‘They look like giant Baked Alaskas.’
As you can see, I’m groping for words to describe the Atlas Mountains, which loom mightily over the rosy city of Marrakech. I’m having difficulties because these aren’t just the ‘snow-capped peaks’ of guidebook cliché: from where I’m standing, they’re in full-on snowy chador from top to bottom. Warm sunshine and spotless blue skies make this a glorious sight, especially for a couple of sun-starved Brits abroad in January.
‘Oooooh, let’s go snowboarding!’ exclaims Mr Smith, at almost exactly the same moment that I squeal ‘Oooooh, let’s go skiing!’ Alarm bells ring. Perhaps we’re only compatible off-piste? But we decide to brave it. After all, the famous ski resort of Oukaimeden is only 75km away.
Each morning of our stay unfurls with the same avowed intent: we’re dying to see if you really do ride the rumoured donkey or camel to access the best powdery slopes. The problem is that Dar Zemora is just too comfortable. It’s like the Venus flytrap of places to stay. For a start, the hotel is brilliantly located. Built in the 1990s as a private villa, it’s in the tranquil Palmeraie district – the Beverly Hills of Marrakech – at virtually its closest point to the Medina. It’s set in three acres of pretty gardens filled with citrus trees, palms, bougainvillea and hammocks. We approached it at night, the driveway lit up by twinkling lanterns – a magical introduction. Inside, the hotel is so peaceful that we feel as though we are the only guests. We swiftly establish that this is because we are, in fact, the only guests. So we make the most of our private palace by leaving it only twice. And it takes us a day to summon up the energy to even manage that.
On arrival, we’re led down a cool corridor by Jamal, one of our two superb hosts (the other is Youssef), and led into an exquisite room with sofas, book-strewn coffee table and CD player. I assume this is the hotel’s drawing room, then recognise the four-poster from the website, and realise it’s our suite. The Zahara Suite, to be precise, with its own garden.
When the people at Dar Zemora say suite, they mean suite – none of that ‘bedroom with a sofa’ rubbish here. Ours is an improbably-proportioned domain, with six-metre-high ceilings and separate dressing area. It's tricked out in chocolate tadelakt and a tasteful melange of antique and contemporary furnishings. The sleeping and lounging zone has punched-metal wall sconces, a stone fireplace (lit every evening), exotic rugs, and French doors leading to the elegant garden. The bathing area and dressing room are across a private hallway. The huge vaulted bathroom's showy marble bath is cunningly disguised as a massive sarcophagus. And - oh joy! - there’s underfloor heating, too.
We immediately covet the bathroom products, presented in impractical but charming metal and glass holders with hand-inked labels. Even the 50cl bottles of water (complimentary) are concealed within chic leather holsters. I ask Jamal if someone could possibly clean our muddy shoes, and they return gleaming, 10 minutes later. He then asks if we want to go swimming. Getting wet in January isn’t remotely on our agenda, but how can we refuse when Jamal proudly beams: ‘We prepare the pool for you!’ We check the temperature first (you can’t be too careful, even when the pool’s a mere five-metre sprint from your private terrace), then four staff retract the pool cover, produce cushions for the smart teak sunloungers, and open a somewhat redundant umbrella. A peek into the dinky stone poolhouse reveals a pile of straw hats for guests to borrow.
It’s safe to say this is the most romantic place we’ve ever stayed in. In the gorgeous Fan Room, an open-sided colonnade is hung with vivid turquoise, violet and pink banners. We indulge in a Thai massage and facial, courtesy of a French therapist, whose brochure we came across in the domed hall, where the sun, slanting through jewel-coloured skylights, sprinkles wine gums over the pale plaster walls. Our first day ends with a candlelit dinner washed down with local wine, followed by lazy games of backgammon beside a roaring log fire.
Next day, we awake to birdsong and find the dining table on our terrace already dressed to kill. Youssef, in a pristine white djellaba, hovers on standby, waiting to deliver the goods. As well as the usual breads and beghrirs – traditional oily pancakes – there’s fresh fruit salad, yoghurt, and home-made jams.
Ditching the ski idea once again, we venture into the medina (only 15 minutes by cab) to inspect a piece of merchandise that will require some spectacular haggling: a stunning apartment forming part of the historic Palais Ayadi, being marketed by agents in London for a cool £1.1m. We return to the hotel, drooling, with boxes of cakes from the Pâtisserie Marocaine next to Dar El Bacha, to find that lunch awaits us, even though we forgot to request it. We get spicy tajine-baked vegetables, chargrilled chicken with rice, and some epic plums stewed with cinnamon and rosewater.
After mooching around the Kasbah area for a few hours, we head back for tea at our stylish boutique hotel, plus delicious freshly baked cake. We spend minutes checking email in the library, and a bit longer ticking all our shopping boxes by dipping into the shelf of goodies for sale, where we find quite the prettiest perfume bottles and babouche slippers we’ve seen anywhere. Later, clocking its scented massage oil being sold for double the dirhams at the airport, we agree that Dar Zemora would itself be a bargain at twice the price.