Needless to say that in the last five years, Marrakech has seen a boom in luxury hotels, each one more opulent than the next.
From the more intimate charms of a leafy riad in the heart of the dusty red walled medina, to one of the large-scale hotels outside the city with flashy spas, countless pools, and lavish feasts of local and European specialties, Marrakesh caters for every taste.
The Selman Marrakech is of the latter sort, but, locally owned and run, its strong sense of place prevents it from being lumped in with its rivals, so it’s not hard to see why Hollywood actress Naomi Watts celebrated her 50th birthday here last year – and if it’s good enough for Naomi, it’s certainly good enough for us.
1. An unmistakably Moroccan sense of place
The passion-project of the Bennani-Smires family, the hotel has 55 guest-rooms and five villas, placing it on the small side for Marrakech. A loosely Moorish powdery red-brick structure that echoes the colours of the medina, the interiors of the hotel, in part designed by Jacques Garcia, is a maze of high ceilinged marble parlours draped in plush purple velvet, and sprinkled with family heirloom furniture and artefacts. The staff’s relaxed service too, which may take a day or two to get accustomed to for a Western crowd used to having all their needs anticipated, sets the scene for the laid-back local pace.
2. The palm-fringed holiday feeling will have you hooked
As well as its local identity, its location also sets this hotel apart from the rest. Not in the medina but a ten-minute ride away, and not in Marrakech’s palmeraie lumped in with the rest of the five-stars, it stands alone on a deserted road that snakes right up the to the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, so blink, and you’ll miss it. Hidden behind a high wall surrounded by manicured shrubs, the secluded location gives it a country club-meets-oasis ambience.
3. It has a pool that stretches (almost) to the Atlas
The most stand-out feature (the Selman has several), is the turquoise slab of cool water with tall palm trees neatly lined up on either side, and that extends, for a full 80 metres exactly, from the main building right to Assyl, the Moroccan restaurant. The Selman pool is actually said to be the longest on the continent. The pool is so long that it’s always quiet, and even when the hotel is full, you’d still feel like you’ve got the pool all to yourself.
4. The family’s Arabian equestrian heritage
Describing the Selman without mention of its stables is like talking about Paris without the Eiffel Tower. The thoroughbred horses on site belong to Abdeslam Bennani-Smires, one of the owners who is also a keen rider and hotelier. The 16 strapping horses with their deep black and caramel coats that glimmer under the Moroccan sun, are the beating heart of the Selman. Located at the other end of the gigantic pool, the stables can be visited, and horseback excursions can be organised. A host of trainers painstakingly care for the horses, and put on weekly horse shows during Sunday brunch. The internationally renowned artist-rider Sadek El Bahjaoui, who helped train the Selman’s horses, also occasionally puts in an appearance.
5. A restorative Chenot Spa you won’t want to leave
The Selman is one of those five-star hotels with a European branded spa – all 1,200m2 at that – but if you think that means its Italian wellness centre credentials take away from the hotel’s Marrakech sense of place, then think again, because the staff here have truly made the brand their own. They have taken the incredible protocols to new heights with their expertise and instinct. A massage here will leave you feeling like you’re walking on air. It has a Moroccan layout with a heated pool in the middle and large hammam, it also has a more intimate double pool out in a garden that teems with birdlife.
6. Assyl’s lip-smacking gourmet Moroccan fare
The Selman is marked by its local spirit at every turn, including at Assyl, the hotel’s signature restaurant. Located in a small palace-like building of its own at the very end of the main pool, it’s lit by a blanket of starry reflections from low-hanging ceiling lamps. The space is designed to look like a traditional dining room complete with hand-crafted local furniture, swirls of hand-painted frescoes and latice woodwork. Here, gourmet Marrakech cuisine from titillating tagine to delicate pastillas is served to the sounds of a quartet of local musicians playing an array of Moroccan wooden string and wind instruments for that added Arabian nights magic.