Extreme heat warnings, Europe was on fire, record setting temperatures and humidity…not headlines you want to read prior to departure anywhere! My European @SeaDream Journey was etched in stone and my original itinerary included days of midsummer wandering in Rome and Paris.
Travel Lesson: Pivot! A last-minute invitation to meet European friends in Rabat influenced my itinerary. From Rome, a quick flight to Casablanca, where temperatures and sea breezes on the northern Atlantic provide natural summer air conditioning. Just say yes! Looking toward a blistering week in Italy, Plan B hatched. Rabat!
My ageless 98-year-old Auntie still fondly remembers her life in Rabat as the wife of a U.S. Navy Aviator. Although I’ve driven from Casablanca to Tangier, I hadn’t explored this beach area of Morocco. Rabat, the capital of Morocco is located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg. A cultural city deep-rooted in the history of its Arab-Muslim past and Western modernism.
The adorned city encompasses the new town conceived and built under the French Protectorate from 1912 to the 1930s, including royal and administrative areas, residential and commercial developments and the Jardins d’Essais botanical gardens. It also encompasses older parts of the city dating back to the 12th century. The new town is one of the largest and most ambitious modern urban projects built in Africa in the 20th century and probably the most complete. The older parts include Hassan Mosque, begun in 1184, and the Almohad ramparts and gates, the only surviving parts of the project for a great capital city of the Almohad caliphate as well as remains from the Moorish, or Andalusian, principality of the 17th century. Rabat is also a modern eco-responsible capital with its green spaces. Beautiful parks beckon, the Exotic Gardens of Bouknadel, only a few miles from the city. Rabat boasts an exceptional coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, with miles of hospitable beaches.
Plan B – Act Two. The Tribe invite was oversubscribed, history confirms I need a secure cozy nest, especially after a week of blistering Italian heat.
Rabat may not be on your radar, Morocco is on a building binge, you’ll be hearing much about Rabat’s efforts to attract affluent tourists – with a Four Seasons and a Ritz Carlton being built on the seafront. The Grand Théâtre de Rabat, designed by Zaha Hadid, is an impressive pure white architectural masterpiece, shaped like the head of a serpent. Nearby the soon-to-be-opened Mohammed VI Tower holds the crown as the second-tallest building in Africa, visible for 31 miles.
A new Marina leading to the Atlantic via the mouth of the river Bou Regreg is filling up with fishing boats and pleasure yachts, including the King’s yacht. Where to stay? The new Fairmont La Marina Rabat Salé Hotel and Residences. The hotel’s design has been inspired by “a majestic cruise liner dropping anchor on the estuary”, terraces offer 360- degree waterfront views.
First of many accolades, the patience displayed by my ever-changing dates. Just come, we are here for you! The former GM Jerome Lobier, is endowed with the Hospitality Gene. The Golden Key decorated concierge was beyond helpful and knew everything. These Golden Key Hotel Concierges are the elite concierges, part of an association called Les Clefs d’Or, which means the keys of gold — because these golden keys can open any door. He knew if my drink was late at the roof top bar, the general looking out for his guests, nothing gets by Head Concierge, Jaafar!
I jest that Moroccan time is not dissimilar to Kenyan time, my bags pop out of the plane after an hour, Inshallah! Inshallah has many cultural meanings, an entire post could be written on the usage of Inshallah.
Onward to a midnight arrival to Rabat, with 24 hour Fairmont room service, Moroccans are night owls, dinner at midnight is not unusual – weary American knowing this fact, subsists on crackers on the Royal Air Maroc flight and no Champers, a first after a 12-hour travel day from Rome…site inspections and meals in Rome along the way – and who thinks I am perpetually on vacation?!
Welcome staff are enthusiastic and promise to send me lists of activities from the concierge desk. But first my suite – my Heritage Suite was OTT! On the top floor, a corner wrap around suite with multiple terraces, sublime outdoor lifestyle. I am one of those who never closes glass doors, fresh air billowing the white cloud like drapes inward. I’m not keen on AC unless necessary and with lower temps and a sea breeze in Rabat, this is a serene sanctuary. The living room alone drew admiration from me, authentic Moroccan color scheme, black and white marble diamond tiles, and comfy furniture. Opening to an expansive wrap around terrace overlooking the sea to the ancient Kasbah of the Oudayas, a breathtaking view. Two bathrooms, one for my guests, my soaking tub opened to another deck.
A long slog from Rome, I adapt on arrival with dinner at 1 am on my terrace under a half moon, locals still milling the streets below, my opening assimilation effort!
Moroccans are known for their warm hospitality, evident in every aspect of the Fairmont La Marina Rabat Salé Hotel. Morning coffee to my room is how I begin, room service clarified Moroccan coffee or Americano coffee? Good opening as I don’t communicate well without my initial infusion. My favorite morning wait staffer was Maha – she will excel in the hospitality industry. Ms. Gwen, I brought you dates as well – mind reader. Again, served on my terrace with local life assembling on the riverbank beach in celebration of the annual Feast of the Throne.
As the name suggests, the Feast of the Throne is a day held in honor of the King’s ascension to the throne. Held on 30 of July, it honors the current king of Morocco, His Majesty King Mohammed VI. The day is one of much rejoicing and festivity. While the Royal Palace hosts the primary festivities, many cities, towns, and villages spread across the country also celebrate. On the banks of the river, this translated to rhythmic African music rocking the beach for 18 hours on the weekend and entertaining thousands of local beach goers.
I was fascinated by the scene – it was the Amalfi coast postcard of brightly colored beach umbrellas. Families, in traditional Hijab, umbrellas were encircled with colorful textiles for changing.
Vendors roamed the sand, buried under puffy colorful beach toys. In the water, floats with slides were popular, and on the sand, of course, football! I didn’t see any camels like I’ve seen in Agadir, a few policemen rode stunning stallions along the beach paths.
I could spend all day observing the warm greetings – hugs, head bobs, handshakes…culture on a major scale, and viewing without intruding.
Back to the Fairmont – the spa is heavenly, with 10 treatment rooms including rooms for couples. Services include deep-tissue massages, hot stone massages, sports massages, and facials. Inside, modern finishes are paired with traditional Moroccan design to create a striking feel of glamour and opulence. Choose from four signature experiences: Detox, Destress, Energy and Sleep, each built around the beneficial properties of a specific flower or plant. Slayed by a travel bug, I chose the Energy Massage, within 90 minutes I was ready to head to the sea for a boat excursion, miracle massage!
The rooftop bar — set adjacent to the heated hotel infinity pool — pops to life in the evening with vivacious dance music and a party atmosphere of intriguing stylish locals. Due to Kings Day, flying parachute stuntmen sailed from the sky and landed below the bar. On a sunny evening, there is no better place to be than on the balcony bar. The restaurant Le Deck serves a mix of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine alongside expert mixology, taking in the panoramic views of the twin cities of Salé and Rabat.
A delightful afternoon boat jaunt around the harbor, bringing the ancient Kasbah of the Oudayas up close, swimmers make their way across the river, fishermen heading out to the Atlantic, a perfect sunset end of my stay.
Shukran Fairmont La Marina Rabat-Salé for the divine escape. I’ll never forget my terrace under the moon, my suite bed surrounded by the billowing sails in the nighttime breeze, more Moroccan memories!