Amanjena for all Seasons
Amanjena, which translated means peaceful paradise, is like a dream or hazy mirage; pinch yourself while you're there though and then you'll discover it's for real. A realisation dawns on you about staying in a 'peaceful paradise' such as this; "there is no disguise which can hide love for long where it exists, or simulate it where it does not." La Rochefoucauld. This is the perfect retreat for those seeking to enjoy time away together, away from their normal existence; but it is not for those who need something or someone else alone to provide the stimulation in order to enjoy themselves.
Of course, there is luxury on tap here: discreet ubiquitous service, a spa offering the most sensational treatments known to human-kind, private dining, glamorous stage-set-style restaurants, a legion of chauffeurs gliding you around in air-conditioned 4x4's with perfumed flannels and sweet treats, a staggeringly inviting long pool surrounded by loungers with fluffy white towels and trendy straw sunhats, etcetera, etcetera. However, if you don't get the exhilarating-inhale-exhale factor when you step through the handcrafted traditional oak doors and gaze at the 'bassin' reflecting the surrounds like a magical mirror then, sadly, you miss the point. Luxury is in abundance yes, but it is so discreet and so private here - even though the palatial proportions are so awesome - that if you want to hole up and chill with your own amazing sound system, wired to acoustic perfection around your pavilion, then you can. Alternatively, if you want to dip into the spicy mysteries of Marrakech, then within 15 minutes you can be in the bustling Djemaa el Fna at the centre of the Medina.
Amanjena opened its oak doors in 2000. A welcome Millennium surprise, nestled in grand style in the Palmeraie oasis on the outskirts of town. Dusky pink majestic pavilions and palms, tall and small, are fantastically mirrored in the central bassin, the glistening heart of Amanjena; even the storks can't bear to leave and the monogamous pair breed annually in the tallest palm enjoying a priceless birds-eye view. The pavilions are simply divine: nothing in excess, yet the volumes of space, and attention to details are so gloriously finished that you do feel extraordinarily spoilt staying here. Simple touches, like the rouge-aged Berber rugs on the exquisite hand-made green tiled floor, and lashings of pale salmon pink rose buds are constantly admired whilst the 'his' and 'her' dressing areas, larger than many bedrooms, are a wonderful indulgence. The sliding doors onto the terrace, with a turquoise tiled water feature and large pavilion/gazebo for private dining, star gazing, mountain moments and sunbathing is both dramatic and enticing. The lighting here is theatrical, almost Venetian in its play on dark and light, with rows of candles lit at dusk as the sun sets its reflection on the bassin and water channels that separate the pavilions. In the distance, the snow-capped Atlas mountains are a constant reminder of the resplendent setting, while olive groves and fruit trees, bowing and bulging with fullness, are reminiscent of the exotic touches of this contrasting land.
During the colder months, the womb-like fire, set deep into the wall of your pavilion, is lit on demand and, at sunset, warming the high earthen walls within seconds. The pavilion is sun-drenched by day and glows romantically by night. There is something immensely pleasurable, perhaps even primal, falling asleep to the sound of crackling kindling. The breakfast here, laid out on your terrace, is fantastic and the frothy cappuccinos are piping hot on arrival.
A short stroll away from your pavilion is the smouldering Spa, a den of glorious concoctions surrounded by deep blushing walls, pink roses, burning candles, incense and immaculately dressed smooth operators. The Moroccan Hammam, which cleans, softens and relaxes the skin and soul is a liberating experience: a perfect way to prepare the body for a heavenly massage using invigorating essential oils to knead out the knots. You will return to your pavilion positively glowing.
Amanjena organises guest services, or activities, so that you can experience Morocco in much of its glory and if you have something different in mind then the Amanjena 'family' will find a way to make it happen. We took a drive up to Kasbah Toubkal set high against the largest peak in the Atlas Mountains. Solemn mules trekked us up the side of the mountain leaving the unvarnished, orthodox Berber village behind. Up at the Kasbah you eat a basic lunch to views quite divine, with the majestic Jbel Toubkal, Northern Africa's highest mountain at a staggering 4,167m in front of you. A memorable and deeply enjoyable experience - and in early March, when the valley's chestnut and cherry trees are bragging their spring colours along the banks of the mountains ravine, it makes it one of the most picturesque sights on any continent.
Discovering the red city and its pumping Medina
This may take several trips but being a mere 15 minutes away each foray is surprisingly simple. Depending on what you would like to experience from this rich and colourful culture you can be guided by the guest services staff on hand. Guided tours through the souks, visiting tanneries, traditional bakeries and hammams, where everyday subsistence living has a charm unlike anywhere else, are immensely rewarding. Apparently, in certain instances, when an impending engagement is in the souk-line, the prospective in-laws go straight to the all-knowing Baker for advice: if he feels the family is not right then the suitor is not suitable. Much can be learned from the simple ways of life here and it makes our fast pace seem somewhat exhausting. From the moment you pass through a bab (gate), beneath the pinkish terracotta city walls, you are transfixed.
The hubbub in the Djemee el Fna increases in intensity throughout the day and, as the sun dips behind the reddening walls, the crowds assemble and Medina madness is let loose. Snake charmers, story tellers, belly dancers, henna artists, food stalls selling soups, sausages and spicy vegetable mixes are all lit up by smoky white paraffin lamps and children, laughing, shouting, singing and dancing are enjoying their favourite time of day. Nearby to the square the famous Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century, lights up proudly against the starry, smoke-blanched sky. There is mystery and magic here including some fabulous riads with outstanding courtyards; climbing crimson bougainvillea, orange and lemon trees bursting with fruit, which are all pretty standard in the riads, though some have gone the extravagant mile and created Moroccan wonderlands in palatial settings behind their tardis-like walls. Everyone is extremely hospitable here, and, since we last visited 11 years ago, there seems to have been a clampdown on hassling, so you can genuinely say that you are just looking!
On the advice of Amanjena we dined by candlelight in two wonderfully atmospheric restaurants. La Pavilion, French with a Moroccan twist, in a low lit humming courtyard inside an old riad with pretty white trellising, French and Berber furnishings, an exciting menu and a very trendy clientele. The following evening we went famously authentic and gorged out at the understandably hyped Dar Yacout. After taking in sensational panoramic roof top views we were led down to a fruity vodka cocktail and settled comfortably in one of the richly decorated rooms around the pool in the central courtyard. Waiters in fezzes and djellebas ply you with several exotic and delectable Moroccan dishes while simultaneously pouring gallons of quaffable local red and white wine from chunky clay jugs into delicate gilt and crystal glasses. As each scarlet velvet tagine shaped hood is lifted, a new surprise is exposed and your eyes have to trick your bulging waistline in order to eat the evening out. The musicians are amazing, perhaps even the star attraction in this superbly orchestrated riad performance.
Back at Amanjena the food is both beautifully served and wonderfully fresh. We had a birthday to celebrate and the Amanjena family surprised us by setting up a private rose-bud-clad table in the olive grove outside our pavilion, with pink Laurent Perrier chilling enticingly alongside. As the sun dropped down, after some delectable Thai and tagine dishes, they sprawled Berber rugs and large tapestry cushions on the grass so that we could recline with our sweet pastries and mint tea.
It is here at Amanjena, surrounded by a convivial staff, all of whom really want to make your stay extraordinarily memorable, that you can lay back like a Pasha in a most peaceful paradise.