Miami Gets a Visit from the Marrakech Express

We wordslingers don’t always have it easy. We’ve gotta dine in restaurants before they’ve even had a chance to prove themselves. We go face-to-face with popstars while they’re in the midst of grueling tours. We sit down with Oscar winners and discuss passions other than film. We hit the town with world famous authors when they’re game enough to step out. Then there are the times when we’re invited to dinner by principals of world class concerns that are as legendary as they are mythic.

Such was the case last Thursday night, when I and a small slew of my Miami peers gathered downtown at the JW Marriott Marquis‘ ever delectable db Bistro for a wine and dine with the folks behind La Mamounia of Marrakech.

For those who don’t yet know (and I didn’t), La Mamounia is one of the world’s finest inns. Like Cap d’Antibes’ Hotel du Cap, Paris’ Ritz, or London’s Claridge’s (to which it’s often very favorably compared), this inn has a history all its own. It’s not part of any chain. It doesn’t follow or adhere to any trends. And it serves as an elegant oasis for the sorta traveler for whom either is anathema. In short, La Mamounia is unlike any place else on earth.

Opened in 1923, La Mamounia “began life in the 18th century as a wedding gift to Morocco’s Prince Moulay Mamoun from his father, King Mohammed Ben Abdellah” (thanks Time!). In 2006, the inn closed for a face-lift. Three years and some $180 million later, it re-opened as something more spectacular than it had begun (and that’s saying something). Instead of 242 rooms, La Mamounia now has 210, 71 of them suites (including seven signature), and three that are three-bedroom Riads (each with their very own Moroccan salons, a private pool, and a private terrace). According to the fact sheet, French designer Jacques Garcia, who spearheaded the overhaul, teamed with local Moroccan artisans to create custom furniture, hand-painted wooden ceilings and doors, Zillij mosaics, and N’Quesh plaster work (among other wonders). Some of those rooms offer “unobstructed views of La Mamounia’s legendary gardens, the Atlas Mountains and the [12th century] Koutoubia Mosque.” (Assouline has a wonderful book about it all.)

Our hosts for the evening were La Mamounia GM Didier Picquot, and Executive Director Denys Courtier, as well as Melanie Brandman of The Brandman Agency. The suitably-named Courtier had the unenviable task of being seated next to yours truly, but he handled it with all the aplomb you’d expect from one accustomed to dealing with over-sized personalities. While Denys was far too young to have been on hand when Alfred Hitchcock occupied La Mamounia for the filming of The Man Who Knew Too Much (let alone Marlene Dietrich’s stand in Morocco), he regaled me with tales of Doris Day’s singing of “Que Sera Sera” with the pride of someone who saw it all. Courtier was on hand for the star-studded re-opening however, and when I mentioned I’d just interviewed Bryan Ferry, he was delighted to inform me that Britain’s best-dressed crooner had been on hand as well.

Courtier was also kind enough to entertain my idea of moving into the inn next May so that I might finally write my first book. Whether that book will be the completion of something already begun, or an entirely new idea springing from my time in Morocco, is anybody’s guess. But from the sense I get about this fabled place, La Mamounia will play an extensive role in whatever it is I put to paper, just as its played an extensive role in the history of world wonder. I just hope those in the Churchill Bar don’t tire of me before I’m finished!

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