Marrakech behind closed doors

by Clare.Jones

Escape to a Moroccan riad and discover your own boutique retreat, where fountains, courtyards and chilled champagne lie waiting behind closed doors. You may never want to leave...

Have you ever wanted to just close the door on the world and hide away for a weekend? Well, you can at Riad Farnatchi, a boutique retreat that’s tucked away in one of the oldest parts of Marrakech’s medina. As soon as you step inside, the hustle and heat of the souks instantly melts away and there’s a seriously sturdy wooden door to close out the chaos.
 
Throughout Morocco there has been an explosion of these unique designer hotels - converted riads, or former merchant houses, usually built around an inner courtyard garden. Windowless walls in featurless side streets hide their charm and fashionista style. Step through their sturdy wooden portal doors and another world presides. 
 
Hidden calm
 
Outside Riad Farnatchi the street scene is typical of the medina. Carts are pulled by young boys at a bustling pace, piles of khubz, flat freshly baked bread, are stacked at rickety wooden stalls, fresh vegetables are piled onto cotton sheets and sold off the floor, whilst the beguiling cry of the muezzin is broadcast through crackling loudspeakers.
 
A shady narrow lane brings you to the door. One snap of the latch and it closes firmly shut, and this other world just ebbs away like a retreating wave, only it doesn’t have to return in any hurry. There you are, standing in silence in a cool marble hallway. Things then just seem to happen without words. Bags arrive and disappear and staff seem to glide effortlessly in and out, almost invisible but for a flash of their understated tunic uniforms.
 
As you wander through its cool corridors and hidden walkways, the house begins to unravel its abundant charms. It has been created out of five smaller riads and the results are stunning. Interconnected courtyards adorned with fragrant fruit trees offer shady low-slung lounge areas, known as b'hous, bedecked with sumptuous cushions. A tinkling fountain runs into the centrepiece green-tiled pool, where you can take a cooling dip. Follow the twisting stairways and you discover a tree-fringed roof terrace where the minaret-spiked skyline of Marrakech sprawls below. 
 
The rooms continue to reflect this elegant and fascinating fusion of Moroccan and European style. Ours came complete with its own private balcony as well as a sitting room area. The bed was big enough for a rugby team and the sunken marble bath could probably have squeezed them in too. 
 
Easy elegance
 
Whilst the interiors will leave you reeling, it’s the service that will allow you to really unwind. From the moment you get here, you are able to enjoy the great luxury of no longer really having to think for yourself. A quick call from reception to check on our arrival and the charming manager suggests we may like something to eat, perhaps a light salad and some fresh orange juice. After an early morning flight and an even earlier drive to the airport, we seem to have abandoned all hope of decision-making. We are floating in the exuberance of our new-found elegance. This guiding steer is delivered with perfect balance; it's neither overbearing nor bossy and feels positively like a prod in the right direction. 
 
“Yes, a hammam at 3 o’clock sounds wonderful.” I purr over the afternoon’s suggested plans. The manager continues her luxurious list of offerings. “A massage, maybe a glass of champagne, some time to relax in the courtyard. A drink on the terrace for sunset and then perhaps dinner?” I contentedly agree to everything and settle in for an afternoon of not lifting a finger.
 
Riad Farnatchi, like many of Morocco’s riads, has its own hammam, similar to a Turkish steam bath, where you can be washed and scrubbed clean on a marble plinth. On the bed you will find a pair of traditional babouche slippers as well as a djelaba, a kind of housecoat gown for you to wear. In this largely Muslim country the only real rules of the riad are to keep your swimwear to yourself. Throw on your gown and you can waft around the house as if it’s your own. 
 
By the time you have been pummelled, lazed and lolled, sipped champagne and are settling down for a sunset dinner of pigeon pastilla, a filo pastry speciality, or a traditional lamb tagine, you’ll definitely be thinking that it's probably worth keeping that door closed for another day or two.
 

Getting there

Royal Air Maroc flies to Marrakech. 

Clare.Jones

Clare Jones is a travel writer and photographer who loves a good adventure and has been lucky enough to make this her work travelling across the globe for a variety of magazines and newspapers. She is co-author and photographer of the international best-selling BBC books Unforgettable Things to do before you die, Unforgettable Journeys to take before you die and the recently published Unforgettable Walks to take before you die. She has also co-authored the AA titles, Extreme Places and the flagship Key Guide to Spain. She has been on assignment in over 50 countries and five continents exploring them on foot, by kayak, under sail, by mountain bike as well as skiing and climbing. One of her most testing adventures was a three-month sea-kayaking expedition from Vancouver to Alaska, as part of the first British all-female team to undertake this 1000-mile epic journey. She is a Winston Churchill Fellow and was honoured with the Mike Jones Award for accomplishing this journey. She is also sponsored by Salomon. Her work has been featured by a variety of publications, including the Sunday Telegraph, The Times, Mail on Sunday, The Scotsman, and The Herald, USA Today, Geographical, Health & Fitness and Traveller. Clare is also an assistant television producer and has worked on several BBC documentaries.