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 The Many Moroccan Splendors of Marrakech’s Le Méridien N'Fis

FrommerLuxuryTravel
Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer

Our taxi drove up the circular driveway to the entrance of Le Méridien N'Fis.  We got out under the domed portico and took in our first view -- the lush, landscaped grounds fronting the hotel, the tile-ornamented stone walkway with the long fountained pool running down its center, the horse-drawn green carriages waiting for tourists on Avenue Mohamed VI at the walkway's end, the Atlas Mountains in the distant horizon -- their snowy tops visible in the clear light of a beautiful morning. We breathed in the fresh, flower-scented air and sighed. This was going to be a story out of a thousand and one nights.

Just then a huge bus turned off the avenue and began heading up the driveway. A bellman gave us the word: it was filled with researchers from a European pharmaceutical company who had selected the five-star Marrakech hotel for the site of their annual conference. Swiftly our reverie snapped. We had better get in and register before the group disembarked.

Hurrying into the lobby, not even stopping to admire its Moroccan ambience and only dimly aware of the fragrance from the multitude of roses on every surface, we reached the front desk, passports in hand, only to be reassured by the friendly front office manager. There was no need to rush, she told us. Conference attendees at Le Méridien N'Fis have their own separate check-in and registration desks in another wing of the hotel.

The congestion we dreaded never materialized. Despite the size of this 277-room property -- the second largest in Marrakech -- and despite its being fully occupied during our four-day stay, it is so gracefully arranged, intelligently designed, and smoothly run, we never once had the sense of being part of a crowd.

Situated in Menara, the modern, residential section of Marrakech, Le Méridien N'Fis is -- from front view -- an exceedingly wide, yet undistinguished-looking building whose connection to its locale seems to lie solely in the construction material of pink clay, ubiquitous in the "Red City" (as Marrakech is known), and in the arched windows arranged in horizontal regularity across five stories.

But this is Morocco where treasures are hidden from public view. One must enter the ballroom-like lobby, a wide expanse of gleaming marble and terrazzo with striking pillars of bright blue mosaics, a domed glass ceiling of the same pattern, and a magnificent mosaic design in the center of the floor, to begin to experience the splendors of this hotel. Beyond the Moroccan ceramics, the major accessory is roses: dozens of them, fresh and fragrant. A huge crown of coral-colored blooms rises from the back of a circular sofa of tawny leather while bouquets of fuschia and pink blossoms are plunged so deep into square black vases that only their heads appear.

The lobby is in one of three buildings that comprise the property's interior. Linked via courtyards in the Arabian style and with their backs to the public roads, they are of varying height and stand at angles to one another facing a gardened retreat that spreads out across nearly a dozen acres, a virtual oasis with the desert as background.

According to Karima Boukaid, a sales executive at the hotel, the garden of Le Méridien N'Fis was recently selected by a group of magazine editors to be the most beautiful Andalusian garden in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. No doubt the judges were influenced by the portion of the  stone-paved avenue between the exterior of the gastronomic restaurant El Menzeh and a pavilion midway through the garden. Cypresses that border the avenue stand behind neatly trimmed hibiscus hedges which enclose beds of rose bushes, big, blooming geraniums, golden marigolds and purple petunias, palm, orange and olive trees.  On either side of a long narrow pool that runs down the center of the avenue, jets provide a continuous arched spray. Lanterns, low to the ground like footlights on a stage, and floating candles in a smaller pond at the end of the avenue add magical illumination at night.

With the floral aromas, sounds of rushing water and birdsong, textures of wicker, tile, and stone, dappled greens and brilliantly colored flowers, this is a garden for all the senses, evocative of the famed Alhambra of Granada. Except the Alhambra is not the prototype; as with all the gardens of Andalusia, the inspiration for the Alhambra came from Morocco.

A full service spa just off the lobby includes another gift Morocco gave to the world: the hammam (steam bath and body rub). After indulging in this luxury, one could exit onto a small pathway and follow it to where it ends at one of the biggest swimming pools in Marrakech. At points very wide, in other places as narrow as a stream, this pool flows in different directions and from one level to another. A small wooden bridge branches from the edge to a miniature island with a palm tree; another crosses a narrow inlet. Around the pool, chaise lounges and umbrellas share space with stately palms. But lounges are also set into shaded alcoves, and there are huge four-poster beds hung with white drapes that when drawn, provide the special seclusion of a tent.  

Close by the pool's entrance is the dining terrace of the Al Seguia Restaurant where a couple of lucky cats have found a home in the bordering garden. Every morning an elaborate breakfast buffet is set up in the large indoor dining room while out on the terrace, under a canopy, chefs prepare all manners of omelets and crepes, particular the Moroccan variety. The same arrangement serves for an elaborate buffet lunch of Moroccan specialties and ka-bobs be grilled to order.

The stone-paved avenue follows the hotel's perimeter in a relatively straight line, turning at right angles down adjacent lanes, going up or down a few steps, always surrounded by greenery and stunning floral displays. It passes the dining terrace outside the tea room where Moroccan mint tea is poured from silver teapots held above shoulder level into glasses on low tables.

And then it arrives at the dining terrace of El Menzeh, which means, Karina told us, a garden where you can have a good time. The smaller of its two rooms, where smoking is permitted, has walls covered with crimson fabric that is gathered into the ceiling creating the illusion of a fabulous tent. The larger room, decorated in shades of ochre, navy, and gray, is a bi-level space that looks out onto the garden.

El Menzeh offers an extensive wine list, with many French selections but also good number of excellent Moroccan wines from the region around Mekenes. A Cabernet Sauvignon recommended by our waiter, of medium body with a hint of raspberry and cherry, and a lovely shade of rose-red, proved an excellent accompaniment to a dinner that began with an amuse bouche of miniature caviar in a parfait glass, followed by appetizers of smoked salmon with what appeared to be a spring roll but was actually a green leaf wrapped around pineapple filled with crème fraiche and seasoned with cardoman. El Menzeh's menu offers continental and Moroccan cuisines. We opted largely for the Moroccan dishes: a sweet and sour tangine that blended chicken and fish with prunes and almonds, a couscous with artichoke, mashed potato, red pepper, green onions, and tiny mushrooms, a sweet rice dish -- all enhanced by the tantalizing flavors that emerge from a combination of Moroccan spices. We had chevre and brie at the conclusion of our dinner, not from France, but the coastal city Essaouira.

Marrakech has become an increasingly popular tourist destination of late, a major draw for European conferences and conventions. There is so much to experience in the "Red City" that one might not plan on spending time at a hotel.

But Le Méridien N'Fis, which became a Starwood property several years ago, is a destination in and of itself. It has tennis courts and a great lawn used for catered outdoor events often with the addition of elaborate Moroccan tents. Creative, high-style affairs -- a recent black and white New Year's Eve blast with the theme of a 1980's disco is one example -- are regular occurrences. The cocktail lounge has nightly entertainment.  We saw a Bulgarian couple perform: the woman as a “French” chanteuse, the man as her accompanist on the piano, the music largely from the great American songbook. But they were the exception.

Essentially, the ambience of Le Méridien N'Fis, from the décor to the cuisine to (and especially) the gardens is grounded in the feel and experience of exotic, enchanted, and eternal Morocco.

Le Méridien N'Fis
Avenue Mohamed VI
Marrakech, Morocco

Phone: 212 (0) 24 33 94 00 24 44 87 22
Web:  http://www.lemeridien.com  

Photographs by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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