The first thing we notice is the calm. Imagine floating in a big tank of honey as baby seals nuzzle the soles of your feet with their noses. Well, it might be my overactive imagination but that’s how everything feels to me after leaving the kamikaze scooters, wayward smells, exuberant salesmen and general chaos of the Marrakech medina (the labyrinthine old city) and entering Riad 72. Stunning is one obvious superlative for the place. Majestic, sumptuous, opulent… or as my Geordie compatriots might say ‘like, really really really nice’.
‘How long have you worked here?’ I ask Giovanna, the polite Italian lady who has just presented us with rosewater to wash our hands, and some of Morocco’s ultra-sweet mint tea and sugary biscuits. ‘Ever since I built it,’ is her reply. Which was five years ago, in case you're wondering.
72 is laid out in traditional riad style, with a big rectangular central courtyard (complete with banana trees), flanked by rooms on each side. Downstairs is an elegantly decorated communal room containing a huge modern dining table and a tiny, yet fantastic-sounding stereo stocked with the ubiquitous ‘chill’ CDs. I consider asking if any of them feature ‘Rock The Casbah’ by the Clash, but think better of it and reassess my dad-gag humour tendencies. The high ceilings are intricately carved, and gently lit by beautiful copper lanterns. The colours are all deep chocolates, earthy and rich. And the place manages the neat trick of feeling grand and homely at the same time. It’s an Elle Deco dream. (This is helped by the friendly staff pottering around, and the smells produced by the riad’s in-house chef, Fatouma.)
There seems to have been a comfort avalanche, with futons, huge cushions and decadent paddedness everywhere. ‘Where did you get these wonderful fabrics?’ Mrs Smith eagerly asks, no doubt with visions of turning her west London basement flat into Riad 25d. ‘Milan,’ is the reply. Rugs it is, then.
Riad 72 only has four guest rooms. There is also a terrace on the roof with comfy loungers, an inviting salon area, and fantastic views across the city, with the towering Koutoubia mosque dominating the skyline – if you discount the Atlas mountains in the background, that is. You can also see into a number of the local houses (everybody lives on top of one other in the ramshackle medina), in an atmospheric, rather than curtain-twitching way. Later in our stay we notice someone has set a box/stick/string/breadcrumbs trap for the pigeons. Said birds eye the crumbs cautiously, some might say cockily, as Mr Smith begins to regret ordering the pigeon pie at dinner the previous night.
All this and I haven’t yet mentioned our room. (That’s the great thing about Marrakech – so many thoughts, so little time.) We are in the cavernous Karma Suite, which, once again, seems both huge and cosy. The ceilings are very high, with carved wooden beams over our massive bed. As we fling ourselves down on our backs we notice a huge ornate skylight, 30 feet or so above us. (Our concerns over how this might prohibit lie-ins are soothed away when we wake up to discover that some clever soul has pulled blinds over the windows of the dome from outside).
Having slept in later than we expected that morning, Mrs Smith thinks that we need to make up for our laziness and shake a leg later in the day. She decides that at 6pm on a Saturday evening. In Marrakech. As the crow flies, there’s a park about 500 metres from the riad. It takes us an hour to find it, through some of the most hectic, chaotic streets I’ve ever encountered. I am dressed in a white sweat top and shorts and feel just a little out of context. Mrs Smith has pulled up the material on her slick running top over her face. ‘Zorro!’ shouts a passing youth. A sense of humour is not something the locals lack.
To compensate for all that attempt at virtue, we go for an evening of too much alcohol at Bô Zin, an upscale joint in the new town. Having rechristened it 'Boozin' (with the customary bottle of bubbly of course), and we head to the White Room for a nightcap. (It may have been the cocktails, or the jog through diesel fumes earlier but I swear we saw a sixth-form band, singing a cover of Puffy's ‘I'll Be Missing You’ there.)
We finish off the night with a bit of late-night squabble back at the riad that neither of us can remember the cause of. Although I'm sure it had something to do with Mrs Smith mistaking the neighbouring Dar El Bacha palace for our hotel, and attempting to force entry.
We wake with headaches and smiles, laughing at our silliness the previous night and looking forward to a day of relaxing on the roof. Then we hear how the hushed tones of the staff even echo around the whole riad, and realise that if they sound that loud... What kind of racket did we make the night before? Oops. Luckily for us there were no such other inconsiderate guests to disturb the rest of our stay, and we are able to recharge our batteries in peace.