Le Palais Paysan hotel, a 40-minute drive from Marrakech, has trappings of traditional riad interiors – mirror-tiled feature walls, slouchy low-slung sofas and an earthy colour scheme of terracotta and taupe. However, it sports a dashing modernist ensemble, with a cache of chic cuboid buildings – not an ogee arch in sight – and fabulously framed Atlas Mountain views, glimpsed through geometric windows. Peaceful and pastoral, this boutique stay has an on-site farm, super mini spa and a picturesque rattan-parasol-flanked pool.
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Free dinner for two on arrival and one relaxing massage per person during the stay
16 Ludovic Petit-designed double or twin rooms; the hotel can also be hired for exclusive use.
11.30am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 12.30pm.
Double rooms from £187.76 (€220), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €3.00 per person per night on check-out.
Room rates include Continental breakfast with home-made goodies, including cake, crêpes, pastries and croissants.
Donkeys, sheep, chickens and goats reside on the estate’s farm – guests can help with feeding and egg collecting, or simply make a furred or feathered friend. The hotel restaurant uses ingredients from the farm, their small vegetable garden and the surrounding olive groves. Spend any idle afternoons lazing in a hand-crafted souk-sourced deckchair, admiring Philippe Taburiaux’s monolithic building and breathing in the heady scent of Moroccan flowers and herbs.
At the hotel
Swimming pool, farm, spa (with hammam, steam bath and Jacuzzi), lounge, mini boutique, gardens, library and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV.
Our favourite rooms
All of the hotel’s rooms are equally stylish: cerise Indian headdresses, coffee tables made from vintage bread trays and artfully deconstructed lamps liven up dove-grey furnishings and exposed-brick floors. A Ground Floor Room with a bath tub offers views of the Atlas Mountains and the landscaped gardens. The Zellige-tiled bathrooms are a treat too, and a soothing, rose-scented soak to soothe your hike-worn muscles will easily sway you from a room with a shower; there are also his ’n’ hers sinks and the tub’s big enough for a party of two, too.
The unheated, 28m infinity-edged swimming pool is a five-minute walk from the hotel, sunk into open countryside, with breathtaking views; lined with midnight-blue anthracite tiles, it resembles an inky mirror. Tiki-style parasols and pairs of day beds line the poolside area, alongside thatched pagodas – one of which is the Pool House restaurant and bar. There’s also a Jacuzzi in the spa that overlooks the valley.
Hunter wellingtons or a past-it pair of Converse for mucking in on the farm. Pack some pashminas and chunky cardigans for stargazing in the cool night air.
An energetic little guest might be a squeeze, but extra beds for children can be added (to ground-floor rooms only) for €70 a night. Kids will love meeting the farm animals and exploring the gardens.
The hotel uses an energy-saving cooling system in communal areas and a partially solar-powered heating system.
Perch at one of the two parasol-shaded poolside tables to gaze over a glorious green scene, accessorised with poised Atlas peaks.
Old MacDonald hits the high-fashion hippie trail: pair comfortable designer denim with a tassel-trimmed kimono and a pair of rainbow-hued babouches. Mr Smith should rock a lumberjack look.
Chef Ahmad’s menu cherry picks from Mediterranean and Moroccan favourites with daintily spiced briouates (meat or vegetable-filled flaky-pastry parcels), fragrant M’Rouzia beef stew and seafood pastillas. An oxblood feature wall, antique candelabrum in geometric glass cases and elegant chandeliers suggest that interiors are as design-led as the building they’re housed in. For lunch, tuck in to salads, club sandwiches, burgers and a selection of pastries at the Pool House, under the shade of a thatched pagoda roof. A Continental breakfast buffet is served on the terrace or in the dining room.
The hotel doesn't have a designated bar area, but the Pool House's pagodas offer an excellent surrogate drinking den, with a selection of wines, beers and juices available.
Breakfast crêpes and cake are offered from 8am to 11.30am in Le Restaurant. Lunch is from noon to 3.30pm, and dinner 7pm to 10.30pm. The Pool House is open for leisurely lunching from noon to 3.30pm.
There’s no food service, but staff are happy to bring a selection of wines, beers and soft drinks to your door.
