April 18, 2011 in CYPRUS | Comments (27)

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Paphos castle

On the west coast facing the sunset lies Paphos. Paphos is gathered behind a fishing harbor, castle and world heritage archaelogical site dating back to ancient Greece and the Roman empire. A narrow beach and rocky areas fringe a promenade walk lined with shops, cafes and hotels sporting their own pools and spas.

There are more serene and exclusive spots in Cyprus  – like  Anassa (see my earlier posts). And there are certainly less exclusive and more touristy spots than Paphos (around and beyond Larnaca), with so many northern Europeans that you wonder if you stumbled on a suburb of Stockholm, if it were not for the dry sun.

In Paphos you are definitely in Cyprus with a decent sized town full of Cypriots going about their lives behind the tourist front line along the seaside. In Paphos the shops cannot resist billboard size signs. That is very Cypriotic. Shoe shops abound of course – Cypriots love shoes. Café upon café of course, and a street known as bar street. Its not quiet and elegant – its busy in a relaxed Mediterranean way –  and commercial for sure in its own unpretentious way.

For me the real charm of Paphos is that you are sitting on top of an outpost of ancient Greece and Rome. That means real ruins to look at and mythology attaching itself everywhere. Aphrodite goddess of love and beauty is said to have come out of the waters off Paphos – various spots on the coast claim her birth just there. But more concrete and worth at least a whole day or two is the Unesco site House of Mosaics, with the villas of various noblemen surviving in the form of the odd wall with very beautiful mosaics, albeit damanged by time. In addition there are three museums in Paphos telling ancient stories.

The other thing I like about Paphos is our hotel staring out over the sea.  

Just one teeny little modest sign marks this hotel – “almyra” at the entrance to Poseidenos Avenue.  And already you know it is different, modest, tasteful.

A design hotel, it is an unpretentious place, yet stylish, with those little features that show a designer was here, making all this simplicity. It is a family hotel with endless connecting rooms, kid’s menus, kid’s clubs and so on. Next door lies sister hotel Annabelle. Both lie in gardens that stretch down to the beach walkway with their own beach restaurants and views over the blue Mediterranean.

Almyra was the first of the Thanos family hotels built in what was then avant garde style. Next Thanos hotel was Annabelle, which moved out of minimalism. It is still not elaborate, but it has round balconies, rusty marble and more colour, harking back to a more classical hotel style.

Almyra’s pools are square – Anabelle’s lagoon shape. Quite a few rooms also have plunge pools, and the luxury of outdoor showers. Annabelle was an immediate  success. In fact to date 80% of its guests are repeaters. So Thanos then went a step further in the classical direction. They built Anassa – on its own beach a 40 minutes to one-hour drive over the mountains, beside the Akamas peninsula nature reserve. Not just classical but UBERclassical and luxurious. See my earlier blog.

Anassa is not just a place to lie on the beach or by the pools. It’s great for sporty people – with sailing, windsurfing, squash, tennis, mountain biking and hiking on the wild and rocky peninsula.

Here you are again in the world of Aphrodite. If you had not heard of Greek mythology you would think she is a woman of flesh and blood, judging by the signs. Aphrodite swam in some baths nearby – see the image.

My choice would be to spend the first 2 or 3 nights of a Cyprus week at Almyra in a Kyma suite. And spend a whole day in the ruins again. The surviving mosaics are so fluid in their lines, it’s as if an artist did strokes of colour in minutes, rather than years or decades…exquisite. Then I would head off over the mountains to Anassa for more luxury, physical exercise and exquisite nature, chilling out totally…

This suggestion needs a sound budget.


April 2, 2011 in CYPRUS | Comments (0)

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Welcome to my Adonis suite - wihisky?

A hotel inspection – 30 travel agents or more in tow on the Thanos family’s spring party weekend.

Thanos owns three hotels on Cyprus. All delightful – but Anassa is a dream, haunted by myths and antiquity in all its pristine gleaming glamour. What might seem boring – looking at hotel rooms – is a privilege when it comes to Anassa.

In the above gallery of images we see the two most popular suites; Adonis and Aphrodite (another image below).

