An Event Planner’s Notes from Marrakech
This is a guest post by Carl George. He is an event producer, designer and consultant based out of New York, Los Angeles and Morocco. His clients include Estee Lauder, Prescriptives, Mercedes-Benz, Vogue, Vanity Fair, the Museum of Modern Art, The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Sony, Disney, Warner Brothers, Courvoisier, Guess?, Valentino Rome, Lexus, and numerous others. He was the Director of Special Events and Entertainment at Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles – home of the Kodak Theatre (Academy Awards, American Idol, ESPY Awards, Daytime Emmy Awards).
When I close my eyes and think of Marrakech I see a bustling city with wide, elegant boulevards and lush parks, lavender hued mountains in the near distance, warm, embracing people, an ancient medina and souk, and chic cafes everywhere.
I see muted palettes of cream, rose, pale green, chalk blue, yellow, white and terracotta. A wide blue sky mottled with clouds and sunlight that is so intense it sucks the shadows away like a vampire. Women dressed in everything from jeans and t-shirts to Yves St. Laurent and Chanel to full on, jet black burqas, which in its own improbable way, is visually chic.
Tourists come from every continent to be baffled and amazed by the sights and smells of the mysterious, intriguing and seductive souk. And everything is old, so old – decrepit and wise like an ancient beauty who forebears the strains of time with commendable elegance.
In Marrakech, young men race through the medina on scooters, devil may care, as if they own the world, and this one, they do. How many times did I get lost in the souk, try as I might to post visual markers: a shop front piled with jewel-toned rugs, a colorful striped awning, the craggy face of a vendor.
But it was hopeless. The medina is a shape shifter, a trickster with a wicked sense of humor. Ibrahim, the all knowing concierge at La Maison Arabe told me one hot afternoon as we ambled through the labyrinth, “You will never know the medina, never! I’ve lived all my life in the medina and still, I am sometimes lost.”
This is an event planners paradise!
Marrakech has been rated #6 on Trip Advisor 2012 Travelers’ Choice Best Destinations and there’s a reason for that. There are a million and one things to do here and an incredibly sophisticated hospitality industry to help you realize anything you can imagine. As of this writing there are more than 500 hotels in the city of Marrakech – even more when the small private riads are taken into account. For more than a decade, the entire country has been focused on developing the tourist industry – and they are serious about it.
Railway stations throughout the country have been entirely rebuilt. The trains are comfortable, inexpensive and mostly run on time. There are plans to refurbish Royal Air Maroc and add direct flights from New York to Marrakech. The Jamaa el-Fna square in the center of the city is one of the largest public plazas in the Arab world and the heartbeat of the famous medina and souk.
This is serious shopping, with every imaginable handmade product from gorgeous Berber rugs to exquisite parquetry boxes to finely cut metal lamps and shades. It’s all here, in abundance and for a good price. Tell your clients to bring an extra piece of luggage because they will need it.
A side trip to the Sahara on dromedaries (one humped camels) – no problem, ballooning over countryside villages and farms – a snap, a trek in the Atlas Mountains – done. It’s all here, in place and ready for you and your event guests.
In Marrakech, WiFi is available almost everywhere: hotels, cafes, restaurants… and there is the Arsat Moulay Abdeslam Cyber Park in the middle of the city where anyone can go online at internet stations. They even provide the laptops on pedestals.
Power outages are rare – something that is quite common in other developing nations. A solar powered flight from Madrid to Rabat recently made global headlines as the Moroccan government announced a multi-national joint venture, with financing in the tens of billions, to start work on a 160-megawatt solar power plant to be built in the southern city of Ouarzazate. Morocco plans to draw 40% of its energy needs from the sun by 2020.
Luxury hotels and resorts such as the The Four Seasons, The Selman – featuring magnificent Arabian horses, and The Amanjena – one of the Aman resorts, abound, with new properties opening all the time and with many new and exciting locations in the works. There are smaller gems – elegant boutique hotels with full service amenities like La Maison Arabe and La Sultana, and there is, of course, La Mamounia, one of the great hotels of the world.
For this article, I’m focusing on 7 high-end hotel, resort and restaurant properties but in truth, this is a place where event producers can truly let their imaginations run wild, where events can be anything, at any price from Boho Berber to Coutts & Co. The possibilities are endless: the shopping is beyond extraordinary, the culture is warm and welcoming and the country is exotic and familiar, all at the same time.
La Maison Arabe Riad Hotel and Country Club
La Maison Arabe is unique among hotels in Marrakech as it claims the title of the first riad hotel in the entire country. A riad is a traditional Moroccan home with an interior courtyard or garden and fountain. The owner of La Maison Arabe, Prince Fabrizio Ruspoli, a long time friend, bought the building in 1998.
