Walk along the hectic, dusty Rue de la Kasbah inside Marrakech’s ancient city walls and you might notice something unusual. Amid the frenetic fruit sellers, bustling cafes and market stalls selling wooden snakes is something that seems curiously out-of-place – a man in a bright red bell-boy uniform. This is the only outward sign of a tranquil haven that lies, incredibly, down a small alleyway off this lively central street. An elaborate pair of polished brass doors gives way to a small reception full of friendly staff who greet you like family. Open the discreet door to your left and a magical world unfolds in front of you. If you are wondering where to stay in Marrakech, you won’t find a hotel more magical than La Sultana Marrakech.
LA SULTANA MARRAKECH
From the moment you arrive at La Sultana, you know you’re somewhere special. La Sultana Marrakech offers an oasis of peace and luxury in the heart of the historic Medina. It’s tranquillity and superb location make it the perfect venue for a luxury getaway. But, it is the service that makes La Sultana exceptional. Great hospitality is an important part of Moroccan culture, and the team at La Sultana is the epitome of this. Friendly, warm and unobtrusive; nothing is too much trouble.
The hotel is formed of five riads joined together and lovingly restored, which means plenty of hidden nooks and crannies just aching to be explored. Lantern-lit corridors and staircases lead you from one riad to the next – each with a slightly different feel. In one you’ll find a fountain scattered with rose petals, the next a jungle of palms, and in another a grand swimming pool flanked by wooden loungers. Each corner reveals inviting seating areas, velvet sofas, and little unexpected rooms and places to hide, eat or relax.
The décor is opulent, but not kitsch. Jewel-coloured stained glass, lush foliage, intricate tiling and finely carved cedar wood, all lit by beautiful Moroccan lanterns.
The roof terrace is a real highlight. Spanning the entire hotel it is vast, and cleverly divided up into different areas – a solarium, plunge pool, bar and restaurant. Pink hued stone and palm trees give a classic Moroccan feel, carved wooden canopies provide stylish shaded areas to sit, and the glass roofs over the riad squares add architectural interest. In cooler months staff appear from nowhere to wrap you in blankets, and in warmer weather the sun loungers are artfully laid out with towels and fabulous Sultana straw hats.
The views from here are spectacular – the vantage point gives you a 360-degree view over Marrakech and the snow-topped Atlas mountains beyond. Look out over the roofs, hear the call to prayer, watch the storks and drink in delicious atmosphere.
MOROCCAN SPLENDOUR AT LA SULTANA
The hotel boasts 28 rooms decorated in unapologetically Moroccan splendour, each in a different theme. My room, hidden behind an enormous pair of bolted wooden doors, was opulence incarnate. A huge, comfortable bed, sensuous red walls, intricately carved cedar wood shutters and cupboards made it feel cosy despite its generous size. A seating area overhung with intricate, almost lace-like wood was a great place to plan my adventures and enjoy the complimentary soft drinks and snacks provided. Sultana branded leather slippers to keep and take home were another lovely touch.
The bathroom was a Moroccan dream. A fantastical jade green concoction of Moroccan tiles, gold hammered metal basins and the most decadent bath I have ever seen – a circular masterpiece under a vaulted ceiling, lit with an extravagantly beaded glass lantern. A separate shower was also on hand, and generous quantities of Clarins products and scattered rose petals topped off the luxe experience. I could have spent days in there.
FOOD AND DRINKS AT LA SULTANA
Life at La Sultana is relaxed, thanks to the friendly staff, and food can be brought to you wherever you’re in the mood to eat. Whether you’re lazing on the enormous roof terrace or tucked away with a book in one of the little alcoves off the riad squares, you can enjoy everything from Moroccan mint tea to a delicious meal.
I visited in spring, before the weather was too hot – so morning and evening meals were served inside one of the courtyards by the main swimming pool. Usually open to the elements, in cooler months the area is covered over so you can remain snug while enjoying the riad setting.
The dinner menu is traditional Moroccan fare, although other international dishes were also available. Enjoy rich traditional tagines with melt-in-the-mouth meat, prunes and candied lemons, couscous and vegetables in Moroccan sauces.
At breakfast coffee and hot food are brought to your table, along with a personalised print out of news from your home country – a great touch. The breakfast buffet is a real treat – an extensive array of smoothies, fresh juices, homemade granola, nuts, spiced dried fruits, breads and pastries. The homemade date and orange blossom jam was a real highlight.
The roof terrace restaurant is a great location for lunch. Enjoy the panoramic views, or peer down at the ancient splendour of the Saadian Tombs in the garden next door. Lighter options are available here as well as traditional Moroccan meals on the seasonal menu. The Caesar salad and a home made smoothie make a perfect meal on a warm day. If the sun gets too much, the staff will provide you with a straw hat.
The roof terrace also boasts a bar and is a wonderful setting for a sunset drink. Night-time is magical in Marrakech. In winter months the evenings are cooler, but, with the Sultana staff bringing you blankets, you can still enjoy the stars and velvet navy skies.
LA SULTANA SPA
It’s worth visiting La Sultana for the spa alone. Morocco does spas well – and this one really takes it to a new level. The jewel in the crown is the pool – a clear green oasis under a stone vaulted ceiling, flanked by marble columns. The light from the ornate lanterns plays off the water giving a magical almost spiritual feel.
A plethora of treatments are on offer, all aimed at serious relaxation. I opted for the “four hands” massage. Why stop at one masseuse when two are on offer? Reclining by the pool selecting my preferred oil, I felt almost embarrassed by the perfection of it all.
For those feeling a little more energetic, a small gym and games room are also available in the hotel.
WHAT TO SEE IN MARRAKECH
If you can tear yourself away there are so many incredible things to do in Marrakech and La Sultana is a brilliantly located to explore the city, particularly the Medina. Much of the old city is within reach on foot or the wonderful hotel staff can find you a taxi in minutes.
Walk out of reception onto the Rue de la Kasbah and you’re in the heart of old Marrakech. The road outside is full of shops, stalls, sights and smells. Take a walk, let yourself get a bit lost (an inevitability in this rabbit warren of a city) and you’ll quickly soak up the atmosphere. It’s noisy, hectic, brightly coloured and highly addictive.
Next to the hotel are the historic Saadian Tombs which is worth a visit for the incredible Moroccan tiling. Turn left out of the hotel and visit the Complexe D’Artisanat for some great shopping away from the souks.
A fifteen minute walk takes you to Jemaa El Fna. the enormous plaza at the heart of the Medina. Full of stalls, musicians and snake charmers it’s a must-visit, especially by night. It’s also the gateway to the souks. We warned, you might come back with more than you anticipated.
After a hard day’s exploring, I can think of nowhere better to retreat to than La Sultana. I will definitely be returning again soon.