La Sultana courtyards & hideaways

November 12, 2010 in MOROCCO | Comments (1)

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Friday. Sitting right now on our wonderful rooftop garden at La Sultana. It’s so much quieter today, a public holiday. The sky is blue and the air feels light. Sun drenches the roof garden. Doves are nesting in holes in the old stone turrets adjoining us. Cooing. A stork sits on a chimney top – ah two of them. It is full of life up here in our castle world.

We see a group of tourists down by the Saadian tombs of ancient kings…it is tempting never to go out again, just stay here. After all we can see three tourist attractions from our rooftop – one in constant dynamism…

Our little souk down in the Kasbah below Sultana has been cleaned after the late night chaos yesterday. Fewer wares are out.

Looking down from our “castle”

La Sultana hotel inspection

Tropical exotic view from the bar on the rooftop – and from the restaurant and the chill area.

La Sultana has 28 rooms in five riads or town houses each with one or two traditional courtyards open to the sky in good weather (in bad weather plastic screens are folded out). All the rooms open into these inner courtyards.  There are very few windows outwards, in the tradition of Moroccan town houses, a way of keeping cool and preserving peace and quiet. Some of the courtyards have gardens and water features, including the heated swimming pool. And all are decorated with traditional mosaic tiles or intricate plaster work and woodwork.

Original art and antiques further decorate the rooms and public areas. Little lounges and cosy corners for tete-a-tete abound on every floor.

Probably as many little conversation places in the courtyards as there are rooms.

If you want to loll, there are sunbeds by the heated pool in the restaurant courtyard.  And more sunbeds on the roof by the plunge pool, today full of sunbathers in glorious sunshine, as well as big comfy chairs enfolding people with laptops.  (A  bit dazzling on the screen today, and the wi-fi is down.)

A third pool (a roomy Jacuzzi) is in the spa, between marble pillars.

All rooms feature a fireplace, dressing room or large cupboard, king bed, bath and separate shower, double basins. Suites feature marble floors, and rooms feature tiled floors. Seven of them have balconies.

View through inner hatch to bathroom of Tiger suite with ample bathtub (marble and Tadelak), golden hand basins and fluffy gowns and slippers. Below lounge section.

Apart from our own delightful Tiger suite, we saw three others.

Ocelot suite deluxe  lies in the Sheherazade riad, where it has a private “balcony” at a higher level than the courtyard. This suite is popular with business people because of its separate office.

Dromedaire suite is fancifully decorated with a camel table and other eccentricities including a secretive kind of walk in cupboard and pillars around the bath, which is meant to resemble the traditional bridal carriage on a camel’s back.

The most popular suite and a favourite with men is the Puma suite, which comes in dark colours spiced with red or cerise for vivacity, and has separate sitting room and bedroom. This is a suite deluxe and as such has a balcony, hanging out over the riad’s upstairs courtyard.

The sales manager Julie explains that since every room is so differently decorated people actually like to move, and even book a series of different rooms for their stay.

The spa sports the aforementioned Jacuzzi between marble pillars, as well as relax beds, 3 hammams, hair salon, 2 aesthetic cabins for facials, and 3 treatment rooms for massage.  Sometimes the whole spa is booked for a wedding party and the women for example may take over one of the hammams. Modern exercise equipment is found in a tent on the flat roof.

The bar is upstairs on the rooftop. Dining: breakfast and lunch within view of the Kasbah mosque on the uncovered rooftop, indicating the low chance of rain in Marrakech. If it does come then breakfast happens downstairs in the main restaurant round the heated pool, lush with palm trees. At night this is a very romantic setting, with lanterns and live Moroccan music. Booking a table essential.

One of the slower inhabitants of La Sultana lives in the banana palms of a courtyard 🙂


Tea & oranges in Marrakech

November 11, 2010 in MOROCCO | Comments (0)

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Starting a visit in Marrakech as always with the ritual of peppermint tea.