Originally a restaurant known for its refined and unequalled Moroccan cuisine, and welcoming the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, The Queen of Denmark, Jacqueline Kennedy and many other luminaries, it was the must go to place in Marrakech. When Fabrizio first saw it, it had been shuttered and languishing for more than a decade. Fabrizio instantly felt the vibrant spirits and lingering ambiance of the place and knew that he had to buy it and awaken it from its long slumber.
What we have today is an exquisite, 26 room riad hotel which offers guests luxury amenities and service in the heart of the medina – a hospitality experience without equal. And for event producers, the perfect accommodations for clients. The décor is a mix of traditional Moroccan latticework, tadelakt polished walls, exquisite mosaic tiled columns, marble floors and European fine antiques, artwork, sumptuous linens and old world charm.
And to add to the luxe accommodations, La Maison Arabe has another property, a verdant Country Club setting just 15 minutes from the hotel. Guests are driven outside of the city, through typical Moroccan neighborhoods, marketplaces, bazaars, schools and the mind-blowing medina to arrive at La Maison Arabe’s Country Club.
It is situated next door to the royal nursery and across from a large royal estate. Metal gates open to reveal an long, elegant driveway under an olive tree canopy. Guests then walk down a flag stone pathway through lush, organic herb gardens (used in all of the hotel cooking), flowering trees and bushes inhabited by dozens of varieties of singing birds and ponds filled with lotus flowers, papyrus and lily pads.
A shimmering blue rectangular swimming pool is bordered by a caïdal (a traditional Moroccan tent) draped in burgundy and royal blue silk taffeta and trimmed in gold. An upholstered banquette wraps along one entire length of the tent and can comfortably seat 40 guests.
There is the possibility of additional seating for another 40 guests at tables inside this comfortable, air conditioned tent. From the peak of the tent hang 3 large, ornate chandeliers of black metalwork supporting candlelit Moroccan lanterns. Glass paned French doors open onto the pool patio where another 120 guests can be seated formally around tables or casually on lounge chairs and in the 5 tented and curtained cabanas with upholstered beds and piles of cushions… think Talitha and Paul Getty. You’ll get the picture.
At the far end of the pool is another elegant building with museum quality, hand painted doors from Fez, an elaborately stenciled ceiling, gorgeous artwork, plush furniture and a grand piano. This room is perfect for pre-dinner cocktails featuring a jazz band or classical music accompaniment. La Maison Arabe Riad Hotel and Country Club is an ideal spot for weddings, birthday or anniversary celebrations, corporate dinners for up to 120 guests, product launch parties, film production wrap parties or fashion photo shoots and, best of all, the guests can stay at the hotel.
La Maison Arabe
1, Derb Assehbé
Tel : (+212) 5 24 38 70 10
Fax : (+212) 5 24 38 72 21
Contact: Nabila Dakir, General Manager
Located about 15 minutes outside of Marrakech and set in a lush grove of olive and palm trees, The Amanjena (Peaceful Paradise) is one of the super-luxurious Aman properties offering all of the 5 star amenities and services for which they are known and to which repeat customers (Aman Junkies) are accustomed. It is the first Aman resort on the African continent.
I visited the Amanjena in the early evening and witnessed, as the sun set, the magical transformation from elegant, minimalist buildings and deep perspective walkways bordered by reflecting pools, to a property bathed in amber and rose sunlight. Hundreds of candles flickered – the only sound being soft traditional Arab Andalusian music played by three musicians and a vocalist. The music floated gently over the immense tidal basin around which sit guest villas and pavilions, many with private pools. Breathtaking.
The Amanjena requires that event planners rent the entire property (30 rooms, suites and villas) for any event and because of the open planning of the hotel, I understand why. The whole atmosphere is laid back chic and this explains why the Aman resorts are so popular with celebrities and political figures. There is plenty of security and a vetting process to enter the property for non-guests, but once in, guests can relax and rest assured that their privacy and anonymity (if desired) will be honored.
Because of the open design, there are only a few areas and buildings on the property where an event or different parts of an event can take place including a large salon bordering the swimming pool which can accommodate 80 seated guests. The main feature of this hotel is the immense, perfectly square tidal basin – traditionally a reservoir to gather excess water at high tide, but here, a stunning visual centerpiece central to the main property and villas. I immediately envisioned a bride, wearing her couture Monique Lhuillier gown and veil, enthroned on the deck of a white sail boat with tall, pale blue and cream silk organza sails, being rowed across the basin to meet her future husband while guests lounge on Berber rugs and huge, down-filled cushions watching the spectacle as they sip pink champagne…the Flower Duet from Lakmé beckons… Ok, enough.
