TRAVEL

Stay at one of Marakech’s riad ho­tels to get a feel of en­chant­ing his­tory and lux­u­ri­ous her­itage.

Friday - - Contents -

It’s not of­ten that you get to meet a real prince, es­pe­cially a prince from the old and no­ble Ro­man house of Rus­poli. Ital­ian aris­to­crat Fabrizio Rus­poli greets me in the court­yard of his lux­u­ri­ous riad ho­tel La Mai­son Arabe (lamaisonarabe.com). Birds trill in the sky above a bub­bling foun­tain and I savour crispy pas­tries dusted with ic­ing sugar that were made an hour ago by the ho­tel’s award-win­ning chef.

Fabrizio’s grand­par­ents lived in Tang­ier when it was pop­u­lar with western artists and writ­ers in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The prince fell in love with Morocco after vis­it­ing his grand­par­ents on sum­mer va­ca­tions that he re­mem­bers with nostal­gia. ‘It was so lively and ex­otic,’ he says.

In 1992, tired of the big city life­style, Fabrizio left his an­tiques busi­ness in Paris and moved to Mar­rakech. A few years later he dis­cov­ered his fu­ture riad. ‘It was a fa­mous restau­rant in the me­d­ina of Mar­rakech, run by two French women. It was the only restau­rant open for for­eign­ers so clien­tele in­cluded celebri­ties like Win­ston Churchill and Jackie Kennedy,’ he ex­plains. When Fabrizio opened the La Mai­son Arabe in 1998, it was Morocco’s first riad ho­tel. Ini­tially just half a dozen rooms grouped around a bliss­fully pri­vate cen­tral court­yard, this lux­u­ri­ous prop­erty now counts 26 sump­tu­ously fur­nished suites with bal­conies or ter­races over­look­ing a large, fruit-tree-shaded swim­ming pool sur­rounded by ta­bles where Moroc­can break­fast treats are served.

Today there are hun­dreds of riad ho­tels in Mar­rakech, but La Mai­son Arabe is still the pick of the crop. It sits on the edge of the me­d­ina’s labyrinth of lanes, which means that the main sights are within easy walk­ing dis­tance, but the prop­erty has more space and light. The ho­tel also has its own pri­vate Gar­den Club in Mar­rakech’s Palmeraie, a 15-minute shut­tle ride away, where guests can spend a peace­ful af­ter­noon re­lax­ing by a vast pool sur­rounded by lush palm trees.

Al­ways ahead of his time, in 2001, Fabrizio launched the first cook­ing school in the King­dom of Morocco. On the last day of my stay, I take a cook­ery class with La Mai­son Arabe’s Dadas, the women who were for­merly hired to cook by Morocco’s wealthy fam­i­lies.

The cook­ery school is mag­nif­i­cent: A dozen state-of-the-art sta­tions are equipped with gleam­ing sinks, work ta­bles and a video screen to fol­low the Dada’s ev­ery move as she cooks stand­ing on a pedestal at the top of the room. The Dada makes cook­ing so easy that even I man­age to make a de­cent chicken tagine.

Later that evening I have din­ner at the ho­tel’s glo­ri­ous restau­rant near the pool. The heady smell of frangi­pane and jas­mine and the heav­enly flavours com­bine in a right royal ex­pe­ri­ence that only a prince could have cre­ated.

The lux­u­ri­ous La Mai­son Arabe boasts bed­rooms fit for kings. RIGHT: The Les Trois Saveurs restau­rant

When Fabrizio Rus­poli opened the La Mai­son Arabe in 1998, it was Morocco’s first riad ho­tel

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