We also see the celebrity villa Alexandros – a very private haven with its own entrance, a decent sized pool and two bedrooms upstairs. Some celeberities might choose to hide away there in solitary splendour, but a certain top celebrity at Anassa recently was out with his children at the heated pool. Heard that on the grapevine. Anassa does give that kind of serene security.

High up on the same level as Adonis and Aphrodite we also saw the presidential Anax suite – with a long more formal dining table – and two bedrooms with balconies with perfect views. Then still high up, but one level down, we saw a panoramic junior suite and a two-bedroom suite that you can occupy as a one bedroom suite or  extend to a three bedroom suite. Connecting doors on the balcony are much appreciated by families who take adjoining suites – as the kids find it easy to play together.


March 7, 2011 in MAURITIUS | Comments (81)

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Four Seasons from the bridge linking island and resort

If the rainbow people are the ultimate wealth of Mauritius, Four Seasons has tapped its gold. This resort is an island unto itself of calm and happy faces, and friendly intuitive service. Everywhere you feel pampered in the most warm and delicate way. This is due to careful policies to keep staff happy, I was told by everyone I asked for the secret formula.

The site chosen for Four Seasons Mauritius at Anahita made many on the island raise eyebrows when construction began as there was no natural beach. Human ingenuity has created sandy beaches round a private island, paved banks, running pools and a deliciously tropical feel. Another twitch of the eyebrow was directed at the architecture as it seemed unMauritian, with its dark gleaming marble in open corridors. Of course it is very Four Seasons with its striving for perfection and a gentle corporate touch. But when you stay there you also feel it is very Mauritian. Because of the staff, the food, and the exquisite villas you are brought closer to the island’s “earth”.

There are a total of 133 villas and residences (latter with one or two bedrooms). Most of the villas are along the beaches of the island or facing the lagoon mangroves. A big team of golf buggies wends along the curving roads between villas.

Even the garden villas are hard to leave. Garden category here doesn’t mean absence of something better, it means colourful tropical garden and pristine private plunge pool with romantic double sunbed. It means a huge sofa on the patio where you can gaze at a small lake and a hill covered with banana palms. It means a table for dining outside, and an outdoor warming oven. Inside you are enfolded in warm but earthy colour, and all the usual comforts. Dressing room is ample. The inside shower faces the back garden and outdoor shower.

On my first morning I dashed out happily to look at the new day rising over the pool. A wind smashed the door closed behind me. I had no choice but to walk barefoot to the main building through a shower of summer rain, where the first person I found was the usher at breakfast. She was amused in a mild sweet way. Fortunately I was in my Four Seasons dressing gown and a new key was found for me quickly.

So now I returned to breakfast. Even though it was raining, it was a spiritual experience thanks to the tones of Vivaldi, the warm service, open windows and a perfect choice of things to eat.  Happiness included fresh pastries from a separate glass room, tropical fruit, café latte, and a table in a nook that jutted out into an ornamental pool. The warm rain drummed on the pool, fish could be seen swimming past, yellow coconuts ripened on an islet. And then of course the sun came.

There are four restaurants altogether, one at the golf course, the French restaurant (where I ate breakfast), a 2nd Asian restaurant poolside and beachside, and Aquapazza, Italian restaurant over the canal, reached by bridge. Ate at the pool & beach restaurant in the balmy evening with Melinda from the sales department. All perfect. Then alone at Aquapazza, a stylish place with bar looking over the channel.

The spa is also on the island, with treatment rooms overwater with views of mangroves. The waiting area is a platform with water views. Several bridges cross the water including a mini Bridge of Sighs, with upmarket shops. The golf course designed by Ernie Els, Four Seasons Golf Club at Anahita, is an 18-hole, par-72 championship course with large fairways.

So who will love Four Seasons at Anahita?

Definitely a resort of interest to golfers and families, AND those wanting delicious privacy, tropical charm and Four Seasons Mauritian-style food and service.


40 minutes by car, 15 minutes by helicopter.


March 2, 2011 in MAURITIUS | Comments (2)

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Mauritian style around the pool

Treasured Mauritian chic.

On a peninsula jutting into a big lagoon, Constance Le Prince Maurice is surrounded by white sand beaches lined with palms. Its heart is an attractive lobby with view over serene pool and pale turquoise lagoon, surrounded by the quaint and shaggy roofs of restaurants and bars. Quality, style and romance are the keywords at Le Prince Maurice, with carefully chosen furnishings, antiques and objet d’art.

