every turn. Here, Loum-Martin shares her most treasured destinations for an inspiring visit to one of Morocco’s most vibrant cities.

L’mida is a delicious restaurant with a fantastic rooftop and the nicest view of the Atlas Mountains. It was founded by two Moroccan friends who are very much into modern style and modern cuisine. The menu was developed by an excellent young Moroccan woman who spends her time between London and Morocco. I would say that it is the best that modern Marrakesh has to offer today. The food is inspired by tradition, but it's lighter and more modern. And the setting is absolutely beautiful.

The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden
The MACAAL Museum is the museum of modern African art. It's full of interesting contemporary paintings from African artists, and the architecture is very nice. It's a little bit outside of town near the Mandarin Oriental hotel on a golf development called Al Maaden. It's worth a visit, and they often have very interesting exhibitions.

Maison de la Photographie de Marrakech
Le Maison de la Photographie, or the House of Photography, was established in the heart of the Medina in 2009. It's a charming museum with wonderful co-founders/owners who used to be in the art world in France. It’s a small museum that has a photography collection that dates from 1879 to 1960. It gives a very comprehensive view of things that have taken place in Morocco. And there's a shop where you can buy old reproductions.

Les Jardins Du Lotus

Les Jardins Du Lotus is a delicious restaurant. Clarisse Jolicoeur is the chef; she’s Mexican and Canadian. She offers very good Mediterranean food with a slight influence of modern Mexican cuisine. The decor is beautiful. The colors are a bit like Palm Beach. Located in a lovely courtyard, it always has a wonderful vibe.

Plus 61

Plus 61 — it's called Plus 61 because that’s the country code for Australia — is a restaurant owned and started by Australians Cassandra Karinsky, Sebastian de Gzell, and chef Andrew Cibej. The food is a really exquisite twist on Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Southeast Asian cuisines. The decor is very clean and elegant. It’s become the hangout spot for all the creatives in Marrakesh.

Aya’s Marrakech

Aya’s is a lovely shop for hand-sewn and embroidered womenswear. The shop is run by a lovely Moroccan woman named Nawal El Hariti, whom I've known for over 20 years. She is extremely discreet about her clientele. I will, of course, respect her discretion, but there are some very famous international personalities who shop at Nawal's every time they come to Marrakesh. It's always fun for me to recognize, when I see them in a magazine feature or on TV, that their gorgeous shirt or caftan is, in fact, coming from my friend Nawal.

Moro Marrakech

Moro is the most exquisite concept store. It’s owned by two very talented Moroccan men who approach the shop from different creative angles. The store has products created in small runs, exquisite food, and wonderful music. It's very close to Jardin Majorelle. It's really a place that I love to go to every time I am in that area. They also make incredible chocolates. No detail has been spared or forgotten here — from the packaging to the quality of what you find inside.

Shirvan Cafe Metisse

One of the places I love to go for dinner is called Shirvan at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The chef is Akrame Benallal from Paris. Benallal is well known in France and throughout the culinary world for creating an interpretation of cuisines from Lebanon, Syria, and Azerbaijan. It's delicious and very diverse. For me, it's one of the places I really think is among the best of Marrakesh. And the people at the Mandarin Oriental are so nice.

Our Contributors

Cedar Pasori Writer

Cedar Pasori is a writer and editor covering culture, design, and creativity. Pasori is based in Portland, Oregon, and has contributed to publications such as Interview, Complex, and Dazed and Confused.

Ilyass Nazih Photographer

Ilyass Nazih is a lifestyle and street photographer. His work has appeared in GQ, the Telegraph, and BBC Travel. He can be found most days chasing light and shadows in Marrakesh, Morocco.


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