Was it all a dream?
I open my eyes and stare at the incredible hand-painted dome directly above my bed.
No. This is definitely not London.
We head downstairs for breakfast. La Sultana is composed of five exquisitely restored old riads (houses with interior gardens) that offer guests an Aladdin-esque journey of exploration. Each luxurious courtyard offers a passageway to another one equally magical.
Little birds chirp and flit between the date palms as we feast on sweet tangerines, Berber pancakes and copious cups of mint tea.
Exiting our hotel, we realize that it lies just 200 feet from the vibrant thoroughfare of the kasbah, but is so hidden in its diminutive alley that it's practically invisible.
(La Sultana Hotel)
Mere steps away are the Saadian Tombs which date back to the 16th century.
The mosaic work, nearly 500 years old, still reverberates with color and energy.
(Mosaic detail, Saadian Tombs)
We pass through one of the nineteen gates that lead into the medina...
...and are greeted by the sight of Marrakech's most prominent Islamic landmark, the Koutoubia Mosque.
As luck has it, we are still in the shadow of the tower when one of the five daily calls to prayer rings out. The very ground seems to shake as a rising chorus of voices joins in from every direction. (To hear what a call to prayer sounds like, click HERE.)
A few more minutes walk and suddenly, the immense Djemaa el Fna is before us. This is the main square of Marrakech, and I've been filling Luca's head for months with visions of snake charmers, musicians, acrobats and more.
Before I can even blink, they arrive. Luca takes it in gamely.
On the far side of the square lies the entrance to the famed souk. As we weave our way in and out of the countless food stalls heaving with delicacies...
...an inner battle wages:
My left brain:
Remember, when bargaining, you have to play it cool. Just. Be. Cool.
My right brain:
But I'm hyperventilating! Look at all this amazing stuff!
My left brain:
Act like that and you'll pay double.
My right brain:
Ugh. You are so controlling.
The Divine Italian has no such issues.
Or perhaps a scarf for your shoulders, ladies? Gents, a foulard?
The vast amount of stalls is dizzying. Each is only a few yards wide and there are thousands of them.
An excellent reason to do more sit-ups. Or maybe not.
We lose all track of time and wander through the endless maze of alleys and residential back corridors. We are lost in the most delightful way.
At one point, I find myself being taught how to weave a rug.
At another, we find ourselves in the dyers' souk. Freshly-soaked skeins of wool hang in the sun to dry.
Bowls of powdered indigo, saffron and vermilion patiently await their turn in the vats. Matthew Williamson would be beside himself.
Out of the blue, a young man appears from inside a dyer's hut and expertly winds a scarf around and around Luca's head.
Centuries roll backward as he metamorphoses from a Hollywood kid...
...into Luca of Arabia.
Later, I miraculously locate the fossil stall where I bought a treasured ammonite bowl two years ago. The owner pretends to remember me and his genial flattery temporarily suspends my bargaining prowess.
I buy another bowl -- bigger and heavier than the previous one...
...and pretend not to hear Piero when he reminds me that my suitcase is already stuffed with purchases from London and am I expecting him to carry it? After some pestering, I indignantly answer, "Of course not!" (but secretly plan to plead my case the morning of departure).
Back at the hotel, we have an hour of "Each To His Own" time: Piero soaks in the hotel's hammam, I read my book and Luca is allowed some precious minutes on his Nintendo DS.
After dinner, we hop a cab to the legendary Mamounia Hotel. My parents stayed there in the 1960's and I've been aching to visit it my whole life -- I tried to book a room months ago, but December was completely sold out. Recently reopened after a lengthy 3-year renovation, I'm curious to see how Jacques Garcia has reinterpreted this classic grande dame and whether it has retained its essential "Mamounia-ness."
It's absolutely gorgeous and combines the sleek lines of French Art Deco with traditional Moroccan design and craftmanship.
Unfortunately, my long-held plans to have a glass of champagne in the Churchill Bar are dashed when we are informed it has a no-child policy.
No matter. As we pad noiselessly over miles of sound-absorbing carpet...
...and wander through courtyards of sybaritic luxury...
...we realize we are more seekers than sitters anyway.