The Mamounia Hotel is one of my favorite Grand Hotels—a hotel that came into its own from the 1930s to the 1950s when Winston Churchill found a refuge here after the war and spent weeks painting roses in the hotel’s legendary gardens. Even prior to designer Jacques Garcia’s extensive style overhaul, visiting the Mamounia and its extensive gardens and grounds was like stepping into the Marlene Dietrich film, Sahara or wandering into a frame from Bertolucci’s iconic Moroccan film, The Sheltering Sky. On my last visit I spent an inordinate time smelling Sir Winston’s favorite roses and drinking mint tea while hearing Sting’s 80’s anthem to hipster author Paul Bowles in my head—“Tea in the Sahara with you…”
While Garcia’s renovations did away with some of the hotel’s ersatz art deco and antique atmosphere along with the cobwebs, a new alliance with the Japanese beauty firm, Shiseido is infusing some classic Moroccan tradition back into the newly trendy hotel.
This fall sees the Mamounia will open the Hammam Shiseido experience. The Hammam is the traditional bathhouse experience complete with body brushing and blood-stirring scrub down—all done in the sanctity of a domed skylight that filters light into the bathhouse below. The most famous version originates from Istanbul and the haram palaces of Topkapi, but the Moroccans have their own brand of hamman—most often a village bathhouse where locals gather to drink mint tea, get a scrub down and a good massage—all in the buff. The Shiseido version of the traditional Moroccan ritual lasts an hour and offers a deep cleansing, exfoliation and body cleanse and an application of layers of moisture using the brand’s premium product line from Japan (mint tea, optional). Visitors can do the ritual in traditional or private hammam spaces at the 27,000 square foot Garcia-designed spa.
My personal recommendation is to spend the downtime after the hamman relaxing in the hotel’s legendary rose garden, first dousing yourself liberally with the Mamounia’s signature Moroccan rose scent available in the lobby for a hefty price tag. I bought a bottle after a particularly memorable visit and every time I open it and breathe in the heady perfume, I feel like I’ve been transported back to the Marrakech of the late 1950s when Paul and Jane Bowles were serving up mint tea and marjoum to Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote.