Review: Amanjena, Marrakech

Amanjena

Amanjena, Marrakech
Room type: Pavilion Piscine
Duration: 18th > 20th November, 2017
Booked with: Dorsia Travel

Pre-sales

This was my birthday treat, so all communication was of the highest level of top secret and on a need to know basis.  Apparently I still don’t need to know, even though I’m reviewing it.  Rumour has it that it was good, if that helps?

Getting there

Marrakech airport has undergone quite the face lift since I was there last year.  No more waiting in a lounge and being poured a local beverage, but greeted by an airport representative that pushed us down our own private arrival fast track queue to avoid the huge crowds.  His priority was more about speed than consideration, but it worked and within minutes he was rid of us and could go back to playing with his phone, and we were suddenly greeted by someone that had heard of customer service before: our driver.

When you travel as much as I do, you can begin to lose appreciation for what is in fact excellent service, but becomes the norm.  The awaiting car has become exactly that, as it’s hard to come up with anything impressive anymore.  Ani Villas provided a weeks supply of food for a family of 4, free wifi access, cold towels and likely all the macha ice cream you could ever have nightmares about.  So when Aman provides cold, scented towels and water, it should be noted, but it’s not going to touch my soul and bring back Bambi’s mother anytime soon.

Within 30 minutes of landing, we were in Amanjena.  On arrival the GM and Hotel Manager greeted us with tea and a choice of snacks, and we sparred over our in depth knowledge of Aman. He won this round, but I’ll get you next time, Gadget.

Entrance

Setting

Marrakech: just a shade over 3 hours away from London, yet feels like you’re in an entirely different continent.  Air travel really does come with its perk.  The middle of November and all that awaits is perfect blue skies, 28C, and the inevitable sunburn that leaves me looking like a deformed hotdog.  Except come around 5:30pm, the temperature plunges and it’s suddenly rather cold.  Bring layers.

Yet do not think this drop in temperature will keep mosquitos away.  Oh no.  The year is 2045.  The oceans have risen, life as we know it has changed, half the worlds species are dead, and those that are not are down to their last numbers.   We all live in The Day After Tomorrow’s wet dream.  There is only one remaining male mosquito.  It is aware enough to realise that it will become extinct if it does not breed.  Yet it cannot.  For something else has overtaken it.   It has to travel across the globe.  It does not know why, but all its genetics is forcing it to hunt.  It must go in search for what it knows to be the one and only truth.  It must find me.  Survival or attacking me.  The choice is simple; it will not hesitate.

In case you’ve reached that age in life where the only alternative is gardening, there is a golf course next to Amanjena.
Amanjena at night. The black sky is the give away.

Stay List

Aman suffer from amenities constipation; trying to get any food from them is a painful task.  It must hurt them to give anything, so maybe haemorrhoids would be a better analogy.  All I know is that it involves anuses and no one wants that shoved in their face on arrival in a luxury hotel.  Looking back on my Aman stays, even Amanpulo charged for some snacks when I was in a 1 bedroom villa.  I can recall two times Aman provided anything that would constitute food: Amanoi, and Amanjiwo.  The latter is me cheating on their behalf, as Iniala asked them to make something for me on my arrival.

So we arrive to see no drinks, no snacks, but a rather nice bouquet of white roses and red wine.  Hang on, who’s birthday was it?  At this stage, my girlfriend uses all her charm that she developed growing up under Communism, to kindly explain her thoughts on this.  The pre-arrival team were (apparently) so fantastic, that once you arrive somewhere to then find none of it done, it makes you start looking for faults elsewhere.

So with a dash of charm, followed by a sprinkle of threats and murders, the room was completely overwhelmed with snacks.  A small change made a big difference and changed the experience.  It should have been done in the first place, but if you ever eat their white chocolate, passion fruit treats, you too will forgive them.

Not for me
Still not for me

Rooms

Adrian Zecka and Ed Tuttle, sitting in a tree.  They sure love each other, and I would join in with this love if I suddenly had not created an unnecessary threesome.  Anywho, Ed Tuttle has designed some of the most famous Aman resorts, including Amanbagh, Amanjiwo and Amanzoe.  Once you’ve been to one, you can certainly tell when you visit another.  With its use of water, large open spaces, locally sourced material and inspired by the nations architecture, Amanjena ticks all the boxes.

The problem is, excluding Amanzoe, I do not like any of Ed Tuttle’s rooms.  Even with Amanzoe I don’t love the open planned living area and bedroom.  Amanjena feels very similar to Amanjiwo with its very bare, basic and boring design.  He has a talent for making something appear larger than it is (steady now), either with high ceilings or unusually spaced rooms – Amanjena does both.  The high ceilings result in unusual acoustics – if even a mouse farts, it will wake you up due to the loud echo that sounds like an explosion; you too may think ISIS are coming.  The room is actually quite small, so it is the large courtyard and pool that add the square meters and gives it an impressive sounding 220 sqm – a neat trick that Trisara used too.  Naturally the heated pool was too cold, so it never got any use.

