November 10, 2010 in MOROCCO | Comments (8)

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Picture 1 of 10

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.


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