Lunch at Villa des Orangers

11 November 2010, 6 Rue Sidi Mamoun – Medina

We expected that oranges would be featured somewhere in Villa Des Orangers.  And we found some. But first we walked along a chaotic street in the Medina with its pavement lined with men fixing motorbikes and selling tyres. What a dramatic contrast when you entered the door into the peace of the Riad.

Wow, we said…its so different in here…

“Yes,” said Director Jean-Paul Compagnon. “Didn’t you know  – every door in Marrakech has a surprise behind it.” (Said with charming French accent, and smiles in green eyes.)

The Riad was built by wealthy residents in the 1930s, and has a really authentic feel despite intense renovations by new French owners. Plenty of chiselled white plaster decorating walls and arches. Its main features are two lush inner decorated courtyards and a garden of olives, flowers and, yes, orange trees. Here is a restaurant, a world away from the hustle & bustle but just 10 minutes walk to the famous and ebullient Square.

There is also another indoor restaurant in traditional colonial style, and public lounges with a deep and weighty colonial feel. All with fireplaces.

Our meal was served in style, with explanations from the Maitre’D.

Starting with mint tea, samoosas, olives and nuts, went on to a special kind of white fish in a roll and then a dessert to remember forever. On a shortcake base, there was a chestnut cream and on that another (vanilla) cream.

This is probably the closest place to the famous Square for a delicious meal in peace and wonderful quiet.

Hotel inspection Villa des Orangers

Of course, Villa des Orangers is not just a restaurant but a five star hotel offering 27 rooms and suites, with the top of the range featuring balconies over the garden. Rooms on the top level have little private areas on the roof each with two sunbeds (semi-private – not secluded). There is also a smaller swimming pool on the roof, surrounded by a public area of sunbeds. Up here on the roof you have views over the rooftops of the Medina and Katoubia mosque. Downstairs in the garden is a long lap pool also with comfy sunbeds around it. And lounging corners tucked away here and there inside and in the courtyard gardens.

A third smaller pool is private, within a walled area, shared by just two suites, along with solarium. These suites also have the privilege of a balcony over the garden.

Of course any establishment of class in Marrakech offers steam treatments. In addition to a hammam, Villa des Oranges also features two massage cabins, beauty treatments and fitness equipment.

A serene place to stay exuding Marrakech style, a few strides from the hectic life of of the city. A favourite of English and French, newly discovered by Americans, Germans, Scandinavians.


KASBAH RETREAT: LA SULTANA

November 10, 2010 in MOROCCO | Comments (7)

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Easy chairs in roof garden

La Sultana roof garden, 2 pm, Wednesday. The perfect hideaway close to it all.

From our peaceful vantage point, we look down into the Kasbah and a chaotic souk selling dried fish and oranges. Men in robes, women in veils pushing modern prams, bikes and very few cars – for they have to move the whole market to get by.

Plenty of atmosphere but certainly no hassle up here in this five star enclave – La Sultana. The rooftop after lunch today is deserted except for the odd pigeon, starling or sparrow. The sounds of birds mix with floating shouts of merchants down in the souk, and then, a voice calling the faithful to sala…

This rich and melancholy sound floats with stirring harmony from the beautiful Kasbah mosque. Up on the rooftop at Sultana is a pagoda providing half shade and comfy chairs, a bar, the rooftop restaurant – and a plunge pool giving the raison d’être of a the sun beds.

On the ground floor is a larger swimming pool and second restaurant.

This five star boutique hotel with its 28 rooms was created by a Frenchman from 5 riads – the typical  extended family establishments of the better off citizens of Marrakech. Each riad has a courtyard that is open to the sky. Most courtyards have a garden, in La Sultana one courtyard has the pool. Rooms open inwards with doors and windows into the courtyards. Seven suites have balconies – some privately hanging above the inner courtyards.

