24-Hour Room Service: Riad Farnatchi, Marrakech
Saturday 28 October 2006
A wide-eyed, scrawny kitten darted across the narrow street with the dexterity of a Brazilian football player, evading the oncoming tackles of a donkey cart, a scooter, two bicycles and a mass of feet. It found sanctuary in a dark alleyway, and my mother and I followed.
After running the gauntlet through the souks, we found refuge at Riad Farnatchi, kitten leading the way. As we stepped through the door of the riad (town house), calm immediately descended and, for the first time in hours, we stopped somewhere for longer than 20 seconds, breathed and looked around.
Farnatchi was conceived as a home for its owner, the hotelier Jonathan Wix. He is the man behind 42 The Calls in Leeds, and Edinburgh's The Scotsman. Midway through construction, he decided that it should instead be a guest house and the sense of an intimate personal retreat is tangible.
Now a blissful union of traditional and modern, the riad is set around two courtyards, one filled with citrus trees, the other with a cool, emerald green-tiled pool. Flowers tumble down the high walls, scattering petals in the pool below.
In contrast with the dusty pink streets outside, the interior is a neutral palette of white, stone and pale teal, embellished by intricate latticework shutters. Opening on to the courtyards are various styles of b'hou, or seating area, from the contemporary (cream-leather banquettes, glass table, coffee-table books) to the traditional (exotic dining room with low lighting).
The eight guest suites, three of which opened this month, are above.
Riad Farnatchi, Derb el Farnatchi, rue Souk el Fassis, Medina, Marrakech, Morocco (00 212 24 38 49 10; www.riadfarnatchi.com). Situated at the quieter, northern end of the souks, Farnatchi is a short walk from the cultural trio of the Ben Youssef mosque, its Koranic school, and the Museum of Marrakech.
It is also near the retail frenzy of the metalwork, leather goods and pottery souks. The main square, Jemaa el-Fna, is 10 minutes' walk south-west if you know the way, twice as long if you get lost. The hotel's roof terrace affords views across the ramshackle Medina towards the Atlas Mountains.
Each of the suites has been individually designed and decorated. The plain tadelakt (polished plaster) walls are decorated with Islamic art, there are colourful kilims on the floor, and silver-filigree panels embellish the light fittings and air conditioner. Our suite had a balcony overlooking the pool and a small, high-walled patio where you could sit under the stars and listen to the calls of the muezzin at night.
Added indulgence comes in the form of Egyptian-cotton bed linen, Hungarian goose-down pillows, Bose iPod speakers, CD-player, flat-screen TV with satellite channels, and a digital film library. But it was the staff that really completed the experience. After making an impromptu detour after dinner one night, we arrived back to find three of them waiting up for us.
Freebies: a chic pair of leather tasselled babouches (traditional pointed slippers) and a comfortable, cool djellaba (long, loose hooded robe), Molton Brown toiletries, pastries in the afternoon and canapés in the evening, plus a bowl of fruit and mineral water, and airport transfers.
Keeping in touch: direct-dial phones, Wi-Fi and modem points in the rooms. A laptop can also be borrowed free of charge.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Suites start at 3,100 dirham (£190), including breakfast. Rental of the whole riad starts at 29,000 dirham (£1,765) per night. Reservations can also be made through Boutique Souk (00 212 61 32 44 75; www.boutiquesouk.com), which can arrange a concierge service.
I'm not paying that: west of the souks is the smaller Riad 72 hotel, at 72 Arset Awsel (00 212 24 38 76 29; www.riad72.com), where double rooms start at €100 (£71), including breakfast.
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