Staying at Talaa 12 is a passport to feeling in the centre of the action within minutes of arriving in Marrakech. It’s not just its spot-on location – on a relatively quiet street in the heart of the medina – that gives it this quality, but also how you get there. If you’re coming from the airport, a friendly member of staff will be there to greet you, navigating you through the chaos and into a taxi. You wind through ever-smaller streets, before eventually being decanted next to a few of Marrakech’s rather put-upon horses and donkeys.
Your possessions (including young children, if you’re with little Miss or Master Smiths) are then unloaded into a hand-drawn cart, and off you go off into the whirling chaos of the medina. As a first introduction to some of the city’s celebrated souks and sights the transfer is unsurpassable, especially as you feel less of a tourist trundling about in this low-tech manner. By the time you fetch up outside Talaa 12 – a discreet sign flush with the wall the only clue you’ve arrived – your Moroccan adventure has already begun.
Inside the door is a small, dark vestibule leading to a light-filled courtyard. So far, so typically Moroccan, but Talaa 12 is a more contemplative space than the usual all-singing, all-dancing tiled riad courtyards. Rooms overlooking the courtyard are shuttered in calm pale green – very Farrow & Ball; there’s even a bamboo wind chime clunking softly in the breeze. Orange trees and palms stand guard over a small pool – a gazing-at rather than swimming-in affair. We checked in in a small sitting room to the side.
There are plenty of these intimate seating areas, so we knew that even if the hotel filled up (20 guests is the maximum, anyway) we’d always have a little private time together. After the chaos outside, the effect is of Talaa 12’s calm is striking.
Our room, overlooking the central courtyard, was simply styled, with a large bed, two white leather tub chairs, a claret-coloured rug, and a couple of the contemporary paintings that are dotted all over the riad. The bathroom was small but pretty, with a shower and plenty of towels. Knowing water to be a precious commodity in Morocco, we didn’t mind the lack of a bathtub.
When you’re in the heart of the Marrakech Medina, there’s not much time to wallow in a bath, anyway. Before venturing into the unknown, we headed up to the rooftop to get our bearings. What a view! Talaa 12 is a relatively tall riad, so its terrace has a clear view all the way to the Atlas Mountains. As these are to Marrakech what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, we were happy to dally a while, especially as a canvas sail set-up protected us from the surprisingly strong winter sun.
Invigorated with mint tea, we thought we’d hit the souk. I was nervous about getting lost – I once spent two hours walking in ever-decreasing circles trying to find my way back to a riad that noone had ever heard of. Fortunately, Talaa 12 is a rarity among Marrakech hotels: it’s almost impossible to get lost trying to find it. Just ask for the Marrakech Museum or the Ben Youssef Mosque, and you’re there. This also makes for easy sightseeing, especially with the souks and the Djemaa El Fnaa only minutes away.
Being so close to everything means you can dip in and out of Marrakech very easily – if the snake charmers, tooth-pullers and hustlers in the Djemaa El Fna get too much (or if your purchases start to weigh you down), you can nip back home for some more mint tea and a chance to regroup. In the summer, the hotel has arrangements with various private pools in the Palmeraie, about 20 minutes away, so you can cool off and chill out with a lunch thrown in for no more than €30.
That night, we drank delicious local wine on white sofas in front of a roaring fire, before a three-course Moroccan dinner in the small dining room. Lanterns flickered over tables of milk-chocolate-hued wood, and the food – a lemony chicken tajine – was flavourful and subtle. Our fellow diners were a Parisian couple, and we fell to chatting. They told us they’d been toying with the idea of buying a riad to use as a weekend retreat – a common fantasy among French professionals. Now they’d stayed at Talaa 12, they said, they probably wouldn’t bother. They felt they’d already found a home from home – and hadn’t had to do any of the hard work. Our feelings exactly. Places this tranquil are hard to create and impossible to copy. Talaa 12 will remain a complete one-off.