It’s more than a luxury hotel, it’s a nod to the ancestors.
Meryanne Loum-Martin is the owner, designer and founder of Jnane Tamsna in Marrakech, Morocco. The stunning property opened to the public in 2001 after only eleven months and three weeks of construction. She opened her first hospitality venture in 1989 and was the first to develop a boutique property in a world of big hotels—a true pioneer, regardless of gender or race.
Loum-Martin was born in Côte d'Ivoire, a country in West Africa, to a Senegalese diplomat father and a West Indian lawyer mother. Their field of work allowed them to travel exponentially to places like Ghana and London before settling in Paris. Until the age of 10, Loum-Martin lived in Moscow under communist rule. It was this season of her formative childhood years that significantly shaped her way of thinking.
"I was living between three worlds—the world of Russian kids, the world of the diplomat kids and the world of freedom every time I would come to France to be with my grandparents," she shares. "It was extremely transformative to see how some people could live under cultural dictatorship but be free in their mind."
As a young adult, Loum-Martin frequently traveled solo to places like India and Brazil and met her husband, Gary Martin, while traveling through Oaxaca, Mexico. Gary Martin is an ethnobotanist and founder of the Global Diversity Foundation, and the couple has two children.
Even as a world traveler, she knew Marrakech was where she wanted to build a foundation and call home. Yet, when she first stepped foot on the land that is now Jnane Tamsna, it was all red dirt and palm trees.
"It was the right place for me ever since I stepped foot on the tarmac," she says.
There is deep history seeping into the grounds of the 5-star digs. Loum-Martin's great-grand father was born to a freed enslaved man in the French Caribbean, and within one generation, he was elected to the French Congress and was a lawyer. The inheritance which allowed her to buy her land in Marrakech trickled down from these ancestors.
Despite becoming a lawyer like her mother, architecture and design is what captured her heart. Law school wasn't her first choice, but after experiencing failure in the architectural school system, it was her next option.
"I wasn't pivoting 360 degrees. I have wanted to be an architect since I was a child. Architecture is a way to express culture. So I always had it in me," the hotelier says.
Her first taste in the building was developing a holiday house for her parents. Through this project, she turned the house into a hotel, and it quickly became a new trend and sensation by allowing guests to rent out the entire property as if it were a home away from home. It was a concept other hotels had yet to do at the time.
Then, in the 90s, she opened up a concept store in the Medina area of Marrakech. The Medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sits behind the old wall in Marrakech. It's a market-like area filled with treasures of old palaces, secret gardens, architecture from the Middle Ages to the 19th century—and the best local eats and finds. The concept store opened as a riad(a traditional Moroccan accommodation), but the catch was everything was for sale, from the dining room table to the decor.
When it was time for her to open Jnane Tamsna, she knew she would face obstacles solely because she was a woman.
"Having always been the only Black person everywhere, I don't see obstacles because I'm a Black woman," shares Loum-Martin. "I see obstacles because I'm a woman. So I ignore them and work harder. I was always in places where I was the only one."
If you're looking for a typical luxury experience, Jnane Tamsna might not be the best place for you. It comprises five houses, 24 distinctive bedrooms, a tennis court, five pools, a courtyard, and a garden. This boutique hotel doesn't follow any standards; instead, it sets them.
"Luxury is uniqueness. I love that we don't fit into any box," adds Loum-Martin.
The property is more than just a place to sleep at night, it is a creative hub for Black people that bridges the gap between cultures. In 2023, Loum-Martin hosted Philoxenia retreats in partnership with Parea Books. The retreat centered around literature and creative writing workshops and even provided scholarships to HBCU students. Award-winning authors such as Cleyvis Natera and Camille T. Dungy spoke at the retreat. There are plans to do at least 3-4 Philoxenia retreats a year.
Although the trailblazer has achieved a great deal, her vision is still expanding. Nowadays, she's focused on growing her brand JNAN, which means garden of paradise.
"Our people were taken from their gardens to enrich other people's gardens in the most horrific ways. So now, as descendants, we own our gardens again. We are returning to ownership and celebrating our community's creativity," she tells EBONY.
JNAN will consist of the expansion of Jnane Tamsna and hotels elsewhere. But, with a deeply rooted vision, Loum-Martin believes her legacy is to pay back to her ancestors and the people that paved the way for her.
"I place the stakes high; it's the minimum I can do for them," continues Loum-Martin. "When you're a creative person, everything is possible; it's a matter of hard work and ignoring the hurdles."