Nowadays the better off people have forsaken their riads in the medina and moved out to the newer surrounding suburbs where luxurious but sometimes less exclusive hotels have also been established in quieter cleaner areas. The locals moving out means the French have been moving in, our driver told us, with apparent amusement .”The French like to live in the Medina,” he said. Other nationalities have moved in too and turned riads into little hotels, smooching the atmosphere.

Atmosphere….certainly Marrakech has atmosphere, it boils over and up to our rooftop from the Kasbah.

As we drove from Amanjena. from the rare calm and aesthetic devotion to perfect symmetry  – we felt the atmospheres change and dunk us…

You held your breath, for the smell of smoke from a burning grill, for the life spilling onto the streets. But a couple of minutes later, we entered this quiet enclave of authentic and extravagant Moroccan elegance, overflowing with hand-worked details. La Sultana. Each Riad has two floors and two lounges, differently decorated, with themes as fanciful as Africa or India. More about that later.

Shown round by a young manager with greater command of French than English, I missed a few facts and will have a second showing later on. But what I did learn from him, as he kindly pointed at a map on where to go, was “Don’t go to the Kasbah…go to the Square”

“Turn right turn left … turn …” but later after our serene and romantic experience on the rooftop (described above), his instructions flipped over to become turn right and turn left – and we emerged  from the serene calm and fanciful universe created by the French owners…into a blast of humanity in rue de la Kasbah. It all mixed together, an onslaught of human life from every direction…bikes, motorbikes, horse drawn carts…so you were stepping sideways to avoid dung and puddles, and then back again to avoid motorbikes, and sudden appearances of luxury cars driven by smart people pushing their way as speedily as possible through the blocked street…you leapt out of the way like everyone else, and then there was a bike in front and a bike behind…and another puddle. The puddles come, we discovered later, from early morning washing of the streets. They normally dry fast.

Now (following instructions from several locals who had already begun directing us) we turned back into our side street and then a quieter narrow street and …. were amazed.

We were suddenly in the little market or souk that we had seen from La Sultana rooftop. We looked up, and our castle of security towered above us, with the palms and flowers of the roof garden reminding us of the peace of the little paradise up there.

Herrings were being shoveled from a big container, fruit…shoes…all lay amid the little square. Immediately a young man was talking to us, giving us directions. “No don’t shop here, it is too expensive… (As if) … follow me we go to the Jewish markets and the old palace is here too…”

He had nice eyes. Nice full deep eyes, you felt you could trust. But my heart was still thumping from the need for alertness to leap out of the way of bikes and puddles. So I looked kind of lovingly up at our fortress of calm up there, La Sultana.

“La Sultana – that is a five star hotel,”  he told us with the authority of a guide. “Yes, we know,” we said….”we stay there” (to give ourselves a kind of secure identity). Then afraid we sounded rich we added – we just guests.

Ah he said…

He did seem nice, so we wandered a little towards his promised Jewish markets (much much cheaper than this already cheap market) …the streets squiggled this way and that…somehow skirting round our five star fortress, “swimming” in its moat of turbulent life…

Bikes shot past rather close to my handbag, and I realized my vulnerability as the two men had walked ahead. “Let’s go back to the hotel,” I said, remembering our dinner date.

I was shaken. Marrakech seemed so raw, I wondered. Fruit, sardines, piles of aromatic spices…bikes and puddles, and electric wires, narrow streets, rooftops full of washing.

Is this what the tourists came for? It was both inspiring and remarkable.

Since everyone has been telling me that Marrakech has become fashionable in the last 2 or 3 years, I had expected it to be somehow spoilt, overflowing with curios.

But then the simple truth emerged. We had taken a wrong turn. We had not gone into the Medina. We had gone where he told us not to go, into the Kasbah…

Fortunately! It was in the end such a special experience.

ADDENDUM: Later our feelings changed. The Kasbah grew into a gentle place. Quite simply … we grew to love it.