We [heart] New York... James Lohan: "It lives up to…
Mr & Mrs Smith’s hotel relations manager, Maggie, just got back from a week in Morocco where she and Peggy took a quick whistle-stop tour of Smith’s Marrakech hotel collection, and also unearthed a new range of ravishing riads and gorgeous Maroc palaces.…
So, Maggie, you’ve recently landed from Marrakech – bring anything new back in your luggage?
Loads of mint tea, actually.
Splendid – is the mint tea pretty special out there then? Better than Twinings?
Indeed. Speaking of gorgeous riads, where did you visit while you were there?
Well, we saw all of the places that we know and love in the Smith collection, such as Noir d’Ivoire which is incredible, and Riad 72 and Riad 12 which both have fewer than four rooms and make you feel like you are a guest in their home.
Everyone I speak to raves about Noir d’Ivoire – what’s all the fuss about?
Firstly, the owner Jill is so involved in running it, and knows all her guests by name. She makes you feel so comfortable and will always sit down for a drink and a chat. Not to mention that the place is beautifully done. It is very grown-up: dramatic fabrics and great big baths – seriously big.
Lucy was saying that Jill’s just had a load of new rooms built. Are they finished? What are they like?
Yes, everything is done now. They bought another building so the riad is made of two riads really. They now have nine rooms in total and they’re all different. They are named after animals – we were in the Panther Suite, which is massive, and has gold furniture in the sitting area (I almost slept on the couch it was so big and comfortable), plus an antique desk in its own small room if you simply must do some work, and you have access to a private roof terrace and Jacuzzi! We definitely took advantage of that (and did not do any work at the desk by the way).
I should hope not.
The bathroom was beautiful too – double sinks and literally the largest bath I have ever seen.
Literally? Literally, literally?
It was about the same size as the four-person Jacuzzi on the roof. You could live in it and be comfortable.
Wowsers, that is large. So here’s the big question: you were travelling with Peggy – how is she as a travel companion?
Very good. We think alike, and we somehow managed to see all current properties, plus 15 potential ones, and still had time to actually see a bit of the city. We make a good team – honestly – and she’s a fun partner in crime, I must say!
Darn it, I was hoping for salacious gossip.
Sorry, maybe next time!
So, 15 potentials – anything really stand out?
Wow, so many. We were lucky enough to stay at Maison MK, which just opened in March this year, and is a great combination of traditional Moroccan and modern styles. The rooms don’t have televisions (like many traditional places there) but come with an iPod fully loaded with great music, and your own mobile programmed with the riad’s number and €5 credit! Really cool.
Is that in the medina?
Yes it is; don’t ask me where because it doesn’t matter. As long as you are in the medina, you are well located. We also saw Riad Tarabel, which I just have to talk about.
Well I’m certainly not going to stop you. Tell me more.
It only has three rooms at the moment, with a plan to add a few more suites and a pool in the building next door. The riad’s owners are French, from a small town called Tarabel, hence the name. They have created such a calming place, with antique-like blues and greys in the rooms, each of which has a neat feature. One room has a beautiful brass bed and the suite has yet another amazing bathroom – on two levels! (I have a bit of an obsession with bathrooms).
(You’re not the only boutique bathroom obsessive around here – Lucy and I have both waxed lavatorial about the best hotel bathrooms on this very blog.) A duplex bathroom? How does that work? Does the bath water from the top level drain into a shower on the floor below? That would be neat. If a bit skanky.
Well, not exactly, and yes, very true – not nice. The double sinks are on the top level, and then you descend down the stairs to the bath, which is across from the double headed shower.
And the decor? Marble? Taledkt? Or whatever it’s called… talkedat? Oh I don’t know…that signature Maroc tile stuff…
You are correct sir – tadelakt
Well, close enough.
Tarabel was a wonderful place really.
Sounds like the places you saw were all wonderful. Any stinkers? You don’t have to name names…
Uh, yes. Not bad at all, just not the right fit.
What do you think are the key things that make a Marrakech hotel suitable for the Smith collection?
They have to have character. Each one has something special about it, that you notice straight away. Whether it is the decor, the staff, or the bathrooms (sorry, can’t help it), they have to have something that makes you remember why you are there.
So how many of the 15 make the cut?
I’m thinking about 10 or 12, which sounds like a lot, but our members love Marrakech, and I really think each of the new ones will keep people interested and wanting to go again and again.
Was it your first time there?
Yes it was, and I have to be honest I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I didn’t know what to expect, but as soon as we arrived, it was like going back in time, but with motorbikes. We had to be careful not to get run over by a donkey cart on one street and then motorbikes on another. And now I want to go back, and soon.
Did you try your haggling skills in the souk?
Sadly, not so much. We did well in an herbalist shop, which explains all the tea, some of which we got for free – so not bad!
What about the entertainment scene? Try any top restaurants, or fab bars?
Well you have to go to the main square, Djemaa el Fna, and eat there.
Any menu recommendations? What did you have?
Get the meat and chicken skewers, and couscous of course. It’s all very dramatic when they bring the skewers – lots of meat and smoke happening…
Mmmm. Two of my favourite things. Any other top tips for travellers hitting the city?
If you have the time, stay in a place in the medina for a couple of days and see all the fast-paced streets and shops, but then take a couple more days to relax in the Palmeraie, which is still Marrakech but just 10 minutes’ drive from the Medina. We have some great places there!
I knew you would ask…
So, for the deep-pocketed traveller, splurge and go to Ksar Char-Bagh. It’s a palace with lovely rooms, some with private pools, and beautiful grounds. The main pool looks like heaven, and they grow all their own ingredients in the garden at the end of the property.
And for the more credit-crunched globetrotter?
Try Le Deux Tours, a potential newcomer to Smith. The property is massive, and they have 11 pools in total, 10 of which are private. The rooms are really big, even in the standards, so you have loads of space without having to break the bank. Plus they have a new Michelin-starred chef from Paris – very exciting.
Can’t remember – looking it up!
We can pretend when this is published, that you just remembered instantly.
You’d look dead clever then. Let’s just hope I don’t forget to cut this whole section out.
I can find it – just have to refer to my notes.
Nope, I’m getting bored now. Let’s move on… So, Maggie, finally: if you met someone who, like you before you went, was unsure about Marrakech as a travel destination, what three reasons would you give them to visit?
First, the people are amazingly friendly and welcoming
Second, the places to stay are fantastic; there’s somewhere for everyone to enjoy
Third, it’s only 3.5 hours from London and the weather is amazing pretty much all year round, so escape from the British winter and just go
(Do you know what? I just might.)
And the food is pretty good too! Had to get that in.
Thanks very much Maggie. Where you off to next?