“Gardens? Who cares about gardens? Jacques Majorelle? Yves Saint Laurent? We’re in the best hotel in the world — why are we going out?” said Anna Delvey (real name Sorokin) disdainfully as she sipped champagne in the Inventing Anna Netflix series about the one of the most notorious con artists of the 21st century. In May 2017, a woman named Anna, who claimed to be the heiress of a wealthy German art collector, arrived at La Mamounia Hotel (number six on the list of 2023′s best hotels in the world) in Marrakech with three friends. They booked one of the hotel’s most luxurious riads (a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden) — a 7,500 square-foot (700 square meters) space with lavish carpets, Persian decor, a private pool and lush gardens. Two days later, there was a problem. The discreet hotel staff promptly informed Anna about her credit card issue and requested a different payment method. Anna, who successfully conned New York’s elite, loudly complained and threatened to call her father, saying she would leave immediately by helicopter. “I remember management saying, ‘The riad 3 credit card has been declined.’ I was the first to notice that something was wrong,” said La Mamounia manager Pierre Jochem.
The young woman had scammed financiers and intelligentsia throughout the western world, but her stay at La Mamounia marked the beginning of the end for her house of cards. The stay cost $62,000, which ended up being charged to a Vanity Fair corporate card put up by one of the friends to help them escape Morocco. The incident turned into a key piece of evidence in Anna’s May 2019 fraud trial in New York.
Those events took place in 2017. The Netflix series premiered in 2022 as La Mamounia was preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2023. Many people wondered online whether it was a real place: an Arab palace with 209 rooms, featuring mosaic floors, exquisite furniture, and carved mashrabiyah window shutters, all surrounded by mesmerizing gardens? It almost seemed like the figment of a scriptwriter’s imagination. Netflix confirmed that not only was the hotel real, but also that the sixth episode was filmed in the same riad where Anna stayed. It seemed like a smart marketing move at the time. Yet, when we visited La Mamounia last November, many employees still recalled the stress of those days in May 2017. “I don’t know how they do it in Paris and New York, but in Morocco if someone tries to leave without paying, we call the police,” said Denys Courtier, the hotel’s regional, commercial and marketing director.
The hotel celebrated 100 years at its peak, attracting a new generation of people who know more about Khloé Kardashian and Netflix than about Winston Churchill and Charles Chaplin, esteemed guests of the past. When Pierre Jochem expresses concern about La Mamounia becoming a museum for nostalgic tourists, I reassure him that La Grand Dame, as the hotel is affectionately known here, will remain vibrant and youthful for at least another 100 years.
Visiting La Mamounia is like stepping into history and transcendence. This iconic hotel has hosted legends from the worlds of cinema, music and politics. Guests have included Alfred Hitchcock, Charles de Gaulle, the Rolling Stones, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Cristiano Ronaldo. One unforgettable aspect of this place is its unique aroma, a blend of dates and bitter orange created exclusively for the hotel by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti (of Diptyque and Penhaligon fame). It immediately transports visitors away from the chaotic outside world. They say what happens at La Mamounia stays at La Mamounia, but that aroma (available for purchase in candle or spray form) can only truly be experienced within the hotel, which exudes a discretion that may be the reason why it became a favorite for discerning politicians.
Winston Churchill, the brilliant bon vivant, was among the first to discover La Mamounia. In the 1940s, he chose to spend his winters here to work and paint from a balcony with a view of Mount Atlas and Koutoubia Mosque. Hearing the prayers emanating from the mosque is one of the unexpected delights at the hotel. One of the most significant hotel renovations was undertaken in 2010 by interior designer Jacques Garcia, who decided to dedicate a suite in honor of its most famous long-term guest — Winston Churchill. In contrast to the opulence outside, the suite seems almost modest, but it offers gorgeous views of the olive and orange trees often depicted in Churchill’s paintings. Brad Pitt once stayed at one of the hotel’s three riads when he was still with Angelina Jolie. As a souvenir, Pitt gave her Churchill’s Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque oil painting. When their relationship soured, Jolie auctioned it at Christie’s for €9.6 million ($10.38 million). La Mamounia also features a bar named after Churchill, the politician who unabashedly said, “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, La Mamounia once again put up an “Under Construction” sign in 2020. The renovation was led by architects Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku, who collaborated with 300 local artisans to create the Centennial Lamp — a magnificent crystal sculpture crafted by Berber artists. During our stay at the hotel, the lamp remained hidden behind a thick velvet curtain, closely guarded by employees round the clock. It was finally unveiled a week later during the grand centennial celebration. The hotel’s most inexpensive room costs at least $650 a night for visitors who mostly come from the United States (especially California and New York), followed by France, England, Morocco, Spain and Switzerland. Hotel staff say that the number of visitors from Brazil and Mexico is beginning to surge.
La Mamounia is a remarkable destination that embodies luxury, timeless elegance and captivating allure. For a century, it remains a coveted privilege in an ever-changing world. In the modern luxury industry, “clients spend more and more money, but they are more difficult, demanding and impatient,” lamented Jochem.
After the Casablanca Conference in 1943, Churchill invited Roosevelt to what he called “the most beautiful place in the world.” This invitation positioned the hotel as a symbol of global luxury, and in 2022, it became the setting for a global Netflix hit. Ultimately, everyone wants to visit here before their time is up. Denys Courtier says with some regret that many people just come to take a selfie and leave. “They don’t even bother looking around. They don’t see or appreciate anything.” He’s even more disgusted that some “very important financiers” are on the waiting list to reserve riad 3 from Inventing Anna. The world has changed. “It’s just decadence,” he said. “We have a Churchill Suite at La Mamounia, but we’ll never honor a scammer — we’re not going to have an Anna Suite. That’s simply not going to happen.” It’s truly heartwarming when, even at the age of 100, someone still talks about you with so much love and affection.
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