• Moroccan magic

    • 1

    L’Amandier’s owners have spent 12 years creating this dazzling retreat to celebrate Moroccan craftsmanship, cuisine and culture – and it shows. If you’re seeking a new haunt for both work and play, this is one for your little black book. Amelia Walker checks in.

    Marrakech is abuzz. Not just because of it currently being peak summer, nor because earlier this year when TripAdvisor announced the winners of its 2015 Travellers’ Choice Awards for destinations travellers ranked the city as the top destination in the world (last year, it ranked at number six), but because the long-awaited launch of the five-star L’Amander Hotel has finally been unveiled. It is nestled in the Ouirgane Valley and only an hour from the city.

    “My brother and I discovered this place some years ago when it was a scrub of land, with a few dying almond trees and nothing else. This was the start of a colourful journey of new friendships, discovering water, running water, sowing seeds, laying brick on top of brick, bringing in power; and now we are here,” says Founder Anwar Harland-Khan.

    Well, for those of you in need of inspiration for an international destination, be it for incentive travel, a private party, a conference, a holiday, team builder or celebratory venue, this gem-like haven is a beguiling place that will surely inspire your work colleagues to meet new heights in performance. Who could fail to be motivated to perform their best when so exotically far from the monotonous venues at home?

    Marrakech, the fourth largest of the historical Berber imperial cities, has been a bohemian mecca for Hollywood starlets, artists, the musical jet set and film directors for 60 years. The arrival of expats and continued investment from the likes of weighty figures such as Yves Saint Laurent (who bought the beautiful colonial Majorelle Gardens) and the great-great grandson of Thierry Hermes (the French high fashion luxury goods manufacturer), who bought Ain Kassimou (a villa built in the late 19th century for Leo Tolstoy’s daughter) and transformed it into the Royal Polo Club de la Palmeraie, all play their part in creating the Morocco we know today.

    It is a go-to destination for those in search of sunny sojourns – the sun shines here for nine hours a day. It’s seductively exotic and accessible and, what with the airport at Marrakech being expanded and low-cost routes easily connecting this hippie, cultural and historic city with Europe and beyond, it’s little wonder that it’s also in the world’s top 10 business travel destinations and is a popular choice for corporate events. The likes of new property buyers and hoteliers too, such as Anwar, are entranced by its characterful, old-world undertone. Add to this that the country is also enjoying a growth in popularity as a golfing destination due to a recent boom in the number of top golf courses dotted around the land, and it’s not surprising that sporty business professionals are starting to take note.

    “L’Amandier has been quite a journey,” says Anwar. We are sitting on one of the villa’s expansive sun-warmed terraces, within 12 acres of citrus groves and almond trees, surrounded by a patchwork of valleys and mountain peaks. The panoramic views over the surrounding Toubkal National Park that we’re looking out on are spectacular. Aside from the gentle hum of the call to prayer that I can hear in the distance, it is peaceful, quiet and wonderfully still. I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this relaxed. ‘Landscape therapy’ here is instant and you immediately give in to the pace of life. Calm trickles down from the top after all – and Anwar is warmth and charm itself.

    I am one of the lucky media guests invited to the hotel’s soft launch (before it officially opens its doors in Autumn 2016) to join his friends and family to celebrate this 12-year project coming full circle.

    The hotel has been designed by UK architect Nick Gowing, who has ensured that the beauty of the surrounding landscape is incorporated into the living and communal areas where possible through floor-to-ceiling windows, with buildings rendered in the same colour as the earth so there’s a real feel of being part of the landscape in form and function.

    The premises accommodates up to 46 guests in the six-suite boutique hotel and the 13 estate villas. All come with their own terrace and have been sold to private investors but are available to rent (each owner has full use of the hotel’s facilities and access to in-house catering with a private chef). The show-stopping vistas from the roof terraces provide the perfect backdrop for sun downers, with a muezzin soundtrack. There’s a 50-cover restaurant, a blinding 25-metre infinity pool, tennis court and a vast 40-square-metre terrace perfect for alfresco soirées. A branded spa is to be built in the not-too-distant future too, but a date is yet to be announced. I’m told the hotel can comfortably host up to 250 people (that’s 50-100 seated inside, 150 seated outside and 250 standing), while more formal presentations can be hosted in the spacious lower ground floor.

    The gorgeous interiors come courtesy of Michael Kopinski. His descriptions of “Zen-like” and “raw” are spot-on, nodding to the country’s past and championing the skill of the Moroccan people through ethically sourced local products. It’s all in the detail right? Well the subtle intricacies do not go unnoticed. I’m referring to the change of light throughout the day, and how the colours of the bespoke handpicked tiles dotted around the resort flicker between cobalt aqua and silver depending on the position of the sun. “The feeling inside the hotel is of shimmering water and we allude to the magical attraction of fata morganas,” explains Michael. I couldn’t have described it better myself.

    Surrounded by fresh mountain air and endless open space, each day here is enlightening – watching at first light the magical valley shrug off its sheer early-morning mist, then the questing feelers of the rising sun reaching over the hills and across the trees and vineyards below, illuminating everything. A rousing walking excursion through the Toubkal National Park, Berber villages and the red gorges, sunbathing and brunches of fruit, chicken and salads, as well as picnics set up on isolated cliff tops. Cue a glass or two of the local rosé, with the sun setting before dinners of fish, juicy chicken, couscous, lamb, rice and freshly baked flatbread, perfect for dipping and soaking up the flavoursome juices of wicked tagines. It’s easy to eat well here; the plates just keep coming. I take delight in discovering their locally sourced seasonal Berber-style cuisine, embracing all they serve up. Interactive cooking classes with the hotel’s private chef are available for those staying in the private residences.

    Come Saturday evening, the welcome party is in full swing. The sunset is turning the pool a pearly sheen as we’re dancing barefoot on the terrace. The mood is spirited and the charm comes from the friendly inclusiveness. There’s around 70 guests in total – some are in the infinity pool, others on the dance floor. The warm full-wattage service by hotel staff is some of the best I have ever had the privilege of experiencing as I watch them continually serve dish after dish, pour glass after glass, comfortably making light conversation with guests despite, for some, the language barrier. There are two ways to go about looking after people. You can dress the staff in uniforms and train them, or you can encourage them to treat everyone who visits like family. L’Amandier has brilliantly opted for the latter.

    I felt a shift at L’Amadier. At one point I did nothing but stare at the view for 40 minutes – no need for emails or phone. It is a heady mix, this seamless blend of indoor-outdoor living and the combination of culture, creativity, spirit and vision.

    Pre-launch villa rates at L’Amandier start from £350 a night for a two-bed villa sleeping four, increasing to £390 a night upon hotel opening in Autumn 2016. Hotel rooms from £210 a night; minimum two-night stay. To book and for further information, please visit lamandierhotel.com

  • AUTHOR

    Amelia Walker

    Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Amelia Walker