Even though the room design is not for me and I see more cons than pros, I would not be put off by returning.  As so much space is taken up with the garden, during the warmer months it would be perfect, but during winter you are forced inside and it’s as exciting as a conference on how to catalogue your sock collection, presented by Noel Edmonds.

It was closed for refurbishment last year, so a few new touches have been added, including the same AC controls as Amanzoe, a video camera to see who is at the door, Bose Bluetooth speakers, and a TV that is in the most illogical place in the entire room, except maybe stapled to the back of your head.  The bathroom is perfectly pleasant, with good amenities and twin vanities, but they decided that the sliding doors on the bathroom that sound like a chalkboard giving birth should be kept.  Then they thought it a good idea to install a shower that takes a week for the temperature to change, then decides it doesn’t like being told what to do, so changes itself to become too hot or cold, just to show you who is boss.

The blackouts were perfect, with not a hint of light coming in, and they even include a mosquito door net, which obviously the mozzies evaded like they’re James Bond.

The real showpiece of the room is the fireplace.  On both evenings they lit it for us, so we fell asleep with the fire crackling away in the background.  Were I the romantic type, I would tell you how beautiful it is.  I’m English though, so instead I’ll tell you it was fine.

Garden
Pond within the garden
Pool
And another picture of the pool
Still the same pool
Bathroom
Bedroom
Fireplace
Gazebo
Seating within gazebo

Amenities

  • Main pool
  • Kids pool
  • Pool restaurant
  • Japanese restaurant
  • Moroccan restaurant
  • Bar
  • Indoor tea area
  • Gym

Wifi is available throughout the resort – with speedtest showing 40 down/30 up speeds – but it was more unreliable than a Russian political Facebook group.

Main pool
Still the main pool

Spa

Normally I would reserve a good amount of space for this segment, but excluding the separate male/female changing rooms that contain a hot tub and hammam, I want to put as much effort into this section as we were provided when we went there.  It felt like no one worked there, with just one woman saying she was going for training and heading off, so maybe she wanted us to just lock up after ourselves and massage ourselves.

Hot tub in male changing room
Hammam
Gym

Activities

Last year over at The Mandarin Oriental, I went on a tour.  This year, using a different tour company, with a different guide provided by Aman, I ended up going on a tour that felt strangely similar.  Same carpet sellers, same markets, same palace, same monastery.  The only difference was a YSL gallery, that was in fact worthy of a visit.  The only reason it was not in last years tour?  It was not open.  In conclusion: there is only 5 hours of activities available in Marrakech.

Food

Food is always an area I struggle with.  If you read many of my reviews you likely get bored me of mentioning it.  A diet that swings from 2 Michelin star lunches to Domino’s Pizza dinners will do that to you.  Yet I have my secret weapon now: my girlfriend.  If I don’t like it and she doesn’t like it, they are in trouble.  Amanjena, therefore, is screwed.

Yet before I unleash fire and fury like the world has never seen, let me compliment them.  The Moroccan restaurant is within a truly majestical room, with live music and enough seating to become a stadium.  It is worth visiting just for this.  They are also the most generous hotel I have ever stayed in when it comes to freebies.  Drinks were given complimentary to try – mocktails for me and wine for my girlfriend.  No reason, they just appeared.  Then kept coming.  In the end, they opened 2 bottles of wine, just to try.  Then at breakfast, without asking, drinks I ordered the day before and enjoyed would show up.  I’m sure the F&B director loves me more than my father – he at least acts like it.

Unfortunately that is rather drowned out by the quality of the food on offer.

Their Japanese restaurant charged prices worthy of being in Japan, but that was all it had in common.  The sushi was actually surprisingly good, yet the chicken teriyaki looked like the chicken self-combusted, rather than was cooked, and my partners food was barely edible.  The presentation and taste of it was sorely lacking, especially at the price point.  The Moroccan food was even hopeless, with it looking like something from a soup kitchen, but tasting worse.  The waiters kindly hand it over without any explanation of what you’re about to eat, and as it looks like it was made during a food fight, I wasn’t sure either.

I even ended up sending a burger back on the second day, having enjoyed it on the first – a true sign of the inconsistency that seemed to plague the resort, that also managed to manifest itself in ginger and honey tea arriving different on three separate occasions.  The one time it actually arrived with honey, it was in a container already open and half eaten.

A small buffet was available for breakfast, but they have a strange policy in place of not offering a la carte when occupancy is high.  It was 65% occupied during our stay.  When I pushed on it, they did then offer a la carte, which made it even stranger.  Chef can only be bothered until shit gets real?

