Marrakesh: Desert Oasis

Editorial Director D.J. Carey’s stay at the Royal Mansour includes gorgeous architecture, delicious food and an experience like no other.

photograph by D.J. Carey

The lure of Marrakesh is great: magnificent and mysterious, modern and mystical. For me, this city of contrasts offered the perfect getaway. The city stands in a brown, arid desert with the snow-capped Atlas mountains in the background. The medina (or old city) was teeming with people, yet I found refuge and relaxation at the luxurious Royal Mansour ( resort. Here, a fleet of staff, always ready to cater to your every whim, was not seen (or heard) until necessary. Even the riot of patterns and colors offered solace.

After a two-hour drive from Casablanca, I walked into the stunning hotel entrance, where birds flew leisurely through the roofless indoor/outdoor space with tiled floors, columns and a beautiful pool of water. The Royal Mansour is a series of 53 riads (courtyard homes). Just beyond the centuries-old walls lies a modern city. But inside, life takes on a slower, more textural spin. My riad was off the main walkway and marked only by a number and a large door with a beautiful knocker. While the outside is simple and without ornamentation, the inside boasts intricate tilework on floors and walls, plus sumptuous fabrics, trims, woodwork and lighting fixtures. I had three floors with luxurious workmanship and deluxe comfort all to myself! My bedroom and bathroom featured wooden screens, as well as a marble and hand-hammered metal sink and accents. The riad also had a sitting room with a fireplace, a small garden and a rooftop sitting area with a plunge pool. The only sounds were the calls to prayer in the morning and evening and the sound of water from my courtyard fountain. Take one step outside this world, and you are in the midst of the clamor of traffic and crowds gathering for an evening at the souk, the city’s market. The Royal Mansour arranged a guide who led me through back alleys and unmarked doors. The market has everything from rugs and leather goods to kaftans and jewelry. Enter a shop on one side and exit through another. Imagine hundreds of people—even snake charmers—whizzing by on scooters in a labyrinth perfumed by heady aromas. It was an experience like no other.

left and bottom right photographs by D.J. Carey; top right photograph by royal mansour marrakech

After an evening in the souk, a spa day at Royal Mansour was like a dream. More than 1,500 Moroccan artisans were employed to craft the spa’s serene design, including delicate filigreed white metal latticework. I indulged in a traditional Moroccan hammam, a bathing ritual that combines a hot sauna, a fragrant steam and then a cold-plunge pool. I retreated to a salon to rest with a cup of warm mint tea. I could have stayed there all day but dinner awaited.

My big decision was choosing between La Grande Table Marocaine and La Grande Table Française, both with menus by Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno. The preserved lemon chicken tagine was sublime as was the lamb and seven-vegetable couscous. And dessert? Raib was a revelation: a flan-like treat in fig, lavender and amlou (an almond, argan oil and honey combination).

The sights, sounds and smells of Marrakesh are a study in contrasts that beckon. Heed the call. 



D.J.’s Top 3

1. Majorelle Garden was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s. I fell in love with the cobalt blue used on buildings there.

2. I found the most wonderful table lanterns and hammered-metal trays at Miloud Art Gallery.

3. Beautiful aromatic mint is used in iced tea and hot tea. It’s a wonderful tradition throughout Marrakesh.


photograph by royal mansour marrakech