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.