On a miserable Thursday in March, a clutch of hens flew off from Luton – 10 girls in search of three days of pre-wedding hedonism in a new and exotic location.
As “best girl”, I’d had the job of organising the jolly and was slightly anxious that my well laid plans could all go awry – but Ryanair wafted us to Marrakech’s Menara airport in three-and-a-bit hours, and the plane doors opened to Africa and a wall of balmy heat. None of us had been to Morocco before, so although we were expecting something different, we weren’t quite prepared for the extraordinariness that greeted us.
I had had various planning conversations with Victoria, the London-based owner of Riad Timila, a restored courtyard house I’d originally found on Trip Advisor. She had arranged for us to be met at the airport by Brahim, the charming house manager, who was to be our host for the next three nights.
Setting off in two 4x4s, we were driven through the outskirts of the city into the Medina (old town), until we could go no further – the streets just became too narrow for cars. So we put all the bags in a thoughtfully provided handcart and followed Brahim through the maze of alleys or derbs; we felt like extras in an Indiana Jones movie. Then he unlocked an unassuming little door in a wall, and Riad Timila lay before us! Candles gleaming, incense burning, fountain playing – all the boxes were ticked.
We spread ourselves amongst the six ensuite bedrooms (chic, understated and luxurious) and reconvened on the roof terrace for sundowners. The view was sensational – the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque in one direction, the Atlas Mountains in another, and the local wine wasn’t bad either! We were pleased that we’d opted for dinner at the Riad that night, as the thought of negotiating our way through the paths and byways in the dark was a bit scary. Henia, the house cook, produced a fantastic supper – a huge variety of Moroccan salads, a delicious chicken tajine with peas and artichoke hearts, and strawberries that exploded with flavour. All that sunshine is good for them I guess.
Next morning, after breakfast (fresh juice, pancakes, yoghurt, fruit salad) on the flower filled roof terrace, we set off to explore the old town. The riad is only about five minutes’ walk from the main square and the souks, and our retail therapy commenced: slippers, baskets, jewellery, candles, lanterns, textiles, tribal artefacts and of course carpets – a riot of colours, noises and smells!
On Brahim’s recommendation we had lunch at Café Arabe, and after a few glasses of pink wine, lurched back to the peace of Timila to take advantage of the in-house spa facilities. I’d never had a hammam before, and loved it – once I got my head round the grey worms of dead skin that were being scrubbed off me. This was followed by a seriously relaxing massage with local argan oil, the whole experience leaving me squeaky clean and baby soft.
Apparently it’s good to do this at the start of the trip as your skin is then perfectly prepared for even suntanning – which is exactly what we proceeded to do the next day, catatonic on the sunloungers with occasional forays into the freezing pool. But before our relaxing Sunday, we had Saturday night to contend with, with a celebration dinner at Timila – the table decorated with rose petals and fairy lights, more fantastic food, and belly dancing lessons for all! This was completely hilarious and gave the bride lots of ideas for passing the time on honeymoon.
After our day of chilling out in the sunshine, Brahim had booked us a table at Jad Mahal, in the new town. It’s a really glamorous, palatial building with a stunning water feature running through the middle of it, and exquisite belly dancers, who I had to admit were a bit better than we were. The food was sophisticated international, as was the clientele, and after dinner we adjourned to Silver, the basement nightclub next door – not quite ready to hang up our clubbing cred yet!
Monday saw us whizzing round the souks again for some last minute purchases, then it was off to the airport and back to cold, wet Blighty. The verdict? Marrakech is the perfect venue for free range hens.