The Palmeraie, an increasingly chic district ten minutes from central Marrakech, is often called the Beverly Hills of Morocco. Sprawling sandstone palaces rise out of the parched dunes surrounded by exotic varieties of thousand-year-old palm trees (legend has it that Sultan Tachfine's men once threw their date pits into the sand while camping, giving rise to the more than 150,000 palms). It is a striking contrast to the teeming, chaotic, and sometimes claustrophobic charms of the city's souks and their intimate riads. And so it is no wonder that the Palmeraie has become the center of a hotel boom, where smart travelers come for space, privacy, attentive service, and traditional Moroccan opulence brought entirely up to date. Much credit belongs to designer Meryanne Loum-Martin, whose two terrific Palmeraie properties, Dar Tamsna and Jnane Tamsna, first brought a Departures level of sophistication (as well as guests Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston) to this pretty enclave. And now three very stylish new hotels have, in our opinion, raised the standard even higher.
Parisian couple Nicole Grandsire LeVillair and Patrick LeVillair built this majestic 14-suite hotel two years ago (it's been open a year), drawing on influences as diverse as 14th-century Moorish architecture and 21st-century minimalism. It's quite an achievement: The hotel's main courtyard, with elaborately carved doorways and a slender pond lined with manicured plants and flowers, has all the austerity and solemn grandeur of an ancient Eastern monastery. The very modern restaurant is done in white, marble, and glass with a vaulted ceiling. In the garden is a breathtaking swimming pool lined with palm trees teeming with swallows' nests (except for the birdsong, Char-Bagh is blissfully quiet). And behind the swimming pool is a Moroccan ruin where you can have a massage. More traditional design is reserved for the bedrooms, which are filled with colorful fabrics, Indonesian teak tables, and kilim carpets on pigmented marble floors. The suites have either a private garden or a roof terrace, and the largest of the three Harim Apartments—by far the best room here—has its own swimming pool on its own terrace. From here you can glimpse the little farm behind the main pool; it supplies the kitchen, where charismatic young chef Damien Durand (who holds the rare distinction of having studied under both Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse) makes some of the finest food in all of Morocco. There's no red meat on the menu, but there is a sensational dish of prawns in phyllo pastry with pesto and almonds, as well as pain perdu, bread-and-butter pudding, with mango ice cream. Durand isn't the only talent at Char-Bagh; don't leave without getting a massage from Zora, the hotel's singing masseuse. Rates, $700-$1,075; 212-44-32-92-44; www.ksarcharbagh.com.
DAR LIQAMA and DAR LOUISA
One of the best reasons to go to Dar Liqama and its sister villa, Dar Louisa, is to be pampered by their colorful general manager, Khalil Guerraoui, and his expert staff (including a resident henna tattoo artist). "Our philosophy here is 'anything is possible,' " he says. "If you're traveling alone for one night, or in a group of twenty looking to host a garden party for a fortnight, I'll make it happen." Guerraoui, trained as an architect, also oversaw the construction of both villas, which are set on four acres with gardens and two swimming pools. The eight-bedroom Dar Liqama is larger and home to the Rhode School of Cuisine (lessons are offered in November). Of the two villas, Liqama has all the grandeur—a huge roof terrace with 360-degree views, a massive swimming pool nearly 14 feet deep, an outside bar, and lots of bright paint, tiles, and typical Moroccan furnishings (even by Marrakech standards, the mélange of colors can sometimes be overwhelming). But Louisa has the charm: Its five bedrooms are done in a traditional style that is colorful without being garish; its courtyard and alcoved terraces are small and private; an idyllic little footbridge spans its swimming pool. It has a sexier feel, especially the master suite with its enormous oval tub and a terrace that's a particularly magical spot to try the kitchen's lamb tagine (one of the finest examples of the most ubiquitous dish in Morocco) along with one of Mr. Guerraoui's dangerously potent cocktails. Rates, $235-$365. Each villa can also be rented in its entirety for a week, $8,900-$19,000; 888-254-1070.
Paul and Lindsay Kentish opened Dar Zemora, a five-room hotel on three acres, in October. And from the start, the English couple (who have a passion for all things Moroccan) had the considerable foresight to hire general manager Valérie Golinvaux, an ambitious young Belgian who owned a riad in central Marrakech for several years. When it comes to local resources, Golinvaux has the best Rolodex in town: The beautiful brass chandeliers, hand-carved cedar and teak doorways, intricately painted Zouak ceilings, and line of majestic palms shading the swimming pool are all her doing. She has even hidden the radiators behind carved redwood moucharabia panels. In fact, not much gets overlooked at Zemora, right down to the books in the Internet-wired library—every designer, artist, author, or traveler who ever left a mark on Moroccan culture is represented in its small but colorful collection. But our favorite part of staying at Zemora, aside from the Perla suite's stunning roof terrace, was breakfast: fantastic exotic fruit salad, chilled tomato soup, chèvre frais (goat cheese), and traditional Moroccan pancakes with homemade jam. $ Rates, $240-$430; $1,400-$1,650 for the whole villa; 212-44-32-82-00.
Hotel prices show high-season rates from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.