Mo­roc­can re­treat in the US

Ko­rakia will sweep you away from the nearby hus­tle and bus­tle of city life travel2013

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - KIRSTY HATH­AWAY

SET­TLED be­neath the im­pos­ing San Jac­into Moun­tains, Ko­rakia is a tran­quil desert re­treat where stress is whisked away at checkin. A 1920s for­mer artist’s villa once known as Dar Maroc, this Palm Springs re­treat en­cour­ages a sim­pler way of life: rooms are with­out phones and TVs; day beds sur­round the pool, and there are plenty of nooks and cran­nies in which to hide away and in­dulge in a good book.

Af­ter sun­set, large open fires are lit out­side; lanterns flicker on the branches of citrus trees and stars twin­kle in the sky. Although it sits just off busy Palm Canyon Drive, Ko­rakia has the abil­ity to trans­port you to a com­pletely dif­fer­ent world from bustling Palm Springs.

Ko­rakia has long drawn artists, writ­ers and cre­atives look­ing for a fresh squeeze of in­spi­ra­tion and es­capism. Through­out the main adobe house, the Mo­roc­can Villa and the ad­ja­cent Mediter­ranean Villa, the decor fuses the aes­thetic of North Africa – Mo­roc­can foun­tains and an­tiques, hand­made fur­ni­ture, dark wood beams and cool stone floors – with southern Euro­pean in­flu­ences, such as flag­stone court­yards and wild gar­dens.

It’s an ex­otic al­ter­na­tive to Palm Springs’ mid­cen­tury mod­ern vernacular.

Each of the 16 rooms in the villa and 12 in its Mo­roc­can coun­ter­part has its spe­cial some­thing, be it a carved Mo­roc­can wardrobe or a stone bath. Most have fire­places that warm up a chilly desert night and the beds, made from Mo­roc­can wood, have thick du­vets.

There’s also a spa with sim­ple treat­ments that are the per­fect tonic for a morn­ing yoga ses­sion.

Taken in the charm­ing court­yard planted with citrus trees, break­fast com­prises home­made gra­nola and a daily cooked op­tion – for ex­am­ple, the fluffi­est of blue­berry French toast. In a nod to Ko­rakia’s her­itage, there’s sweet mint tea and freshly squeezed or­ange juice as well as cof­fee and tea served again in the af­ter­noon.

Orig­i­nally the home of a Scot­tish painter, Gor­don Coutts, and fre­quented by bo­hemian high society through­out his own­er­ship, Ko­rakia was res­cued from dere­lic­tion by Dou­glas Smith in the late 1980s. The for­mer ar­chi­tec­tural-prac­tice owner sought to re­cap­ture the spirit of the place and im­bue it with the warmth and hap­pi­ness he’d felt while liv­ing in Spet­ses, Greece. (Ko­rakia is Greek for crows.)

Dou­glas sold Ko­rakia to Makar Ho­tels and Re­sorts five years ago and it’s now looked af­ter by gen­eral man­ager Paulette Monar­rez. How­ever, on my visit she was no­tably ab­sent and the lack of a per­sonal touch let Ko­rakia down; find­ing some­one who worked there of­ten proved a chal­lenge. For­tu­nately, the re­laxed and wel­com­ing na­ture of the prop­erty made up for it and the non-in­tru­sive at­mos­phere was more homely than lonely.

Palm Springs is pop­u­lar with An­ge­lenos es­cap­ing the grind of LA, and there’s plenty to keep them sat­is­fied. Palm Canyon Drive is lined with mid-cen­tury mod­ern fur­ni­ture shops and while the fash­ion scene might be small, it’s mighty.

For eclec­tic cos­tume jew­ellery, look no fur­ther then Route 66 at 465 North Palm Canyon Drive (route66west.com). Re­sale Ther­apy at 4109 East Palm Canyon Drive (shopre­salether­apy.com) stocks some great pieces, from Gucci shoes to Dior dresses. Ev­ery­thing in the back room is 75 per­cent off.

Ko­rakia pro­vides bi­cy­cles for its guests and, given the flat na­ture of the Coachella Val­ley, it’s a great way to get around. Make a pit stop at the Palm Springs Art Mu­seum (psmu­seum.org) for its im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary and mod­ern art.

For nat­u­ral beauty, strike out into Joshua Tree Na­tional Park (nps.gov/jotr) to ex­plore the Mo­jave Desert, bizarre rock for­ma­tions and strik­ing Joshua trees.

There’s quite a party scene in Palm Springs, so for a morn­ing-af­ter brunch, head to Citron at the Viceroy at 415 South Be­lardo Road (viceroy­ho­tel­san­dresorts.com) for huevos rancheros at $16 (R164). The Bloody Mary for $10 (R102) is worth the trip alone. For some­thing later in the day, Work­shop Kitchen and Bar at 800 North Palm Canyon Drive (work­shop­palm­springs.com) uses fresh, sea­sonal pro­duce to put to­gether a menu that in­cludes duck con­fit can­nel­loni for $14 (R143).

● Ko­rakia Pen­sione is at 257 South Pa­ten­cio Road, Palm Springs, Cal­i­for­nia, (ko­rakia.com). Dou­ble rooms start at $188 (R1 928) in­clud­ing break­fast.

AFRICA MEETS AMER­ICA: Ko­rakia might be in the US desert but with its Mo­roc­can decor it feels like an ex­otic re­treat in North Africa.

DESERT OA­SIS: Re­lax in the court­yard to the sooth­ing sound of fall­ing wa­ter.

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