As we bumbled through the endless back streets of Marrakech in a taxi, we were doubtful that the driver was ever going to be able to find P’tit Habibi. I had certainly lost all sense of direction, but was reliably informed that we were in the northern part of the medina, near to the popular local flea market. (Even armed with a trail of breadcrumbs, I didn’t fancy my chances at retracing our steps to get there, though.) My first impression as we sped along the alleyways was one of total bewilderment: I had been expecting Marrakech to resemble a scene out of Hideous Kinky, and the dusty, down-to-earth blur of what I was seeing did little to suggest beautiful and fascinating sights still awaiting my discovery.
After a few near collisions with mopeds, donkeys and other equally disorientated tourists, the taxi came to a screeching halt. My French leaves a lot to be desired, but the driver assured me that this underwhelming spot was definitely our riad. A very smiley man came rushing out of a big wooden door and suddenly it started to feel right. Abdelouafi announced that he was delighted to make our acquaintance, and was eager to show us round our new home. Translated, P’tit Habibi means ‘little darling’; it’s a fitting moniker; the white-washed courtyard, streaming with bright light, made a fresh and surprising contrast with the less-than-pristine street outside. It may have been Moroccan, but we could instantly tell that this was a place with more than a little influence from the contemporary European world.
Our room, one of four, was called Wangarata, and was stylishly decorated in black and white with a large pair of deer antlers over the bed. It had a small window overlooking the courtyard, and a fireplace stocked with wood for chillier nights. Each room is uniquely decorated with stunning hand-painted furniture and eccentric touches; our bathroom mirror was created out of an old pinball machine. Rather a strange experience to be brushing your teeth face to face with a Space Invaders alien, but an imaginative quirk of décor that complemented the more traditional pieces. The design comes courtesy of the owner, an architect who lives in Norway but sees P’tit Habibi as his second home, and who has doused it with a touch of Scandinavian cool.
If I were to earmark my favourite corner, it would be the gorgeous little suite named the White Room; its private balcony and snug seating area would have you happy to stay in situ for the duration of your stay. A snoop around revealed another small double right on the courtyard and a fourth, equally stylish room upstairs. Clearly P’tit Habibi would be the perfect place to hire as a whole with a group of friends, especially as there is another room that can be turned into an extra double if need be. Sadly, you can’t have it all to yourselves – you do have to share the riad with Shukram the tortoise, who lives behind the pot on the stairs and only comes out when the housekeeper Fatima brings him his dinner of fine lettuce leaves.
The warm hospitability isn’t just reserved for members of the turtle family: P’tit Habibi couldn’t have made us feel more welcome. Whether we fancied a quiet day sunbathing on the rooftop terrace or a delicious home-cooked meal prepared by Fatima, nothing was too much trouble. We helped ourselves to drinks in the kitchen and played tunes from the iPod whenever we wanted. There was also an impressive movie collection. A highlight of our stay was having a film projected onto the large wall of the riad’s courtyard, and cosying up Moroccan-style amid giant floor cushions and flickering candles – the perfect wind-down after a busy afternoon negotiating the souk.
Hankering for adventure, we decided a day away from the hustle and bustle of the city was mandatory, and Abdelouafi was fantastically helpful in arranging a trip to the Atlas Mountains. For €80, we were driven in a swanky 4x4 for one hour up to Imlil, a tiny Berber village nestled below Morocco's highest peak, Jebel Toubkal.
On arrival, our guide saddled up two mules for us and we began our trek. To be honest I felt sorry for old Muffin, having to lug us up the rocky mountain paths, but apparently it’s all in a day’s work for these hardy animals. Our guide gave them a well-earned break and a bowl of water when we all stopped at his family’s mud-brick cottage for tea. We continued our trek up winding tracks to the Kasbah du Toubkal, and were rewarded with a magnificent pay-off: stunning 360? views of the valley. After devouring a delicious lunch of traditional lamb tagine, we opted to get a little exercise in, and descended the mountain by foot. I’m convinced I heard the mules breathe a sigh of relief.
Back at P’tit Habibi, following a quick de-muling scrub-up, we headed into the medina for our last night. Once again, Abdeloufi had played concierge, booking us a table at Le Marrakeshi, a lively, packed roof-top restaurant over-looking all the action. Perhaps our trip hadn’t been so dissimilar to the Kate Winslet film after all. The tagline for Hideous Kinky? ‘It's not just an adventure... It's a love affair.’ And this Moroccan escape had certainly been that.