The hotel offers a “Traditional Moroccan Wedding” with pink rose petals scattered and floating in fountains, Arabian music and traditional hammam – marble clad steam rooms followed by rinsing, gentle scrubbing and massage for the bride and groom before the ceremony. The hotel allows a maximum of 100 guests for events and only non-legally binding ceremonies are allowed on the property, meaning, the bride and groom can go through the motions with an officiate, exchange rings, kiss etc. but the actual wedding, the legal part anyway, must be performed elsewhere – at city hall, in a church, synagogue or mosque, or in Las Vegas.
Route de Ouarzazate
km 12, Marrakech, Morocco
tel (212) 5 24 399 000
fax (212) 5 24 403 477
The Four Seasons Marrakech
The newly built (2011) Four Seasons Marrakech recently hosted the 8th Annual Financial Times Business Luxury Summit which brought together more than 400 senior luxury executives, business leaders and financiers from around the world. I understand, after having visited this elegant property, why they chose the Four Seasons as this year’s venue. This hotel clearly understands corporate culture and provides the kind of setting that business people prefer – clean, uncomplicated and efficient.
Of all the venues that I visited for this article, with the exception of the Beldi Country Club which is a thoroughly unique place for larger events, the Four Seasons is the most fully equipped to handle large scale corporate events as well as medium sized events and intimate, family gatherings. Mr. Holger Frehde, Director of Sales & Marketing clearly stated that the hotel is “family friendly” providing a large pool for adult swimming and a separate pool and play area for children as well as other amenities geared toward family travel.
Located just a few kilometers from the center of the city and across from the famous Menara Gardens, the Four Seasons Marrakech consists of several low-lying rose colored buildings and is situated on 16 hectares (40 acres) of beautifully landscaped gardens. The hotel provides all the comforts and amenities for which the brand is known and a quiet respite from the bustling medina and souk.
The interiors of the hotel are decorated in shades of cream, champagne, pale green, mocha, deep brown and splashes of claret and orange – very California feeling, as though Michael Smith, the Obama White House decorator did the place. The attentive and chicly dressed staff are at your service, ready to assist clients with any need. Traditional Moroccan craftsmanship is sparingly used throughout the hotel. And of course, the ubiquitous floral arrangements by Jeff Leatham – of George V fame – are presented as a major statement in the main entrance and strategically placed throughout the hotel.
For events, this place has it all including a massive ballroom, seating 400 guests with a dance floor, and 500 guests without. Drop down projection screens in three well placed locations allow maximum viewing with scissor drop projectors from the ceiling including rigging points across the width and down the length of the ceiling. There are full A/V capabilities, WiFi throughout and in-house lighting and rentals. They welcome innovation in design and will facilitate almost any décor installation. A full, professional kitchen conveniently placed adjacent to the ballroom makes food prep fast and provides for a smooth service. The ballroom foyer can easily accommodate 300 for cocktails.
There are several other locations on this property that offer alternatives to a big ballroom including the Bleu D’Orange restaurant with Bar Zest on the roof, 2 smaller meeting rooms for 50 guests each, another standard event room for 120 guests. There is also a traditional Moroccan restaurant and an Italian restaurant both helmed by world class chefs and available for events.
The Four Seasons Marrakech fulfills a specific and necessary niche in the events market here – that of large corporate functions and product launches while still catering to intimate family affairs like weddings and anniversaries. Mostly, my impression, as I mentioned earlier, is that the management understands corporate culture and speaks the language which to an event producer is invaluable.
Four Seasons Resort Marrakech
1 Boulevard de la Menara
Tel. (212) 524 359 200
Fax. (212) 524 359 201
Contact: Holger Frehde, Director of Sales & Marketing
Nidal Chaouki, Public Relations Manager
Oh, La Mamounia, what can I say that hasn’t been said about this exquisite place? Suffice to say that it truly is one of the great hotels of the world, from its location on the edge of the medina and in the heart of Marrakech to its recently renovated interiors – a three year long restoration with interior design by Jacques Garcia, to its famed Churchill bar. There is no place quite like La Mamounia.
Built in 1923, this legendary home to the rich and famous is the perfect place for very special events, the kind that appeal to clients of a certain taste level and income bracket. The most beautiful wedding, the perfect anniversary or an incredibly chic corporate event would all be at home at La Mamounia. The large salon known as the Galerie Majorelle, leading out to the terrace and famous gardens is hands down, one of the most elegant rooms I’ve seen.
