Is La Mamounia Really The Best Hotel in the World?
Condé Nast says so, but what was our Travel Editor’s take?
There is no such thing as the “best hotel in the world.” It’s a construct that can’t possibly take into account the myriad of personal factors each traveller values in their lodging: service, location, value, size and a dozen others. So when Condé Nast Traveler announced last week that La Mamounia is the best hotel in the world I immediately thought…..they got it absolutely right.
A lovely part of being a travel editor is that, on occasion, you get to stay at some truly extraordinary places. Scanning this year’s list there are 6 hotels that’s I’ve been lucky enough to stay at, including #8, Zurich’s classic Baur au Lac and #7, Cape Town’s Twelve Apostles. Both are beautiful spots, memorable and welcoming and worthy of a stay. But, for me, staying at La Mamounia was in a class of its own.
To be truthful, the stay started out a little shaky. Even before we landed in Marrakech, the hotel had informed that my two daughters—aged 12 and 16—would not be able to bunk in with my wife and I as is often our custom. Given their ages, we were told, they would require their own room. The kids cheered, we feared. But even this cheapskate rebuke was handled with such class that I felt neither angry nor chastised by the request. I agreed and when they assured me not to worry that they’d make sure everything was perfect. And for that point on, it was.
Arriving in Marrakech can be a daunting proposition. For all its recent appearances in slick magazines touting its design cred and jet-set lifestyle, at its heart it’s a city gripped by (wonderful) mayhem. Camels, motorbikes, taxis and Bentleys all trying to move about on a road system that seems designed for about a quarter of the traffic. And that’s before you get to the beehive that is the city’s famed medina.
But right there, smack dab in the middle is the oasis that is La Mamounia, all 20 walled acres of it. The hotel is not large (136 rooms, 71 suites) so much of the grounds is given up to formal gardens and walking paths, which, after a few hours getting lost and constantly cajoled in the medina, was the perfect antidote to help recharge one’s batteries. The spa is off-the-charts beautiful and the restaurants are amazing (I got a charge a few months after staying there seeing the hotel’s Le Marocain restaurant play a key role in the John Le Carré movie Our Kind of Traitor—where we could identify with the protagonists hang-wringing over the prices).
Ah yes, the prices. La Mamounia is very expensive, especially in a city where there are plenty of cool riads, or small hotels, that are a quarter of the price. But for someone used to staying in Maui in season there would be no sticker shock. I will say this:
- I had a media rate;
- I stayed for three nights;
- It was still the most I’ve ever spent on a hotel;
- I’d go back again in a heartbeat.
Truly. Our family still talks about the trip, well after pricey sojourns to other destinations have fallen by the memory wayside. So if there’s ever a poster child for a place being expensive (shop around and a room can be found in the high 3-figures) and a good deal, this is it.
One closing anecdote. The hotel insisted on driving us to the airport and when they asked what airline we were flying we told them Transavia, the ultra-low-cost carrier from KLM. I think it’s fair to say the driver had never dropped any guests off at the Transavia wicket before, but he simply smiled and away we went. At the airport, the Transavia wickets were a madhouse, and to complicate matters we had an additional bag full of design treasures…and you know how discount airlines salivate at the prospect of extra, bulky luggage. Our driver refused to simply drop us off—he parked his car out front, accompanied us into the airport, strode purposefully to the front of the line and talked to the desk clerk, who then immediately waved to the front of the line and tagged all our bags without any additional expense. When we bade our driver goodbye he emphatically refused any gratuity, insisting that it was his pleasure.
And that’s why La Mamounia is the the best hotel in the world.