Yes! It’s got a little cinema room with a bed for two people. They bring you popcorn (salted or sweet) and you’re allowed to get drunk in there. It’s got a huge surround sound system – and did I mention there’s a bed in there? The minute I saw that, I knew I was going to love Maison mk.
Some people might call me a berk for travelling to North Africa and sitting in a dark room watching ‘Saving Private Ryan’ at a deafening volume. Well, I would say this: firstly, who uses the word ‘berk’ in this day and age, and secondly, do you realise how hot Morocco is in July? I certainly didn’t before I booked. 45 degrees in the shade. The taxi driver told us this on the way to Maison mk. My response was ‘Wow! 45 degrees, is that too hot, even for you?’ He replied, ‘Yes sir, I am also a human.’ As we stepped off the plane I assumed we were being blasted by hot air from the jet engines. Those jet engines followed us the entire time we were in Morocco. It’s quite something when the wind is hotter than the still air.
Maison mk sticks two fingers up to the heat. I don’t know how this hotel does it, but this hip hideaway always manages to stay incredibly cool. It’s a riad, which is like a walled garden that’s got seriously out of control. There are only a handful of rooms and they are built round a courtyard with a plunge pool in the middle. I jumped straight into the teardrop-shaped pool on arrival and a man instantly asked if I’d like a beer while I was in there. Why, yes. Yes, I would.
That man knew to offer me a beer at that exact moment because staff at Maison mk have an attention to detail I haven’t witnessed since my maths teacher, Mr Hawkins. (Luckily they don’t have his appalling dandruff problem.) Everything is exactly where you’d need it. The rooms have an iPod fully loaded with chilled music. You get given a mobile phone with useful numbers in it. There’s free WiFi. There’s a cinema room with a bed in it. What’s more, it’s all beautifully designed with dark little alcoves and shady, curtainy-cushiony-relaxy areas up on the roof terrace. The hotel’s owner has a lifetime of fashion photography behind him, and he’s brought his designer’s instinct to every aspect of Maison mk, from the pool that seems to emerge from the wide fireplace in the courtyard to the silk chiffon portrait prints that hang above the floaty, underlit beds. While most riads tend to be angular and geometric, Maison mk has had every edge smoothed and every corner curved, making it appear soft and rounded.
Why would you ever want to leave? I should state that I’m not using that as an expression, I’m being very literal. Don’t leave. It’s a jungle out there. It’s hard to believe that Maison mk is right in the middle of the souk. Just the other side of the front door is a labyrinth of alleyways full of shops selling authentic one-offs that you definitely didn’t just see on the same type stall next door.
Within seconds of leaving Maison mk we found ourselves on a guided tour of the city by a man with scars all over his face. He took us to all the major attractions. His brother’s silk shop. His cousin’s pottery shop. His uncle’s fez shop. His sister’s… actually I’m not sure what it was. It was a building with a blanket in that apparently had sleeping orphans underneath. In the rush to get out I think we might have paid for those kids to go through college. We asked Scarface to take us to a temple or something. He told us he’d take us to a place ‘the guidebooks won’t tell you about’. As we arrived it became clear the guidebooks don’t tell you about it because it’s rubbish. Every now and then we’d bump into another couple on a similar tour. One Scandinavian couple even talked to us. I didn’t speak the dialect but through the mutual language of fear I knew they were saying, ‘We’re going to die out here in this heat. If we starve to death, who do we eat first?’
So my advice is this – well, first of all don’t go to Morocco in July – but if you do, don’t leave the hotel unless you know where you’re going. Maison mk is small but there’s plenty of pleasure to be had there. I booked myself in for a hammam. A hammam is where you lie in a 70-degree sauna and try not to betray arousal while somebody scrubs you from top to bottom. Upon entering, I heard the unforgettable words of ‘trunks off!' Either my reply of ‘oui’ was utterly unconvincing, or she simply couldn’t stand the sight of me naked, as I was swiftly offered a small piece of brown cloth to cover my ‘place’. (Looking back I wonder if she has a variety of larger cloths that she rejected before giving me my small one.) The problem with the cloth is that the slightest movement downstairs is amplified; a bit like that trick ‘fun guys’ do in restaurants where they hold a napkin out and make it rise up and down with a hidden fork. I should state at this point that the woman was nothing but professional and this whole situation was happening entirely in my head. It’s the setting. It would be arousing even if it was Boris Johnson administering the rubbing. It’s hard to relax when you’re engaged in a mental game of ‘sexy chess’. Each new move from her bought a new risk I was leaving my bishop horribly exposed.
I can’t stress enough how well thought-out Maison mk is. There are tiny limes ready-cut in your fridge. Every light switch is exactly where you’d expect it to be, at a perfect arm’s length. There are sun hats on all the loungers. The room has speakers built in so that you can attach your iPod too. The glasses in the room have little colours on them so you don’t get them mixed up. Moorish materials and motifs abound, but are put together in such a way as to seem anything but traditional, making the hotel feel like a thoroughly modern house indeed. As you check in you’re even offered a bottle of spirits of your choice that goes in your room. They operate an honour system where you tell them at the end how much you drank. We went for gin and Mrs Smith added two drinks onto our tally that we didn’t even have. Her reasoning? ‘Well, we don’t want them to think we’re lying do we?’ That’s Catholic guilt for you.
If you’re going to Morocco, and you want to stay within the medina walls, then I urge you to stay at Maison mk. The whole hotel feels like it’s your bedroom. This is lucky because the heat was giving Mrs Smith a bit of trouble and she was snoring very badly. Well, I call it snoring, it sounded exactly like the Arabic call to prayer that echoes round the ancient city. I kept expecting to wake up to find people praying in our room. It was no problem for me as I just took my quilt off to one of the many alcoves inside the riad and drifted off there with the night sky open above me. Don’t be deterred by my grumbles about the heat, the ‘sexy chess’, Scarface or the snoring though – we had the best holiday – and it was all because of Maison mk.
*Since this review, the hotel has done away with its cinema room, but still has a DVD library and free popcorn for guests in need of a film night.