Five reasons to retreat to Morocco
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Rustique rooms in the Marrakech countryside
Fans of Philomena Schurer Merckoll’s Riad Mena, in the heart of the Marrakech medina, may have heard of the country-house retreat in the foothills of the midi-Atlas that her friend (and Mena’s architect), Romain Michel Ménière, opened a few years ago. Berber Lodge bills itself, accurately, as a “rural retreat”. It’s neither a full-plumage hotel nor a glittering kasbah – rather, an unassuming-looking compound of low pisé (rammed-earth) cottages surrounding a larger building, where are housed a bar, living room and delicious restaurant.
It’s only beyond the main gate that the breadth and lushness of the grounds reveal themselves: acres of mature olive trees surround a long, deep-aquamarine pool, with a scattering of sun loungers arranged on the shaggy lawns. Inside, all is simple and splendidly chic: if the furniture’s not 20th-century collectible, it’s carved from olive or cedar by local artisans; all the soaps in the simple plaster bathrooms are handmade for the hotel; walls and floors are myriad warm shades of Moroccan earth. And the food? Whether they’re putting traditional khobz and tagines or gorgeous Moroccan and Mediterannean salads out for lunch on the shaded terrace, you eat fantastically well. berberlodge.net, from €220
The mountain maison in the Atlas
When Prince Fabrizio Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa decamped from La Maison Arabe, his beloved and bar-setting riad-restaurant in Marrakech, those who cherished its beautiful courtyards and cuisine were left a bit bereft and wondering where he might appear next. The answer is high up in the Atlas, at his new venture, Olinto Atlas Mountain Retreat, which opened late last year. Ruspoli migrated his unique brand of hospitality, as well as his extensive collection of fine art and antiques, from across a wide swath of periods and places, to this fairly perfect setting – formerly a farm – near Ouirgane.
The views all around are of red peaks, among them Toubkal, one of Morocco’s tallest. Each room has its own quiet terrace or garden, and all have rooftop sun lounge areas; roses alternate with pines in the grounds, and their scents in the air. The food, as was the case at La Maison Arabe, is a kick up the refinement scale from the usual – do yourself a favour and let this be the place you indulge in the sublime sweet-savouriness of a traditional pastilla. olinto.net, from €700
A hotel with imagination, and heart, in the deepest south-west
There’s no dearth of spectacle in Moroccan hospitality; but Thierry Teyssier, owner of Maisons des Rêves, is the country’s showman par excellence. Every aspect of a stay at one of his hotels, whether the inimitable Dar Ahlam in Skoura or his desert camp in the country’s far southern reaches, at the edge of the Sahara, is calibrated to deliver maximum delight and wonder. Teyssier’s more recent focus, however, has been on how to give back to the communities and landscapes from which he has taken so much personal pleasure. The result is Tiskmoudine, a hotel-retreat which forms part of his fantastical Route de la Mémoire – a wandering journey through Morocco’s unexplored south-west, where guests stay in abandoned houses, oases or villages fantastically remade as hidden luxury accommodations.
Here, the 11 houses are scattered across the restored village of the same name (on which project Teyssier’s partner was the Global Heritage Fund), and – consider yourself warned – there are no phones, TVs, or electricity: you’ll bathe, read and dress by natural or lamp light.
It’s as close to a step back in time, and deep into another culture, as you’re liable to find in north Africa. maisonsdesreves.com. The Route de la Mémoire can be booked though Cazenove + Loyd, cazloyd.com, from €6,000 for six days
Designs on the medina in Marrakech
Like Teyssier, the Dutch designer Willem Smit, who for years managed Vanessa Branson’s El Fenn hotel, has long form with Morocco. His House of Augustine comprises a Marrakech design studio, a Tangiers retreat – and, coming online this spring, an alluring-sounding new 10-room accommodation in the heart of Marrakech’s medina. Riad Augustine will reflect the ethos and aesthetic of Smit’s design studio, a few doors down in the elegant Dar El Bacha quarter: a mix of Euro-contemporary and Berber motifs and materials, unexpected colours, and handmade olive-wood furniture mixed with midcentury finds.
Unusually for a riad, there’s a small but fully equipped gym and an eight-metre-long pool in the courtyard. We particularly like the half-board-with-a-twist format Smit’s launching with: dinner on your day of arrival, daily breakfast, and all drinks, snacks and evening aperitifs are included in the rates. houseofaugustine.com, from €275
Soigné style in a hidden coastal town
El Jadida, on Morocco’s Barbary Coast, is a bit of an unsung gem, with a 16th-century Portuguese fort, an immaculately conserved medieval cistern and a picturesque seafront. It’s also home to one of the most original hotels I’ve stayed at in Morocco: 14-room L’Iglesia is a sister property to Marrakech’s beloved (and very Franco-centric) Beldi Country Club, but it does a different version of l’art de recevoir.
It comprises two buildings across a square from each other – one an old consular office, the other a former convent whose apse now holds a lounge area complete with turntable and vinyl collection. The design is a bit steampunk and a bit art deco, with a dash of Knoll and some lovely tiles throughout; soigné, but with a groove on. Rooms are large, high-ceilinged and ventilated by the near-constant Atlantic breeze, which you also enjoy, along with nice city views, from the roof terrace. liglesia.com, from about €140