From Miami to the Red CityComment on this story
Marrakech - There's nothing like a good storm to add a dollop of drama. As I arrived in Marrakech, ominous clouds had gathered around the Koutoubia Mosque, casting its dusty pink minaret and delicate arches against a stained cerulean sky. Stallholders in the Jemaa el Fna square - normally a hive of activity - rushed for cover, and pre-dinner drinks at the Delano's rooftop Sky Lounge were rained off.
No matter. Early to bed, early to rise. And oh what a wake-up it was. As I stepped out on to one of four balconies on my third-floor suite, calm had once again returned. Jaunty calèche carts trotted by and the distant peaks of the Atlas Mountains bristled in the morning sun.
For this is a city forever in flux, where a recent wave of high-profile hotel openings has caused the landscape to shift once more. From the vogue for luxury riads some five years ago, to the multimillion-pound hotels of today, this year alone has seen the Palais Namaskar, the Selman and, come December, the Taj Palace, added to the city's alluring mix. But for now, the last word in luxury is Delano.
Opened in September in the Hivernage district outside the Medina's walls, the hotel is the first foray outside the US and UK by Morgans, the American group behind the Sanderson and St Martin's Lane in London and the Mondrian hotels in LA and New York. The latest outpost is an offshoot of the Philippe Starck-designed Delano in South Beach - the type of hotel where beautiful people clink cocktail glasses late into the night.
In Marrakech, the look is a modern take on Moorish opulence. The lobby and all-day Galerie restaurant hug the sides of a round riad-style courtyard called the Rotunda, which is ringed by carved white pillars and deep crimson walls that reflect the Red City's distinctive hue. The 71 rooms and suites are dark and moody, with a liberal use of velvet, deep purple and Arabesque paintings by local artist Noureddine Daifallah. Down below, the cavernous Pearl Spa seals the stylish deal with hammam rooms and a huge mosaic-tiled pool.
Devoted Morgans fans will not be disappointed, though - the brand's hallmarks are still in evidence. There's no signage outside for a start: the idea being that if you can't spot a Morgans hotel, you shouldn't be staying in one. As dusk turns to dark, a trendy-looking DJ takes to the decks in the Rotunda as music pumps out of the Sky Lounge up top. Here, you'll find an open-air Japanese restaurant, a circular pool that skims the Rotunda's roof, Balinese daybeds and views of the Medina. If it all feels a little “beach club”, that's because the Namazake restaurant is run and managed by the MC Hotel Group, which owns the Marbella Club in Spain. It is also building a Suite Lounge nightclub and a fourth restaurant, Bon R - both of which will open next year.
Morgans has drafted in Jacques Garcia to work his magic on the interiors. The Frenchman is no stranger to the city, having overseen the revival of La Mamounia in 2009 and the new Selman. Add to that a Michelin-starred Italian chef in the Pomiroeu restaurant and designer boutiques and you've shaken up a cocktail to get the South Beach set leaping off its sunloungers.
Hivernage is a district of wide, open boulevards. It's genteel and picturesque, but the real action lies inside the Medina's walls, where you'll find labyrinthine souks selling sweets and spices, soaps and slippers, carpets and carved furniture. There's also the frenetic Jemaa el Fna square - where snake charmers, storytellers and acrobats jostle for attention. Dusk is the best time to see it from one of the elevated cafés, such as Les Prémices (00 212 24 39 19 70), which serves tasty tagines for about 45 dirhams (about R40). Or take in the city from a hot-air balloon. Delano can arrange this early-morning ride for 2,500 dirhams.
The deep, decadent rooms and suites layer upwards from the Rotunda like a rich gateau. They range in size from a spacious and plush Deluxe, right through to the opulent Royal Suite, which has a wraparound balcony big enough to accommodate an army. All have Malin+Goetz bath products, Lavazza coffee machines, plasma televisions, Juliet balconies and iPads for ordering room service.
If there's one niggle, it's the lack of lights. The rooms are very dark, especially at night when the moody colour scheme clashes somewhat with a deficit of ceiling lights, and you can find yourself fumbling around. But then, another Marrakech morning is always just a curtain swoop away.
Delano, Angle Avenue Echouhada et Rue des Temples, Marrakech, Morocco (00 212 524 42 42 42; delanomarrakech.com).
Doubles from 3,000 dirham, B&B - The Independent