When my partner of Moroccan origin and I decided to vacation together in his home country, he volunteered to cover the Fez leg of the trip if I would organize our time in Marrakech. I immediately worried: as an American, how could I arrange a relaxing and enjoyable experience for a local in Marrakech, a city I had only been to once? Turns out I didn’t have to worry. As we drove up the long, shady driveway of the Royal Mansour Hotel, we both could feel the tension of the plane ride leaving our bodies instantly. This This is what vacation should feel like.
Owned personally by the King of Morocco, the five star Royal Mansour Hotel is by far the best hotel I have ever stayed in. First off, there are no rooms, there are riads — each guest gets a three-story house to themselves, complete with multiple indoor/outdoor living areas, 1.5 bathrooms, and a bedroom the size of my apartment in New York City. The real magic happens on the roof, however: a covered terrace is the perfect place to sip Moroccan mint tea before taking a dip in the private rooftop plunge pool.
At around $1,000 to $1,500 per night, staying at the Royal Mansour costs enough that it should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience — and it is. The hotel caters to well-heeled travelers with a taste for champagne and a champagne budget – look no further than the collaboration with Goyard and Christian Louboutin for proof.
ELLE.com sat down with General Manager Jean-Claude Messant, formerly of Paris’ popular Hôtel de Crillon, to talk about the fabled property.
What made you decide to take on your role at Royal Mansour?
I guess I moved here because of the hotel. Would I have moved here to run another hotel? Probably not. I’ve done some research. I came to visit and the day I came I saw these two gates, these two monumental gates, opening for me. And I said to my wife, “That’s me. This is my hotel.” I didn’t go in, I was just outside – I only knew it from the outside.
What feeling would you like to evoke in guests when they arrive here? What should they think or feel?
The feeling of arriving is very important to me, and I would actually rate a hotel in one minute. When I walk into a lobby, I know… I haven’t been in the bedroom yet, but I know I can feel, I can sense if I’m going to like it or not. So the arrival, the greeting, the smile, the hello, the decor, the design of the lobby, the architecture of the lobby, that’s very important to me.
What I like is coming to your hotel saying “wow”. And I remember staying at the Ritz in Paris for the first time a few years ago and as I got out of my car outside the gates I felt, ‘Wow.’ And that was more important to me than anything else. Usually when you check in you just want to go to your room. But when guests arrive at the Royal Mansour, they like to wait a little, discover, walk around, because [there are] so many things you want to see, touch, use all your senses. The water and the music.
For the last few years we have been dealing with COVID which has had a major impact on the travel industry. I’m curious how these years were for you as a hotel and as a hotel manager.
We closed the hotel in March 2020 and the hotel was at the top for business and quality. We expected an extraordinary 2020. We closed within two days; We managed to get everyone out safely. And I was fortunate to be able to charter a plane for my last 50 guests. So I went into war mode very quickly: get all the staff out and back home. Over 600 people left for Paris. So in two or three days we went from an extremely busy hotel with lots of action and emotion to nothing.
I stayed in Marrakech. And within five days of staying home, I got bored. So I came back to the hotel and then little by little, number one, we focused on the staff. For me it was about my people and the employees and about looking after them and communicating with them. So I became a TV presenter and God knows how many videos we did, but I wanted to have a connection with them.
Then I started a YouTube series Diaries of a closed palace. We had a guest who stayed with us continuously and one day she texted me and it was the diary of an imprisoned guest. She told me what she did that day and the day before and I said, ‘Hey, that’s a brilliant idea. I’ll do that too.” And it worked really well.
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The hotel works with luxury brands and curates selections for the Royal Mansour Shop. The Goyard bag in particular caught my eye, but the seller said it had been sold out since the day it went on sale.
Yes, we only have one left in the safe.
In the vault?
As a souvenir for His Majesty. Goyard said, “We’ll make 50 for you,” and we sold them for $5,000 each.
I also love all the uniforms here. They are so beautiful, so high quality. Did you work with a specific designer to make them? How did they come about?
Well, all traditional Moroccan uniforms are made in Morocco by a fashion designer named Albert Oiknine. They must be comfortable in their uniforms. The question is: how do you offer them something that is practical but easy to care for, beautiful and feels good? You feel like you like to put it on.
Which guests are you most proud to have served?
What I’m about to tell you might surprise you. It’s not the rich and famous – it’s the ones who either came for a special occasion or for them it was the trip of a lifetime.
We held a wedding about four years ago and a gentleman walked in and said, “I would like to organize a special wedding ceremony.” I said, “Well, how many will you be?” “Just the two of us.” He said: “My fiancee is 61; I’m 65. We’ve been together for 30 years.”
She was his assistant; When he retired, he asked her to get married. He said: “I don’t want to invite anyone because I want it to be a very special moment for me and my wife. And okay, there’s no limit to what I’ll spend on food and everything else.” But, he clarified, “I want her to feel like she’s special, like she’s a princess. And we actually spent quite a bit of money on the entertainment, the music, the decorations and the travel from arrival to the venue… yes. That’s why I do this job.