2 January 2018

Les Bains D'Orient & Le Jardin Majorelle

We didn't think we'd make our flight to Marrakech. I've never experienced a taxi journey fraught with so much tension, stress and doubt as we crawled along the M25 towards Gatwick. Snow and accidents delayed us, as a two hour trip became upwards of four hours.

We arrived just 45 minutes before our flight, and checked in our bags with minutes to spare. On the plane, the relief was palpable and although I can't speak for the rest of my family, my heart was still beating a million miles a minute as we took off, and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

We arrived at Riad Ilayka late, so my Mum had organised a 'light dinner'* our first evening. Riads are traditional houses within the Medina, hidden behind unassuming doors. Lots have been turned into guesthouses. They are tranquil, beautiful and historic, and typically house around 8 rooms, with a courtyard in the centre.

The main living space had been set up as a dining room for us, with candles lightly flickering and the table scattered with deep red rose petals. It, like our surroundings, was stunning.

*We learned that there is no such thing as a 'light dinner' in Marrakech.

I thought our selection of salads was our lot, but it wasn't. There were sauteed green beans, and salads of aubergine, zucchini, red pepper, tomato and pumpkin, deliciously fragrant and lightly spiced. We mopped them up with flatbread, before realising we had tagines as our main.

Dessert was orange, dusted with cinnamon. I'd never have thought to put it together myself, but it worked.

When we could no longer keep our eyes open, we headed to bed (my brother and I were in the Tazarine room, and my parents were in Edeyen).

 The ceiling
Table and chair
The shower

The next morning, we had the most incredible spread for breakfast.

Jams and honey were contained in beautifully intricate pots.

Fresh orange juice; yoghurt with juicy raspberries; goats cheese (it tasted similar to Philadelphia) with warm seeded bread; pancakes; cake, and croissants.

With coffee and Moroccan mint tea, for good measure.

We then visited the most lovely spa for some much-needed relaxation: Les Bains D'Orient, which I highly recommend.

We opted for the Ceremonial package, which includes a Moroccan hammam, a Cleopatra bath, a massage, facial massage, and manicure. The boys didn't want a manicure, and I didn't want the facial massage, so they offered us an extended massage instead. 

It was divine, but what I will say is that there was only one shower (my Mum and I needed to wash our hair after), and all they had was an all-in-one type wash, which wasn't ideal. Otherwise, I can't fault it.

For lunch we ventured out of the Medina, as we wanted to visit Le Jardin Majorelle. A recommended spot was 16 Cafe, literally opposite the main entrance of the garden.

I enjoyed a croque monsieur as big as my face...

And the chicken and lemon tagine is a must.

We, in hindsight, visited at the wrong time. We finished lunch at around half 2 and the queue was slightly intimidating (although it went down quickly) - I think it's best to get there when it opens to beat the queues. It took us about 40 minutes to get into the garden.

The garden seems to be an ode to the cactus in all its forms. The bottom rounded ones, my mum thought, look like they have eyelashes. Can you see it?

And then, between the trees and cacti, we saw a flash of the most brilliant azure blue. So bright, it's almost fluorescent.

The main building takes inspiration from the art deco, with the blue, according to the designer, reminiscent of the Atlas mountains. It was truly stunning.

The jardin was loved by Yves Saint Laurent, who visited it every day. When it was at risk of being sold off, he and Pierre Berge bought it. So it seems fitting his memorial is housed within the garden. 

It was impossible to take a bad photo here, and I made the most of it.

The above is my favourite - just how beautifully is this building framed, with the shapes and textures of the surrounding plants? Perfection.

Despite being one of the most popular (i.e. touristy) spots to visit in Marrakech, it didn't feel busy or crowded. The only place I felt a bit suffocated was, unsurprisingly, the gift shop. 

Before we left, I popped into the on-site gallery, which had different prints with the theme of 'Love', by year, by Yves Saint Laurent. I hunted out mine - 1992, and bought the matching postcard as a souvenir. 

In the evening, we got very lost, for the first time (you can't use free roaming in Marrakech, and 4G signal is terrible) on our way to dinner at Dar Essalam, a restaurant offering Moroccan cuisine and entertainment.

The interiors were beautiful, with detailed tile designs along the walls, columns and floors.

We started with a selection of salads (similar to what we'd had the night before), and for my main I tried a vegetable and cheese pastilla (a pastry similar to an onion bhaji, but huge).

It was tasty, but filling. Again, we'd loaded up on the salads and bread and struggled on the second course.

We also tried a lamb tagine, but didn't rate it - nor the wine.

We didn't stay very long, as one of our party was feeling unwell. The service and surroundings of the restaurant were great, but I wouldn't say the food was exceptional, and the entertainment was only just starting as we left, so I can't judge that. We arrived at 7pm, but I'd advise holding out until 8pm for more of an atmosphere. 

Read part 2 here.
Read part 3 here.

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