Magical Morocco: La Sultana Hotel
Tom Chamberlin seeks out tranquil luxury in Oualidia's lagoonside La Sultana and finds unexpected peace in the high-energy city of Marrakech.
The heyday of Morocco really came in the 70’s. The bohemian socialites created their own little hidey-hole in the medina of Marrakech among the cacophony of Jemaa el-Fna. Behind the peach walls of their riad, all manner of mischief and unhygienic conduct went on. The famous portrait of John Paul Getty Jr and his wife, Talitha Getty by Patrick Lichfield, encapsulated this period of excess. Fully embracing that this era has been confined to the history books, Morocco, all orange tree bedecked and sun-stroked, still proves itself to be a country of romance and intrigue. Uninitiated as I was, to the countries charms, I took my experienced tour guide, who happens to be my wife, and jumped on the plane from Gatwick to see what all the fuss was about. There was a condition to the trip, which was to try and get as close as one could to the Rolling Stones’, Yves Saint Laurent’s and Cecil Beaton’s (among others) experience being in Marrakech, without all the drugs and wife-swapping. Not having Mr Getty Jr’s house keys to hand, the alternative was a hotel. The one everyone has heard of is the vast La Mamounia, no doubt excellent, but not exactly subtle. Whilst it is in the Medina, you aren’t blending into the thick of it. The best hotel to visit, by far, is La Sultana. Now their Marrakech address is something to behold and I’ll come onto it later. On landing in Marrakech airport, we were destined west to the coast, to La Sultana’s lagoonside hotel in the small, coastal town of Oualidia. The highway code in Morocco is, at the very least, ropey and the driving is equally slapdash. All the way it is single lane carriages, and every driver, including ours, seemed to have an insatiable appetite to overtake, oncoming traffic notwithstanding. But alive we made it to Oualidia, which is directly between the better-known Essaouira and Casablanca. And after a windy dirt track, the final destination is mightily impressive. The hotel building itself is distinct in a town full of the bland, uniform, practical, square Moroccan architecture. A grand Berber pisé construction. At the very centre of it is the inbuilt spa, which was the first port of call for a post-travel massage, the scent of fleur d’orange drummed home that you had indeed arrived to a tranquil, exotic place.
Evening drew close on arrival, the room was well equipped for a refreshing turnaround and change, with a large balcony area, which had the perfect view of the sun setting over the Atlantic. Also on this balcony, which features in every room, is a sea-water Jacuzzi. The staff can draw this for you on request and is great at the end of a day spent by the (much colder) pool. The beds are large and comfortable and the fireplace that can be lit by the staff while you are having supper, is a very simple luxury that makes all the difference to your experience at the hotel. Oualidia is all about fish, shellfish to be precise. Oysters and lobsters are very cheap but far better than your higher end metropolitan seafood eatery in New York, London or Paris. On top of that there is a surprisingly good turn in puddings. From Crème Brulee to Baked Alaska, all ingredients seem fresh and well handled by the chef and his team in the (military-level clean) kitchen. If you have a romantic streak, one night I recommend having supper out in the picnic area overlooking the lagoon and the stars. Breakfasts are great; the best thing to do is have it brought to your room and they have a rather sweet news summary printed out for you from your country of origin. Lunch is a variegated affair, the club sandwich by the pool will suit you perfectly if moving is a bit too much of a stretch. If you wish to see more of the town, the hotel can organise a boat ride through the lagoon. In fact the hotel staff are great at trying to make things happen for you if it will improve your stay. The time spent there (4 nights in total) were full of concerted efforts to make every guest there remember them, which we certainly will. Then to Marrakech for two nights at what would be a much higher intensity. The drive back was more or less the same to Oualidia, but it was only when the scooters, the donkeys, the fearless pedestrians and the honking (oh the honking), really kicked off when approaching Marrakech on the N7 that the juxtaposition was made clear...
"Oysters and lobsters are very cheap but far better than your higher end metropolitan seafood eatery in New York, London or Paris"La Sultana in Marrakech is on the rue de la Kasbah on the south side of the Medina. The drop off point is on the busy street, but there is no need to jostle, tumble and collide your way through the street, some very brightly coloured porters, come to collect you and whisk you up the first side street, where, all gilded and imposing, is the façade of La Sultana in Marrakech. The hotel is one vast building made up of several riads, all different styles. The walls are beautiful reconstructions of the sort of intricate stone and paintwork that Morocco is famous for. The main selling point is the roof terrace where breakfast and lunch is taken. There is a pool and a bar up their too, the sounds of the market beneath and of course the call to prayer breaks up any monotony of sunbathing and should you be truly out of ideas, there is a great cooking class and spa. Ultimately, Marrakech is all about getting out and about, so I think the hotel purposefully keeps itself as a welcome bolt-hole after a long day out in the sun and the exhaust fumes. The city is high-energy and to have created a hotel right in the middle of the hubbub that oozes tranquility and rest is nothing short of remarkable. La Sultana has sprung to life in response to a new type of luxury that people want. They are looking above all for comfort over pretension, substance over name. La Sultana gives you room to breathe and doesn’t stifle you with regulation and codes. It makes for the perfect North African getaway, both for exploration and relaxation, and there aren’t many hotels that can claim that.