You only turn 30 once (I suppose that’s true for all birthdays, but you know what I mean!) so I wanted to do something absolutely fantastic to celebrate. Since international birthdays are the best birthdays (my past experiences in Italy, Rwanda, London and Budapest can attest to that) I knew a trip was in order. And the decision on where to go was an easy one too.
I’d wanted to visit Morocco for years. It’s exotic, it’s special, and it’s unlike most other places I’ve been. So my 30th birthday seemed like the perfect time to finally make that dream a reality.
I invited my cousin Marisa, and she responded “YOLO” as she always does (can you tell we’re related?!). After a bit of research, we decided on Marrakech, since it seemed the most authentically Moroccan of the major cities. We booked flights, did lots and lots of shopping, packed our bags, and boarded the plane several days before my actual birthday.
We spent the first few nights of the trip at La Mamounia, a super classy hotel that used to be a palace. Which means we technically stayed in a palace, right?!
They arranged an airport pickup and we were delighted when a man greeted us wearing a fez and driving a Jaguar. I like this hotel already!
After a quick 10-minute drive we pulled up to La Mamounia. Then after a quick sweep under the car for bombs (apparently not even the hotel’s Jaguar is above suspicion), the security guard waived us through the gates.
As a side note, I felt completely safe while in Morocco. I think the hotel was just being overly cautious to protect its guests!
We walked into one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen. It has a really cool vibe and is distinctly Moroccan in its decor, so immediately we felt worlds away from New York City.
I loved the way the Moroccan lamps cast light on the ceilings and walls.
And Marisa loved the intricate carvings that were expertly dug into the wet plaster before it dried.
Mouths open and eyes roaming the walls and ceilings, we were led through the lobby and directed to take seats on one of the many couches, where we were served dates and milk while the staff dealt with checking us in.
They’ll even exchange currency for you, and, after we paid our driver in Moroccan dirham, they thoughtfully asked if we would rather save our cash and charge it to our room.
It was so nice to just sit back and relax while they completed the check-in process. After this experience I never want to stand around at a reception counter again!
Before we knew it we were handed our keys and taken upstairs, where our room and our luggage awaited.
I opened the door to our room and my breath caught when I saw it.
It. was. stunning.
We immediately became obsessed with every part of the room, pointing out details in the decor and commenting on how Moroccan everything was. There were even fresh flowers and fruit, and both were replenished throughout our stay.
Then we walked out onto our balcony and were impressed all over again.
After hours on the plane the pool was calling to us, so we changed into bikinis and headed down.
I talk more about what is appropriate to wear in Morocco here, but for now just know that you do not need to dress conservatively on the hotel campuses. Obviously don’t completely abandon good taste, but the staff are so used to tourists that you shouldn’t need to worry about showing too much skin (within reason, of course).
On the way down to the pool we noticed the massive knocker on the door to our room. How fun is that?!
The pool at La Mamounia is one of the biggest hotel pools I’ve ever seen.
Of course I got right in.
The pool is lined with tiny scales that reminded me of a mermaid.
We became obsessed with the pool, although if I have any criticism of the hotel it relates to the pool. We really had to work to get the attention of the pool staff (no, not like that…) whenever we wanted to order food or drinks. I’m not sure if it was because they were universally inattentive or if it was because we were women. After spending more time in the country, and not noticing any difference in our treatment due to our gender, I’m leaning towards the former. Also, the pool menu is extremely overpriced, and for our first lunch we spent the equivalent of $80 on two sandwiches and two waters.
And, as an aside, I’m not aware of the hotel serving any Moroccan food either at the pool or in its restaurants. With such amazing Moroccan decor there should be corresponding cuisine!
After spending the day alternating between the pool and the lounge chairs (clearly it was a very rough day) we finally tore ourselves away to explore La Mamounia’s gardens.
I may have gotten in a quick spin on the way (no, not the workout, the fun kind of spinning)!
Then we made it to the garden and began exploring. Apparently in its prime it was quite spectacular, but it’s still pretty now, and a great way to pass the time between afternoon swimming and dinner.
Who knew Morocco had such interesting plants?!
And of course there were beautiful Moroccan lamps everywhere.
You can see why La Mamounia is now one of my favorite hotels in the world. It is gorgeous, and feels truly Moroccan.
Plus, they really went above and beyond to celebrate my 30th birthday. I didn’t even mention the occasion to them, but they must have noticed my birthdate in my passport when we checked in. Because on the night I turned 30, there was a knock on the door. In came room service with complimentary champagne and a chocolate cake wishing me a joyeux anniversaire. It was such a sweet, thoughtful surprise!
La Mamounia is its own separate campus that’s pretty close to the center of Marrakech, and you can walk to the main square in about 15 to 20 minutes. That’s not far at all, however in the heat it is very hard to drag yourself away from the pool to go wander the city’s dusty streets!
So for the rest of our first weekend in Marrakech we would wake up in the morning, do some sort of activity (you can read about these here) and then in the afternoons we would head back to La Mamounia’s pool to cool off and relax.
It was the perfect way to escape the heat… and reality…
In the late afternoons the staff served complimentary ice cream by the pool, something Marisa and I always looked forward to for obvious reasons.
Then we would continue playing in the pool until it got dark, only able to drag ourselves away with the knowledge that we would be able to return the next day.
In the movie Field of Dreams, one of the characters asks, “Is this heaven?” and the other replies, “No, it’s Iowa.”
While sitting by the pool, I couldn’t help asking myself, “Is this heaven?”
Yes. And it’s called La Mamounia.
To make a reservation at La Mamounia, click here. It’s my number one Marrakech hotel recommendation!