Travel: An Oasis in the Heart of the City

IT WASN'T meant to be like this. It was meant to emerge in a blaze of hot sunshine, dusty and musky, pampering the senses with colour and perfume. Palm trees still in the dry air. The hot sensation of something exotic.

But that morning the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, owned by the couturier Yves Saint Laurent, appeared green, wet and lush. Rain dripped off the vast green spiky leaves and clung to the spines of the bamboo. Along the winding terracotta path that led deeper and deeper into the well-tamed jungle, the puddles shone with the sun's reflection.

Birds called strange songs through the damp air. The three primary colours of the garden were not subdued by the watery sunshine - the rich green of the palms and cacti, the warm red of the brick path and the brilliant cobalt blue of the stone arches, pergolas and the small museum, contrasted sharply with the pink buildings of Marrakesh. A scraggy cat snoozed in the sun on one of the green wooden benches, and there was a stillness hard to imagine possible in such a bustling city.

In the heart of the ville nouveau, the only clue to the presence of this hidden urban oasis is only noticeable by the number of petits taxis and calleches (horse-drawn carriages) outside the gate. Once inside, apart from birdsong, water is the principle sound, trickling from the fountains and flowing along the waterways that thread through the garden. A long rectangular pond, edged in brillant blue, leads to a large fishpond, itself overlooked by a blue pergola trailing greenery. Turtles and goldfish swim in the green water beneath a perfect reflection of scudding clouds and wheeling storks.

At the back of the garden is a small museum, set up by Yves Saint Laurent. It is home to a fine collection of local carpets, bridal belts, carved wooden gates, painted woodwork, Berber pottery and Venetian glass. The last room contains the designer's own paintings of Marrakesh and the surrounding area.

Although now owned and maintained by Saint Laurent, the garden was devised over a period of 40 years by the French painter Jacques Majorelle. From 1922 to 1962, Majorelle lived in what is now the museum and built up the surrounding garden.

The place is an extraordinary reflection of his talent - notably his use of colour and texture. Although based on classic French garden design, with orderly paths and plants strictly assigned to their own beds, the garden does not scream good taste but feels like an enchanting botanical installation.It feels more like a work of art than an act of horticulture. Many gardens might aim to achieve this effect, but few could do it as well.

Saint Laurent must take credit for maintaining this mini-masterpiece for more than 30 years, and understanding the original owner's vision so well.

The colours, the sounds and the vistas that you find at every turn make for an extraordinarily sensuous experience, and you depart with the senses filled, an experience more akin to leaving an art exhibition than a small garden.

The Jardin Majorelle is located north of Ave Yacoub el-Mansour in the ville nouveau. It is open daily from 8am-noon and 2pm-6pm (3pm-7pm in summer). Entrance costs 15dh (pounds 1) and a further 15dh for the museum

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