Le Palais Paysan is flanked by fields and farmland, just south of Marrakech. It’s perfectly placed for city-centre exploration and Atlas Mountain hikes: a 40-minute drive from the medina and an hour’s drive from Toubkal National Park.
The closest international hub is Marrakech Menara Airport (http://marrakech.airport-authority.com), which is 25km from the hotel – roughly a 40-minute drive. Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) and British Airways (www.britishairways.com) fly direct from major cities in the UK, France, Switzerland and Germany; flights across the Pacific connect via Singapore Changi Airport or London Heathrow, or Frankfurt and Charles De Gaulle.
If you’re on a grand tour of Morocco, the state railway ONCF (www.oncf.ma) runs a limited but dirham-saving service (www.oncf.ma) from Casablanca, Rabat, Fez and Meknes, to Marrakech station. Taxis to the hotel cost between €30–40.
If you fancy exploring the Palmeraie and don’t want to splash out on taking taxis, four wheels will come in handy; you’ll have flexibility to drive to Marrakech – if you can handle the city-centre pandemonium – and sail past dramatic desert scenery. There’s an Avis car-hire booth at Marrakech Menara Airport and the hotel’s carpark is free.
Worth getting out of bed for
Le Palais Paysan's surroundings will inspire your inner adventurer to zoom over the sand dunes and gallop over the palm groves just south of Marrakech. Reception are happy to arrange adrenaline-driving horseback tours (with a trained guide), or a trek to a high-rise lookout post in the Atlas Mountains. Fancy an exhilarating off-road ride? Ask at reception to borrow a mountain bike and helmet.
Before you strap on your hardiest walking boots, be sure to float down to the headily scented basement spa for a prolonged pampering session. Get scrubbed with black soap and slathered in ghassoul clay before an argan-oil massage and a bubbly bathe in the open-air Jacuzzi. Once you’re supple and near-somnambulant Toubkal Mountain may be insurmountable; instead feed the resident donkey a carrot at the farm, or play a leisurely game at one of seven golf courses nearby.
If you fancy getting into town, though, head into the medina and visit the souk in Jemaa el-Fna (+212 (0)661 350 878) for its kaleidoscopic colours, sizzling grills and enthusiastic vendors vying for your attention among the city's most ancient buildings: the souk's acrobats, animals, singers and occasionally snake-widling street performers make for a mesmerising and memorable experience. However, the labyrinthine alleyways and thronging crowds will be easier to brave with a clued-up local; ask your hotel to arrange a guide for hassle-free haggling. If all that sounds too hectic, seek respite in Majorelle Gardenon Rue Yves Saint Laurent; the electric indigo and chartreuse exterior gives way to quiet gardens, a small museum and baklava and cake in the pretty courtyard. Get inspired by the souk's natural pick-n-mix selection – and learn a new party trick – by taking some Moroccan cooking classes. Sleight of hand with an array of sprices and tagines with a dash of French flair are taught at Faim d'Epices.
Bô & Zinserves Franco-Moroccan fare – Chinese-fried chicken croissants, for example, or a trio of crèmes brûlées with saffron and pistachio – in a romantic, low-lit setting with a cactus-flanked terrace and canopied love seats. With tadelakt walls, tiled tables and decorative lanterns casting stars on the walls, the unassuming Chez Chegrouni (+212 (0)246 547 615) has become a popular stop for weary hagglers hungering for tagines, couscous and skewered spicy meat. Food here is fabulously cheap.
Lounge on canopy-covered banquettes while watching the goings on in the Medina, or flop into an ornate cushion by gilded tables in the scarlet-hued lounge. It’s far from subtle, but Café Arabe’s (+212 (0)24 429728) dizzying detail is what draws souk stragglers.
Louche chill-out lounges and tented dance floors set the stage for throwing shapes in Pacha Marrakech (+212 (0)661 102887) – a 30-minute drive from the hotel. This disco-ball-bedecked decibel-boosting club claims to be the largest in Africa, so you’re bound to mingle with a fascinating crowd.
