Within the dusty red 12th century city walls, Marrakech delights, surprises and captivates you. A visual feast full of colour: mountains of spices, old crumbling walls, overwhelmingly large historic doors, and shops overflowing with goods that will inevitably end up making their way into your suitcase. As your eyes dance from one photogenic scene to another, your ears battle with your nose to absorb the aroma of fresh mint, harissa, cumin and argan oil, whist you to try to follow the sounds of drums beating to the rhythm of snake charmers, market men haggling with naïve tourists, and local Moroccans expressing their discomfort with all the cameras that are trying to capture this open air theatre.
Getting lost in the souks of the Medina is a highlight of any Marrakech adventure; though finding your way out in search of some peace and calm amidst the bustle is even more rewarding. Though there are pockets of calm, even Yves Saint Laurent’s gorgeous Jardin Majorelle does not shade you from the tourists.
Just behind the Tombeaux Saadiens, on Rue de la Kasbah, a regular street staying true to the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, is a small alley leading to an oasis of calm, comfort and luxury. No sign, no pretence, just a simple passageway, leading to a gorgeous courtyard with imposing grand doors. Inside, a very simple, understated reception, which was overshadowed by the charming gentleman Hassan, who welcomed us to La Sultana – a Small Leading Hotel of the world. Hassan took us to the roof top terrace, which has a spectacular 360 degrees view of the imperial city of Marrakech. Whilst Hassan checked us in, we sipped on fresh Moroccan tea in the comfort of the lounge chairs, and observed locals buying fresh vegetables in the market beneath us and marvelled at the ancient Saadian tombs to our left.
La Sultana is a boutique hotel compromising of 5 charming riads; each bought by the French owners, carefully restored and connected together; allowing for 28 individually designed rooms to be created. With seven categories of rooms to choose from, my husband and I had the pleasure of experiencing the delux suite, otherwise known as the Jaguar suite. It is positioned within the courtyard featuring the jewel of La Sultana: the turquoise heated swimming pool within a patio of palm, banana and sica trees, and high brick walls covered with Virginia creeper to the right, and to the left a long corridor of earthy peach archways and enclaves. By day the courtyard is the heart of La Sultana, with guests lounging by the ionised pool or enjoying lunch in one of the enclaves. At night the courtyard is candle lit and tables are laid with colourful yet elegant crockery.
The Jaguar suite is perfect for a honeymoon, exuding elegant luxury in keeping with the traditional charm of a riad from a bygone era. The bathroom alone is a masterpiece. At times I felt like a princess bathing with Clarins products, in a Roman bath that could have been designed by Michalengelo. A strange but wonderful feeling! At the heart of it is a tall marble shrine like feature, adorned with Romanesque frescoes on the wall. Crimson marble steps lead into a sunken Jacuzzi finished with gold touches and a long silk rope, which if pulled triggers the powerful jets in the Jacuzzi. White robes hang on a gold stand ready for you to wrap up and take your place on one of the two balconies that overlook the spectacular courtyard.
La Sultana boasts a small but spectacular spa. Old ancient doors open onto a crimson marble room, with vaulted ceilings suspended on pillars, rising up from a central turquoise pool. My husband and I opted for a couple’s Royal Hammam followed by a candle massage. I was particularly impressed by the gentleness with which I was handled. As we moved from one hot room where we were cleansed, to another where we scrubbed to the bone, my masseuse carefully tied up my robe, made sure I had plenty of cold water at hand and even placed a rose infused cold towel on my forehead. The candle massage features hot wax, made of: Argan oil, prickly pear oil and shea butter, scented with spices and honey, being poured over your deeply cleansed body. It is really quite sensational and makes for a moisturising and relaxing massage.
Vegetarian food in Marrakech, though limited is bursting with flavours and spices. It can be quite difficult to appreciate each individual ingredient that lies beneath the terra cotta tagines. La Sultana offers a gateway into the skilful blend of spices, herbs and preserved lemons through ancestral cooking techniques in a 1.5hour cooking class. Under the shade of this gorgeous, purpose built kitchen on La Sultana’s roof top terrace, we learnt how to make Zaadouk – a delicious, cold eggplant salad with cumin and a mouth-watering vegetarian Berber tagine.
Learning how to make mint tea is as important as learning how to make an assortment of traditional Moroccan salads that will feature on every menu. Within the earthy tea room, adorned with ancient tea pots and tagines, Asma showed us the art of creating the perfect blend of fresh mint tea – the right sweetness and just enough froth at the top as it is poured. Just close your eyes as the endless spoons of sugar are poured in!
When we dined under the stars, on La Sultana’s terrace, we could appreciate the time it had taken to get the vegetables to be so tender and flavoursome. I particularly enjoyed the Harira soup which was served with full plump Medjool dates. La Sultana does offer a vegetarian lasagne with Roquefort sauce, however I would skip it and stick to the delicious array of Moroccan salads featuring grilled peppers, spiced pumpkin, and cucumber infused with dill, or opt for a traditional vegetarian couscous sweetened with sultanas.
Though you are surrounded by intricate décor, hand crafted wooden ornaments, carefully chosen furniture, old Berber rugs, and royal paintings; the creators of La Sultana, have still managed to create a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere, where you feel very comfortable walking around in your lounge wear as you move from the Andalucian Riad to the African Savannah inspired Riad. La Sultana is made for relaxation – where luxury is both affordable and approachable. La Sultana is the perfect oasis to escape the mayhem of the old town yet is incredibly close to it, so you can discover and immerse yourself in the splendour of Marrakech.