It’s not even high season here in Marrakech but already the thermometer in the cab is playing footsy with the 40-degree marker. As we speed towards Fawakay Villas, the roads from the airport dissolve into palm-dotted highways, then the highways into dusty paths and the paths into a final cross-country dash across a parched field. Eventually, in a swirl of orange dust, we arrive at our boutique retreat.
Yet despite the scorching heat, when we first meet Fawakay’s proprietor, Francis, it’s as though the Moroccan sun doesn’t touch him. We’re chatting over a pot of fresh mint tea and homemade cookies in an open lounge of this chic stay. I’m trying not to eye the swimming pool quite so hungrily and I can practically hear Mrs Smith imagining herself on one of the daybeds, novel in hand, glass of cold wine en route. But Francis stands there: tall and relaxed in shorts and loose-fitting shirt, well-spoken and infinitely genial. Going native – that most delicious fantasy of all travellers – has never looked so damned appetising.
‘It’s such a pleasant heat,’ he assures us, a little psychically. ‘Quite perfect for hopping from the bar to the pool.’ Sigh. So that’s the secret.
Let’s backtrack: Fawakay Villas has been three long years in the making and by the time we drop by for the weekend, it has been running for just over a year. When Francis and his wife Dawn purchased a riad in central Marrakech a couple of years prior, it was intended as a distraction – a financially viable side project that would afford them an occasional escape from bustling London. That should have been the end of it. But one thing led to the next and soon they found themselves the proud owners of several acres of empty field a short drive from the Red City in the direction of the Atlas Mountains, with nought but a vision, passion and a willing architect. Built completely from scratch, the Boys-Stones designed and constructed their family dream house, together with three accompanying villas, and they moved here permanently, children in tow.
Springing up from the sparse and dusty fields that surround them, the bright yellow-ochre, two-floor villas are practically luminous amid the soft pastels of the gardens’ olive trees, the dusky pink roses and the turquoise of the pool in the background.
We’re staying in the second of the three villas, the other two rooms in it completely empty. Atop the smooth stone stairwell that spirals lazily to the first floor, our suite is impressively chic, furnished with a sensitive medley of both traditional and modern details: deep woodwork plays against sharp blacks and rich, lusty reds. A flatscreen TV hangs on the wall beside a collection of local knick-knacks. Half a dozen slender windows cast slices of light along the walls. And upon our bed, handfuls of scattered rose petals shape an enormous heart of luscious pinks and pearlescent whites. It’s a beautiful touch – and one that elicits a flock of giggling kisses from Mrs Smith (so extra thanks for that, dear Fawakay).
Out past the bedroom, our ensuite is an expanse of gleaming grey stone and scattered lambskins. Mrs Smith and I share a moment ogling the magnificent bath in the centre of the room, its dozen shuttered windows looking out across the rolling Moroccan countryside and take note for a romantic evening soak à deux. But for now there’s a wealth of gardens and daybeds and a pool to discover. An hour or so later, strange things are afoot. ‘Darling,’ squealeth my queen, ‘there’s a donkey at the bar…’
I’ve just hopped out of the water, the Marrakshi sun drying my wet footprints almost as soon as they’re laid. Mrs Smith is sitting in the shade of the rattan canopy beside the bar, laptop and a glass of local rosé before her. Although there’s no WiFi, Francis has sorted us out with a dongle (such a marvellous word). So the Mrs has decided that global domination waits for no (wo)man – not even here among the butterflies and birds and the bleating of lambs from the neighbouring field.
From nowhere (which is impressive when you consider her genetic lack of grace and stealth) Doris the Donkey trudges from behind the bar and helps herself to a cheeky lick of Mrs Smith’s accursed laptop. I suppose it does trump the traditional ‘my dog ate my homework’. The MacBook is packed hastily back to our villa. And while my beautiful better half is away, I slip Doris a biscuit and give her neck a little pat of gratitude – between you and me (and the donkey), it serves her right for even trying to work here in the first place.
Time drifts by strangely at Fawakay and somehow evening is already rolling in. We’ve swum and read and laughed and lunched (my, what lunch!) and wined and snoozed our day away, and now the sun is starting to drift towards the villas’ Western walls. Across the garden, past the pool and the softly glugging fountain, Francis is sitting with his sons on their terrace with a pot of mint tea, the two house dachshunds panting away at their feet. A large peacock bobs past from one side while Doris rolls on the lawn to the other, her hooves kicking in the air like a frolicking puppy. It’s beautifully bizarre and bizarrely beautiful – a gorgeous moment of David Lynch meets David Hockney.
I am reminded later on, while you can clearly take Mrs Smith out of the city, extracting the city from Mrs Smith is a rather more complex procedure. Take our post-supper bottle of rosé (I realise that we are beginning to sound like a pair of alcoholics – but this is a vacation, remember). There we sit, both full to bursting after another delicious in-house tajine, halfway through a gratefully dry and deliciously light bottle of pink that smells like nectarines. The sun has fallen beneath the horizon completely, the rose garden beside our terrace lit only by the terracotta-potted lanterns dotted along the paths between the villas. A cool breeze from the mountains is rustling the leaves of the olive trees. And then the evening chorus starts up…
First comes the rhythm section, the cicadas laying down a softly throbbing tempo. ‘What’s that noise?’ asks my dearest. Then the creaking chatter of guinea fowl a few metres away. The bush beside her judders suddenly. An ominous machine gun croak starts throughout the garden.
‘What’s that?’ Frogs. Big buggers too from the sound of it.
‘And that?’ The goats in their pen.
‘And that?’ Doris is scratching her back on one of the olive trees.
‘And what’s that?’ Why I do believe the locals call those ‘children’. We laugh. God I love this woman.
She takes a deep breath beside me and I watch it all visibly drift away – the final dregs of tension, the last tightness in her shoulders, the little knot between her eyebrows – all of it. Sure we could hop in a car and be in the medina in 15 minutes. Yes we could lap up the chaos of the city’s souks and the restaurants and the bars. But with everything we have here on hand here in Fawakay (the Berber word, incidentally, for fruit), the prospect of leaving our stylish Moroccan hideaway for any reason barely even warrants discussion. The wide world might have its attractions. But this – right here, right now – this is paradise. Complete and perfect.