And so, it was off to Marrakech, for only the second time in my life – my expectations had been greatly elevated by my first visit, back in 2009, so it was with no little excitement that I boarded my Ryanair flight. However, that was mixed in with more than a little trepidation – I was going in June which, while not August, was nevertheless threatening to be hot, damned hot.
And so it turned out to be, but more of that later – the centre of the Medina, or central square, in the heart of the town was to be my first port of call, more specifically, the recently renovated Talaa 12 ryad (guest house). Subtle, calm and contemporary and, perhaps most importantly, wonderfully air conditioned – the refined colours create a serene, relaxing atmosphere, with a courtyard of orange and palm trees, in an aromatic garden with a fountain at its heart.
For those who have never been to Marrakech before, it is best to describe it as being like a return to childhood – the sense that you are entering a world untouched by the centuries, even by the millennia, where the colours, sounds, sights and smells take on an intensity unseen in Europe since the days of the silk traders. And so it felt, when I once again stepped on to the Medina, early doors during the second day of my visit.
Breakfast had been excellent – wonderful native fruits, breads, coffee and yoghurts, served on the Talaa 12’s terrace, which provided a full landscape view of the Medina and its menzeh (high tower), overlooking the museum of Marrakech, the Ben Youssef Medersa and the souks, with the Atlas mountains as a stunning backdrop.
And the Medina – wow. Be warned, you need to keep your wits about you; two ladies in our party were talked into having elaborate body painting done which, while very attractive, was certainly not worth the exorbitant sum that the artist started demanding after declaring that it “would all be for free”. I cheered myself up with a delicious, freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice, which managed to take the edge of the heat, but only a little – 45° C in the shade, I kid you not.
The day passed as you would expect – a riot of colour, a cacophony of noisy traders, a final abundance of cool, calm sleep, when our party finally staggered back to Talaa 12. The next part of our visit was set to offer a very different ambience, however…
Palais Paysan, peasant’s palace, is aptly named – not because it is fit for peasants, far from it, but because it is to be found probably just about as far away from ‘civilization’ as you would expect any holiday resort to be. And it’s very much the better for that.
Located in the heart of the desert, only to be reached by a considerable amount of off-road driving, it is nevertheless one of the most beautiful, haunting holiday locations that I have ever visited.
The stuff of dreams – there is a calmness beside the beautiful outdoor pool that captures your very soul, wonderful individual villas that allow you to either while away the time or venture into the great unknown that surrounds the location, and better food and drink than you could wish for in a lifetime. The restaurant is anchored to the seasons and anchored in Morocco, with scintillating briouats, fragrant salads and local tagines, and just a few borrowings from Mediterranean cuisine. And, at the pool’s edge, the resthouse offers grilled meats, salads, club sandwiches and burgers.
Truly, it’s the sort of place where you just have to switch off your laptop, mobile, pager, every damn remnant of Western society (even though there is excellent WiFi), and breathe, just breathe.
And, when you’re done, why not enjoy the golf course, the horse riding or wonderful adventures in the desert? Or walk a little, jump into the long, deep pool, look at the sky, or simply take the sun with a drink on a lounger? It’s waiting for you – what are you waiting for?
12 talaa ben youssef
40000 Marrakech – Medina
Tel: + 212 524 42 90 45
Le Palais Paysan
Tel: +212 (0) 529 801 638
Mob: +212 (0) 608 848 404
Douar Akrich – Km 20