If you are the sort of traveller who likes to stay in properties that feel like home, then I’ve got just the place for you. On the outskirts of Marrakech, with the Atlas mountains visible along the distant horizon, Jnane Tamsna is a unique boutique hotel that gives guests the feeling of having been personally invited by the owners. In fact, many guests return to the property, having found the welcome of former lawyer MeryAnne Loum-Martin and her ethnobotanist husband, Gary Martin, too delightful to ever stay anywhere else.
The property contains just 24 rooms within five houses, but the grounds sprawl over nine acres that include five swimming pools, a boutique, tennis court and various outdoor dining areas. Between the buildings, every space is like a museum to flora, containing row upon row of different varieties of plant, tree and flower, collected and nurtured by Gary Martin and the whole property turns on a remarkably progressive eco friendly ethos. Guests cross paths frequently; you might find yourself in conversation with old friends of the family, visiting yoga retreatists or the Martins’ dog, but there is never a sense of overcrowding and one can always find a hidden nook in which to soak up the relaxing ambiance. In fact, the sense of being unhurried might not suit everyone – if you’re used to the almost psychic immediacy of service in a five star resort hotel, you won’t find it here. Staff are polite and helpful, but no one is going to fuss over your every need!
The bright colours and outdoor living at Jnane Tamsna are reminiscent of my travels in Mexico, with rectangular edifices of yellow stucco draped with flowering vines. Interiors – designed by your hostess – have a lot of carefully selected wooden furniture and decorations, each room striking exactly the balance between luxurious and comforting with a sprinkle of MeryAnne’s own flair. With enormous wooden doors on every room, one feels as though one is entering a palatial desert residence and sumptuous soft furnishings throughout the rooms, as well as luxuriously appointed bathrooms, only reinforce this impression. Our room was a soothing shade of light sage, with deep leather seats and an attached garden room that was shared with the room next-door. This is part of the family atmosphere of Jnane Tamsna, where guests can come and treat the rooms as their home away from home with the whole extended family! In fact, all 24 rooms can be booked exclusively, allowing you to invite all your favourite people to a magical Moroccan event and be sure that you have the place to yourself.
The dining options are somewhat limited, with a different set menu available each night, as the food is locally sourced – from the gardens of Jnane Tamsna wherever possible. My favourite dish was a spring roll starter on our first night that contained fresh vegetables from the garden that still had a delicious bite to them. The most curious thing about dining is that there seems to be an unspoken pre-agreed dinner time; tables appear and candles are lit, then guests gradually start to emerge and take their seats. Once the dinner has begun, MeryAnne passes through to make conversation with her guests, ensuring that all is going well with their stay. In this way, she has clearly made friends of many returning guests and they are quick to sing her praises as a hostess and an icon of the local tourist industry. Lunches can be taken poolside, or at several tables in informal arrangements within the garden, while a continental breakfast is served in the courtyard, where you might have to compete with a few brazen birds.
Our stay was brief, so we didn’t have the chance to explore all the grounds and local area of Palmeraie, a 54 square mile area of palm trees just outside Marrakech. However, we did have a full day of relaxation in two of the sumptuous pools, having cold drinks served to our shaded loungers and enjoying the hot sun from the glittering water. Perhaps with your spouse or lover, one could while away a few days more gazing into each others’ eyes; all the better if you have a rental car, or you arrange for transportation, and you can dip into the busy centre of Marrakech before returning to the peaceful seclusion of the hotel.
It is a place that feels like home because it is a home. Meryanne and Gary live right between the guests – OK, so they’re in a separate building, but it’s still right beside the guest quarters! Both are very welcoming and interesting, keen to talk about their range of passions and to give you the benefit of all their years as residents of Marrakech. Follow their advice and you’re sure to experience the very best of the city, but don’t expect to be able to fit it all into one trip. You’ll have to return, not just to Marrakech, but to Jnane Tamsna, where you will be welcomed as an old friend coming home.