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Review: El Fenn

A bigger, brighter, and bolder expansion of the famed Marrakech hotel.
Readers Choice Awards 2017, 2018, 2021, 2022 Gold List 2021, 2024


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Why book El Fenn?

For a taste of Marrakech’s bohemian scene.

Set the scene

On the edge of the medina, down a crumbling side alley, you’ll find the riad’s unassuming front entrance. Once inside, the riad unfurls into a labyrinth of color-popping spaces—fuchsia, teal, mustard. Follow the whiffs of orange blossom through Moorish keyhole archways that lead to marble and glossy zellige courtyards, marble-lined plunge pools, scatterings of plush velvet sofas and plumes of olive trees and tumbling vines. Sweet mint tea is poured by servers in chic cardinal red uniforms. Upstairs on the colourful rooftop, guests are sipping ginger margaritas under red-striped parasols. As the sky begins to reflect the terracotta medina and the call to prayer vibrates across the sky, the rooftop turns into a snapshot of Marrakech’s ultra-chic social scene.

The backstory

Bought in 2002 by Howell James and Vanessa Branson (sister of Richard, an art collector and founder of the Marrakech Biennale), it was initially meant to be a holiday home for the two friends. But after a change of heart, it opened in 2004 as an intimate guesthouse with just six jewel-toned bedrooms. In 2018, new partners Madeline Weinrib and Graham Head joined James and Branson. In 2020, El Fenn began its expansion, buying up crumbling neighboring riads to create the ground floor, guest-only bar and restaurant, new rooms, and an enormous rooftop with a 20-metre pool. Now, finally complete, the hotel is a wondrous labyrinth of 13 interconnected buildings, three pools and 41 bedrooms in various sizes and colors.

The rooms

There are 41 rooms, 10 of which are in the newly built ‘Colonel House’, linked to the main building. No two rooms are the same, varying in size from oversized family suites to pocket-sized ‘cosy’ rooms. All rooms are hand-plastered in flamboyant colors—blush pink, mustard, acid yellow—some with glazed tiles, others with hand-stitched camel leather floors, stained glass windows, fireplaces and hand-carved wooden ceilings, all done by local artisans. The traditional elements are offset with art (some from Branson’s private collection), vintage furniture and bright contemporary installations. Some rooms open to the communal courtyards, others are more private, but all feel like sanctuaries with deep soaking tubs and hand-stitched Egyptian cotton linen.

Food and drink

Wonderful. There are two restaurants, the rooftop restaurant and cocktail bar, which is also open to non-guests, and the guest-only Colonade café. The rooftop restaurant feels like a chic garden party, with a scattering of comfortable lounges, tables and long red banquettes. On a humdinger of a day, you could easily spend hours dining poolside, tucking into burgers and salads with rounds of punchy cocktails. As the stylish set flock here for sundowners and supper, the seasonal menu gets more elevated—think saffron marinated lobster, seabass with figs and lamb with truffles. Downstairs, the Colonnade Cafe is open-air and dotted with olive trees. Guests in smart linen and floaty dresses tuck into zesty salads and afternoon tea of sweet mint tea and little orange and almond cakes, while dinner is Moroccan tagines, grilled fish and meats.

The spa

Not the most lavish spa, but the small space is pleasantly tranquil and offers a range of hammam treatments, facials and massages using local products. Yoga and sound healing is also on offer. Need a blow-dry? El Fenn will send a hairdresser to your room.

The neighborhood/area

Fifteen minutes from Marrakech Menara airport, El Fenn has an unbeatable location on the main road on the edge of the medina and only a few minutes’ walk to the souks, Jemma-el-Fnaa Square and sights like the Koutoubia Mosque. As the medina’s alleyways are pedestrianized, one of the boons of its on-the-edge location means taxis can drop you right outside El Fenn.

The service

Friendly but very professional. Smiley staff will pause what they’re doing to greet you when you walk past and the concierge team can organize cars, taxis, tour guides and are on-hand to help with any restaurant reservations.

Friendly but very professional. Smiley staff will pause what they’re doing to greet you when you walk past, and the concierge team can organize cars, taxis, and tour guides and are on-hand to help with any restaurant reservations.

Eco effort

Commendable. An effort is made to be as local as possible—from the hiring of local staff to the bath and spa products. The restaurant menus are seasonal, and furniture is locally sourced, made by local artisans or vintage. Nothing is flown in, and the hotel has developed tree-planting initiatives in the Atlas Mountains.


You can be dropped off right outside the hotel, there are guest rooms on the ground floor and a lift to the rooftop—but like most riads, it’s higgledy-piggledy with small single steps here and there.

Anything left to mention?

The ground floor boutique has a curation of some of the best Moroccan labels and an excellent selection of soaps and candles so that you can pack the smell of orange blossom with you.

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