THE SOUK OF LOVE
It’s love at first sight for Lucy Hunter Johnston in Marrakech
The pursuit of a romantic frolic in the winter sun is fraught with difficulties. First, there is the all-too-real concern that, after months of neglect, a long weekend spent in close proximity to your partner might make you both question the very foundations of your love. Then there is the more urgent question of where to go that’s balmy and relatively short-haul.
The answer is, of course, Morocco, a four-hour hop from Stansted, where the temperature in January can soar well above 20C during the day. Even better, Mandarin Oriental has flung open the doors on a new luxury hotel in Marrakech. It’s a collection of suites and 54 individual villas dotted throughout 50 acres of impeccably manicured gardens and olive groves, so ludicrously picturesque and romantic that even the most belligerent of couples must surely return home utterly blissed up.
My boyfriend Nick and I arrive dusty and weary. After a reviving mint tea on a cool terrace overlooking an expansive series of pools and the distant Atlas Mountains, we stumble into a golf cart and are whizzed to our room.
The villas are modelled on traditional Moroccan riads; each is set around a courtyard filled with fig and apricot trees, and comes with its own pool, Jacuzzi and outdoor shower. At 3,000sq ft, ours is so absurdly, spectacularly sumptuous that once the concierge leaves we take one look at each other and collapse into fits of laughter, before rushing from room to room, all fatigue long forgotten.
A languorous steam and scrub in our private hammam followed by a wallow in the colossal bath eases our aching limbs, and we raid the minibar for cocktails at sunset before drifting to the Mes’Lalla restaurant for dinner. The meandering path is lined with orange blossom and lit with thousands of flickering candles, while the air is thick with the scent of jasmine and roses — there are 100,000 bushes in total. If you can manage to walk those few hundred metres without feeling like the starring couple in a Hollywood classic, then you are made of sterner stuff than us.
We eat our way through chef Meryem Cherkaoui’s tasting menu, which offers interesting twists on traditional dishes such as barley berkoukech and prawns with