Room Service: Les Cinq Djellabas, Marrakech
Bright ideas near the Red City
Saturday 08 March 2014
Les Cinq Djellabas is a boutique hotel of 10 "bungalows" near Marrakech. The term used to describe this luxurious accommodation seems wrong, though; there may be neatly presented lawns and flower beds, but just beyond the perimeter are palm trees and camels, not gnomes and poodles. On the horizon lie the Atlas Mountains, rather than the plains of Argos.
The hotel has a fusion of influences ranging from France to the Philippines, but the dominant theme is Saharan, as the use of adobe walls and thatched roofs suggests. These materials are locally sourced, which is an environmental boon in an area which has not been renowned for its concerns about ecological matters as tourism has increased on an industrial scale.
Les Cinq Djellabas was created by Frederic Velissariou. He is the owner of Le Foundouk restaurant in central Marrakech, which has become a byword in the city for exquisite cuisine served in a traditional Medina setting. But, while Le Foundouk is brooding and labyrinthine, the French entrepreneur and his designer, Thierry Isbnardon, wanted to create in the hotel something different and, well, very light and bright – like the desert itself.
That's not just as a result of the chandeliers illuminating the dark-wood, galleon-like ceilings or the profusion of bulbs hanging in the Kasbah-style reception and clustered around the mirror in your bathroom. The place feels airy, too – almost as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. It's far from the teeming Djemaa el-Fnaa and the exotica of the Medina.
A tadelakt (waterproof lime plaster) wall separates the bathroom where there is a monsoon shower with a stone bench Five acres of lawns, groves of olive trees and beds of banana plants are clustered around the huts and a charming green-stone pool with luxurious double loungers. The hotel is equipped with a Foundouk satellite restaurant showcasing the menus of chef Amin – a wide selection of tagines, including the excellent Berber version with lamb shank and a very tasty calamari version that is cooked on the spot.
There are delightful cocktails such as the Morroquito, made from a date spirit called mahia and wine list that provides only Moroccan vintages – the local plonk is decent if a little dry. With a bar being constructed to service the pool – which is only filled once a year in line with the hotel's policy to use water sensibly – and a hamman spa being added during the coming year, those shoulders will feel a lot less tense.
The development is 25 minutes' drive from the centre of the "Red City" and a little more from the airport. It is in "la nouvelle Palmeraie" – the old version of this vast, scrubby palm grove has already been transformed by exclusive hotel complexes and golf courses carved out of the arid terrain. But the new neighbourhood has not yet caved in to sheer artifice and the dirt approach road, past tumbledown shacks and hole-in-the-wall shops retains a sense of authenticity.
Until the hotel opens its hammam, you can enjoy the luxurious pampering of the Heritage Spa in the Medina, tucked down a narrow sidestreet but twisting away inside, like a palace of dreams (heritagespamarrakech.com).
There are camel and quad bike rides into the desert from just outside the gates, and forays are organised into the mountains to visit the extraordinary souk at Asni and the lofty Kasbah du Toubkal at the foot of Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa, where a hearty lunch awaits after a short but steep hike.
The rooms are circular huts with conical thatched roofs that feature a large fan hanging from the cross beam. The four-poster beds are huge and very comfortable. There is an open fireplace, satellite TV and sofa, and the rooms are tastefully decorated with North African artefacts and photographs of Saharan scenes. A tadelakt (waterproof lime plaster) wall separates the bathroom where there is a monsoon shower with a stone bench; luxury suites include claw-foot baths.
The staff are very welcoming and will serve you breakfast in your room or even bring a table to your door so that you can eat outside. Better still, it is served until 3pm if you fancy a long lie-in. Eggs and pancakes are available in addition to the pastries, cakes, fruit and yoghurt.
An open fire blazes away in the restaurant and next to it there's a tartan armchair in which to doze off. You could almost be at the 19th hole of a golf club. Except that, fortunately, there isn't a crazy golf course outside perched precariously in the middle of the desert.
Les Cinq Djellabas, Douar Al Gribate, Marrakech Palmeraie, Morocco (00 212 644 091 091; hotel-les5djellabas.com).
Doubles start at €230, including breakfast.
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