With 28 individually styled rooms and suites, tree-filled courtyards, a 7000ft2 roof terrace and a family of resident tortoises, El Fenn is the perfect retreat from which to enjoy Africa’s most exotic city. Combining grandeur and historic architecture with hideaway nooks, terraces and gardens, the hotel is just five minutes walk from the world-famous Djemaa el Fna square and bustling maze of streets that make up the souk.
In 2002 Vanessa Branson and Howell James were looking for a holiday home and 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. 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 create 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 twenty-two more rooms and suites, three swimming pools, a restaurant, bar, spa and library have been added thanks to the purchase of neighbouring riads and the expertise of renowned Moroccan architect Amine Kabbaj.
To prepare for El Fenn’s tenth anniversary, general manager Willem Smit started a two-year refurbishment programme in 2012, redesigning and redecorating rooms and public spaces. The hard work paid off and in December 2014 El Fenn was voted number one out of 950 hotels to win the prestigious Mr & Mrs Smith award for Best Dressed Hotel.
Despite all this evolution though, the spirit of El Fenn remains: it’s a place to kick back and enjoy the tranquility of an abundance of hidden spaces before stepping outside to soak up the atmosphere of a city that’s seduced everyone from Yves Saint Laurent to Winston Churchill.