Wherever you’re staying, Marrakech would be a city of contrasts – the ancient walls scrawled with Ultras graffiti by the fans of KAC Marrakech, the wealth and poverty side by side in the medina, and the opulent riads lying behind sun-bleached walls and heavy wooden doors.
Up there with the strongest, most abrupt contrasts has to be arriving at the Almaha Marrakech in the heart of the Kasbah district, all dust-rose walls and narrow alleyways. So narrow that our taxi can’t reach the riad doors themselves, and we follow the guide from the Almaha the last few streets on foot.
When the unmarked doors swing open, it’s onto a different world, one of hanging plants and shaded walkways running along the edge of the shallow pool at the centre of the riad. This seclusion was ten years in the making, from conception to welcoming guests to its 12 bedrooms and hushed calm. The touch of Charles Kaisin, designer and architect, is studded all over the hotel, though one of the first examples you’re met with is the Pixel Room, where 23 000 pieces of silk in different colours are padded and patched together to cover the walls, in a mural of the Jemaa el Fnaa silhouetted against the sky. Beautiful in its own right, it’s also a riff on and an homage to traditional Maghrebi zeillige tilework. The Library at the Almaha sits at that same point where interior design meets installation, with a thousand books lining the shelves, the paper edges folded into letters, to spell out lines from Baudelaire’s ‘Invitation to the Voyage’.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, / Luxe, calme et volupté, says the poem, wistfully. There all is beauty and symmetry, / Pleasure and calm and luxury.
Though the Library might be the only place at the Almaha where that’s spelled out on the walls, the theme runs through everything – you see it in the soothing symmetry of the hammam, a series of tiled archways and gauzy, silk hangings, scooped back to show more archways, and more silk. In our suite, another artwork of gauze and fireplaces and seven-foot bed. In the breakfasts, laid out in opulent, ceremonial orderliness each morning on our roof terrace.
We spend a lot of time on the private roof terrace, as most guests in the Suites, with direct access to the rooftop from their rooms surely do. Winter in Marrakech is still warm by the standards of a biting British December, and heavy, relentless sultriness hangs over the city in the summer. The roof’s where Marrakech keeps the breezes, and the views of the Atlas mountains edging the city, and direct access to the small, aquamarine-tiled pool on its own terrace.
We don’t spend all our time in Marrakech at Almaha, though. Shortly after our tickets are all booked, Shaun texts to say, ‘just bought an entire new wardrobe for this holiday by accident, Manch’. One featuring so much Hitchcock-era linen he claims it can’t ever be worn anywhere but the balmier parts of North Africa.
To earn its keep his wardrobe needs to be admired by more people than the Almaha, in its cool seclusion, can offer. Also, Marrakech. City of minarets and ancient art and crowded, sprawling marketplaces and hidden courtyards scattered through with fountains. And more roof terraces, because it turns out the Almaha’s left us with a taste for them. Also, because we get so lost, so much in the streets starbursting out from the Jemaa el Fnaa it feels good to escape to a rooftop and see the stalls and snakecharmers and tangle of terracotta walls from above.
We set out from the heavy wooden doors and cool, tiled calmness of the Almaha each time armed with maps, screenshots, my bad yet wildly overconfident French, Shaun’s accomplished French, expert guidance from the friendly reception staff at the riad. And we learn to think of it as a triumph if that buys us ten minutes of feeling like we know where we’re going, ten minutes till we’re irrevocably curving in the wrong direction down streets we never meant to take.
Clock Cafe – one of the rooftops we retreat at sunset, for camel burgers and mint lemonades and dates arranged in sticky, kaleidoscopic patterns on enormous platters. By night we find our way to Le Foundouk – deeper inside the ancient walls of the city and with a rooftop so beautiful, and wine so cold and clear it’s completely worth how lost we got trying to find it.
If it sounds like we spend our whole stay basking, dissolute, on a series of rooftops – yeah, mostly. We do make time, though, for a walk outside the medina walls to the Jardin Majorelle – a walled garden of streams and lotus flowers and deep, intensely blue buildings – a cobalt oasis designed by Jacques Majorelle in the 1940s and bought to preserve it in the 1980s by Yves Saint Laurent.
But though the city must have a million sorts of beauty to discover, some of them have to be sacrificed in favour of at least one night of moonbathing on the roof terrace. The Almaha staff lay out carpets and cushions and lanternlight and cold drinks, and between the city lights and the stars – and despite Shaun’s being more into men and my being more into men who aren’t – this is still fierce competition for Most Romantic Moonrise Ever for both of us.
No surprise the Almaha’s popular for honeymoons: in a city with no shortage of hidden beauty and romantic isolation – or of Baudelaireian pleasure, calm and luxury – this is still a new level of all of those.
Deluxe Rooms start at €310 a night. The Senior Suite is from €1590 for a three-night stay, including daily breakfast and a private terrace.