If you look at a map of northern Africa or Morocco, you probably would not think that Marrakech is a possible shore excursion destination for cruise ships porting in Casablanca or Agadir, Morocco. However, on a cruise on the Silversea Cruises' Silver Whisper, we did an overnight excursion to this exotic city where we stayed at the wonderful luxury hotel La Mamounia.
Our guide spent much of the time answering our questions and telling us stories about Marrakech and Morocco. I can promise you that the city of Marrakech and the La Mamounia Hotel was worth the wait!
History of La Mamounia
The history of La Mamounia is as fascinating as the hotel. Situated on the edge of the walls of the old city of Marrakech, La Mamounia is named for its 200-year-old gardens, which were given as an 18th century wedding gift to Prince Moulay Mamoun by his father. Today the gardens cover nearly 20 acres and display an incredible variety of flowers and trees. The aroma coming from the gardens is wonderful.
The hotel was designed in 1922 by the architects Prost and Marchisio. They combined traditional Moroccan designs with the popular Art Deco look of the 1920's. Although the hotel has been renovated numerous times since its construction, the owners have kept this marvelous decor.
Many famous people have fallen in love with La Mamounia, so I guess I'm in good company. Winston Churchill called it, "the most lovely spot in the whole world." He spent many winters at La Mamounia painting the Atlas Mountains and surrounding countryside. Churchill and Roosevelt came to La Mamounia when they met for the Casablanca Conference in 1943, and were said to have grappled with their responsibilities from the roof of the hotel while gazing out at the snow-covered mountains and terra cotta walls of the old city.
The suite where Churchill often stayed was renamed in his honor. Other politicians who have enjoyed stays at the hotel include Ronnie and Nancy Reagan, Charles de Gaulle, and Nelson Mandela.
La Mamounia has also played a starring role in the making of many movies. "Morocco" with Marlene Dietrich was filmed there, as was Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Photos from the films adorn the walls of some of the corridors of the hotel. According to our hosts at La Mamounia, Hitchcock got his idea for the movie "The Birds" while staying at the hotel when he opened his balcony door and was startled by pigeons. Other film stars such as Omar Sharif, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Charlton Heston, and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman have stayed at La Mamounia. We found ourselves singing the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song "Marrakech Express", and the Rolling Stones discovered the joys of La Mamounia in the late 1960's. Guests are welcome to peruse the Livre d'Or--the guest book--that includes comments from many of the hotel's celebrated guests.
Why do so many guests love this hotel?
- The ambiance is romantic, casually elegant, and exotic; and the staff is gracious and accommodating without being overbearing. The setting of the hotel, with its wonderful gardens and proximity to the old medina of Marrakech, is perfect.
- The food is varied and delicious. We ate a light lunch by the pool, a traditional Moroccan dinner in La Marocain Restaurant, and continental breakfast in our room. Each was exceptional.
- The rooms and suites are large, with high ceilings and wonderful balconies overlooking either the pool and gardens, or the mosque and old city. The rooms have modern fixtures, but the decor is the wonderful Moorish/art deco blend used throughout the hotel.
- The sports and leisure activities at La Mamounia are diverse and include a swimming pool, tennis, squash, spa, fitness center, golf driving range, billiards, and a casino. Two golf courses are in the vicinity, and snow skiing is only 45 miles away.
Moroccan people are generous and delighted to see visitors. (Granted, they were probably happier to see our dollars!) La Mamounia is a destination in itself, and is a perfect location for a romantic getaway, honeymoon, or spa vacation.
It was a great shore excursion. The bad part was that 24 hours in Marrakech was not nearly enough. The good part was that when we left La Mamounia we got to return to the fabulous Silver Whisper for a few more days. It would have been very depressing if we had to leave Marrakech and fly home! Like most who have stayed at La Mamounia, we hope to return someday to this magical hotel.