El Fenn is all about a home from home experience and it springs from the fact that the two original owners didn’t plan on opening a hotel at all. In 2002, Howell James and Vanessa Branson were hunting for a holiday house in Marrakech. At the end of a long day, the close friends walked into what was then a near derelict riad. By the time they left an hour later, they were on the way to owning not just one Marrakech home – but several. Unknown to them, the main building (today centred on the courtyard that houses our reception) was being sold with a string of smaller properties – some with only one or two rooms. It was only when Howell, a former permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office who has also held senior positions at the BBC and Christie’s, and Vanessa – an art collector, gallerist and patron - signed the sale papers that they realised just how much house they were getting. They took a leap of faith and decided to open a small guesthouse.
Originally created from 3 riads merged together, El Fenn’s main building now holds many varied rooms and suites. In addition to this, there’s a nearby 6-bedroom Private House which can be booked exclusively for up to 12 guests.
All are a generous size, with high ceilings, sitting areas and, in many cases, open-plan bathrooms so you can chat while you splash. A cool mix of oriental furniture and vintage pieces from the 30s to 70s - carved wooden doors, antique mirrors, Moroccan rugs and Art Deco chairs - offsets the modernism and reminds you where you are. Most have fireplaces and all come with slippers, iPod docks, robes and powerful yet discreet air-conditioning/heating.
In the main hotel, some rooms look onto the courtyard and therefore feel less private, while others are off a more quieter colonnade. The various Large Rooms (and above) are vast, with 6-ft wide beds. The Plunge Pool Rooms are more like 2-storey apartments, with roof terraces and plunge pools.
The Private House, a 3-minute walk from the main hotel, holds 4 Double Rooms and one 2-bedroom Family Suite. Guests staying here get a more peaceful experience, with an on-site pool, roof terrace and library, plus access to all of El Fenn’s facilities if needed.
- Air conditioning
- Central heating
- Cots Available
- Extra beds
- Safe box
Dinner is a very civilised affair, usually laid out in the riad’s palatial theatre-style bar and restaurant, where you dine under a mirrored ceiling which reflects the sparkle of a glass chandelier and the flicker of candlelight. The other option is to dine on the roof terrace, as we did, where tables are dressed with white cloths and twinkling candles. Either way there’s an a la carte menu offering European dishes (risotto with lightly spiced king prawns and lemon dressing, perhaps) and more traditional Moroccan cuisine. We plumped for the latter and enjoyed delicate bowls of Moroccan salad, chicken tagine with dried fruit, couscous and zingy preserved lemons. Vegetarian meals are also always available.
Lunch is simpler but no less tasty - typically a daily fish or chicken dish with salad, staples like club sandwiches or burgers and fries, and fruit and cheese - taken in the courtyard or up on the roof terrace. In the afternoons, a help-yourself high tea of cakes, sweet pastries and mint tea is served, and you can order from the room service menu any time you like (until 10pm).
In the morning, it’s bliss to wake up to sweet pastries and coffee outside your door. This is followed by a bountiful breakfast, served on the roof terrace or in your room, with eggs to order, fresh baguettes, the best homemade granola we’ve ever eaten, cinnamon porridge, homemade yoghurt, and fresh fruit and juices.
- Restaurants nearby
- Room service
- Vegetarian menu