Hotel Review: Fairmont La Marina Rabat Salé

By Anwer Bati

9 months ago

Forget Marrakech, it's all about Rabat


Most visitors to Morocco prefer to head south to Marrakech, so the fortified city of Rabat, the country’s capital, doesn’t really register as a destination. But Rabat, founded on the Atlantic at the mouth of the Bou Regreg river in the 12th Century, is instantly appealing: well kept, with lush gardens (it’s meant to be the greenest city in Africa) and impressive architecture. Things are changing, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about the city following a drive to attract well-heeled cultural tourists – with a Four Seasons and a Ritz Carlton being built on the seafront Corniche and, leading the way, the splendid new Fairmont La Marina Rabat Salé, which opened in late 2022. 

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Hotel Review: Fairmont La Marina Rabat Salé

Fairmont La Marina Rabat Sale

STAY

Technically, the Fairmont is in Salé, Rabat’s neighbouring city, though the two are so close as to be practically indistinguishable. You feel an immediate sense of calm when you enter  the modern low rise building, designed by Foster + Partners to resemble a cruise liner at anchor – with marble surfaces everywhere, striking works by Moroccan artists to add colour and interest, and hand crafted decorative details featuring traditional local motifs. The public areas – with plenty of natural light – are grand and opulent without veering towards extravagance.

The 186 spacious rooms and suites are somewhat lower key (though the bathrooms are marble) and contemporary – decorated and very comfortably furnished in relaxing shades of grey and white with Moroccan touches, such as ceramic tiled floors made by local craftsmen. Many have views of the city or the sea, and several have balconies from which to admire them.

Fairmont La Marina Rabat Sale

Though the public areas are majestic, the milieu throughout is informal, much enhanced by the friendly and helpful service, particularly from the head concierge, Jaffar.

For relaxation, both the rooftop infinity pool and the haven of pampering to be found in the luxurious basement spa, with its ten treatment rooms, are hard to beat in Rabat. Skincare products are by Natura Bissé. There is also a fully equipped gym with stunning sea views.

EAT

The Fairmont’s three restaurants offer a wide enough choice for most tastes. At L’écume  there is essentially a top quality classic French brasserie-style menu devised by chef Nicolas Warot, using local ingredients. A generous buffet breakfast including both French and Moroccan elements is served in the same airy space.

Or try Le Deck on the roof, with a panoramic view from the popular terrace, where you can go for Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) inspired sharing plates and a lively atmosphere, or simply have one of barman Zouhair’s cocktails.

Fairmont La Marina Rabat Sale

La Verrière Bar

At Dahlia, with its traditional ambience, the cuisine is Moroccan and Middle Eastern, with the contemporary techniques and flourishes of chef Mohammed Amine.

Go for coffee and pastries, or pre-dinner drinks, in the grand La Verrière  bar, the hub of the hotel, which leads to the outdoor Orangerie area, where you can also enjoy a glass of excellent Moroccan wine.

DO

As the hotel is located at the estuary of the Bou Regreg where it meets the Atlantic, water sports are a popular option. The Fairmont also plans to open its own private beach in the near future.

You can cross over the river to Rabat by bridge, but it’s much more fun is to cross by a simple wooden boat, expertly steered by ferrymen. It’s best to book a guide through the hotel, but even without one, head first to the Kasbah des Oudayas, the former fort. The houses within were all repainted white, and the paving restored, during lockdown, to give the feeling almost of a movie set. Stop for a cup of mint tea and a pastry at the Café des Oudayas, and admire the view of Salé, including the Fairmont, over the river. Then visit the fascinating Oudayas Museum of jewellery and traditional costume, set in a lovely walled garden. Across the road from the Kasbah lies the Medina, or old town, where you can shop for local rugs, lacquered wood, argan oil, kaftans, jewellery and ceramics. And, in contrast to hectic Marrakech, there is a welcome lack of pressure or hassle from vendors.

Fairmont La Marina Rabat Sale

L’Orangeraie

Tranquil Rabat is actually UNESCO World Heritage listed for its blend of traditional Moroccan and colonial French architecture, with styles including Art Deco and Art Nouveau along its broad boulevards, where the mainly white buildings are repainted every few years to keep the city, one of the most impressive in Africa, looking fresh. Much of the old Moroccan architecture is strongly influenced by styles developed in Moorish Spain, among them the unfinished Hassan tower, built in the 12th Century to be part of a grand mosque, with its neighbouring mausoleums of Moroccan kings. Nearby is Zaha Hadid’s extraordinary and characteristically flamboyant new theatre and performing arts centre. And there are several museums to visit including one devoted to modern art and another to archaeology. If you like, the hotel can arrange a city tour for you.

Rabat is also on an excellent high speed train line, meaning that day trips to Tangier and Casablanca are easily manageable.

THE FINAL WORD

Rabat is soon going to join the must-see list of places in Morocco, and for good reason. And the Fairmont, with all its excellent facilities and varied food choices is the best place to stay.

BOOK IT

Double rooms with breakfast at the Fairmont La Marina Rabat Salé start at £296 per night. fairmont.com

There are currently few direct flights from London to Rabat, other than a service by Ryanair from Stansted. But this is likely to change, as more airlines open routes to the city.  However, you can fly to Casablanca or Tangier and then easily get there by taking the high speed train.