A Hollywood Insider's Guide to Morocco: "The Most Lovely Spot in the Whole World"

6:00 AM 7/21/2018

by Kathryn Romeyn

Where Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston and more sleep and eat while visiting the North African nation.

Amanjena
Amanjena
Courtesy of Daniel Herendi

Morocco has stood in for places fictional (Game of Thrones’ Yunkai and Astapor) and real (the Middle East), but offers even more as a holiday destination. When Ant-Man and the Wasp’s Walton Goggins made his way from Marrakech through the High Atlas Mountains to the desert, he “had one goal in mind: to wake up deep in the Sahara, to feel connected without words,” he says. “That’s what Morocco gave me, the sense of place I was looking for, and it’s stayed with me ever since.” Here’s where other Hollywood visitors sleep and eat.

  • Atlas Mountains

    Sir Richard Branson centers his Moroccan getaways around the Atlas Mountains, where he converted an old kasbah into the idyllic boutique hotel Kasbah Tamadot, where VIPs dine privately on the master suite’s roof terrace or by the reflecting pool, among other exclusive experiences. “One of my favorite activities is hiking up the mountains,” Branson tells THR. “There’s always great company for the long walks, even if we are sometimes too out of breath to chat! Ninety-five percent of the team at Kasbah are delightful Berbers from the surrounding villages and it feels like one big family” (virginlimitededition.com/en/kasbah-tamadot).

  • Essaouira

    Hollywood stars and production crews often take opportunities to go beyond common shooting destinations such as Ouarzazate or Tangier and discover the dunes of Merzouga and walled, paparazzi-free Essaouira, “where a rough Atlantic Ocean meets the chill and laid-back atmosphere of the hippie era; Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones were once there,” says producer Khadija Alami (Homeland, Aquaman).

  • Marrakech

    John Legend and Chrissy Teigen visited this city recently, while Katy Perry (with Ellie Goulding and Diplo) and David Beckham (with Eva Longoria, Tom Cruise and his wife, Victoria, in tow) looked to Marrakech's Amanjena — the secluded, ultra-private property 15 minutes from the bustling medina — to celebrate milestone birthdays. “A-list industry types choose Amanjena for our limitless ability to personalize and customize an experience,” says general manager Nicolas Ilickovic, “from a sunrise breakfast in the Atlas mountains to lunch with a Berber family in their village home to discover their culture and traditions” (aman.com/resorts/amanjena).

    When filming, most A-listers stay in a small handful of top-notch hotels, including The Selman (Tom Cruise called it home during Mission: Impossible 5; selman-marrakech.com), Royal Mansour (loved by Sofia Coppola and father Francis, who cooked in its kitchens while acting as jury president for the Marrakech Film Festival in December 2015; royalmansour.com) or La Mamounia. The latter is a Hollywood favorite that Winston Churchill called “the most lovely spot in the whole world,” dating back to the time of Alfred Hitchcock, Sofia Loren and Audrey Hepburn, but today’s stars like Jennifer Aniston, Diane Kruger and Adrien Brody also love it. There are three authentic riads, each clocking in at 7,500 square feet, starting at $9,800 a night, which includes a 24/7 butler, private pools, chauffeured Jaguar airport pickup and plenty of zellige tilework (mamounia.com).

    “We have sent a record number of VIPs to Marrakech this year,” says Sienna Charles travel expert Jaclyn Sienna India. “We just did a trip for a studio head as well as a top executive producer and his family,” which included stays in private villas that start around $15,000 per night — “the staff is so incredible you think you’re royalty.” Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, when shooting here, opted for $25,000 to $30,000 per week private villas in the tony Palmerie area, says James H E Cutting, producer and owner of Cutting Loose Productions, based in Morocco.

    Many people choose to stay in for meals, but when they go out, picks include luxury Moroccan restaurants Dar Yacout (daryacout.com), The Foundouk (foundouk.com) or The Grand Cafe de la Poste (en.grandcafedelaposte.restaurant), where Leonardo DiCaprio lunched during a personal shopping trip with Cutting’s wife. Past the iconic Jemaa el-Fnaa square is Cafe des Epices, a laid-back rooftop eatery above the crowded medina that charmed Elle Fanning and Cameron Diaz (cafedesepices.ma). 

    A private visit to the late designer Yves Saint Laurent’s Marrakech home is a must for the fashionably minded, says expert Tracy Stevens of luxury travel operator Scott Dunn (scottdunn.com). (And for Marrakech stays that are short on time, Scott Dunn can also book a helicopter to the Sahara for a lavish night in a private camp set up under the stars, complete with camelback rides through wind-shaped dunes, sunset drinks and dinner beside a campfire; $20,000.) 

  • Ouarzazate

    In “Ouallywood,” the “only luxury hotel is Le Berbere Palace,” says Morocco-based producer James H E Cutting: “When we were filming Babel, Brad Pitt stayed in one of the private villas normally used for dignitaries and royalty, and used the rear service entrance so as not to be seen by paparazzi. He imported a BMW from Germany and every Sunday, Brad would go dirt-biking in the desert with us — we would lose the paparazzi in the dust and sand” (hotel-berberepalace.com). At Jardin des Aromes (+212 524888802), with its “warm atmosphere,” says Alami, signature dishes include mezze (sugared beets with sesame seeds) and tagines. 

    A version of this story first appeared in the July 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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