As well as being a makeup maniac, I’m a travel nut, so when British Airways have a sale on I set all alarms I own and do airpoints arithmetic (the only maths I’m good at) until I score my travel deal of dreams. This happened one dark, drizzly January night when I booked two flights to Marrakech for peanuts. Having spent so little on getting there, I made sure that the week that my boyfriend and I spent there was based somewhere as swanky as we could afford. Enter Mr & Mrs Smith, and more specifically, my new spiritual home, El Fenn .
Here’s ten reasons why I’m legitimately considering packing up my maniac shop and moving there:
1. Everything is beautiful. Everything.
When you’re coming into land over Marrakech, two things are remarkable. Firstly, there’s not a skyscraper, multistory car park or similar urban eyesore in sight, and secondly, it becomes evident that they don’t call it the Red City for nothing. The city’s ochre mosques, walls and squares create a rose-tinted spectacle effect that doesn’t fade until you take off for Gatwick a week later (I suggest that you veto this part).
On arrival in Marrakech, if you stay at El Fenn as we did, you’re in for a treat. Tucked down an unlikely looking back alley, this traditional 22-roomed “house” hotel (read mansion) has surprises of the best kind around every corner and behind every door. World famous artists float your boat? Their work is everywhere thanks to art dealer co-owner Vanessa Branson (sister to Richard). Bubbling marble fountains and tranquil courtyards your thing? There are several. How about three swimming pools, baths that you could do lengths in and a roof terrace with the best view in Africa (probably)? It’s all yours. The beds are six-foot wide, the library and mini-cinema are always open and there’s a family of approximately fifteen neighbourly tortoises eager to make your acquaintance - just try not to step on one after a few mint mojitos. Onto the mojitos…
2. You dine like a king
From the complimentary cafétière and pot of tea left outside your door first thing to the free afternoon tea spread, the El Fenn team like to make sure that you’re well fed and watered. Breakfast on the rooftop will make all memories of wolfing down a cereal bar on the commute fizzle away instantly. When you’re eating your eggs just as you like them amidst birdsong and hanging gardens, signing into the free Wifi would be a ludicrous move.
The steaming tangias on the dinner menu and fresh Moroccan mint mojitos will tempt you into never stepping foot outside of the riad, but there are deals and delicacies to be had in both the Medina and further afar. Nip out to the bustling Djemaa El Fna square (just three minutes walk) for freshly squeezed orange juice, cheap and cheerful kebabs of every variety and Henna hawkers, not to mention snake charmers. For the most melt-in-your-mouth lamb shoulder in town book a table at Al Fassia in new-town Guéliz or tuck into a steaming bowl of Harira overlooking the haggling heartland of the souks at the Café des Epices .
Photo credit: David Loftus
3. There’s a spa on every corner
The Moroccans do spa R&R in a big way. Never experienced a hammam? You can’t possibly leave Marrakech without being slathered in black soap, massaged with clay and exfoliated to within an inch of your life. It sounds terrifying, but I promise, your skin will never have been so soft. Just expect a fair amount of boob handling and unannounced water dousing.
If you’re feeling a bit delicate, a locally produced argan oil massage might be more up your street, or perhaps an O.P.I mani pedi? El Fenn offers them all.
4. There are bargains to be had
You might want to consider popping off to this exotic city for your weekly shop - high quality spices are dirt cheap, you can buy truckloads of juicy cherries for tippunce and home furnishings can be bartered down to rival Ikea, if you can talk the talk that is. Steel yourself before heading into the labyrinthine souks - you’ll need your wits (and wallet) about you. Once you’ve warmed up though, the world is your oyster. We asked the staff at El Fenn for a few pointers and came away with berber cushions, ceramics, a mint tea set, a rug… let’s just say that one of our suitcases weighed in at 30kg at the airport. Woops.
5. The local flora and fauna makes quite an impression
A morning spent meandering around The Majorelle Garden is downtime well spent. As well as about every variety of cactus known to man, the gardens can boast some serious style credentials, as Yves Saint Laurent bought and restored the gardens and properties within in 1980. There’s now a memorial to the late fashion designer on site.
If you’re a Dr Dolittle type, you might want to book a horse riding trip in the Atlas mountains, or better still, ride a camel in the Palmeraie as we did. You’ll dress up as if trekking into the Sahara and even after thirty minutes your thighs will ache accordingly.
Photo credit: David Loftus
6. The fun doesn’t stop after dark
In fact, especially in the warmer months, Marrakech is just getting going. Join the mayhem in Djemaa El Fna square or dress up and head to Le Comptoir or Le Salama. Bellydancers, opulent meals and night-long happy hours are par for the course. Oddly, men dressed in glow-in-the-dark jellyfish outfits turned up midway through our night at Le Comptoir. We went with it. When in Rome...
7. I found myself in the Atlas mountains
I really did. With a little help from our guide Fouad of Yama Adventure. Not in a dodgy way. He took us for a hike amongst waterfalls and we put the world to rights. He was only supposed to spend a few hours with us, but four raced past without any of us really noticing. He told us we were the only tourists that had ever attempted the walk in flip flops. He too was wearing flip flops. It was the perfect match.
8. The mint tea just keeps on flowing
Whatever you do, wherever you go and whoever you meet, you’re guaranteed to be offered a mint tea (or ‘Berber whiskey’) at least five times a day. Take it - if not to be polite then to take advantage of the reviving brew and, more often than not, resulting sugar rush. These cuppas would put builders to shame.
Photo Credit: David Loftus
9. You get to reconnect with your loved ones…
While spacious, El Fenn was fairly intimate in terms of bathroom arrangements. Let’s just say there wasn’t so much a bathroom, as a free-flowing suite. Let it all hang out.
10. The people
Go to Marrakech, and in particular El Fenn, and no one’s a stranger. Despite the mainly British clientele staying at the hotel, everyone chatted to one another without reserve, trading tips, clinking glasses and having poolside heart to hearts by the second day. There was none of this stiff upper lip, strange ignoring each other on the tube thing we tend to resort to back home.
The staff set the tone here - they’re warm, welcoming and will go to the ends of the earth to ensure that you enjoy yourself. They’ll book excursions at the drop of a hat with only the best drivers and guides, serve cocktails and food wherever you fancy within the riad and will even fix your swimming shorts if you manage to rip them (can’t take him anywhere). I’ve emailed these guys about three times since I left. I did leave my jacket behind, but only in the hope that I can go back and retrieve it one day.
I stayed at El Fenn with Mr & Mrs Smith for a week in a courtyard room, rates from £119.83 per night