Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer
Murano Oriental Resort is cool. The luxe property 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 fire.
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 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, has brought 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 new venture.
“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.”
His plans for the restaurant combine 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.”
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 Testament.
“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