Fresh from the airport, it is a bewildering experience to arrive at a Marrakech riad at night. Just inside the walls of the medina (old town), my taxi stopped abruptly. The driver jumped out, grabbed my bag and, beckoning me to follow, left rapidly on foot down a dark tangle of lanes.
After a few minutes of trotting behind and dodging footballs kicked by small boys, I began to wonder at the sanity of darting into this dimly lit maze. But just then, the driver deposited my bag outside a large door. He rang the bell, nodded and silently left. The door swung open and – magic. I was ushered into a beautifully lit hallway, my hand warmly shaken, my bag whisked inside. Welcome to Dar Karma.
Most riad hotels are oases of romance and luxury, but what gives Dar Karma the edge is its combination of serenity, contemporary cool, facilities and history. The building is at least 100 years old and belonged to a courtly family. Royal connections were strong in the late Fifties, when the owner served as Mohammed V's translator of French, and the king would come to drink mint tea there.
The property, which opened three years ago, is French-owned and run (with English also spoken), and has been lovingly refurbished. Coffered ceilings and wrought-iron balconies have been restored, and painted wooden doors added. Furnishings are simple and bright: white walls, Moroccan fabrics, shutters and cream curtains. The roof terrace has been transformed into a garden with olive trees and herbs, and there are sunbeds and shaded tables where breakfasts of pancakes and pastries are served.
The main courtyard, planted with orange trees, is the setting for other meals, and the second courtyard features a decent-sized swimming pool, and a lovely hammam.
Dar Karma, 51 Derb El Mennabha, Medina, Marrakech, Morocco (00 212 24 38 58 78; www.dar-karma.com). It is within the south-west walls of the medina. The King's Palace is nearby, as are some of the city's major sights: Badii Palace, Bahia Palace and Saadian Tombs.
Time from international airport: Menara airport is a 15-minute taxi ride away.
Very. With just five bedrooms, mine was styled in a minimalist fashion, which served to emphasise the wonderful carved and painted ceiling. The crimson-tiled bathroom had a huge shower area, and a rainhead shower.
Freebies: Vials of amber-and-musk shampoo, gel and body lotion. Use of the 24-hour hammam is free.
Keeping in touch: the serenity of the riad is partly due to the absence of TVs and phones in the rooms. However, there is a small flatscreen TV in the sitting room, and you may use the phone at reception. There is Wi-Fi throughout, and you can borrow the hotel computer.
The bottom line
Doubles from ¿180 (£129), including breakfast. Bookings can also be made through Boutique Souk (00 212 61 32 44 75; www.boutiquesouk.com).
I'm not paying that: RiadW (00 212 65 36 79 36; www.riadw.com, or through Boutique Souk, as before), in the medina, is similarly peaceful – but no hammam – with doubles from ¿120 (£86), including breakfast.Reuse content