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Morocco's New Paradise

Long before minimalism emerged as a buzzword, Tuttle grasped the wisdom of expressing himself in as few gestures as possible. "In Marrakesh, I decided to avoid the colorful, whimsical, and geometric patterns of Islam," he said. "My approach is a little foreign in a country accustomed to layering design upon design, pattern upon pattern. But I wanted the hotel to look nomadic." Tuttle cannot bear imperfect proportions, so he carefully observed the rules of Islamic architecture--the curve of the arches, the weight of the cornices, the pitch and angle of the green tile roofs. He also paid homage to many Andalusian influences: the inward-facing layout, colonnaded arcades, domes, arched portals, and the sound of water everywhere.

"We employed Morocco's finest--armies of skilled weavers, carpet makers, and metalworkers," Tuttle said, pointing out beautiful parquetry and hand-rubbed wall finishes. "It's a Moroccan hotel, so it was important to select Moroccan materials. We used cedar for ceilings and doors, cherrywood for furniture, and an enormous amount of leather. Twenty-two wood-carvers were able to reproduce beautiful Berber designs in the 20-foot-high entry doors." Local artisans made every piece of furniture, every lamp and stationery box, "every inch of the place except for the makeup mirrors, water taps, and fabrics," Tuttle said. Tile-workers hand-cut and installed millions of glazed tiles. Amanjena is plush, all right, even for tots, who enjoy specially designed cribs and suede-covered high chairs.

At $550 per night, my standard room was the cheapest in the house. Room plus menzah (a partially covered gazebo/terrace) measured a staggering 1,700 square feet--vast enough for a 60-person cocktail party. Tuttle designed cavernous dressing areas and a 26-foot-high domed ceiling. The colors were soft and the tadelakt wall finish (a hand-applied lacquer) was subtle; Berber rugs in crimson and saffron provided what Tuttle calls "hot flashes."

There was no reason to leave this cozy orbit. Every day I dined and sunbathed on my menzah, hidden by fortress-like walls and billowy curtains. I could have put on tennis whites or golf shoes, could have hiked over to the health club, but why?I had 24-hour room service, satellite TV with a DVD player, a platter of sweets the size of a rowboat, and a gurgling fountain strewn with fresh rose petals every day. Amanjena has a spa, naturally, but why go when I could get a tranquilizing rubdown beside my own fireplace?

Late one afternoon, the masseuse expertly pressed, stretched, and bent my jet-lagged body back into shape using anti-aging argan oil. The world seemed to disappear into silence as I looked out over the jagged profile of the mountains. "Do you want to rest, Madam?" she asked as she wrapped me in my robe and offered mint tea. Later I relaxed in the bathtub and contemplated my serene garden of orange trees.

Though you need a fair amount of cash to stay in a standard room, you need even more for one of the two-story maisons--a lofty $1,200 to $1,400 a night. With private swimming pool, personal butler, and 3,700 square feet, these accommodations are snapped up quickly. The tab mounts when you tack on the 10 percent service charge and 10 percent tax, and throw in a $350 bottle of Dom Pérignon, a body mask in the steam room, and a tennis lesson. Paradise has its price.

On my first morning at Amanjena, I was shocked when I answered the door in my robe to see the breakfast I had ordered 10 minutes earlier. Holding the tray was a room-service waiter, practically breathless from sprinting to my door. "As-salaam alaykum"--"Peace be with you"--he said, giving the standard Amanjena greeting. Service is something you don't even question here.

"Every employee is trained to be intuitive, to watch body language and not intrude," says Sharon Howard, who has instructed Aman employees for 13 years. The company recruited a virgin staff without hotel experience (that is, bad habits). Howard used Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and John Cleese's Think or Sink video to teach fantasy hospitality. "Bonjour, Madame Barden. Did you have a good rest?" asked my omelette deliverer as he poured the coffee. "Thank you for your attention, and have a nice day," he said as he backed away, smiling, hand on heart.

I could see why an Arab sheikh had offered to buy Amanjena if it came with all 215 employees (which works out to about 5 1/4 employees per room, more than enough to get the job done).


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