Lifestyle & Travel

Nov 30, 2015

Paradise in Marrakech

In 2002 Vanessa Branson and Howell James were looking for a holiday home and walked into the almost ruined courtyard of one of Marrakech's formerly great private homes. Nearing dusk and with the sound of the muezzin's call to prayer echoing in the air, they instantly fell in love with the atmospheric house. They soon realised that their holiday home was going to become so much more. At the time, only a handful of Marrakech's riads had been converted to small hotels and Vanessa and Howell knew they wanted to create a home from home retreat that combined great food and service with the spirit of the building's past and a contemporary decorative twist. During a two-year renovation, local craftsman used traditional techniques to breathe new life into the building.


After a two-year renovation, El Fenn opened with six bedrooms in March 2004. Since then twenty-two more rooms and suites, three swimming pools, a restaurant, bar, SPA and library have been added thanks to the purchase of neighbouring riads and the expertise of renowned Moroccan architect Amine Kabbaj.

Vanessa Branson opened her first art gallery in London in 1986 and built an extensive private collection of works by artists including William Kentridge, Fred Pollock and David Shrigley. Today her artworks hang throughout the public spaces and bedrooms at El Fenn.

With 28 individually styled rooms and suites, tree-filled courtyards, a 7000ft2 roof terrace and a family of resident tortoises, El Fenn is the perfect retreat from which to enjoy Africa's most exotic city. Combining grandeur and historic architecture with hideaway nooks, terraces and gardens, the hotel is just five minutes' walk from the world-famous Djemaa el Fna square.

To prepare for El Fenn's tenth anniversary, general manager Willem Smit started a two-year refurbishment programme in 2012, redesigning and redecorating rooms and public spaces. The hard work paid off and in December 2014 El Fenn was voted number one out of 950 hotels to win the prestigious Mr & Mrs Smith award for Best Dressed Hotel.

They're one of the few riads in the Мedina with a swimming pool. In fact, they've got two lined in carrara marble plus a rooftop plunge pool with views of the Koutoubia mosque. Relax on a day bed in the Berber tent on the rooftop or take a dip in the plunge pool before enjoying in the best views in town - a panorama of the Atlas Mountains and Marrakech's beautiful mosque, the Koutoubia. At dusk the city lights up and glows before you and then the moon rises.

Elsewhere the lush gardens of the courtyards also attract a mass of songbirds and offer plentiful privacy. Or you can curl up to read in the library, enjoy a glass of wine by one of the open log fires or watch a DVD in the private cinema room.

You won't find phones or televisions in the rooms at El Fenn. Instead they'll do all they can to help you relax and provide a tranquil base from which to explore the city.

The team at El Fenn is drawn from the local community and we employ 60 members of staff from gardeners and receptionists to masseuses and chefs. Arabic, English, French, Dutch and Italian are all spoken but every staff member has one thing in common – the generous hospitality that Morocco is famous for. Warm, funny and kind, our staff members are often the most memorable part of a stay at El Fenn.

Traditional beauty rituals are given a luxurious twist in the El Fenn spa. Relax by candlelight before being given a black soap scrub and a ghassoul clay body mask in our hammam – or hot room. The products in the El Fenn spa have all been created by a local company, and contain natural ingredients ranging from rose water to ghassoul clay. There's also a choice of Argan-based treatments. This super oil is found only in Morocco and harvested exclusively by women in small co-operatives. Rich in Vitamin E and linoleic acid it is known for its anti-inflammatory and healing properties.

They're passionate about food and service here at El Fenn. That's why the menus offer the best of traditional Moroccan food as well as more European dishes. You can order food anytime from morning until night, anywhere from the roof terrace and restaurant to your room.

Being their guest, you have a big choice of types of rooms to stay: courtyard rooms, junior suites, imperial suites, private pool suites, family suites, and "little sister" bedrooms. Do not resist this unique exotic experience with the El Fenn hotel!

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