Monday, January 11, 2010

The London/Marrakech Express, Part Four

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.
(Looking into the dining courtyard, La Sultana)

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.
(Saadian Tombs)

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... 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.

The stalls are teeny-tiny and crammed with gorgeous wares.

Fancy a pair of handcrafted babouches?

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.

I could do without the Gucci, Prada and Fendi boutiques in the lobby, though.

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.


Modern Traditionalist said...

Oh my. I'm sure I will find myself returning to these photos many times today. What a gift to be sharing such experiences with your son, who will take the treasured memories with him throughout his life.

little augury said...

Lisa-You all look right at home. Luca is truly a world traveler. It might be hard to roll out of that bed, but what treasures await- Beautiful series. GT

EAC said...

There's something about the way you write that's transporting and engaging. I so enjoy your travel posts. Thank you.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

I'm dying...beautiful! Luca is having the time of his life :-)

Helen James said...

another exciting episode in the london/marrakech chronicles, Thank you so much for these wonderful and insightful posts x x

Cathi said...

What an amazing place - so absolutely gorgeous! thanks for sharing your travels! :)

Miss Cavendish said...

How lovely it would be to sit quietly amidst all that color and texture. I might now even be able to take anything home--everything looks so perfect in the genially disordered stacks of fabric--but of course I'd regret it upon returning to the continent.

Imen said...

I loved this post....I love reading all of your posts....I've always wondered about the La Mamoumia and have pondered staying there as well so it was nice to be "transported" via the photos and your comments. I'd much prefer the Sultana it seems...Gucci/Fendi and carpets in Marrakesh wouldn't seem right (at least not for a first trip). Thanks again.

Silent Story said...


Ohhh I love the photograph of Luca and fabulous coloured scarf...

Ancient Industries said...


Your travel writing puts one in mind of Ludwig Bemelmans. A pure delight.

Jane said...

Morrocco has long been on my list - you have evoked it so well. That call to prayer is amazing, 10 years ago I stayed in the shadow of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and loved that sound and can still remember it like it was yesterday.

On a more gender biased note, have you noticed how good men are at bargaining? I can't do it to save myself - it must be something to do with my desparattion to quickly acquire the item! xoxo

CashmereLibrarian said...

I couldn't wait for this installment! I agree with little augury: Wonderful Series. Thank you for sharing so eloquently!

Daniel-Halifax said...

you are killin me woman!! marrakech's markets seem so much better than cairo's...i'm THIS close to buying a plane ticket now!

stylecurator said...

what amazing shots! would love to visit Morocco. I was just in Istanbul and the vibrancy of the markets are so similar!

A Super Dilettante said...

Every picture here is bursting with colours. I don't know how you cope with the temptation of the beautiful objects at the market and more colourful spices, clothes and carpets. Your hotel is absolute to die for! Coming here to look at your beautiful picture, I feel like I'm getting a mini holiday here!!

Dash said...

I have just discovered your blog, I love it, It's like a treasure trove.

Went to Marrakech a couple of years ago and your wonderful London/Marrakech posts, have just transported me back.

deb said...

I felt the winter blahs just disappear.
These were stunning incredible pictures.
I can almost hear and smell the vibrancy.

Thanks for posting these.

Romi said...

Just discovered your blog. What a treasure! Your pictures are beautiful and so is your writing. It's lyrical and mesmerizing at the same time. So glad I stumbled upon A Bloomsbury Life.

Rebecca said...

Drats - another place to add to my list of places to visit. What a trip!!

Karena said...

Absolutely intoxicating. The colors are so rich and saturated!!


Do not forget to visit the jardin Majorelle and the boutique. Best is to take a horse carriage from Djamaa el fna, its such a nice way to go there, the cab will wait for you and take you back.

Brian said...

Fantastic, Lisa! And your Nicky Haslam book purchase in London was damn cool. Seriously, might you have a (single) twin sister?? Is cloning an option??

Brian, Toronto

Angie Muresan said...

Luca of Arabia melts my heart! Gorgeous suite! Those handcrafted babouches look so very comfortable.

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Grace said...

Your writing has gotten me even more excited for our trip to Marrakech! The first and last time we visited, we spent only a few hours in the medina as our accommodation was at the Kasbah Tamadot. I laughed out loud at your monologue re bargaining. My husband and I did well in our tactic. Ooooh, I can't wait! Thank you for sharing.

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