La Maison Arabe in the heart of Marrakech was Morocco’s top restaurant from the 1940s. In 1995 Italian nobleman Fabrizio Ruspoli bought the property and adjoining riad, and over three years did extensive renovations, turning it into an elegant and ultra stylish boutique hotel.
Each of the 26 rooms is like something from A Thousand And One Nights. Located within the dusky pink walls of the old medina close to the bustling Jemma El Fna, La Maison Arabe has roof terraces with amazing views over the medina, swimming pools, courtyards and salons, restaurants, a fine spa, a hammam and a cookery school. It’s a private, luxurious world yet it’s only 15 minutes walk to the souk and 15 minutes drive from the airport.
The cookery workshops are conducted by a dada (traditional Moroccan cook) or a chef from the restaurant. Small groups of maximum 10 participants work alongside a translator (Arabic/English/French), using easy-to-use modern equipment found in everyday kitchens.
At the end of each workshop, participants dine on the meal they have prepared. At a typical half-day workshop, one learns to prepare an appetizer and a main dish, or a main dish and dessert. Prices: 600 dhs per person for small groups of 4 to 10 persons; 800 dhs per person for small groups of 1 to 3 persons; private cooking workshop : 5.000 dhs.
Marrakech has about 900,000 residents and has the largest traditional souk in the country. It’s located near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. It was settled in the 11th Century, and was the most important imperial city in the country. Despite its proximity to the desert, Marrakech is also famous for its manicured Islamic-style gardens, roses, reflecting pools and lush greenery. Irrigated water is supplied from the mountains.
The central marketplace of Djemaa el Fna is one of the busiest communal squares in Africa. It’s popular for acrobats and musicians and dancers, and at night it becomes a massive air-open collection of restaurants.
Trip suggestions: Morocco by Prior Arrangement specialises in individual and small group travel to Morocco. Sydneysider Carol Prior has been taking tour groups to Morocco for 25 years. She specialises in luxury, customized travel and develops personalised itineraries. www.moroccobypriorarrangement.com
- Get lost (not difficult) in the 9000 bustling alleys that make Fez the oldest living medieval city. Silver, copper, pottery and leather artisans are favourites with visitors
- Souk it up – Morocco is a decorator’s dream. Shopping lists: tassels, leather ottomans, rugs, babouches, berber jewellery, silver teapots, ceramics including tagines and hand-painted bowls and plates
- Special cooking tours which include workshops for all your favourites – cous cous, tagines and b’astilla. Classes are held in the mountains, by the sea, in private homes and gardens
- A visit to a hammam (steam bath) is an adventure for the senses and a weekly ritual for Moroccans
- Spa retreats
- Photography and painting workshops
- Learning to write Arabic calligraphy
- Touring private gardens
- Camel trekking
*Pictures, except for the camel ride, courtesy of La Maison Arabe