Garcia managed to retain hints of the previous art deco interior, especially on the fully restored ceiling by French artist Jacques Majorelle, and with the small ziggurat side tables, but has updated the vast lobby with ultra-plush furnishings and subtle lighting throughout.
As the chic and well spoken Attachée Commerciale, Mme. Lamia Saydy said to me, La Mamounia’s first objective is toward its clients, their comfort and satisfaction. But, she said, the hotel welcomes special events and has a long history of providing impeccable service for highly tailored events.
The ballroom of La Mamounia seats 240 for dinner and dancing, 400 for cocktails or 300 theater style for presentations and meetings. The ballroom has fly walls which can separate the room into 3 smaller salons and the area just outside of the ballroom called Le Foyer can accommodate 150 for cocktails or can be used as a break room during conferences or meetings. There are 2 smaller rooms in the business center area of the hotel for 20 and 30 guests – great for planning sessions or private meetings. There is in-house A/V and lighting and whatever they don’t have they can get from outside contractors.
Then there are the restaurants. Le Menzeh, a pavilion located in the world renowned gardens of La Mamounia, can host 50 for cocktails after which guests can stroll through the magical gardens to the Moroccan restaurant. Here they will find a lovely courtyard featuring an exquisite, traditionally tiled wall fountain, a Moroccan restaurant with a private dining area called Le Fumoire, a rooftop bar and lounge overlooking the gardens and the Koutoubia – the majestic 12th century Mosque that dominates the skyline. Or, 50 guests can enjoy a seated dinner in a caïdal tent, the prettiest one I’ve seen yet in Marrakech, on the rooftop adjacent to the bar lounge.
From its caped and tarbouched doormen who regally welcome you into the grand lobby, to its impeccably dressed, well informed staff and 27,000 square-foot spa, La Mamounia is a world class hotel for top-tier event planners and their highly discerning clients.
Avenue Bab Jdid
40040 Marrakech, Morocco
Tel: (+212) 524 388 600
Fx: (+212) 524 444 940
Contact: Lamia Saydy, Attachée Commerciale
Built at the end of the 19th century by Cadi Layadi, one of the last great lords of the Atlas, the Palais Soleiman resplendently stands as a jewel and testament to the finest craftsmanship in Morocco.
This venue is unique in this article because it exists primarily as a restaurant and event venue, not as a hotel. Open daily (except Tuesday) as a fine dining restaurant, the 2 enormous salons and 4 smaller VIP areas of the Palais Soleman are rented regularly to host corporate events, fashion shows and product launches. Past clients include Dior, FIFA, Guerlain and BMW to name a few.
The entire venue can host 600 seated dinner guests or 900 for cocktails. The 4 smaller salons can be used as private dining areas, meeting rooms or VIP areas, each accommodating 30 or so guests and each fully decorated with elegant furnishings.
To describe the Palais Soleiman is to undertake the task of putting into words “art as a celebration of the divine”. The 2 grand salons live up to their name with soaring ceilings of elegantly carved plaster and marble work, massive crystal and blown glass chandeliers worthy of Murano, walls adorned with geometric and floral patterns of zelliges (ceramic squares) in finishes ranging from chalk matte to high gloss faience and patterned marble floors throughout. The overall effect is sumptuous and regal.
I’ve been to the Palais Soleiman on several occasions for concerts – the sopranos Sumi Jo and Dame Felicity Lott and the pianist Jacqueline Bourgès-Maunoury – sponsored by the French Cultural Institute in Marrakech and I can attest to the fact that the overall experience, with catered dinner afterward, is magical.
As for the events business, the Palais Soleiman is ready, with expertly trained staff, full commercial kitchen, and all necessary rentals including portable heaters for the rooftop terrace during winter months.
A delightful and unique feature to this venue is a retractable roof in the larger of the 2 salons so at just the right dramatic moment, a button is pushed and the entire roof opens up to reveal the magnificent, starry, African sky. I can hear the oohs and aaahs now.
Boulevard de 11 janvier, Kaâ machraâ,
Phone. : 212 (0) 524 38 52 38 or 212 (0) 524 37 89 62
Fax : 212 (0) 524 38 37 21
E-mail : email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Beldi Country Club
Situated just 6 kilometers outside of the city of Marrakech is the Beldi Country Club, a truly unique venue in this city of endless choices. The Leymarie family bought 15 hectares of land 8 years ago and have managed to turn what was a large olive tree grove into one of the most intriguing event venues in Morocco.
This place is geared toward events of all sizes from intimate 50 guest family-style gatherings to a blow out party for 2000. There are endless permutations in the way that the location can be reconfigured and the management and staff are ready and willing to make whatever you can think of come true.
