Jnane Tamsna review
Arty wellbeing escape near Marrakech, Morocco
The Quick Read: Jnane Tamsna is an art-filled, peaceful and spacious place in La Palmeraie, a flat enclave filled with palm trees about a 15 minute drive from the centre of Marrakech. Though regular holiday makers come here, the owners can also organise personal trainers, yoga and pilates teachers and therapists for you, so you can create your own bespoke retreat alone or with a friend. A Moorish version of a Spanish hacienda tucked away along a rough track and set in nine acres of gardens, it’s an idyllic base for creating the exact healthy holiday you want, whether it’s a vegetarian yoga week with evening meditation or a guided hiking, biking, mountain climbing, camel riding family adventure. Either way you will have good food and drink and a wonderful, arty home from home.
More on the wellbeing activities: Design your own retreat, mixing whatever courses, coaching, therapies and experiences you want. You can book in situ, but it’s best to book in advance. As well as yoga (with detoxing if you so choose), Pilates, personal training and Moroccan cookery classes, you can experience tennis coaching, a guided tour of the medina, ride a camel or borrow a bike and explore La Palmeraie. Trips to the coast, the Atlas Mountains or a nearby hotel hammam can also be arranged. Children might enjoy magic and juggling lessons. Writing, painting and Buddhist retreats also sometimes run here. Read a word from the queen on her stay.
More on the yoga and Pilates: Yoga and Pilates classes take place either in the sun up on the roof, among the ventilation chimneys, or, far more scenically, in the ‘white room’, a beautiful airy space with open archways down one side and a stone fireplace for extra heat on chillier mornings.
The Pilates teacher, Lise Buntschuh, is a lively American with a great sense of humour. She uses fantastic visualization techniques to help you get your body into the right positions.
The yoga teacher, Perumal Koshy, usually offers one-to-one 90 minute sessions, but for two people or more he can lay on two classes a day for three, four or seven-night packages – you can also do a yoga and detox break with Perumal here. Koshy’s initial training and inspiration came from a Zen Buddhist monk and his path has also taken him through ashtanga and Iyengar. He calls his style Dynamic Progressive Fusion Yoga. He’s cool, composed and professional, with carefully structured classes that he tailors to your ability. You move through pranayama, preparation, salutation flows, strengthening poses, stretching and finally meditation to music. For a beginner, it’s initially challenging but once he gets the measure of your ability, he meets you at your level and although he’s not a warm, cuddly type, he is supportive.
More on the treatments: Treatments are carried out in your bedroom – there’s no therapy room on site. Therapies include an oil treatment for the hair, reflexology and a relaxing massage. If you’re after a more specific massage from experienced therapists there’s a range available at the nearby luxury hotel, Mosaic Palais Aziza, as well as a hammam – the staff at Jnane can organize this for you.
More on your hosts: Jnane Tamsna is owned and run by French-Senegalese Meryanne Loum-Martin, an interior designer, and her American husband Gary, an ethnobotany professor. They’re lively, intelligent people who are both incredibly passionate about Morocco, supporting its people and promoting its cultural and natural heritage. Their on site managers and waiters are accommodating and charming, and they speak enough English to make life easy.
More on the inside: Meryanne and her husband built this place from scratch; she designed the building itself and even some of the furniture, whilst other pieces are from her Paris apartment. Her interiors are full of statement African paintings, canvases and wall hangings in warm earth colours, arrangements of botanical prints and angular dark wood furniture. There are artefacts and soft furnishings from all over the Islamic world.
Enclosed verandahs with richly-coloured, cushion-covered sofas, mirrors and Moroccan table lamps blur the lines between inside and outside. Looking through an arched window, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether there’s open air on the other side or not – a delicious feeling.
The spacious public rooms bring together a combination of impressive, grand interior design with oversize Moroccan ceiling lights intertwined with branches, huge earthenware pots and open stone fireplaces. There’s a beautiful attention to detail, including small bouquets of peach-coloured roses in every room. Jasmine leaves decorate the tables for dinner and every corner has some artful arrangement of traditional vases, ornaments and lamps on small wooden tables.
