Morocco is always spicy and brimming with knockout design, but head-turning hotels have been cropping up everywhere lately — behind unassuming doors in the Marrakech medina, in seaside Essaouira and the Atlas Mountains, and points in between. Many are the result of suave Euros fusing continental flair with local style. Here are our favorites.
Riad AnaYela is pure romance — a 300-year-old home restored by its German owner and French designer. It really is a love story: The revamp unearthed a diary detailing the affair between a previous resident, a girl named Yela, and the man she would marry. Artisans hammered her words into silver tableaux that punctuate the otherwise all-white decor.
Riad El Fenn is a riot of fuchsia, tangerine, and teal splashed around three Moroccan courtyards with very Western extras (putting green, swimming pools, screening room). The hotel has a celeb connection (the owner is Virgin founder Richard Branson’s sister, Vanessa) and a prime location near Djemaa el Fna, the bustling main square where snake charmers, acrobats, herbalists, and pretty much everyone gathers.
The 1923 classic La Mamounia has welcomed everyone from Winston Churchill to Mick Jagger and was showing its age. No more: A renovation by Parisian Hotel Costes designer Jacques Garcia reframes the grand salons with cutting-edge chic; a massive spa; a Hollywood-worthy pool; and an outpost of Don Alfonso, our favorite Amalfi Coast restaurant.
Outside town in Palmeraie, the place to stay is Jnane Tamsna, a nine-acre estate run by French-Senegalese designer Meryanne Loum-Martin. Her ethnobotanist husband, Gary Martin, conceived the olive and lemon tree groves and herb gardens. With a cooking school and five pools on site, you may never get to town.
A perfectly preserved UNESCO World Heritage medieval town, all souk and medina, Fès is a gem. Wander its narrow lanes but beware when you hear, “Ballack! Ballack!” That means a donkey cart will come barreling through any second, and you need to become one with the walls. Riad Maison Bleue is an intimate, atmospheric warren of rooms arranged around a fountain, pool, and three courtyards. The orange blossom water massage is a perfect way to end the day.
The 18th-century port town has seafood stalls ringing the harbor, which means meals are shrimp tagine and grilled sardines just plucked from the sea. Heure Bleue Palais is an ultra-chic former palace with decor that draws from Portugese, Oriental, African, and English styles and a rooftop pool overlooking the city’s ramparts.
Between the peaks of the High Atlas mountains and the entrance to the Sahara, kasbah Dar Ahlam is a fantasyland, the project of a Parisian special events creator. Every room is a different color, furnished with unique finds from Morocco, Bali, and India. Every meal is served in a different place — a creek-side picnic surrounded by palm and almond trees, twilight on the terrace. If you want to go into the desert, you’ll get transported to luxe camp El Khiam Ahlam, where deluxe tents and gourmet meals are set up in the middle of the dunes.
Photos: Courtesy of Riad AnaYela; Courtesy of Riad El Fenn; Courtesy of La Mamounia; Courtesy of Jnane Tamsna; Courtesy of La Riad Maison Bleue; Courtesy of L’Heure Bleue; Courtesy of Dar Ahlam