When my Moroccan-born partner and I decided to go on vacation together to his home country, he volunteered to take on the Fez leg of the trip if I’d organize our time in Marrakech. Immediately, I was worried: How would I, an American, be able to arrange a relaxing and indulgent experience for a local in Marrakech, a city I’d only been to once? Turns out I had nothing to worry about. When we pulled up the long, shaded driveway of the Royal Mansour hotel, we could both feel the tension from the plane journey immediately leaving our bodies. This was what vacation was supposed to feel like.
Owned by the King of Morocco himself, the five-star Royal Mansour hotel is—by far—the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at. To start, there aren’t rooms, there are riads—each guest gets a three-story house to themselves, complete with multiple indoor and outdoor living areas, 1.5 bathrooms, and a bedroom the size of my New York City apartment. The roof is where the real magic happens, though: a covered terrace is the perfect place to drink Moroccan mint tea before taking a dip in the private rooftop plunge pool.
Priced at about $1,000 to $1,500 per night, staying at Royal Mansour costs enough that it should be a once in a lifetime experience—and it is. The hotel caters to well-heeled travelers with champagne taste and a champagne budget—look no further than its collaborations with Goyard and Christian Louboutin for proof.
ELLE.com sat down with General Manager Jean-Claude Messant, formerly of Paris’ beloved Hôtel de Crillon, to chat about the storied property.
What made you decide to take on your role at Royal Mansour?
I guess I moved down here for the hotel. Would I have moved here to run another hotel? Probably not. I made a few inquiries. I came to visit, and the day I came, I saw those two gates, those two monumental gates, open for me. And I said to my wife, “This is me. This is my hotel.” I didn’t go inside, I was just outside—I knew just from outside.
What feeling are you hoping to evoke in guests when they first arrive here? What do you want them to think or to feel?
To me, the sense of arrival is very important, and I would judge a hotel in actually one minute. When I get into a lobby, I know…I haven’t been to the bedroom yet, but I know, I can feel, I can sense that I’m going to like it or not. And so the arrival, the welcome, the smile, the hello, the setup, the design of the lobby, the architecture of the lobby, to me, that’s very important.
What I like is coming to your hotel with, “Wow.” And I remember a few years ago for the first time I stayed at the Ritz in Paris, and I was out of my car standing outside of the gates, and I felt, “Wow.” And to me, that was more important than anything else. Usually when you check in, you just want to go to your room. But when guests arrive to the Royal Mansour, they’re quite happy to wait a little bit, discover, walk around, because [there are] so many things you want to look at, touch, all the senses. The waters and the music.
For the last few years we’ve been dealing with COVID, which has greatly impacted the travel industry. I’m curious how those years were for you as a hotel and as a hotel manager.
We shut down the hotel in March 2020, and the hotel was at the top, business-wise and quality-wise. We were expecting an extraordinary 2020. We shut down within two days; we managed to get everybody out safely. And I was lucky to be able to charter a plane for my last 50 guests. So very quickly I went into war mode: get everybody from the staff out and back home. Over 600 people left for Paris. So, within two or three days, we went from an extremely busy hotel with lots of action and emotion to nothing.
I stayed in Marrakech. And within five days of staying home, I got bored. So I came back to the hotel, and then, bit by bit, we started to focus, number one, on the staff. My concern was my people and the staff and looking after them, and communicating. So I became a TV presenter, and God knows how many videos we did, but I wanted to be able to have a link with them.
Then I started a YouTube series, Diaries of a Confined Palace. We had one guest staying with us nonstop, and one day she sent me a message, and it was the diary of a confined guest. She told me what she did that day and the day before, and I said, “Hey, that’s a brilliant idea. I’m going to do the same.” And it worked really well.
The hotel collaborates with luxury brands and curates picks for the Royal Mansour shop. I noticed the Goyard bag in particular, but the clerk said it’s been sold out since the day it went on sale.
Yes, we only have one left in the safe.
In the safe?
As a souvenir for His Majesty. Goyard said, “We will produce 50 for you,” and we sold them at $5,000 each.
I love all the uniforms here, too. They’re so beautiful, so high- quality. Did you partner with a specific designer to make them? How did they come about?
Well, all the traditional Moroccan uniforms are made in Morocco by a fashion designer named Albert Oiknine. They need to feel good in their uniforms. It’s the question of: how do you provide them with something that is practical, but easy to maintain, nice, and feels good? You feel that you’re happy to put it on.
Who are some of the guests that you’re proudest to have served?
What I’m going to tell you might surprise you. It’s not the rich and famous—it’s the ones who either came for a special occasion or it was, for them, the trip of a lifetime.
We did a wedding about four years ago, and a gentleman came in and said, “I would like to organize a special wedding ceremony.” I said, “Fine, how many will you be?” “Just two of us.” He said, “My fiancée is 61; I’m 65. We’ve been together for 30 years.”
She was his PA; when he retired, he asked her to get married. He said, “I don’t want to invite anyone, because I want it to be a very special moment for me and my wife. And okay, there is no limit to what I will spend on food and everything else.” But, he clarified, “I want her to feel like she’s very special, like she’s a princess.” And we actually spent quite a bit of money on entertaining, the music, decoration, and the path from the arrival to the venue…yeah. That’s why I do this job.