Marrakech is endearingly chaotic and as exotic as every magazine article makes it out to be. From the cacophony of sounds, sights and smells on the Djemaa al Fna, the city’s main square which comes alive every evening with musicians, storytellers, snake-charmers, and stall-holders, to the labyrinthine medina and markets that hum with Moroccans going about their business on bicycle, motorcycle and mule.
It’s therefore to be expected, in keeping with the personality of the place, that things will not always go as smoothly as planned. And so it was that our first holiday rental accommodation that had been organized did not have the Internet access so vital to this project, and we wasted an afternoon trying to get it to work and an evening investigating other access options, before moving to another riad the following day.
Marrakech is a city of contrasts, as clichéd as that sounds, and so off every bustling lane is a tranquil alley, and behind many a ramshackle exterior is an elegant oasis of calm. Dar Rocmarra, our holiday rental in Marrakech is one such place.
The lovely, laidback riad (a traditional two- to three-storey Moroccan house that has a courtyard at its centre) is located in the thick of the bustle of Marrakech’s medina, in a skinny dog-legged passage off a pedestrianised lane, off a busy street near Bab Doukkala, Dar El Bacha palace, and Rue Dar El Bacha. The latter is lined with some of the medina’s most charming shops, including antique stores and the bookshop Librairie d’Art Dar El Bacha, and the surrounding neighbourhood boasts some of the Old City’s best restaurants and most charming riads.
Just outside the heavy wooden door to Dar Rocmarra, locals whizz by on motorcycles, kids muck around on their way home from school, and worshippers make their way to the mosque on the corner when the call-to-prayer sounds.
Inside, all we can hear is the fireplace crackling in the evenings, the tinkle of water from the fountain where pink rose petals float, the manager-cum-housekeeper-cum-chef Jamila pottering about in the kitchen, and the atmospheric sounds of what must be one of the most eclectic riad soundtracks around – everything from Natacha Atlas to Amy Winehouse.
Whitewashed – except for the dark grey concrete walls of the water feature, the dramatic bathroom in the Johara room, and the cosy nook where I’m typing this review – and with a pretty courtyard of potted palms and a healthy olive tree, Dar Rocmarra exudes a sense of calm.
English owners Rob and Julie, and Ian and Helen, took 18 months to renovate the property from scratch – and they have photos to prove it that Rob is proud to show off on the iPod that serves as a sound system. While they designed the whole riad together, each was responsible for putting their mark on the place by decorating a particular room. Remarkably – or simply because the couples have such impeccable taste – each of the individually themed rooms work wonderfully together within the overall style of the riad, which is chic and refined in a style that won’t go out of fashion.
The two-storey property is decorated with Oriental lanterns and Moroccan antiques and bric-a-brac, including a carved wooden door from the original building that has been turned into a dining table, and the look is clean, understated, and contemporary.
The attention to detail is impressive. All rooms boast stainless-steel vessels with intricate cut-out patterns to hide plastic water bottles; dainty crystal-trimmed satin bags to hold hairdryers, candles bearing ‘hands of Fatima’ and henna patterns, and creamy locally made soaps. The compact ground floor Bijou room boasts pretty handmade curtains; the adjoining Berber room has rocks embedded in the walls as a decorative feature; the Sahara room above it had cracked mud-hut walls (cute idea!); Johara, the most glamorous room, which Julie admits is “chintzy in a nice way”, has crystal chandeliers and velvet chairs; while Douria, our suite, has a fireplace and a fabulous nook that’s ideal for curling up with a good book – or laptop as Terence has done today.
“Our suite”, I hear you say? Weren’t we meant to be trading hotel rooms for holiday homes this year? Well, like many riads in Marrakesh, Dar Rocmarra is available to rent as a whole house, including Jamila and two staff – or its rooms can be rented individually, when it becomes a maison d’hotes and operates like a cross between a B&B and boutique hotel.
Unlike a B&B the owner-managers don’t live on the premises, and unlike a hotel the atmosphere is intimate, relaxed and cosy, service is warm and personable, and the welcoming, can-do attitude of the staff makes you immediately feel ‘at home’. Jamila, for instance, is going to take Terry shopping and teach him how to cook tajine. I couldn’t imagine that happening at many hotels. But we’re going to save that experience for another post!