For a delicious helping of Old World Marrakech. A labyrinth of tiled staircases, courtyards dotted in orange trees and quiet corners framed by mashrabiya, Le Farnatchi strikes as the resplendent yet understated Riyadh of a Moroccan prince. And that’s precisely what the hotel’s owners had in mind 14 years ago.
This is one for the romantics, who wish to fall off the edge of the earth in style, only to resurface for a Medina saunter or a low-key supper before disappearing again into this oasis of peace and good taste. The Riyadh recalls a pre-influencer Marrakech, rife with bohemians: artists, writers, film-makers, all allergic to the very notion of a ‘scene’ and happiest in the grip of exotic beauty.
Set the scene
It’s hard to believe Le Farnatchi’s serene courtyards and quiet, elaborately carved balconies are a few steps away from the bustle of the Medina. The hotel’s understated wooden door tucked around a nondescript corner has a Narnia-like quality, as if stepping out of the intoxicating chaos of the souks and its surrounding warren into an oasis of calm, where the gentle trickle of water and chirping birds set the tempo. Unusually for Marrakech, the Riyadh offers a generous array of communal spaces – cushioned nooks in courtyards, a shaded pergola, a sitting room warmed by thick Moroccan rugs and a log fire for the cooler months, Breakfasts are served anytime, anyhow (a boon for honeymooners) and sunsets from a sprawling roof terrace are accompanied by the spine-tingling reverberations of the call-to-prayer.
Nine rooms earn Le Farnatchi its boutique badge, all of which are artfully dressed in Moroccan rugs, thick curtains, beautifully-framed art and trinkets commissioned and then crafted by artisans from the souk. Each room differs in style: the two rooms just above the main pool courtyard pair merlot velvet chairs with monochrome tiles, soaring linen curtains with subdued plastered walls and Moroccan lanterns with a his-and-hers bathroom of nostalgic Marrakech reverie. No room is deprived of the large bath tub for long, hamam-style soaks or outdoor space (some with private roof terraces and others with elegant balconies). Hours are lost tracing the extraordinary woodwork along the carved ceilings or reading a book under the Medina lanterns after dusk.
Showers are stocked with an exotic line-up of Molton Brown products, and glass-thin Moroccan soaps are wrapped like little brown paper parcels alongside the sinks. Turndown is a sweet affair of almond brittle. But the rooms’ greatest allure is the sigh of relief they elicit as you retreat from the Medina mayhem into their calm, cerebral/civilised embrace.
Food and drink
Just across the street, or seemingly a rooftop-hop-away lies Le Trou Au Mur, Le Farnatchi’s neighbourhood-style restaurant. Occupying several tiled floors that wind up to and a lantern strewn roof terrace, this clipped, convivial joint blends traditional Moroccan and French cuisine: berkoukesh and tangias sit alongside terrine de fois gras and cote de boeuf.
Following the chef’s fig pastry welcome we’d recommend starting with the Moroccan salads, suspended from iron branches like experimental baubles (expect caramelised sweet pumpkin with orange blossom and zerkouk, marinated and roasted aubergine). Hailing from Marrakech, the tangia (‘the female tagine’) is cooked for hours until the lamb falls of the bone and the sauce assumes a celestial taste beyond description. There’s an international section featuring Dim Sum, stuffed Calamari and Pumpkin ravioli for those who may need a brief hiatus from the Moroccan cuisine, but the berkoukesh (a baked rice pudding with cardamom from North Africa) or mahensha (Moroccan almond pastry swirl) puddings are simply too good to skip.
The adult-only policy ensures Le Farnatchi’s tranquil allure is preserved for all couples staying.
A stay here is not complete without a hammam. The traditional ritual, where guests are scrubbed from head-to-toe in a steaming chamber, takes place in a light-filled spa found at the far end of the labyrinthine hotel. A jovial therapist, who has worked with the hotel for years, removes layers of dead skin before massaging salt and clay onto baby-soft bodies. Hair is washed with Moroccan oil soaps and the ritual ends on a floral note with a rose water spritz for cleansed pores. Shuffling somewhat deliriously in fluffy slippers and towels to the relaxation room, guests are poured glasses of herbal tea and left to allow the oils and salts to soak in.
Tucked off an artery street of mopeds, bikes and donkeys within the ancient Medina walls, Le Farnatchi is hiding in plain sight. Its discretion is remarkable given this central location, a few minutes’ walk to the souks where a maze of leather shoes and bags, glazed ceramics, hand-woven carpets and really anything is sold, sometimes rather enthusiastically by proactive vendors. Visit Marrakech’s pocket-sized photography museum, with its pretty rooftop café framed by pink flowers, and wind through the animated narrow streets to Jardin Majorelle and the Musée Yves Saint Laurent – fantastical gardens and a museum dedicated to the work of the legendary fashion designer. For a neighbourhood hotspot (and Australian riff on Moroccan food), book a table at +61, where the city’s cool crowd hides away from the tourists.