It’s love at first sight for Lucy Hunter John­ston in Mar­rakech

London Evening Standard (West End Final B) - ES Magazine - - Weekending - Edited by Di­pal Acharya

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

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