Villa des Orangers, Marrakech – the discreet palace

A riad in Marrakech was the thing to have a few years back when the economic crisis hadn’t yet reached the Western world. It all started back in the late 90s when French and other Europeans discovered that they could buy a house in the old town of Marrakech for a bargain. Most of them had between four and eight rooms and were built around an open sky patio, with a garden and/ or a fountain in the middle. Although the restoration was a painstaking process, in the end it was worth it since the Riad was going to be turned into a small hotel and thus recover the initial investment. What’s more, Marrakech was a city that was safe, with guaranteed sunshine, cheap cost of living and close to home.

Entrance to private Villa des Orangers riad

The term ‘riad’ seems to design a ‘garden inside’. As to its origin and how it arrived in Marrakech, the most likely is that the then sultan Ali Ben Youssef, must have brought this architectural concept with him from Andalusian Spain at the end of 11th century. Son of a Christian mother and the Almoravid dynasty’s founder, Youssef Ben Tachfine, he had been brought up and educated in Cordoba in southern Spain, then the most important city in Europe. When he arrived in Marrakech, then the capital of an empire stretching from Senegal to northern Spain, he found little more than a nomad outpost. Under his supervision, most of the surrounding walls still standing nowadays were built and the house around an inside patio, so common in Cordoba and Granada, was introduced in Marrakech].

A French couple saw things bigger and decided to buy an old house built in the 1930s by a judge of Marrakech whose family lived there until 1998 and turned it into a palace – that’s how Villa des Orangers was born. Pascal and Veronique Beherec discovered the house during a short trip to Marrakech. Already owners of two hotels in Paris, it was the beginning of a new project: the creation of a luxury hotel, combining tradition and sophisticated decoration, within the walls of this residence, located in the Medina. Nine months were necessary to restore the house and local craftsmen worked there in the total respect of the traditions. The perfect integration of the hotel within the framework of the Moroccan culture creates a charming palace of 27 rooms and suites.

Villa des Orangers master suite

The villa has 6 rooms and 21 suites of different type on approximately 3000 sq m with 3 pools, different lounges, private terraces and many other bhous and private areas. The service is personalized and special attention is paid to every guest, whether by the Jean Paul Compagnon, the onsite manager, or one of his capable assistants. To keep alive the spirit of the Riad, they rely on a few details, for instance leaving the choice to their guests to have their breakfast or lunch whenever they wish or wherever they wish, by one of the pools, in the shadow of the orange trees in the main courtyard or in the garden under the pergola.

Villa des Orangers main pool

Although the last few years have seen the opening in Marrakech of large scale luxury boutique hotels like Amanjena, Palais Selman, Delano, Palais Namaskar, Four Seasons and others, VDO proposes a different experience, the unique way of life in a traditional Moroccan Riad with a Moorish architecture built on two levels around three verdant open-sky patios with water fountains surrounded by galleries of chiselled plaster and a garden. An intimate haven of peace and, although located within the medina, you can easily reach the front door by taxi. Marrakech is filled with interesting sights and Villa des Orangers has a great location for exploring the city, a mere 10 minutes’ walk from the mythical Jemaa El Fna square, the souks and 5 minutes’ walk from Saadi tombs and Bahia palace.

As a Relais & Chateaux member, the gastronomy is a key element. They offer seasonal Mediterranean cuisine and traditional Moroccan dishes.

Villa des Orangers Moroccan restaurant

The onsite French chef Jean-Claude Olry has started at la ‘Ferme Saint Simeon’ in Honfleur and joined VDO after a 3 year experience at the ‘Balthus’ restaurant in Beirut where he learned how to marry oriental spices with the French cuisine. Signature dishes include ‘Sea Bass carpaccio with its sauce vierge and the seasonal flowers’ or the ‘Candied lamb with spices, caramelized quince and honey’.

Villa des Orangers French restaurant

Villa des Orangers French restaurant dish

VDO is also member of Relais & Châteaux – an association unique in the world of hospitality, built on the individuality of the properties and the people who make up its membership. To be a member of Relais & Châteaux one must share some passions and give the strength to promote a particular art of living. The properties must comply with the 5Cs: Courtesy, Charm, Character, Calm, Cuisine and share the spirit and the soul of the chain. Belonging to R & C requires constantly reviewing quality objectives, to excel so that each guest may experience a unique experience.

The onsite manager, Mr Jean-Paul Compagnon, had worked for many years in Geneve, including the ‘Beau Rivage’ and as assistant manager at the Relais & Châteaux ‘Hotel de la Cigogne’. Back in 2003, he was looking for a new challenge and had the opportunity to visit a friend in Marrakech. He fell in love with the city and came back a few more times to visit the country when an ad for a management position at the Villa des Orangers was published. He applied and when the owner contacted him to organise an interview in Paris it so happened that he was already in Morocco… that must have counted for something because he got the job and 11 years later, his passion for Morocco and the villa only grew stronger.

And a great part in keeping that passion intact is exceeding his guests’ expectations. He remembers how a guest had recently organized the birthday of his wife and booked the entire house to entertain their friends without his wife knowing. When they arrived everyone was waiting in the main courtyard of the hotel. It was a total surprise with a lot of emotions for her and he likes to think that she will always remember this special birthday and the ambiance at the villa.

Villa des Orangers massage room

When asked what he thinks about those that say that Marrakech has lost its soul, he disagrees. He still loves to wander around the Badi ( incomparable) palace, imagining what that magical place was even if it is nowadays a ruin and to escape the summer heat finding refuge within the shade of Yves Saint Laurent’s Majorelle Gardens, amidst trees, exotic plants and gurgling fountains.

The guests at the villa come mainly from England, the United States, France and some other European countries. The European guests come most of the time for a long week-end to enjoy the sunny Marrakech. The American guests are mainly staying here part of a private tour of Morocco including Imperial cities, Sahara Desert, the Atlas Mountains and / or Atlantic coast.

Villa des Orangers double room

Cristian Martinus is Managing Director at Sun Trails.

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Comments (3)

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  1. I have read quite a lot about Marrakech recently but this is the first time I have seen a true luxury establishment there. I know that this part of Morocco is infamous for their local markets so I could just imagine relaxing in this luxurious villa and then wandering down and exploring what the locals have to offer.

  2. This riad is lovely. I like the idea of avoiding the larger hotels in Marrakesh and really getting the flavor of the place in one of these smaller spots. The design is in keeping with the local artisans and craftsmanship, I would think is quite an oasis after a crazy visit to the market. I can just feel myself breathing deeply poolside!

  3. Maya says:

    Being myself involved in tourism sector in Marrakech, I can insure you that this lovely villa is one of the most prestigious holiday properties in Marrakech. The villa has all what a 5 stars hotel can offer!

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