This intimate resort is remarkably peaceful. No buzz, no loud music. No sense of crowds. My only argument would be the starlings and sparrows that make such a lot of noise at breakfast time.

The beaches sweep in curves and round points. Very well attended with sunbeds, fresh towels and water – and romantically lined with palms. The lagoon is shallow but further out there is a floating platform from which swimming is easier. After the heavy rains the water was less blue than usual the towel attendant explained. But further out on the other side near the reef there was a channel of brilliant turquoise. In the balmy air of evening it was a very quiet and romantic place.

The resort is actually quite small – only  89 suites of which most are spacious  junior suites (70 sqm) each graced with patio featuring a sofa, table and chairs. Some of the junior suites have a fantastic position, facing the fish reserve or on poles in the lagoon –  and 4 of them are on a private beach.I had the good fortune to have one of those. Other junior suites are set back from the beach a little with nice sea views (see snap of suites hiding behind palms, taken from the beach), but a few appeared not to have such advantages. The beachfront and sea-view junior  suites can only be requested.

Our suite opened onto the grass that lead down to a private beach with our own sunbeds. Image taken in the early morning.

The 12 senior suites or villas are extensive (130 sqm) and have prime beachfront positions and pools (9 of them) or are over water (3, without pools). We saw the Princely suite, comprising  senior suite, and junior suite. This is definitely a place you might place your Royalty. Not that it is so grand – it is just stylish and comfortable. And it has a lobby like a miniature Mauritian resort opening in typical way out to the (private) infinity pool. The beach is only fairly private, with some bushes to divide it somewhat from the continuing public beach. But it is lovely white sand with pale turquoise lagoon, just as it should be in Mauritius.

I visited Le Prince Maurice twice. Once on the MK fam for inspections on 3 Feb. Then again on my own fam for two nights 7-9 February.

Dining was splendid. First night I dined at the main restaurant with front row seats viewing beach and lagoon, very content with magical life.  The next dinner was even more special.

Walking out of the main building onto a path, past suites on stilts over the lagoon, we came to a board walk lit here and there with lanterns. The board walk crosses an island, continues over mangroves and water,  turns the corner through the dark and …. Suddenly there you are at the floating restaurant. A small number of pontoons float there, magically lit…

Here you dine well, with a sense of being far away on an adventure.

Lunch was at Constance Belle Mare Plage on the brilliant white beach and deep turquoise lagoon – only 15-20 minutes by hourly shuttle via the golf course.

On the bus I met a Frenchman who has been to Mauritius 6 times. He is delighted with Prince Maurice. He stays there and takes a shuttle to Belle Mare Plage to play on one of its two golf courses. You can also dine at one of the 7 restaurants at Belle Mare Plage using the shuttle option.

Both resorts have spas of course. And watersports….


1 hour by car from Mauritius International Airport or 15 minutes by helicopter

Constance Le Prince Maurice


February 26, 2011 in MAURITIUS | Comments (1)

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Dream of paradise revealed

Dinarobin has a special place in the hearts of discerning visitors to Mauritius. Definitely one of the top resorts on the island.

Stylish, lush and exotic, with an exuberance of palms and tropical growth, sparkling waterways and fountains – situated right on the beach and turquoise lagoon. Its prime art work is the spa, with the pointed backdrop of Le Morne mountain enhancing its otherworldly beauty. This extraordinary place has different zones leaning to different cultures. Its main spiritual inspiration is zen.

Despite the serene atmosphere of the resort, it does welcome children. Families find extensive facilities here and at nearby at Paradis, including kid’s club, gym, windsurfing, waterskiing, glass bottom boat, scuba diving, catamaran cruise, golf. Not only Paradis golf course but two others are included.

Altogether here are 172 suites facing the sea with terrace or balcony. All have a sitting area, a bathroom with dressing area, shower, separate toilet. The suites are built in crescents, each with own pool, which helps to create the wonderful serenity on the beach.

Together with Paradis there are 8 restaurants. Recently, even the fine dining restaurant has taken on a menu of items that can be enjoyed on half board.

