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Monday, 31 March 2014

Design Downtime - The Marvel in Morocco


Don't be fooled, Design Trawling is not for the faint hearted. Sure, the relentless circling the globe in the search of meticulously crafted artifacts sounds like fun. Buckling-up in your usual seat with a copy of the weekend FT and chalice of fizz during take-off, only to louche around luxury accommodations in locations with corresponding Wallpaper* guides seems like a hoot. But it's not. Honestly.

Every armchair, every streetlamp, every window frame, doorknob and bedside alarm clock; it's all design; and it's all fair game for Design Trawler. Food critics work when they're examining towers of wild venison and polka-dots of berry jus. Film enthusiasts cast their verdict on the basis of a few hours of explosions, wide-angle shots and [if they're lucky] subtitles and moody music. But for a Design Trawler, short of confining ones self to a white room with no windows [it has been suggested], there is little respite or sanctuary. Well, there is one. It's called Amanjena.

Finding myself in Morocco, at the sharp end on a lesson about Berber architectural design styles, I felt it only appropriate to check-out of the city, with its souks and spice markets, and in to something a little more peaceful. Located 15 minutes drive from downtown Marrakech lies Amanjena. Indeed upon hearing I was travelling to Amanjena, my bell boy swiftly handed me a bottle of water for the journey [something that I would soon realise wasn't quite how things are done at the five star enclave]

Set amongst 13 acres of palms and olive trees, Amanjena has only 39 rooms and an impressive 'inverted' staff to guest ratio. Frankly, the next time I check in to a hotel that has any less than 5 and a half employees per room [215 staff - that wasn't an exaggeration], I'm bringing my own entourage. And with statistics like that, you soon begin to see that this is no normal hotel.




Not normal because it isn't really signposted, and there are two sets of security gates between it and the outside world. Not normal because there is no check-in desk, and the very smallest room is a mere 150sqm detached house with 22ft high domed ceilings, private garden with covered pavilion, day beds and a bathroom that puts most luxury spas to shame. Better not to ask about the largest 'room'.

Upon arrival at Amanjena, I was greeted by the vivacious and razor sharp resident manager Joana Guimarães who showed me through to a gigantic round table by the impressive central lake. Ushering a butler to take away my full bottle of water, she explained with a wide grin that "you won't need that here" while another of her staff footmen appeared from around my other shoulder to pour some fresh mint tea. As a point of note, be sure to travel with smart luggage, for fear that anything without a monogram or made from crocodile leather may be equally and summarily discarded!

After the initial delight and some sauntering around the grounds, what struck me most was the paired-down design aesthetic at Amanjena. A distinct lack of hammered copper lanterns, multicoloured tiles cut in intricate patterns, carved ivory latticework or ornate ironmongery. The proportions are grand de luxe, don't get me wrong, and for a symmetry hound like myself, endlessly pleasing. In the most surprising reversal of perception, the opulent palace is calm and effortless.





One day down, and unlike every design hotel or trendy bar with bottle tops running up the wall and rotating trapezoid mirrors; always competing for your attention and oh-so demanding for a Design Trawler; Amanjena is the oasis. The design 'white noise' that blocks out man made, clever, overly designed 'stuff'. The hand-rubbed walls are warm and simple, the sound of water from the lake and infinity streams is everywhere, and so too is the ethereal manager Joana.

Recline by the deserted pool under the electric skies and open one eye - you'll see her gliding past with her wise and omnipresent grin; her rich voice proclaiming "What more could you ask for?!" - Like a guardian spirit or the aroma of rose petals that sweeps through the colonnades at Amanjena, she'll appear at dinner, greeting you by name and ensure that each one of her army of staff deliver service that makes the Aman Resorts guest return time and time again.

And it isn't just the manager. Each waiter, driver, musician and maid will greet you placing thier hand over their heart and with a humble bow. Even the resident fireman [no, not the hen party type; although Sex and the City 2 was filmed at Amanjena], will build and prepare the log fire in your maison with a valiance and sense of duty that's both impressive and endearing. Hop across to the spa and you'll be taught about the traditions and benefits of a true hammam and black soap before being beaten to a fine pulp by a jovial giant [for those that like their treatments on the 'deep and meaningul' side]; keen to learn about which sports you play and the origins of your name.




Departing Amanjena is no less humbling. As I was safely tucked in to the back of a premium German saloon, a roll-call of almost a dozen of the faces that have served, smiled and catered to your every whim line up to wave goodbye. At the airport your driver will check you in and carry your bags right up to the security line [and presumably to the steps of your jet too, if applicable] before wishing you a safe return home. "As salaam alaykum. Peace be with you". 

Peace indeed, so very rare for the Design cognoscenti. For moments later, every cup, every coaster, balustrade, bottletop and bluetooth iPod dock appear, once again, 'in play'. Game for design comment and criticism; both things that are totally and absolutely irrelevant for Amanjena. The marvel in Morocco that exists beyond design. A Hotel California from another world, it's magical, and it's mysterious, and alluring beyond comprehension. You can check out any time you want, but Amanjena is the pill to design addiction that you're not going to want to leave.






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