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Morocco's New Paradise

As for the food, well, the choice in each restaurant is bewildering. The chefs have aimed their culinary rudders in half a dozen directions: you can have American fare, French and Asian dishes, or cuisine marocaine (with or without belly dancers). I loved the breakfasts--brioche la faon pain perdu (French toast), baghrir (Moroccan crépes), and the sweet orange butter that went with everything. This is not, however, a destination for weight watchers. Dinners are multicourse affairs that start at 9 p.m. with a round of drinks and olives and end many hours later.

Immediately after the opening, those loyal Aman junkies had already begun to appear. A pair of Modern Japanese Young Things sat by the pool in tiny bikinis and expensive sunglasses, and some centimillionaire in blue jeans and a black T-shirt arrived from California. I met artsy kids with grown-up incomes, techies who had launched a dot-com, and generous husbands who had brought their wives. Adrian Zecha is a latter-day hero to his rich and famous guests, who know that their whereabouts (or photos) will not be leaked to the press.

Amanresorts is now controlled by a corporate body of shareholders, and Greg Sirois, who manages the company, assured me that "the Aman service and philosophy will continue, and there will be new Amans." There's reason for hope--Sirois worked with Zecha for five years.

As for Zecha, he plans to launch a new group of small properties called Maharesorts; maha means "great" in Sanskrit. "I will not compete with the Aman series," he said, "and I don't want to harm them in any way. I'll be working with the same people, and nothing will change, except the new properties will bear a different brand. They will be exactly like the old. I love them, these little ones."

Whatever else Zecha achieves, he will be remembered as the man with the brainstorm, and his 11 Amans will be remembered for their unimaginable luxury and legendary refinement. Here's to the arrival of more pint-size paradises.

Amanjena, Route de Ouarzazate, Marra-kesh; 800/637-7200 or 212-4/40-33-53, fax 212-4/40-34-77; doubles from $550.

Daytrips the Amanjena Way
When it comes to excursions, the wandering tribe of Aman junkies couldn't be happier. Everything is private and customized; no guest is ever sent off to join a bus tour or stand in a line. A cab?You must be kidding. There are no taxi stands in Aman-land: only chauffeured cars will do.

Amanjena can arrange jaunts to nearby palaces, the Saadian tombs, and the Khoutoubia Mosque, as well as walking tours of Jardin Majorelle, the garden owned by Yves Saint Laurent. If they want to roam farther afield, guests can spend a night or two in a Berber village; take a day trip to the whitewashed seaside village of Essaouira; or hike, bike, and ski in the Grand Atlas Mountains.

One morning, I rose at dawn to set off for a chartered plane ride over the mountains, date farms, and ancient stone villages--a perfect way to see the sights without a long, grinding drive. Next on my agenda: beautiful arts and crafts. With comfortable walking shoes and a credit card, I began to explore. Galerie Birkemeyer (165167 Rue Mohamed El Beqal; 212-4/44-69-63), Marrakesh's biggest and best leather store, has everything from golf bags to sandals. Visit L'Orientaliste (15 Rue de la Liberté; 212-4/43-40-74) for decorative bottles and candleholders; Al Badii (54 Blvd. My Rachid) for its selection of antique furniture, textiles, bone mirrors and tables, and tribal crafts; and Amazonite (94 Blvd. El Mansour Eddahbi Gueliz; 212-4/44-99-26) for stylish ethnic jewelry.

Without a tip from architect Ed Tuttle, I would have missed Cuivrerie Moulay Youssef (46 Foundouk Moulay Mamoune-Mellah), the metal shop where all the lanterns, trays, candlesticks, and key rings for Amanjena were made. Other great design sources include the Bazar du Sud (117 Souk des Tapis; 212-4/44-30-04) and La Porte d'Or (115 Souk Semmarine; 212-4/44-54-54) for carpets; and Bridgitte Perkins (Foundouk Elkabaj, 129 Ben Salah; 212-4/42-74-16) for superb weavings and textiles.

My favorite stop was Ryad Tamsna (23 Derb Danka Zaika, Riad Zitoun; 212-4/38-52-72), where the merchandise comes from many African cultures. Meryanne Loum Martin has packed her magnificent two-story space with a huge inventory of well-designed home furnishings--iron lamps, mirrors, tables, candleholders, and furniture; there's also a bookshop and a restaurant. Tables are laden with the kind of finds that might appear in fine shelter magazines--like the handwoven cotton fabric from Senegal, expensive but worth it. Choosing was easy: I wanted everything.


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