Marrakech stands at crossroads between the Sahara desert and the breathtaking snow-capped Atlas Mountains. It was once the focal point of a great empire.
The city is unlike any other, you wont find mystery and exoticism better on display than this ochre-and-rose-hued African hive of activity.
Adelto’s Assif Majid feels right at home in the hurly burly of Marrakech’s old medina. He joins Hollywood A-listers such as Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johannson and Russell Crowe who have all spent time at this fine riad owned by the son of award-winning British hotelier, Jonathan Wix.
The luxurious Riad Farnatchi had arranged an airport transfer for us. A member of staff was waiting at the airport despite me giving them the wrong arrival time! Before we got into the 4×4, we were given a cold flannel to wipe our greasy skin, it was 40’C – and only June – we were also given a complimentary bottle of water, which was a nice touch. The drive to the riad took around 15 minutes.
The luxury Marrakech hotel is about a 15-minute walk from the infamous Jemaa el-Fnaa square. The streets are all pedestrianised so you can’t drive up to the riad. When the car stopped our luggage was loaded onto a hand-drawn cart and taken to the hotel. We then followed our lovely driver to the riad, the rabbit warren dusty alleys that lead you there are very confusing. Thought it only took us about 5 minutes to get there by foot.
You could easily miss the riad as its not clearly signposted and the rather large wooden door has no name on it. You would never guess behind these ordinarily looking doors lays a 400-year-old luxury fortress.
First impressions: luxurious, chic and designer
On arrival we were greeted by the general manager and were offered a refreshing iced-mint tea, which was served in the most wonderful traditional Moroccan glass. Again we were given cold flannels to wipe away the dust and grime from the souks.
Opened in March 2004, the luxury Marrakech riad boasts nine suites, all of which are completely unique in layout and design. Located in the north medina, the oldest part, Riad Farnatchi is perfectly placed for the hubbub of the souk with key sights like the beautiful Ben Youseff Medersa, Musée de Marrakech and Maison de la Photographie just footsteps away.
The luxury Marrakech riad is a family run business now under the direction of James Wix, the son of Jonathan who created Hotel de la Tremoille in Paris, The Scotsman in Edinburgh and 42 The Calls in Leeds. Bringing his expertise as the London Party Planner, James has applied his skills to Marrakech and further enhanced the Riad’s appeal as a popular choice for house parties, hiring out the property for vibrant locally inspired celebrations.
With walls dating back 450 years and featuring original woodwork and carved plasterwork Riad Farnatchi took two years to complete. The internal layouts of the rooms were redesigned with areas knocked through to create large airy suites arranged around a central courtyard. The result is a fusion of traditional Moroccan with modern European and finished to the highest quality of craftsmanship. Everything from the furniture to the furnishings artfully placed and lovingly created.
Our room was absolutely fabulous – bright, airy and very opulent. So stifled that I let out a gasp when entering the room. The suite came with its own private balcony that overlooked a tranquil courtyard.
Covered sitting areas or B’hous are arranged around the central courtyards, one of which is a striking dining room with intricately carved walls and high backed Alice in Wonderland style chairs. There is a large roof terrace with bbq, sun loungers and dining tables; a traditional white marble Hamman; spa treatment room; and a 7m pool heated during the winter and featuring an underwater jet stream for swimming.
Each suite has at least one sitting area in addition to a private roof terrace, balcony or patio. Our suite came with an open fireplace, which would ne perfect for those romantic winter nights.
Guests also receive free hooded cloaks ‘djeleba’ and Fez hats in their room. We had to try them on immediately and we pranced around in our room in them for the rest of the evening.
The beds are handmade, massive and covered in the finest Egyptian cotton sheets. There is plenty of room for your clothing too there is a huge wardrobe. The bathroom is equally as luxurious and huge. No need to bring any toiletries, there are plenty of Molton Brown potions to keep you busy (six different types of shower gel, no less).
Riad Farnatchi is truly unique – the luxury riad employs 20 members of staff – more than any other riad for its size. “The sky is the limit with us, we always say yes,” says Jonathan Wix.
Airport transfers are free as is Wifi, which is available throughout the riad. A full breakfast, fruit, pastries, evening canapés, water and hot drinks are also offered complimentary.
As you would expect from a hotel by Jonathan Wix, service is friendly and efficient with a high staff to guest ratio. They speak excellent English and the Berber chefs specialise in hearty home-cooked feasts creating almost everything on site from the creamy yoghurt at breakfast to the pastries at tea. With the local communal oven or ‘farnatchi’ just a couple of doors down slow-cooked regional dishes like ‘Tangia’, a kind of Moroccan lamb hot pot, are a highlight on the menu – it really was delish – I would recommend this dish to all who stay.
A wide variety of activities can be arranged from private day trip excursions to the Atlas Mountains for hiking, biking, horse riding and off-road driving; to helicopter and hot air balloon tours; and classes in Berber cooking and drumming, belly dancing, pottery, and photography to name just a few. Whilst for house parties James can bring the magic of the famous medina square ‘Jemaa el Fna’ to the Riad with Berber musicians, acrobats and magicians.
At night the Riad comes into its own with the smell of fires from the rooms and lanterns lending a gentle glow to the courtyard. The sound of water trickling over the edge of the pool is incredibly calming and worth sitting in one of the B’hous to soak up the pure tranquility of the place. Riad Farnatchi is a charming retreat hidden behind unassuming heavy wooden doors down a quiet alley but worth hunting out!
For reservations visit riadfarnatchi.com or call +212 (0)5 24 38 49 10.
Images courtesy of Assif Majid and Riad Farnatchi