ideal for a Marrakech escape. With 20 individually styled rooms and suites, a four-bedroom private riad, 3 swimming pools and its own hammam spa, El Fenn is a unique boutique hotel combining grandeur and historic architecture with hideaway nooks, terraces and gardens – making it the most peaceful place from which to enjoy Africa’s most exotic city.
Our story began with two friends on the hunt for a small riad to buy as a holiday home. It was 2002 when Vanessa Branson and Howell James 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 which was being sold with three smaller neighbouring homes. 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 open a place offering something different – 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. Polished lime plastering was used in a rainbow of colours to create walls, baths and bed frames, original tiling was renovated and carved cedar ceilings restored. Retro furniture sourced from local flea markets was combined with one-off bespoke pieces to create a unique interior.
After a two-year renovation, El Fenn opened with six bedrooms in March 2004. Since then fourteen more rooms and suites, three swimming pools, a restaurant, bar, spa, library and cinema room have been added thanks to the purchase of neighbouring riads and the expertise of renowned Moroccan architect Amine Kabbaj.
The hotel now has three courtyards filled with trees and tumbling bougainvillea which hum to the sound of birds. There’s also a 7,000ft2 (650m2) roof terrace overlooking the Koutoubia mosque and snow-capped Atlas mountains – plus a four-bedroom riad steps away from the main hotel to allow groups of family and friends to enjoy the amenities of El Fenn while staying in their own private home.
Despite all this evolution, the spirit of El Fenn remains: it’s a place to kick back and enjoy the tranquillity of an abundance of hidden spaces before stepping outside to soak up the atmosphere of one of the most exotic cities in North Africa.
+ info El Fenn