Our car slowed to a crawl as a woolly greeting party encircled us, bleated excitedly as cloven hooves skitter on the stone track. This peaceful Berber village hadn't been made aware of our arrival, but a welcome party of their finest sheep showed up to chaperone us through the sleepy cluster of bric-a-brac buildings. Not so much a one-horse town, as a 10-goat town. A sign – probably the newest addition to the village in a century – pointed the way to our final destination, boutique hotel Le Palais Paysan, an architectural wonder with monumental soaring ramparts against a backdrop of blue sky. It seems as though Atlas himself and a few of his giant mates might have hammered the soaring earth walls, work trousers slipping down to expose gargantuan clefts.
Those Game of Thrones location scouts missed an opportunity: the Palais has the sort of neck-cricking grandeur that Daenerys Targaryen would have found rather homey. The soaring gateway is ideal for being borne aloft through while dragons flap about high above, their scales looking striking against the stonework. Unfortunately, we'd left our battle steeds at home, along with our army of Unsullied; instead, Mrs Smith and I meekly trundled our small trolley cases underneath the imposing, angular structure. If there had been an expectant crowd of thousands watching us, awe would not have struck; more likely, there’d be disappointed muttering.
The Palais may be a bold wonder of earthy modernist design, but it's also very welcoming and comfortable. The main open-plan space is like a medieval banqueting hall, except with more coffee-table books and cushions. There's a fireplace big enough to roast an ox in, but the food we're served is more delicate: artfully arranged plates of fruit and earthenware bowls generously heaped with Berber omelettes for breakfast; rich tagines and chicken pastillas dusted with icing sugar for supper. Our suite was decorated with carved wooden paddles and mirrors made from circular wooden trays, trimmed with feathers as red as the setting sun. The floor-to-ceiling windows open out onto a manicured lawn, and landscaped, tiered gardens dotted with olive and orange trees and punky spiked patches of agave. And there, almost like a painted film backdrop, are the Atlas mountains, a sight we greet with a pinch of surprise every morning – an Expressionist landscape, shrouded in snow and mist, a patchwork of farmers' fields folding out below.
To stay to the Palais is to stay to a Moroccan country estate, to get bucolic and don a metaphorical smock and straw hat. Mrs Smith played at being Marie Antoinette, chasing donkeys in the hotel's model farmyard, before disappearing for a massage, afterwards declaring she’d been marinaded in argan oil and was now going to simmer in the heat. After an inspection of the herb gardens, we're taught how to serve mint tea in authentic Moroccan style: we take careful aim with the ornate teapot and raise it higher and higher above the cup while pouring.
Later, by the swimming pool, two identical men in white djellabas and red fezzes – a North African incarnation of Tintin's Thomson and Thompson – stood with two keen-eyed falcons on their arms. One threw down the gauntlet to Mrs Smith – well, passed it over politely. A falcon flew to the opposite end of the swimming pool then swooped back, almost skimming the surface of the water, alighted on her glove and claimed a gobbet of rabbit meat. Eager for other new experiences, Mrs Smith announced that it was time to narrow the distance between us and the mountains. ‘Where's your gung-ho spirit?' she asked – It arrived in the form of Said, our driver, who sped us along and along and up and up into the Atlas. We passed small market towns and spiralled higher still, a sheer drop never far away, up past the snow line where we stop for an impromptu snowball fight - just because. We round a corner and arrive at the high plateau, a Lost World of red earth and small cairns of white stones, the sun a lolloping preserved lemon in the sky. We scanned the air for pterodactyls riding on the thermals but heard only the tinkling of bells as a hooved caravan wove into view from somewhere deep in the Middle Ages. Women in brightly coloured headscarves waved at us, eager to hear news of Saladin, perhaps, or the latest from the Mughal Empire. This is the anti-souk: no one will try and sell you a carpet or a sheep's head or an 'honestly, 100 per cent genuine' Beats By Dre pair of headphones here.
On the way back to the Palais, we spy a teenage boy idly standing by four small goats as they snuffle around by the side of the road. Suddenly, I glimpse a new life of agrarian quietude – what's the minimum number of goats required for a herd? I wondered aloud to Mrs Smith… Two? Three? I could understand how a herd of 100 might present a challenge when it came to roll call, but how much work would four really be? Our stint at Le Palais Paysan has presented an attractive alternative to our urban-hustle existence. We could start with just a couple, I suggest; call them Mick and Keith, and take turns to pour each other mint tea from a great height.