Traveling with



Interview by Sophie Goodwin
Edited by Camilla Frances
Images from Wanda Martin, Mr Tripper, Richard Powers and Pascal Montary
Image from oltrepò pavese

Left: Philomena Schurer Merckoll. Right: To Retreat at KM33.

“Essentially, it’s my personal take on Marrakech that I hope our guests enjoy”: Philomena Schurer Merckoll, founder of Riad Mena & Beyond, opens up to Sophie Goodwin about life in Morocco, curating her dream hotel, championing female creatives and her favorite things about Marrakech. 
Growing up in 80s London (with Bavarian heritage), and traveling extensively as a child, Philomena Schurer Merckoll experienced many worlds and cultural influences, some more exciting than others. “My peripatetic childhood and international upbringing always sounds glamorous, and in a way it was," she says. "However, I grew up in a single parent household (my parents divorced when I was six) and there were many ups and downs; I never felt I fully belonged in the UK and was excited to study abroad.” An Economics and Politics degree at Trinity College in Dublin followed - “an important baseline understanding to how the world works” - which, along with her wanderlust and strong female role models - “my mother and grandmother...were such strong women, professionally and privately” - laid the foundations for a dynamic career in design and hospitality. 
In 2005, before living and working in London, Paris, Mexico City, New York and Munich, Philomena fell in love with Marrakech and decided to search for her own Moroccan retreat. She found the perfect family home in the Medina, a seven-bedroom Riad with two courtyards and a secluded rooftop. After renovating and restoring the property over a seven year period - alongside designer, Romain Michel Meniere, founder of Berber Lodge - she furnished it with locally sourced vintage furniture and contemporary Moroccan crafts. She relished the curatorial process, describing Marrakech as a "feast for creativity", and loved the city’s exhilarating mix of peace and chaos. “I love the sense of peace that envelopes you when you enter from the bustling streets; I love waking up early to the sound of birdsong in the courtyard trees, having my coffee in bed looking out of the Menzeh into the lush courtyard below. It is one of the few places in the world I find the peace to just read a book without constantly checking my phone.”



To Retreat at KM33, Marrakech; Mr Tripper. 

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To Retreat at KM33, Marrakech; Mr Tripper. 

“I think I had subconsciously analysed what makes a great [hotel] experience; those extra small touches that make your stay truly memorable.”


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Riad Mena & Beyond, Marrakech; Richard Powers Photography. 

In 2014, this personal project turned professional when Riad Mena & Beyond first opened its doors to guests (Berber Lodge being the '& Beyond'), offering refined, thoughtfully-curated interiors and a homely feel. “Riad Mena was always meant to be our family home, not a hotel, so it was designed in a very personal way,” she says. “The bedrooms and bathrooms are spacious and the bookshelves are filled with hand-picked books. Our team has been with us forever, they are like family. Essentially it’s my personal take on Marrakech that I hope our guests enjoy.”
A lifetime of travel and a long-standing interest in hotels has shaped her approach. “I think I had subconsciously analysed what makes a great experience; those extra small touches that make your stay truly memorable.” Launching a hotel while raising a young family has not been without challenges, however. “Of course it was hard, especially being a woman who was quite green behind the ears, but overall it really made me think that when things flow like that they are meant to be - so follow the flow.”
Today, Philomena splits her time between the Bavarian Mountains (from where her family hails), London (where she co-runs a brand consultancy, Agency Gene), and Marrakech, where her life as a hotelier, and now Kundalini Yoga retreat owner, is ever busy. The first of Riad Mena’s yoga retreats, To Retreat, took place on the private farm of Studio KO founders, Karl Fornier and Olivier Marty, which they share with friend and longtime Marrakech resident, Jean Noel Schoeffer. “It’s on the edge of the Agafay desert, no phone signal or wifi, offering total disconnection for three nights. Opening your eyes at the end of sunset yoga to the huge expanse of desert stars is life altering.”
How does she keep all the plates spinning, and balance the pressure of owning businesses in different countries? “I’m going to quote a more enlightened yoga teacher, Manizeh Rimer at Love Supreme Projects. She says our hearts are like seismographs and pick up on the energy of everyone and everything. It made me feel it’s important to try and put out your highest frequency into the world. My emotionally repressed English side would also add its important to laugh, when things are funny and, more importantly, when they are not."


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Left: Sahbi Sahbi; Pascal Montaray. Right: Hand-painted espresso cups, Lrnce. 

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Rug designer Sana Benzaitar, Gueliz. 

Philomena's Marrakech Favorites

My favorite shop:
There are so many it's hard to whittle down. However, the newly opened Epicerie and Cave a Vin, Barbe, is a gem. The owner, Adnane, is so knowledgable, always giving the best advice and I am constantly snacking on everything I buy there, from aged parmesan cheese to homemade granola, Verveine tea, Zora chocolate and, of course, a few bottles of wine. 
My favorite restaurant:
The recently opened Sahbi Sahbi, which Studio KO designed and partner in, is fantastic. I adore the earthen-toned ceramics, the contemporary twist on traditional Moroccan tiled walls and the hand-carved cedar ceiling. However, it's the concept behind it that makes it stand out: the open kitchen in the centre of the restaurant creates a visual celebration and acknowledgement of the female chefs who cook there - plus the food is exemplary.
My favorite things to do: 
A recently-opened museum - Le MAP - is so inspiring. It houses the private collection of over 7000 pieces collected over 40 years by long-term Marrakech residents, Marlene and Paolo Gallone, featuring unique pieces of tribal jewellery. fabrics, ornaments and more from the 19th-century onwards, an incredible showing of relationships and inspirations between nations and tribes from Africa to Asia and Central Europe during this time.


My favorite Marrakech brands:
Sana Benzaitar, the daughter of a famed rug dealer, recently opened her eponymous studio in a former contemporary art gallery in the new town of Gueliz. Working with women weavers in the Beni Mrirt region of the Atlas mountains, Sana creates beautiful quality one-of-a-kind rugs, a real show of craftswomanship. For Fashion, I love Maison ARTC. His vision, in terms of his clothes and brand communication, is truly unique. 
My favorite Marrakech finds:
Hand-painted espresso cups from LRNCE. And I am obsessed with the Beni Rugs showroom, designed by founders Robert and Tiberio. They have such incredible taste and it is a pleasure to spend time there. I also visit Art Tissage Tam a lot, a women’s cooperative outside of Marrakech, it’s a real show of artistry. The local flea market, Bab el Khmiz, is where we source all our vintage design pieces, such as the original Barcelona chairs.


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