Marrakech is hot. The ancient city that gave Morocco
its name is a choice destination for pleasure-seekers chiefly from
France but also Italy, England, and Spain.
Murano Oriental Resort is cool. The luxe property
poised to debut this spring (2008) combines the exotic and hip in a
setting of high design. Hot meets cool in Palmeraie, a seemingly
endless stretch of desert on the outskirts of Marrakech where palm
trees (protected by the king) grow undisturbed -- even in the middle
of dirt-paved roads -- and the wilderness extends to the foot of the
majestic and eternally snow-covered Atlas Mountains.
Streets of Marrakech, called “the red city”
because all buildings are made of red clay, are jammed with taxis
and pickups. Elegant horse-drawn carriages carry tourists while
modest donkey-drawn wagons cart all manner of goods. In Palmeraie,
there is little traffic save for the occasional flock of goats
crossing dusty dirt-paved roads. One of them stops at an
inconspicuous gate in a wall. On the other side is the Murano.
Four Alpha Roméos (possibly the only ones in
Morocco) are parked against the wall, an immediate sign that this is
not your typical Moroccan resort. What does appear to be typically
Moroccan is the palatial villa directly ahead. Studded with pointed
arches into which elaborately carved, horseshoe-arched doors are
set, it is radiant pink in the morning sun behind a garden of
fragrant roses. Within, the space is divided into three salons:
lounge, bar and restaurant, all studies in black and white, vividly
accented in the many manifestations of red, from magenta to maroon.
They run from front to rear and open to a great stone verandah, over
650- square feet, that overlooks an enchanting park-like expanse.
A stone avenue, broken by a long narrow channel,
proceeds from the bottom of the verandah right into the middle of a
105-foot long swimming pool where it becomes a unique island and
additional lounging/dining area. Both channel and pool are paved
with red mosaics lending a red tint to the water. A stunning visual
allusion to the “red city,” it takes on a magical, even
other-worldly quality in the darkness of night when red lights deep
in the pool and hidden in surrounding trees come on. White modular
lounges with red-orange cushions surround the pool; some are set
into white tent-like enclosures for private dining and relaxing. The
ambience is Arabic; the attitude, modern.
|Beyond are four additional
villas, each with its own swimming pool. Spread across
exquisite gardens of lantana, hibiscus hedges with brilliant
yellow blossoms, bougainvillea vines, olive and tangerine
trees and towering palms, they house the Murano's 37 guest
rooms and suites, all spacious combinations of sleeping and
sitting areas with private terraces. They are strikingly
contemporary with whimsical strokes suggesting a pop-art
sensibility and such high-tech features as lighting panels
above canopied beds, flat-screen TVs, and huge bathrooms
where everything but the fixtures and mirrors are black
slate. At the same time, they are distinctly Moroccan in the
silky fabrics hanging over the beds, the deep black
fireplaces with chimneys shaped like pointed arches, and the
hearths stacked with olive wood. Every night, someone comes
in to turn down the bed, refresh the bathroom, and light the
It is in the blending of two aesthetics: the
traditional Moroccan and the neo-modern continental that the Murano
Oriental Resort is defined, the latter drawing its inspiration from
the Murano Urban Resort of Paris. Anyone who has ever been to the
trendy and high-style Murano property in le Marais will recognize
the common motifs in both places: the fabulous glass chandelier
(another visual allusion -- here, to the source of the eponymous
hotels); the exceedingly long and low white leather couch before the
fireplace in the lounge (doubled in Marrakech where a pair of sofas
stand back-to-back, each facing a Moroccan-styled fireplace); the
video screen that runs the length of an exceedingly long bar where
abstract patterns float in endless formation, a hypnotic
accompaniment to the jazz and soul selections of a resident DJ
produced in a state-of-the-art surround-sound system; the high black
enamel tables and stainless steel stools in the bar; the restaurant
with white stucco walls, armchairs of brilliant fuschia, and natural
bejmat (Moroccan tile) floors; and the vibes – fashionable,
exciting, of the moment.
All part of the vision of Jérôme Foucaud, the
young hotelier who, having succeeded in bringing the sun of St.
Tropez to Paris when he left the famed Byblos resort with a concept
that became the first Murano, is now bringing the au courant style
of Paris to Marrakech in the second. Soft-spoken and low keyed as we
remembered him, still dressed in a black jacket and tie-less white
shirt, he met us for drinks on the stone verandah and described his
“After Murano Paris, we decided to open another
hotel under the same name," Jérôme began. "We were looking for a new
destination to be able to send our guests, somewhere in the sun less
than three or four hours away from Paris. At the end, we chose
Marrakech. It takes less time to come here from Paris than to go to
the south of France. There are so many direct flights from Paris,
London, Marseilles, Lyon, Nice also from Italy, Spain. You can
come for a weekend or a week. And Europeans love Morocco. It's
exotic, it's safe, and the weather is generally good.
“We went around the area looking for something
and found this site. It was nothing. A dead project. Only the raw
buildings were here. But we thought it would be a good size for us.
Less than forty rooms but enough space for five pools."
He continued, "In Marrakech there are two types of
hotels: the very big ones and the riads which are very private, very
small. What we offer is something in between, a mix between the
small and the big. We are creating our own niche. And we will offer use
of the property to day guests just as if we were a private beach.
They can use the pool, the spa, the bar and restaurant. Meanwhile,
hotel guests, if they wish to be private, can stay by the pool just
for the villa they are in. But if they want to see some life, they
can come around the main pool where there will be a D.J. on
weekends, a live band in the bar. "
This last image brought to mind the famed vodka
bar of Murano Paris with its scores of labels. Would the same focus
be carried over to the Murano Marrakech?
“When we did the vodka bar three or four years
ago, it was new,” Jérôme told us. “But now there are many vodka bars
in Paris. I’m looking for something else. It should be something
specific, something you can drink at the end of the afternoon when
the sun goes down, something you can taste pure or in many kinds of
mixed drinks. Rum is too easy. Maybe the Brazilian spirit cashaça."
He has plans for the restaurant, which combines
the splendors of two of the world's great cuisines, as well. “We
want to link the kitchens of the two hotels,” Jérôme said. “We are
thinking of putting two plates on the menu to connect them. It is
good for both the Paris and Marrakech chefs, to stimulate their
creativity. And the chef from Paris will be coming once a month to
check and change the menu."
Months before its official opening, with the
full-service spa still to be completed, the Murano Marrakech is
booked for weddings (could any place be more romantic?), parties,
special events. Like the Cole Porter song, it is "easy to love." But
should a guest summon up the will to venture outside the walled
seven and a half-acre property, an Alfa Roméo stands at the ready
to make the fifteen-minute trip into Marrakech where the medina
provides an excursion into Moroccan exotica. Also day trips can be
arranged to nearby destinations like the historic coastal city of
Essaouira or Ourika which climbs into the Atlas Mountains in a
setting that transports one back to the time and place of the Old
"These are places on the way to becoming new
tourist destinations in themselves," says Jérôme Foucaud. "While
here in the Palmeraie, a new Four Seasons is in the works, a Shangri
La. There are already three golf courses; down the road there will
be five or six.
"We are in the forefront of something new," he
affirms “a world of contrasts which still has the French presence."
Murano Oriental Resort - Morocco
Royaume du Maroc
Phone: 1+212 (0) 24 32 7000
Photographs by Harvey Frommer