Like Paradis, Dinarobin has not played with rates in response to the recession. Instead explains Gyukkayne Tyack the hotel has concentrated on value ads. The Club concept is one of these, offering extra privileges to Club Junior and Senior beachfront suites.

Crisp black and white against burnished terracotta and ochre. Senior Suite bedroom above and lounge below.


1 hr 30 min by car from Mauritius International Airport, 20 min by helicopter.

Chamarel & Black River Gorge

Afternoon excursion to lookout point over Le Morne, further to black river gorge and waterfall, climb to lookout, further walk to seven colour sands with exposed coloured earth and centuries old tortoises. Toilet stops in the park. Thirst – our driver stopped for us to buy water at a simple shop.


in MAURITIUS | Comments (0)

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Paradis - palm fringed beach and parasols

You can hardly improve on the setting on Le Morne Peninsula. Beautiful white sandy beach that stretches to sister hotel Dinarobin and beyond, plenty of palms and wide turquoise lagoon, as you expect on Mauritius, with the added attraction of the mountain beyond.

But the final factors in choosing Paradis are the wide range of sporting activities and the family friendliness. On one side of the rooms lies the beach, on the other the golf course.

You get the added bonus of access to the restaurants at Dinarobin (8 restaurants in all), and nowadays at every restaurant there are options that can be chosen on halfboard, or courses that can be enjoyed for a supplement. You also get two spas to choose from, and two golf courses.

The sturdy low-rise architecture with wide balconies, and earth or sunshine colours, have become a trademark in themselves – spelling Beachcomber. So have the well-loved formulas of spacious junior and senior suites with many connecting rooms, and family suites. All of which include spacious “Beachcomber bathrooms”. 

After spending the night in the bathroom at the previous hotel to protect my unwilling roommate from my nightmares, I gave a lot of complements to the Beachcomber bathrooms. I’d like to sleep there…. I’d say by way of humouring companions. They are certainly big enough for an extra bed.

Not that you can squeeze in extra beds too liberally at these hotels. The five star hotels keep up their standards. You can bring in one child into your room. Otherwise you should take a connecting or adjoining room for your children.

Paradis offers 286 suites in all, plus 13 villas. The villas used to be for celebrities, says Resort Manager Marc Hausser, but now they are very popular with families. So you need to book 9 months ahead.

Despite the recession, they have not discounted rates at Paradis but have maintained the rates of 2008. The Beachomber-Paradis formula is working well and 42% of customers are regulars. This October was the best in the history of the hotel. December was up 15% and January  22%. Resort Manager Marc Hausser told us that healthy finances enabled investments, e.g. in desalination to try to become self sufficient.


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Beach restaurnat at Heritage Le Telfair

Lack of new beaches in the north has lead to a trend on Mauritius to upgrade existing four star properties to five star. And a new interest on the unexploited southern coast.

The former Heritage Golf & Spa Resort has become Heritage Awali.  Meanwhile adjoining it on the same former sugar plantation in Domain Bel Ombre, the five-star Heritage Le Telfair has been totally refurbished, offering 158 guest rooms and suites, with butler service to all suites.

These golf resorts lie between a sandy beach, turquoise lagoon and the green expanses of the Heritage golf course, framed by mountains. Nearby is a private nature reserve with rainforest and dry bush, to be introduced into the Heritage Le Telfair experience. Also new to the experience is the Seven Colours Spa, concentrating on Mauritian and African elements, with a full programme to inspire better living. (Former spa was run by Six Senses.)

As you step into the lobby of Heritage Le Telfair Spa & Golf Resort you feel freshness, and fantasy. It is built like a plantation house of yesteryear, using old and burnished floorboards. But the carved wooden walls, painted pure white, are too perfect to be old, creating a sense of make-believe. Or something from a dream.

You look down at the perfect symmetry of a fountain and water canal, down to the lagoon, encircled by coral reef. Adjoining is a lobby lounge of new chic contemporary furniture – not using plastic and metal but borrowing from an age of grace.

The main restaurant, with a fresh Mauritian chic, is Annabellas. Beside the beach is the pavilion style Pan Asian restaurant Gin’ja,  offering fine dining in the evening, with an informal lunch experience extended to some small (spindly) tables laid out on the sand.

