Marrakech is a place of extremes. In the Medina, its ancient heart, you could so easily be transported back 200 years as donkeys and horses take the place of cars, and chickens, cats and small dirty looking children roam the streets. Yet outside the old city walls, you’ll find an airport, brand-spanking new, so shiny and dazzling that it makes Heathrow T5 look like an interim solution. But what marks the extremes more than anything is the evident wealth gap which exists in the society. No more obvious is this than at the Mamounia, one of the world’s great old hotels, situated just beyond the main Koutoubia Mosque but so different from its surroundings. For while the dusty streets outside are filled with beggars and tradesmen scraping to make a living, inside the hotel you find a world resplendent in its lavishness, with levels of luxury perhaps higher than I have ever seen before.
No wonder then that the place was not easy to get into. One grumpy doorman at first refused us entry, since he obviously judged our joint worth to be far less than the average guest. But a confident swagger, sunglasses donned and a second attempt got us through the grand entrance. We were after all determined to visit the hotel. Not only is it renowned as one of the most luxurious in all of Africa, it was also the location for some of the most famous scenes of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, where Doris Day sang her famous hit, Que Sera Sera for the first time.
Once in we were understandably dazzled by the sheer extent of the opulent interiors and expansive gardens which we were able to enjoy to full while waiting for a table to become free on the elegant terrace of the Italian Bar. In those grounds, so large they were used to film scenes from Alexander, we found tennis courts, pools, loungers aplenty, herb gardens, Arabic lounges and an entire wall brimming with bougainvillaea. There was even a pavilion at the garden’s centre just built for afternoon tea. But we had cocktails on the mind, and when our stroll was over, our table lay in wait, and we quenched our thirst with a well earned G&T and a Strawberry Daiquiri. It wasn’t the cheapest of occasions, but it was a hallmark moment of our trip. While it may have been a very different world from the city of Marrakech just outside its mighty walls, there was something about the grandeur of this 92 year old hotel which made us feel very at home.
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