New in Morocco

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Hotel Sahrai in Fez is a contemporary boutique hotel with an infinity pool that wraps around the hilltop, a bar with a panoramic terrace and a spa by Givenchy.

Hotel Sahrai in Fez is a contemporary boutique hotel with an infinity pool that wraps around the hilltop, a bar with a panoramic terrace and a spa by Givenchy.

As the country’s economic capital and biggest metropolis, Casablanca has long been the traveler’s gateway to Morocco. The airport welcomes direct flights from New York, major European cities, and global capitals like Abu Dhabi and Sao Paulo. But the recent arrival of Four Seasons has helped usher in a new era for this beguiling coastal city. Insiders tell us that some American clients have booked long-weekend getaways just to check out the luxury hotel.

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What they discover: Casablanca is becoming a tourist destination in its own right. A new tramway aims to reduce traffic, a major port district is under development, and a buzzworthy theater complex — a landmark called CasArts — is currently being built by an acclaimed architectural team: Christian de Portzamparc and Casablanca-based Rachid Andaloussi. In fact, Casablanca is a dream for architecture buffs, with a fascinating Art Deco district where a mélange of crumbling facades and beautifully renovated landmarks recalls the French colonial era. (The 1930s-era Cinema Rialto still screens movies.) Travelers also find the allure of traditional Morocco in Casablanca. There are hassle-free souks and authentic markets in the old medina and the quartier des Habous. The awe-inspiring Hassan II mosque — one of the largest in the world and a showcase for Moroccan craftsmanship — is open to non-Muslim visitors on daily tours. Last but not least: Casablanca has a happening nightlife scene, with fashionable crowds packing the oceanfront clubs and restaurants.

Four Seasons Casablanca’s Mint is an all-day dining spot known for its breakfast buffet and a popular Afternoon Tea.

Four Seasons Casablanca’s Mint is an all-day dining spot known for its breakfast buffet and a popular Afternoon Tea.

Nothing is a better symbol of the city’s newfound tourism appeal than the Four Seasons Casablanca, which opened in November 2015. As Luxury Traveler Advisor found on a recent stay, the city’s first urban resort is bringing a whole new level of luxury to the “white city.” Designed by Foster + Partners, the Four Seasons faces the Atlantic in the new, upscale Anfa neighborhood — the first Casablanca hotel to command an oceanfront perch. This setting offers a distinctive advantage over other city hotels; add a first-rate spa, a cabana-flanked pool, and foodie-approved restaurants, and the Four Seasons succeeds in checking all the boxes for today’s “bleisure” guest.

For international companies, the hotel’s extensive conference facilities have made it a top choice for meetings and events. A separate wing houses the city’s largest ballroom (with a reception capacity of 800), seven meeting rooms and a dedicated entrance. At the time of our stay, these facilities were in high-demand; a major political event was hosted with government VIPs, while an American corporation had united all its global offices for meetings in Morocco. Note: Upon our visit, the hotel had not yet secured a liquor license for its restaurants (it can sometimes be a long process in Morocco), but temporary licenses are easily secured for catering events in the banquet space.

Built in a U-shaped horseshoe around a central garden, this contemporary hotel takes its design cues from traditional Moroccan craftsmanship, so you’ll find decorative lanterns, oak-paneled walls, and a lobby that channels the traditional riad, with a fountain bathed in light. Of course the glorious flower arrangements — a Four Seasons-signature — inspire lots of Instagrams and selfies in the lobby.

The 186 guestrooms, including 29 suites, are the largest hotel rooms in the city. These luxurious spaces are outfitted with all the amenities that travelers have come to expect from Four Seasons: Nespresso machines, intuitive technology, and lavish marble bathrooms with a separate rainshower and soaking tub. Every room comes with a balcony except for those with two double beds.

DELUXE ROOMS at Hotel Sahrai have floor-to-ceiling windows affording views of the city or the pool and the garden.

Four Seasons Casablanca’s Royal Suite, which offers 180-degree views of the Atlantic, has a spacious private terrace with an indoor-outdoor fireplace. Photo © Christian Horan / Four Seasons

The crème de la crème is No. 501, the Royal Suite. A camera crew for a popular Brazilian TV show had set up a glamorous film shoot when we scoped it out. What’s unique about this suite: 180-degree views of the Atlantic, a private kitchen where a chef can prepare in-suite meals, and a fireplace that spans both the living room and outside terrace. Suites also come with huge walk-in closets and TVs embedded in the bathroom mirrors. For VIP bookings, reach out to Senior Sales Manager Sarah Radford ([email protected]).

