100 years of La Mamounia


Few hotels have the history that this Moroccan icon can boast – it is rock n’ roll, high fashion, and all kinds of racy. Mark C. O’Flaherty heads to Marrakech to wish it happy birthday

100 years of La Mamounia

Marrakech has become a surprise W11 counterpart to Margate. Just as many of my favourite lesbian artists and makers have moved to that scruffy, Union Flag-festooned seaside town in Kent, friends who I associate with vintage Ossie Clark at Relik, natas at Lisboa and dinners at Core by Clare Smyth have left their white-porticoed houses in Holland Park and bought places within petit-cabbing distance of the Medina. My husband calls it “The First Wives Club reimagined by Evelyn Waugh”, which is about right. It’s a fantasy world of poolside parties and Talitha Getty cosplay. But it’s also a lot warmer than Notting Hill in winter. As a result of this seismic societal shift, I’ve found myself in the Red City quite a lot of late. Which is no hardship.

If that sounds like a glamorous week to you, you’re right. It felt constantly otherworldly

I was there most recently for work that coincided with the opening of the 1-54 Art Fair, which takes over a wing of Marrakech’s ultimate grande dame hotel La Mamounia for much of its footprint. I was also in town to shoot with Marisa Berenson and Romeo Gigli, and for various good reasons La Mamounia – which celebrated its hundredth anniversary last year – was the default option for me to stay. If that sounds like a glamorous week to you, you’re right. It felt constantly otherworldly: people watching while I ate violently expensive (and gorgeous) black pepper prawn dumplings with mint at Jean-Georges L’Asiatique, or fancified cacio e pepe at M Vongerichten’s neighbouring L’Italien. This is a hotel with baggage. You can feel the resonance in its acres of gleaming tadelakt walls and opulent ceiling murals. La Mamounia has a past which defines its present and future.

The pool at La Mamounia

When it reopened in 2009 after an epic Jacques Garcia remodelling, Bryan Ferry, Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek and Jennifer Aniston flew in for the party. Over its many decades the hotel has been a temporary home for The Rolling Stones, Winston Churchill and Alfred Hitchcock (who filmed some of The Man Who Knew Too Much here). Vitrines in the lobby contain notes and sketches from past guests Jimmy Page and Jean Paul Gaultier. You get the feeling that something is always happening at La Mamounia – glamorous or louche. It was at La Mamounia that wannabe socialite scammer Anna “Delvey” faced the music after one grift too many. On my recent visit I happened to be reading Christopher Howse’s Soho in the Eighties, which ends with a description of the death of the incorrigible barfly scribe Jeffrey Bernard after having a leg amputated: the columnist lied to a PR about being fully insured, hopped off to La Mamounia on a jolly, and then had to plead with his editor for help getting back to London, to die. Frankly, I can think of worse places to shuffle off the mortal than La Mamounia. Should have stayed longer.

La Mamounia

There’s nothing boutique about La Mamounia. The bedrooms, all scarlet red and Moorish patterns, suggest you’re having an affair with yourself, while the corridors and lifts are maze-like – the kind of layout you’d get lost in while making your way back from a stranger’s suite. The whole place thrums in a kind of postcoital way, right down to the smoking that is surprisingly (and revoltingly) still allowed in certain bar areas. You’re as like to see Ms Berenson and Mr Gigli here as you are anyone, and shiny sports cars are constantly pulling up in the driveway to drop off the North African fabulous crowd. There’s a perennial festival feel to the place, and shenanigans seem to be all around; the tearoom would be the ideal setting for a little espionage and the discreet handover of classified documents. The New Marrakech is an incredible scene, but to experience it you need never leave La Mamounia: there’s a casino attached, a hammam downstairs (in the hotel, not the casino – although that would be quite fun), and parties galore everywhere.

The Chandelier du Centenaire

The pool and surrounding gardens are the heart of the place. The people watching is mesmerising; so too are the kittens that appear during what can be a chaotic breakfast service at La Pavillon de la Piscine. The most visual element of Mamounia lies within: a giant chandelier (above) that hangs over a water feature in the main hotel lobby like a behemoth piece of jewellery. The team at Jouin Manku designed something that mixes garlands of Lasvit crystal and strings of traditional Berber motifs. It’s an installation as incredible as the moment I enjoyed watching a woman so distracted by staring up at it that she strolled straight into the water feature. Another golden memory for the hotel, and for everyone who was there for it. C


La Mamounia, Avenue Bab Jdid, Marrakesh 40040, Morocco

Mark C. O’Flaherty travelled as a guest of Mr & Mrs Smith who offer stays at La Mamounia that include free round-trip airport transfers from Marrakech airport.