Travel: Here's some we didn't do earlier

The film Hideous Kinky has triggered a rush to Morocco. Guide- book writer Barnaby Rogerson offers the latest insider advice

It is, as they say in Morocco, the "English Season". Like some strange breed of bird that migrates to its own discordant calendar, the English have taken to visiting Morocco in February and March. These are the very months that the country is considered to be off season by the rest of Europe.

The relish with which we tackle the prospect of a bit of weather is our last remaining national characteristic, transcending the divisions of class, age, race and fashionable intelligence. The chance of being delayed by the odd flash flood in a desert wadi, or by a snowstorm at a pass in the High Atlas mountains, excites rather than diminishes the interest.

This year, the English season will be even more pronounced due to the release of Hideous Kinky, Esther Freud's warm and funny evocation of a hippy family in existential crisis in mid-Seventies Marrakech, that has been made into a movie. Kate Winslet, who plays the mother, is set to revive our passion for all things Moroccan, starting, of course, with its men.

It is also "my season". I get invited to tea, to dinner, and get charmed on the telephone by a spreading nexus of friends of friends who want to talk their Moroccan holiday plans through with me. It is flattering to be wanted. They want routes; they want restaurants; they want hotels; they want a three-week forecast on the weather; they want telephone numbers.

So I talk numbers - my numbers. "Look at page 528 for the Palais Salam", "look at page 175 for the Mahdi in the mountains". It is a sad and obvious attempt to boost the sales of my guide and history books. But they want more. They want special things: yet unwritten tips; unknown restaurants; and undiscovered ruins. It is no good pretending that you have held nothing back. You must produce a plum: one juicy bit of intimate travel advice offered up in a hushed tone; a whispered piece of "for your ears only" confidence.

It is an easy task. By their nature, guidebooks are already out of date by the time they are printed. Such-and-such a hotel has closed or opened while restaurants change with the wind, or the chef. In the words of Saki, "she was a good cook as cooks go, and as good cooks go she went". So here it is: the inside track on Morocco during the last 12 months.

One new but gorgeous small hotel to report is in a converted courtyard townhouse deep within the old walled city of Marrakech. La Maison Arabe is reclusive but fairly easy to find on your second or third attempt. It stands on one of the alleys opposite the great 16th-century Bab Doukalla Mosque. It is as removed from the tourist throng as a visit to this city in the Thirties.

During my childhood it was a famous but seedy restaurant, and was run by the ex-cook of the Glaoui Pasha, who either cooked beautifully or not at all. On one such latter occasion, I remember, as an impressionable teenager, eating a candle-lit cheese omelette in a magnificent, dark, cold dining room huddled beside an enormous bronze charcoal burner. I have never really recovered from the experience and have been searching for uncomfortable grandeur ever since.

The old chef needed to drink to chase away the memories of a morning outside the Bab Doukalla in 1957. The chief henchman of the fallen Pasha had been dragged through the streets, rubber ringed, and was then burned alive on the rubbish dump. The mob's vengeance even extended to the Pasha's fleet of motor cars.

The restaurant was closed on my next visit and now, some 20 years later, it has been beautifully renovated by Fabrizio Ruspoli. Fabrizio is an Italian prince - or if he isn't, he could be. In the hotel hall there hangs a portrait of his grandfather, Edmondo, outdoing any mere Gainsborough boy in the elegance of his ruffs and lace.

Ruspoli is, in any case, part of the expatriate landscape: his grandmother was a redoubtable figure in Tangier's highly competitive society, his aunt kept wolfhounds on her farm in the Ourika valley, and all the great restaurants nearby, such as Charles de Poso's Villa Rosa, seem to be run by his devoted friends.

La Maison Arabe has just 11 rooms and serves no meals, aside from breakfast and tea. It has no pool but instead boasts a succession of elegant, well- connected guests.

The only other major event in the Moroccan hotel world has been the sale and closure of the celebrated Palais Jamai Hotel in Fez for a much-needed renovation. This once acclaimed hotel, the unsung star of Paul Bowles' novel The Spider's House, has been disappointing visitors for years. Hopefully the new owners will cherish the splendid old dining room and the remnants of the old palace garden that were not destroyed when they built the swimming pool.

The central role of the Palais Jamai has anyway been usurped by such places as the newly opened La Maison Bleue. This, the 100-year-old townhouse of a distinguished old Fassi family, the El Abbadi's, has become an opulent courtyard restaurant where the food has won plaudits even from the fastidious locals. The upstairs, its corridors lined with old lawbooks and leather- bound commentaries, has been converted into three suites, each complete with dressing rooms, a sitting room and cavernous bathrooms. Its position, just off Place de l'Istiqlal, one of the centres for the evening paseo, and opposite the walled garden of the Batha Palace Museum, could hardly be bettered.

From the cafe on the rooftop you can look out across the massed roofs of the three component cities of medieval Fes. It stands on the edge of the 13th-century walled quarter of Fez el Jedid, within five minutes walk of the Bab Boujeloud gate into the ancient alleys of Fes el Bali. It is owned and managed by Mehdi el Abbadi, the grandson of the Cadi, the Muslim judge, who first built the house.

La Maison Arabe, 1 Derb Assehbe, Bab Doukkala, Marrakech. For a reservation speak to Nabila Dakir, tel 00 212 4 39 12 33, fax 00 212 4 44 37 15. Prices are between a pounds 120-200 for a room.

La Maison Bleue, 2 Place de l'Istiqlal, Batha, 30,000 Fes, tel and fax 00 212 5 74 18 43. Prices start at pounds 150.

Barnaby Rogerson is the author of the `Cadogan Guide to Morocco' (pounds 12.99)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions