[MARRAKESH, MOROCCO] — It was midnight on a full moon in Marrakesh. A late flight from Barcelona after transferring from Casablanca. The driver pulls over on a very busy, unremarkable street, next to a gas station, an LP gas depot and about the world’s most frenetic bus stop and taxi stand, drivers wailing and waving, engines gunning. Everyone looked to be in charge.
Buses, trucks and loud scooters screamed by, drowning out the shouts of the cab stand. The van stopped in the middle of the street and the door swung open. A nondescript wood door lay before me; no sign, no grand entrance, just two guys in muted brown tunics.
“This is it?” I asked. “It’s Marrakesh, there’s always a surprise behind the doors. You will be surprised.” I ducked low beneath the carved wood apse of the doorway and instantly I got it. I was in a long hall lit with lanterns, flame light flicking off the cool walls. It was only six feet, but the chaos outside felt a world away and instantly vanished. “Welcome to La Villa des Orangers” said the smiling man, allow me. Would you like some mint tea?” The hallway opened up into another candlelit room. Quiet was everywhere. Bunches of roses, all pink and orange, where in pots along the walls, in alcoves, arranged on the front desk, their scent hit me like a cool shower. This was it.
I’d never heard of this hotel before. I asked to stay at some more well known palaces, but the kind folks at Abercrombie & Kent, my arrangers for this tour, talked me into this place. “Those other places are just showpieces, places for people to see and be seen. This is a real place. You’ll like it.”
And they were right. The crazy street scene way behind us, as I was taken to my room, we went from grand porticoes to open air lounges, people quietly enjoying a cocktail in one area, a meal by the shimmering pool the next. Hushed conversations and soothing Moroccan music wafted over the cool night air. We zig-zagged through different courtyards, past more and more pink roses and ducked in yet another carved entrance. “This is your private riad within the grounds of the hotel. Two rooms share the pool, the sitting area, but really it is more like your own riad. You have your own pool here, there is another we just passed. And one on the roof.”
I’ve never seen a hotel so beautifully and meticulously decorated, in such an understated and elegant way. Carved colonnades, muted colors, deep, rich tile. Impeccable service. Dozens of outdoor rooms within rooms; a quiet palace inside these great walls. This is La Villa des Orangers. It’s not cheap, but for the money, I can think of no other place I’ve stayed that felt like you were getting every penny of it. It sits within the Medina, so you can walk anywhere, but come back and have your own cool retreat to regenerate with some mint tea. And as I was told, one of the best chefs in Marrakesh, doing his own contemporary twists on traditional Moroccan food. You should eat here. Right by the pool.
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