Past clients include Coca-Cola, Porsche, Hewlett Packard, L’Oréal and hundreds of photo shoots for fashion and lifestyle magazines. It is apparent to this event planner that when the owners were designing the architecture and layout of the property, they had a thorough knowledge of the events business and how to cater to the logistical and technical aspect of successful events.
Rooftops can be converted into cocktail lounges offering unparalleled views of the Atlas Mountains. Three large open plazas surrounded by columns with elegant draperies, (which the owners have name the Riad), can be set up for seated dinners for 500 guests or left open for cocktails.
Choose a traditional caïdal tent to accommodate 80 seated for an indoor event, or a charming traditional clay, straw, stone and cedar beam structure which seats 180. The enormous Ksar (the North African Meghrebi Arabic term for “castle”), features amazing vaulted ceilings, has its own kitchen, bathrooms and heating and can seat 800 guests.
Several outdoor plazas, walkways and open countryside areas can all be configured to suit the imagination of even the most inventive event planner. The truth is, this place is so convincingly Moroccan, with a truly rustic feel, that it can be left completely as is – the name Beldi translates most closely from Arabic to English as authentic. The Leymarie family planted 15,000 rose bushes at the entrance to the property – a glorious visual as you enter the long driveway, and an endless supply of flowers for your event. Centuries old olive trees abound and palm trees, exotic bushes and plants are everywhere you look.
There is a small hotel on the property, 29 rooms including 2 family suites, separated from the much larger event venue eliminating any possible disturbance to guests. Two large pools, one for guests of the hotel and another, long, narrow and chic (imagine Wallace Simpson), open to the public and adjacent to a restaurant which features traditional Moroccan and international cuisine.
I could go on and on because there are more buildings and open spaces all of which are there for an event planner’s wild imagination. The Beldi has lighting, sound and all the staff you might need and also will supply tables, chairs, additional lounge furniture and hundreds of Berber rugs, cushions and lanterns. There are a few retail shops on the property including a Moroccan family owned traditional rug shop and interestingly, an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), women’s cooperative selling lovely hand embroidered linens and baby clothes, the proceeds of which fund the Ecole et Ateliers de L’Atlas.
BELDI COUNTRY CLUB
Contact: Alexandre Leymarie
Km 6, route du barrage,
Cherifia, Marrakech, Morocco
Tél.00212 524 38 39 50
Fax: 00212 524 38 69 28
Web site: www.beldicountryclub.com
This final hotel reviewed for this article is the new kid on the block and is making quite an entrance onto the scene. The owners, the Bennani family of Casablanca, hired Jacques Garcia – Marrakech’s designer du jour, to oversee every aspect of the design of this deluxe location with bespoke fabrics and trims, oversized and dazzling chandeliers and beautiful slate gray polished tadelakt walls throughout. The dominant colors are deep purple and gold – shades usually reserved for royalty and the Vatican, but here employed on furniture fabrics, trims, table settings and as accents on staff uniforms.
The overall effect is one of hushed elegance – a counterpoint to the bustling city, glaring sun and powdered dust that coats almost everything in this region of Africa. The hotel also claims to be green minded and socially conscious in that they “ use a lot of sun power in the hotel and try to reduce the use of electricity. We print documents as little as possible and we use sawdust instead of hay in the stables, which is more ecological.
Finally, a portion of our profits is donated to a non-profit organization that helps locals in a village nearby.” Regarding events, Réda Chraïbi, Attaché Commercial for the Selman assured me that the Selman is available for almost any high-end event and offers several options for event producers including a Conference Room that can accommodate 110 guests seated theater style with external patio and a large area bordering the swimming pool that can seat up to 800 guests.
Mr. Chraïbi also showed me an area called the Spring Garden where the hotel organizes Arabian horse exhibitions. And it is this that sets the Selman apart.
On the property are housed truly incredible pure bred Arabian horses, some of the most beautiful animals I’ve ever seen – and I’ve covered many polo matches and equestrian events. Unlike massive polo horses, these horses are more compact, extremely powerful, temperamental and highly intelligent.
And they are spectacular to watch. The paddocks and stables are all within view from most areas of the hotel and from guest suites and what the guests see is remarkable, even when the horses are peacefully grazing in the paddock. Guests can also tour the horse stables, accommodations that put many hotels to shame.
Contact: Réda Chraïbi, Attaché Commercial,
B.P 24 530 Marrakech Atlas, km 5 route d’Amizmiz,
Marrakech, Morocco 40 160
T. + 212 (0) 5 24 45 96 00
F. + 212 (0) 5 24 38 62 03
M. + 212 (0) 6 61 38 89 54