If you stay here, be prepared to eat out.

Part of the breakfast selection

Service

Amanjena’s service felt relaxed and management were – as Aman’s are known for, but not always good at – everywhere.  There were moments of brilliance, followed by inexplainable moments of insanity.  On one hand they delivered a beautiful, and extremely delicious birthday cake, but on the other they begun to sing Happy Birthday and forgot my name.  It was like watching Pavarotti sing live, only for him to hit the final note and fart instead.  We also saw housekeeping every single day, which was not Aman like at all and completely ruined the fun I have in trying to spot them, like being on a safari for a chameleon.  On the last day they had just started cleaning our room as we returned from breakfast, so on one hand I should be honoured that they do it on the last day, but on the other why bother if they come so late and we just have to sit around and lose more time?

Pool dining area

After our disappointment of the room setup, the porter bizarrely passed onto the Hotel Manager that we were thinking of walking.  I’ve been known to like my sweets, but not that much that I would leave a hotel with nowhere else to go.  That would be like being annoyed with the milkman turning up late, so burning down my house.

It was a patchy start though.  Orders not showing up, then chasing them and being told to speak to someone else, then trying to break down the English barrier and explain what a tissue is.  Yet otherwise, the service was excellent.  The real stand out was management, with Petar, the Hotel Manager, whom I assume only sleeps 3 minutes per day, as he was more present than chlamydia at a swingers party.

Suddenly everything just clicked into place.  Thoughtful touches such as sunglasses wipe provided at turndown; candles and rose petals scattered throughout the room on our final night, with a warm bath waiting for us on return; requesting some of the free snacks they have available near the lobby, only to find them in our room later on.  During our final day, Petar always wanted to extend us a late checkout, if our room at Royal Mansour was not ready yet, so phoned them to check.

Finally, something for me!

Departure

The GM, Hotel Manager and many-a-staff came to goodbye and waved us off.  It was jolly nice.  Even more so was the chocolates and my birthday cake which they carefully packaged to take to Royal Mansour.

Amanjena

Worth Knowing

During my conversations with senior management, the issue of the spa came up.  They accept they need to better spa facilities in order to compete with the landscape that now exists, and this is even more evident if you see what Royal Mansour has available.  One is planned.

The Good

  • 3 hours away from London
  • True to its name, it is a very peaceful place.

The Bad

  • Unless you want to go to one of their higher room categories, the room was somewhat uninspiring
  • Food

The Luxurious

  • Excellent service – service recovery counts for a lot
Main entrance

Conclusion

We had a bumpy start.  Anyone that gets my stay list wrong starts on the wrong foot.  Yet it then got better.  And better.  And better.  I’m unsure how much of their efforts was due to complaining in the first instance, or this is just how good things are at Amanjena.  I would hope the latter, and that you could visit without having to start chopping toes off of management, as the blood and screams can put a bit of a downer on your evening.

Here’s hoping you can, as if so, I would rank Amanjena as my favourite Marrakech property.

Amanjena

3 Comments

  1. Hi Tom,

    I just returned from a 3 night stay (on your recommendation over RM). My notes:

    1) Bedding is sub-par. I’m probably as fussy about bedding as you are about food. The pillows felt more synthetic fiber rather than the lush goose down that you would get at say, a standard FS.
    2) Transfers: The Mercedes Viano used for transfers did not do it for me (it’s basically a six-seater London cab). Too far to speak with the driver and that can become an issue on excursions.
    3) Pool: only area were I would contradict you. The staff overhead us speaking about how cold it is and offered to heat up the pool to 28C. This was delivered in spades and I was able to go for a comfortable swim at 6 pm (temp easily in single digits outside).

    • Thanks for the feedback! I always request Tempur pillows, so cannot really comment on that. Interesting point on the car – Royal Mansour collected us in a Bentley, so there is no real comparison there, but as we only went out with a tour guide, we never needed to speak directly to the driver. I can see how that would be an issue though. Lastly, I consider 28C still far too cold to go swimming in – it really needs to be north of 30C for me to survive. I’m a sensitive soul.

      Overall, would you return?

      • Overall I would return – although I am likely to reach out to management before long to iron out those issues.

        I think I read in one of your reviews that you don’t drink but it’s also worth highlighting how capable the barman is (esp given relatively ‘-ish’ Marrakech standards). In contrast, the ‘barman’ at the Royal Mansour asked me what kind of gin a lillet blanc was and then charged me EUR 35 for the pleasure of an over-diluted and over-citrused old fashioned.

        I am curious about your stay list and it’s something I’d like to adopt going forward. Let me know if we can speak through the Dorsia Travel channel.

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