x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The Kenzi Menara Palace, Marrakech

Hotel insider In keeping with the rest of Marrakech, the Kenzi Menara Palace is finished in the traditional style, modelled on the historic city's 12th-century mud brick buildings, painted a sunset red-pink.

Kenzi Menara Palace offers a colourful alternative to the typically soulless airport hotel.
Kenzi Menara Palace offers a colourful alternative to the typically soulless airport hotel.

In keeping with the rest of Marrakech, the Kenzi Menara Palace is finished in the traditional style, modelled on the historic city's 12th-century mud brick buildings, painted a sunset red-pink. When the French colonised Morocco from 1912 until 1961, they decreed that all buildings in Marrakech should be this warm colour and the style, along with the French language, stuck.

The Kenzi Menara Palace staff will greet you in French but if you offer a "Hello" or "Salaam alaykum" in response to "Bonjour", they will smile sympathetically and address you in English or Arabic. Checking in was efficient and my bags were swiftly dispatched to my room, which was much appreciated as all I really wanted to do was put on a fluffy robe, order room service and be left in peace.

Set in extensive grounds, a taxi ride from the main tourist sights, the Kenzi Menara Palace is close to the airport which makes it a good choice for business travellers who don't want a typically soulless airport hotel. The hotel has a plush spa, two restaurants and a shop that sells expensive but lovely local treasures rather than tacky souvenirs. The rooms are excellently appointed, all with generous balconies overlooking the landscaped grounds or the swimming pool. However, if you'd like to stay in the heart of Marrakech and you are looking for a neighbourhood with a local buzz, consider something closer into town. There's not really much to do within walking distance of the Kenzi Menara Palace, apart from a Pacha nightclub complex. While this is reputed to be the largest nightclub in Africa and has a few highly recommended restaurants, it's not really the place to go if you want a relaxed evening or to experience the real Marrakech.

After travelling from Dubai to Casablanca to Marrakech in quick succession, it was a welcome relief to be greeted by such a spacious room with a comfortable couch, a giant bed and a large flatscreen TV. I was staying in a standard room and it was clear that even in the cheapest room, the standards have been set high. The lighting in the room was well-thought out, offering versatility especially for people who like reading in bed. In the bathroom, there was a double sink and a generous bath. The only minor quibble was the hand-held shower. But reliable and plentiful hot water, and bathrobes so thick that they made me look like a polar bear made up for it.

The hotel had only been open for 10 days so perhaps a few teething problems were to be expected. While the staff were pleasant and friendly, there were a few Fawlty Towers moments. For example, I called room service to order a cheese and tomato panino and a hot chocolate. Some 10 minutes later, a waiter appeared at the door with the menu so I could point to what I thought I'd ordered. Hot chocolate wasn't on the menu so I asked for "chocolat lait" and mimed drinking. When the snack arrived, the panino was lovely but instead of a cup of hot chocolate, I was given a flask of hot milk and a bowl of drinking chocolate powder.

That wasn't the end of the world but my attempt to book a 7am wake-up call was potentially disastrous. My room didn't have an English hotel guide but I managed to figure out from the French that "automatique reveille" was the automatic wake-up call. I dialled and was put through to an electronic voice speaking French at breakneck speed with no English language option. When I called reception to book the call, the first person who answered the phone snapped: "No English!" and hung up. On my second attempt, someone else answered the phone but my request clearly didn't make any sense as the wake-up call never came. Luckily I woke up at 6am so I did not miss my flight. French is widely spoken in the country and visitors should try to master a few basics, but the hotel's staff would benefit from better English language skills given that the hotel is bound to attract an international business clientele.

Morocco is known for its wonderful cuisine and the restaurants at the Kenzi Menara are following that tradition. Breakfast turned out to be a wide selection of local treats as well as traditional continental breakfast fare. The Moroccan pancakes, either the fluffy or the flaky pastry version, with local honey are highly recommended. Insensé is the flagship restaurant, a contemporary brasserie that also offers excellent Moroccan food.

There was a cosmopolitan mix of people passing through the lobby, a blend of relaxed holiday-makers, some of whom glided casually through reception in bathrobes, as well as business people. I made friends with a sociable Yorkshire terrier who had been temporarily separated from his owners in the hotel lobby, much to the amusement of staff and guests.

The rooms, with their spacious and a stylish mix of modern and traditional decor with big balconies and generous bathrooms, as well as the facilities to make fresh coffee rather than a few measly sachets of Nescafé and a kettle. The food was impressive and the service in the restaurants was both efficient and friendly.

The hotel is too far from the heart of Marrakech for those seeking a real Moroccan experience and the comedy-of-errors style service needs to be polished, if the Kenzi Menara Palace is to be taken seriously as a world-class hotel.

The Kenzi Menara Palace has the potential to be a lovely and convenient hotel provided that the consistency of service can be improved.

A double room costs from US$409 (Dh1,500) per night not including breakfast. Kenzi Menara Palace, Zone Hoteliere de l'Agdal, Avenue Mohamed VI, Marrakech (www.kenzi-hotels.com; 00 212 524 45 99 00).