Belinda Carlisle once sang, “Heaven is a place on earth…” Well I think she may have been singing about the Es Saadi Resort and Gardens, a five-star luxury hotel and palace set in a district known as L’Hivernage, just outside the rose-pink walls of Marrakech.
Now for the history bit: Es Saadi (which means “the happy one”) is owned by the Bauchet-Bouhlal family, with Jean Bauchet laying the first stone of the hotel two years after the Casino de Marrakech was born in 1952 (the country’s first and oldest casino). Born in Arras, Jean was an artist-turned-entertainment-entrepreneur, who owned the Moulin Rouge, Casino of Paris, Bal Tabarin, directed the Theatre du Chatelet, and founded the Casino of Beirut. Opened in 1966, the Es Saadi became a sumptuous hideaway for wealthy Europeans and stars who came to Marrakech seeking winter sun inside a cocooned oasis of heavenly calm and elegance. Famous guests included couturier Pierre Balmain, Princess Margaret of England, and The Rolling Stones.
Over the passage of time the hotel has grown into one of the grande dames of the luxury scene in Morocco, with the addition of a palace which opens up another world behind the old hotel. As you enter the palace with antique cavalry horses outside the enormous lobby, featuring a fountain under a carved cupola, you’re greeted with mint tea and a smile by the staff. As you wander through the marble-floored reception area to the palace gardens, poolside Ksars in Berber style sit beside shady winding pathways around a freeform swimming pool. The pool is decorated with towering carved stone pillars, and bridges which take you to a piano bar – Bar Egyptien – or the island bar, an atoll positioned inside the pool itself.
Private villas, with their own heated pools, patios and a butler (my kind of resort), are hidden away from view by bougainvillea, palm trees, and orange and lemon trees chirping with the sounds of exotic birds. The palace blends traditional Moroccan architecture (from the original 50’s hotel) with contemporary modern cool and comfort. I stayed in a sumptuous executive suite on the third floor which was painted in Majorelle Blue, with mosaic tiled stairwells and floors which extended into my suite. From the harmonious colours, textiles and plush furnishings, to the monumental carved and painted wooden doors which you open with a handcrafted antique key (no minimalist swipe cards here), there was attention to every detail. Much like the room attendants, who threw rose petals in the toilet bowl and bath – and even took a t-shirt dress I left in a heap on my four-poster bed and turned it into a swirling-work-of-art when I returned!
I personally fell in love with the private balcony with a breathtaking view of the Atlas Mountains by day, and the twinkling sky of Marrakech by night. I didn’t fall so much in love with the occasional view of an Easyjet flight landing at the nearby airport; but then I blame that on me spending too much time on my balcony looking for Leonardo DiCaprio in the bushes. The actor stayed in one of the private villas recently. Other star guests have included Marion Cotillard, Seven Seagal (in his kaftan no doubt) and Cynthia Nixon, who stayed during filming of Sex and the City 2, which was based in Morocco. The palace has also played host to various other actors and directors who visited during the Marrakech International Film Festival.
On an eco note, the resort powers its hot water system with solar panels and a recycling station provides water for the tropical gardens. That’s one big tick for environmental chic right there. Talking of chic, when I removed myself from the balcony, I experienced the palace’s wellbeing spa, where I was immersed into total mind, body and soul relaxation. The 3000sq metre spa, which boasts a terrace with views of the city’s pink walls, also houses the Dior Institut, the first to open within a hotel outside Paris. Spa-goers can enjoy a range of therapies and tailor-made treatments, including the Oriental Thermae, a detoxifying programme that uses heat and cold to rejuvenate tired bodies. Exclusive to the spa are signature massages, including the ‘Blissful Massage’, which cleanses the body and re-balances the mind. It did what it said on the tin, as the saying goes – I was transported into a state of bliss for over an hour.
I also opted for the ‘Holistic Harmony’ aromatherapy massage, using oils by Micheline Arcier; and in the Dior Institut I chose the ‘Youthfulness’ treatment, which included a full face and décolletage massage using anti-aging active concentrates. It worked, because I came out looking ten years younger. The spa also includes private suites for VIP service and a traditional Moroccan hammam, twin baths for balneotherapy, and a chill-out room complete with a library, fireplace and waterbeds – just to complete the extra-sensory relaxation. It’s a good thing the piping hot mint tea refreshment is served to you; try pouring that yourself…on a waterbed.
I experienced a ‘Flash make-up’ treatment in the Dior Institut, where a representative consults with you while you sit facing a giant mirror with vanity lighting, that makes you feel like you’re backstage on a film set. Using the latest Dior products, you’re transformed into a glamorous star and ready to hit one of the resort’s restaurants, bars, the casino or the nightclub. Yes that’s right, the nightclub. The world-famous Theatro used to be a theatre which hosted legendary performers such as Josephine Baker and Maurice Chevalier. It now hosts the beautiful young people of Marrakech every night from 11.30pm and well-known DJs to inflame the dance floor, along with the help of acrobats and jugglers. I needed no encouragement to party, but after an evening spent in my leopard print Kurt Geiger heels, my feet and I weren’t friends the next morning.
If you prefer to leave clubbing to the beautiful people, eating out at one of the resort’s restaurants is also an experience to remember. From the L’Épicurien to La Cour des Lions, chef Sébastien Bontour is a gastronomical magician, creating gourmet cuisine which mixes traditional Moroccan classics with modern deconstructed influences. All citrus fruit, vegetables, herbs and olive-oil used in the dishes are from the Bauchet-Bouhlal family’s nearby organic farm, Le Bled, where they also keep chicken, geese and ducks – all fed on a diet of cereals, bread and corn from the restaurants. This is eco-friendly cuisine of the highest quality and the presentation of the food was also a work of art on a plate. I couldn’t possibly choose which meal or restaurant was my favourite, but a raspberry macaroon in vibrant fuschia (part of a trio of desserts at L’Épicurien), which came with a delicate scoop of deep pink sorbet on top, was quite possibly the nearest thing to melt in the mouth heaven I have ever tasted.
Another thing which caught my eye at Es Saadi, was the beautiful artwork on display throughout the palace – an homage to local artists and a showcase of their passion for supporting the creativity that lies within Morocco. The free WiFi throughout the resort is also an added bonus for Twitter addicts like me and people who just want to send work emails saying they’re currently “out of the office in paradise”. Would I go again? Yes, I’m just waiting for Leonardo DiCaprio to invite me.