More on the bedrooms: There are 24 bedrooms at Jnane Tamsna spread over five buildings with rooftop views over date palms, mountains and neighbouring burnt-orange buildings. Rooms vary from a standard double to suites in Jnane Moussafir (House of the Traveller) with its private verandas and roof terrace. All are ensuite and all doubles can be turned into twin rooms. You could book all five bedrooms in Jnane Villa for a retreat with a group of friends or family. (The public spaces are flexible too, which means anyone running retreats can create the ambience that works best for their group).
The Garden Rooms are the most luxurious – the splash-out option that comes with extra space and the ‘inside to outside’ appeal of French doors opening straight out onto a sheltered verandah. Muted shades of olive green or dove grey on the walls are a perfect foil for the vibrant, symmetrical patterns of traditional Moroccan fabrics hanging behind or as a canopy over the bed, as well as the dark-framed prints of birds and animals gathered together in neatly regimented groups on the wall. Table lamps create arcs of warm light on the walls either side of the bed, and a real fire is delicious on chillier evenings. The ensuite is plastered to look like solid terracotta, with beaten copper dishes serving as beautiful sinks. There’s also a walk-in shower – note, the ‘c’ on the taps is for chaud (hot in French) rather than cold!
More on the outside: Exquisite smelling rosemary lines the main entrance path, which is lit up with candles every evening, and there are plenty of nooks and crannies where you can bed down with a book. Near each of the individual buildings is a pool with heavy loungers permanently in situ on the paved area around it. Towels are laid out and in hot weather, a silver dish of iced soft drinks appears on a table.
The gardens are Gary’s passion: he’s grown them from scratch and they are all about relaxation and reflection. A wall of vegetation keeps the noise out and the flowers are fragrant. Gary has also created a traditional North African orchard garden with asparagus, saffron, sage, mint, artichokes, rocket, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. Ask for a tour – it’s fascinating. The riad garden – the courtyard in the main building – is a sheltered space with gardenias, bougainvillea, gardenias and olive trees. Further out on the estate, the land is allowed to grow wild, preserving the natural habitat and traditional wild plants.
Food and drink: As far as possible, fruit and vegetables come from the riad organic vegetable garden. Otherwise local producers fill the gaps, with supermarkets as a last resort. The chef has been working with Meryanne and Gary for 14 years and her meals are light, flavoursome and satisfying. Vegetarian, gluten free and dairy-free diets can be catered for on request.
Breakfast is a buffet of fruit salad, yoghurt, freshly squeezed juices and eggs cooked to order on a two-ring hob. Pastries, Moroccan pancakes, teas and coffees round it off. There’s no menu for lunches and dinners – just one starter, main course and dessert, for example green salads, home-produced olive oil, bread, barbecued chicken with tomato and aubergine sauce, peas and artichoke, followed by delicious biscuity chocolatey fondants. There’s also a fantastic French wine list with pre-dinner drinks – either soft or alcoholic – on standby in the sitting room.
Fellow guests: This is a popular Moroccan wind-down destination for European couples in their 30s to 50s with an intellectual, affluent air– suit trousers, shirt, waistcoats and polished leather shoes are acceptable pool-side wear – but you’ll feel equally comfy hanging out in a swim suit and sarong. Bring a friend for a private wellbeing retreat any time – if you’re alone, come outside school holidays, when Jnane is popular with British families with young children who take full advantage of the child-friendly activities and come back year after year. There’s also the occasional A lister.
What’s lowly: Sometimes it feels like there’s a slight fall down in communication between managers and staff regarding anything that falls outside the normal pattern of the day. You might need to nudge people to get what you need.
Getting there: Jnane Tamsna is half an hour’s drive from Marrakech airport. Airport transfers in a deluxe car cost 25 euros if you land before 7pm and 40 euros for an evening arrival.
Costs: Prices range from €130 (£111) per room per night for a small standard room up to €420 (£360) for a garden room in high season, which includes breakfast, soft drinks, laundry and ironing, WiFi and taxes. Yoga sessions cost €50 (£43) and Pilates sessions are €35 (£30). In room massages cost from €50 (£43). Cookery lessons cost €50 (£43) and result in a lunch that you have cooked.
Reviewed by Caroline Sylger Jones
© Queen of Retreats