Booking Tips: The ocean-view suites are highly requested. These are each located at the end of the “horseshoe”, providing glorious vistas over the Atlantic and to the historic El Hank lighthouse. (You might also spy surfers riding the swells offshore.) Below, a swimming pool glitters turquoise in the sunshine. Pool attendants are on hand to assist with the cabanas, towel service and drinks. Next to the pool, the outdoor restaurant — opening in the spring — is called Latitude 33 because it serves tapas inspired by international cuisine from 33 degrees north of the equator, the same latitude as Casablanca.

Cassaouis, as the local denizens are known, pack the restaurants for elegant meals prepared by Brittany-born Chef Thierry Papillier. Mint, the all-day dining spot, offers a sumptuous breakfast buffet and a popular Afternoon Tea. The beautifully designed signature restaurant, Bleu, has an open kitchen and a vast terrace with a fire pit overlooking the ocean. Even the plates are attention-grabbers; they were custom-designed by Schönwald porcelain in Germany to reflect a Google Earth image of the ocean just offshore from Casablanca. The specialties here are seafood — order the famous Dakhla oysters, followed by the fresh fish of the day — and refined comfort food like Duck Confit and Black Angus Beef Rib. The showstopper is the Sea Bream Sashimi, as the slices of the freshly caught fish are artfully presented.

Don’t miss a treatment at the 10-room destination spa, which is a game-changer for the Casablanca hotel scene. Manager Gaelle Peiffer ([email protected]) was recruited from the St. Regis Bora Bora to oversee the operations, training a team of therapists and developing a locally inspired spa menu with products by Biologique Recherche and ila. Book the Signature Anti-Jet Lag Hammam, and be sure to leave time to enjoy the facilities, including a hammam, ice fountain and Swiss-style balneo hydrotherapy pools.

Note: There is no concierge, per se, but the front desk team can arrange luxury car service, restaurant reservations, private visits of the Slaoui museum and the like.

From Casablanca, the ancient imperial capital of Fez is a four-hour train ride (or a quick flight on Royal Air Maroc). With a UNESCO-listed medina dating from the 9th century, Fez is appreciated by travelers looking for authenticity and vibrant culture. Historically the place to stay was Riad Fès, a renovated palace that’s a member of Relais & Châteaux. In 2015, the owners of Riad Fès introduced a new, complementary hotel concept: a stylish, design-driven property called Hotel Sahrai. Inside the medina, the traditional Fez accommodations are closed to the outside street, oriented inwards toward a central, light-filled courtyard. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the old city, Hotel Sahrai offers something completely different: a splashy, contemporary boutique hotel with an infinity pool that wraps around the hilltop, a gorgeous bar with a panoramic terrace and a top-of-the-line spa by Givenchy.

At the time of our visit, the meeting space was fully booked for a company’s team-building event, and the Amaraz restaurant, serving refined Moroccan “comfort food,” was packed with happy diners. Dig into the divine beef and prune tajine, or try the Djaj mhamer, oven-roasted cockerel stuffed with semolina and raisins. Looking to taste something different? The Relais de Paris restaurant serves upscale French brasserie fare (like duck confit and beef tenderloin) at affordable prices.

DELUXE ROOMS at Hotel Sahrai have floor-to-ceiling windows affording views of the city or the pool and the garden.Pictured: DELUXE ROOMS at Hotel Sahrai have floor-to-ceiling windows affording views of the city or the pool and the garden.

Hotel Sahrai is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), and is a popular choice among tour operators like Abercrombie & Kent and Odysseys. The 50 guest rooms come with marble bathrooms, Nespresso machines, Acqua di Parma toiletries and floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize the natural light. The best room is the Sahrai Suite, with its private terrace, while the Deluxe Rooms are quite popular because of the medina views. For VIP reservations, contact Director of Sales and Marketing Cezarina Pomojnicu ([email protected]). General Manager Guillaume Binder previously worked at Le Cheval Blanc in Courchevel. Tip: In addition to guided tours in the Fez medina, the front desk staff can arrange excursions to local Berber villages and organic farms.

Dining and Nightlife in Casablanca

Casablanca is embracing a glam oceanfront lifestyle with a number of hot spots on the waterfront. At Cabestan, the doormen scrutinize the pretty people who flock for the nightly DJ set and creative cocktails. (Reservations are essential.) Overlooking the landmark mosque, Le Petit Rocher is another popular waterfront spot. Close to the Four Seasons, Le Relais de Paris has a reputation as one of the best restaurants in town. Don’t miss a night at Rick’s Café, which was designed as an exact replica of Humphrey Bogart’s café in the classic 1942 film, “Casablanca.” (There wasn’t ever a “real” Rick’s — since it was staged in a Hollywood studio.) Opened by American Kathy Kriger in 2004, it’s still a popular hangout today — with nightly renditions of “As Time Goes By” played on live piano.