We had lunch at Gin’ja twice. The first time on the MK fam trip, we were presented with a very exciting starter – a long plank (5 metres?) strewn with every imaginable kind of sushi, taking advantage of the fresh seafood of Mauritius.

Further there is a fine dining restaurant up by the golf course (5 minutes). This elegant old-style Le Château de Bel Ombre restaurant spills out to tables under an ancient tree, with golf course views. Down at the seaside and the swimming pool is bar Palmier. Further restaurants are available at Heritage Awali.

A new beach club will be ready soon just over the river from Heritage Le Telfair: snorkeling, waterskiing and various other watersports included, but supplement for scuba diving, catamaran sailing, kitesurfing etc.

The beach is the typical warm colour of “sand” (perhaps not as white as coral sand). The little Citronnier river comes down between the beach club and the Gin’ja restaurant, so after the heavy rains following four months drought, we may not have seen the real colour of the beach.

The rooms have an elegant traditional feel with dark timber floors and fresh pale colours. Room 901 in the image connects with 902.  This is being reclassified as beachfront

Heritage room 901.

Mauritius Tour 31 Jan-11 Feb. Day 1 – hotel inspecttion & lunch, Day 9 – lunch at Heritage Le Telfair


February 20, 2011 in MAURITIUS | Comments (11)

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New branding and a new experience. Previously it was the destination spa Shanti Ananda, now it is Shanti Maurice and offers watersports, a kids club and a Mauritian experience! Yet never letting go of its origins as a spa…the resort maintains a rich feeling of peace and harmony. It is a wonderful soothing place to be.

New ideas have come. First and best night of the Mauritius tour (31 Jan), despite tiredness, was at the beachside Fish and Rhum Shack, a rustic restaurant that the resort now opens a few times a week. At this spot the coral reef is close in, so the sound of crashing waves harmonizes with the traditional Sega music of a Mauritian band. Meanwhile the stars shine, a bonfire burns, and the air is full of ozone and the smell of grilling fish and seafood. Slender Creole girls do their traditional dance, the Sega, among us and the old sun-scorched tables in the sand. Now and then they invite us to join, and to enjoy the wild, free feeling of dancing in the sand on a tropical night.

The general manager spoke of his other ideas. All hinges on a sense of place. This is not just a luxury hotel where you forget your other life on beach and spa. This is where you discover Mauritius. Hear their music, meet the people.

The Southern coast is less developed – there is more space. The hotel is close to the black river gorge national park for example – where trekking is available.

The spa continues to be a major drawcard. Indeed, this is a delightful place of running water and lush growth. And I can vouch for expert massage. I will even go so far as to say I had the best and longest half hour back massage of my entire life. The masseur was intuitive to a degree never encountered. I would merely think please move higher, and he would. He did that all the time.

I also had a good experience of the Ayuvedic doctor. Earlier while taking a photo as I climbed stairs, I fell and cut myself. He attended to my cut and gave me good advice early that day and later. It was a deep cut but no infection developed (also saw the medical representatives at Victoria two days later and at Four Seasons on my 7th day I was declared quite recovered).

Certainly an atmosphere of calm pervades the resort. The accommodation is spread out along the beach, with four junior suites to a building. I had a ground floor suite with access straight onto the beach at the farthest spot. The suites are spacious (81 sqm) and quality feels good in every way – pleasant décor, marble floors, gigantic marble bathroom with separate shower and toilet, and outdoor shower in a small private garden.

There are also 12 luxury villas and 3 two-bedroom suite villas with private pools.

The lagoon is shallow with basalt boulders at one end. Pale turquoise. The beach a pleasant sandy gold. Behind the resort are green hills.

The evening is magical, facing the sunset. The shallow lagoon is a mirror of rose tints, with silhouettes of palms. In the warm air you can find a sunbed and lie facing the richly stirring tropical beauty.

Apart from the occasional Fish & Rhum Shack, there are 2 restaurants. I ate breakfast in one on day 2 – the all-day dining.

All the staff seemed pleasant and happy. A nice touch was to be offered a late breakfast on the beach when we came straight from the airport and the Air Mauritius VGML breakfast (3 bread rolls and a few offcuts of fruit) (not good for those who avoid bread).


The aircon was noisy but I was able to start the fans instead.

That there is more to making a hotel or spa work than ideas and expertise was demonstrated by the unfortunate fact that after my massage, not only I seemed to be confused, but everyone else. My promised ginger tea on the island, took three reminders. One of the tour group left as they were so late for her appointment.

This is personal. The management came an hour late to our meeting. Then when I stated that I had not slept on the plane and that I was desperately tired, I was promised that I would get an early buggy lift back from the Fish and Rhum Shack. Every time I reminded one of them, he just continued telling stories like the Ancient Mariner. Finally I had to interrupt him and ask for that lift back.

Dar JL: more gardens than guests

November 11, 2010 in MOROCCO | Comments (694)

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An oasis in the Palmeraie district of Marrakech.  Out of rush hour this riad-style resort is just 10 minutes drive from the Medina.  We entered another world. An enchanted world, with hundreds of lanterns glowing under palms and olive trees that stretch through a vast 13 acres of grounds.

A blaze of lanterns leads you up stairs to stepping stones over water into the inner sanctum of Dar JL.

A sense of discovery prevails. We came out onto the main pool area which at night was impossibly romantic, with a sculpture apparently dancing in the flickers of a fire.

You won’t see too many people here at Dar JL. All this space has actually only 10 bedrooms spread out in various residences, fancifully decorated in a homely and colourful way.  Lounging areas are spread out too, with plenty of space to get away from the other guests, should you want to. Wall hangings, carved lanterns, rugs, cushions and hand-fashioned furniture evoke an exotic mood, with themes from as far afield as Sweden (deluxe room Mora with a private terrace), Italy (deluxe room Milano), Asia (suite Cashmir) and Africa (suite Mali) (all in residence Dar Limoon).

Three of the bedrooms lie in villa Dar Jennat which can be rented for sole use – a popular venue for parties and weddings with its large living room and extended terrace area – including plenty of outdoor dining space, sitting space and potential dance platform.  Two Superior Rooms (Fez and Toubakal) lie in residence La Tour – a tower that offers a view and colourful chillout areas.

Yet another room quaintly called Hippie Village is a dream-like walk (or perhaps a dance) over and up a stone path, between the shadows and flickers of lanterns. It was a love affair with Morocco’s colour and textures, woven mats and wall hangings. By contrast, this faraway room features a modern kitchenette.

In this more isolated setting there is an attractive ornamental pool with live fish. Stairs take you up from the pool to the equally hip chillout area. This is a great party venue says Salma Bennani Manager of Dar JL. Among the magic of the trees, lanterns and pool, you won’t disturb anyone. On normal evenings it is open to all guests.

Dar JL is owned by a Swedish couple, who opened it to the pubic some 18 months ago, creating a little stir among those who follow luxury. One extraordinary fact about these gigantic gardens and the handful of rooms is that gardeners outnumber guests. An amazing 80% of the food on the table is organic, produced on the property, says Salma with obvious pride.

Our dinner gave witness to the care and style devoted to food. It also gave a taste of the rare individuality and magic-maker quality of Dar JL. Set up in a tent in the garden, surrounded by the flicker of giant candles in rows of lanterns under the spectre shapes of olive trees. We sat on what I imagine are Bedouin-style cushions by a low table. Our waiter, with infectious friendliness, brought three courses that would delight beyond delight. First a sophisticated kind of spring roll, that sparkled on the tongue with flavours, followed by exotically presented salmon – baked or grilled under a half mango succulently sauced, and then a dessert to remember, chocolate cake hot enough to melt the icecream.

At the end the waiter asked if he could bring the cook to meet us, so there was really an intimate family feeling. Our tips to both seemed to surprise them, almost “no no – you don’t have to” –  demonstrating their genuine friendliness.

Other delights and finesses at Dar JL are the little spa, with hammam and two treatment rooms, tennis court, and a jogging track through the olive groves. Despite the faraway feel it has hi-tech at your fingertips with wi-fi throughout the 5.5. ha estate  – and the hotel loans a Moroccan mobile phone to guests to keep contact with staff.

The other nice thing is the warm welcome of Dar JL Manager Salma…and her staff.

This is also presented with images in:



November 10, 2010 in MOROCCO | Comments (51)

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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.

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