Serendipitous Sojourn. Fairmont La Marina Rabat-Salé

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!

La Marina Rabat-Salé, Morocco

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.

View from my Terrace Suite, Fairmont Rabat-Salé

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.

Rooftop Bar, Fairmont La Marina Rabat-Salé

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!

Spa at Fairmont La Marina Rabat-Salé

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!

Highly Recommend!

The Claremont – Berkeley Staycation

The truth is, and it must be obvious, I frequently need to escape from Covid confinement. Accustomed to exploring every new five-star hotel all over the globe, lockdown has been challenging for me; however, with pandemic cleansing cautions, I am carefully moving about. My most recent visit was a repeat stay at The Claremont Club and Spa, a Fairmont Hotel.

More Staycation – with a deep purpose. When I perform site inspections, I usually cast a net in a broad circle – what else is in an area within 90 miles or 90 mins? What exceptional ruins, well known potter or chef can be found within a parameter of a destination. FOMO? No, serendipitous discoveries led me to a lovely golf resort outside of San Juan owned by former tennis star Charlie Pasarell, if you don’t recognize his name, do read highlighted post.

I’m exploring nearby areas which were previously day visits for theatre, retail therapy or dining in scrumptious bay area restaurants. Look up the SF Chronicle best restaurants, reserve and relish some safe mini escapes. The Claremont is the perfect home base for exploring. The East Bay is a foodie mecca, lace up your boots, wrap a woolen scarf, many restaurants are still serving outside!

Berkley is a noteworthy enticement for me, I’ve popped over to the grand old dame, Claremont Hotel a few times pre-pandemic. Since 1915, the hotel has been a Bay Area icon, providing rich history and elegance. The property features 22 acres of landscaped gardens and a rejuvenating spa, 10 tennis courts and several pools. Each of the 276 elegant and classically contemporary guest rooms and suites provide the perfect setting to make the most of the resort’s exceptional location. Many rooms offer unrivaled views of the San Francisco Bay and skyline. The 7th floor Presidential Suite has an office, massive living room with panoramic Bay and City views, and can connect to a two bedroom suite for the kiddos, with some advance notice, you can have a meal prepared in the well-equipped kitchen which features a separate service entrance. Reserve the tennis pro, schedule laps in the pool – and relish a glorious Staycation very close to home!

The historic hotel situated at the foot of Claremont Canyon in the Berkeley Hills is located in the Claremont district which straddles the city limits of Berkeley and Oakland. At its elevation, the location provides panoramic views of San Francisco Bay. The hotel building is entirely in Oakland, as are the spa, the gardens and parking area. However, two small portions of the property, one just east of the Berkeley Tennis Club are within the city limits of Berkeley. On a clear day from downtown San Francisco you can see the lustrous white ‘Castle’ amid the green hills and towering trees. It evokes the feeling of a private club and has become a popular spot for guests and locals alike – a place to lose yourself in a bit of history while marveling at the world-class setting right outside the windows.

I’ve enjoyed stunning city skyline vistas from my suites, sunset is dazzling as the amber lights glow and darkness overtakes the bay. For a pictorial look at the unique history of the hotel, wander the expansive hallways lined with vintage black and white photos of Berkeley and prominent guests. When I’ve stayed with friends and family, we love comparing rooms, some very cozy top floor rooms are in the eaves of the roofline with massive dormer windows looking out over the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco city skyline. Gorgeous views of the Blue Moon last month rising over the bay. Though no two rooms are identical, they’re consistent in traditional décor, a warm palette of gold, blue and rust color hues. Big comfy beds, a desk for working or dining, if tubbing is essential, do ask for a room with a tub. The bathrooms are massive marble masterpieces, my favorites are the suites with the egg shaped soaking tubs.

One of my friends told me that as a Cal student, he and friends would sneak over the back gate and up to the rooftop seven stories up. The hotel had a famed fire escape system shaped like a corkscrew slide, and “some people” would slide and shoot their way down in feverish hilarity. The fire escape slides were removed many years ago, the day they closed the ‘slide’ the hotel opened it to the public and for a charity donation, one was given a monogrammed towel and enjoy a last slide.

During Covid, indoor dining has been suspended and they’ve creatively added a few outdoor dining spots. The original Limewood Bar & Restaurant offers regionally-sourced cuisine, has a petite terrace with amazing city views, a few heaters kill the chill. The hotel has added two dining spaces near the entry in what was once the arrival portico, the Bungalow is tented with 1 or 2 plastic ‘sides’ that unroll. Nearby on the driveway, scattered rugs are ‘designated rooms’ with heaters and exceptional bay views. Gaze to the tall wall and watch full length films from this dining area, Covid creativity! The Claremont is making the best of a challenging situation. Bulky blankets and heaters assure winter warmth. You can also dine in your room, with special access or bring in snacks from the Provisions shop. Post dining, as you pass through the swanky lobby, ask about the dessert cart! Trundled out for your pleasure, seize a midnight snack of sweets or fruit.

A new addition is the Carriage Level East Bay Provisions, which offers take-out only menu options. There are a couple of outdoor tables available on the Carriage Entrance terrace, physically distanced. Guest are also welcome to take their food including alcoholic beverages and use the Adirondack chairs located throughout the gardens.

I’m not fond of those pod coffee makers – frequently jammed into cupboards which makes adding water a chore; I am coffee challenged until I consume my oversize cup of black brew… I do whatever I can to avoid those sputtering machines. many guests love their convenience, to their credit, the Claremont has them. Caftans are my solution to morning wanderings in search of a cup of java – sunglasses on, I navigate, incognito and slightly blind, to locate the coffee bar wherever I travel. It can be an experiment and reminds me of my Marquesas ship adventure… it took a day to decipher a safe route to schlep steaming coffee and a banana in one hand on a swaying ship, as one must always have a free hand for a boat rail. East Bay Provisions is a mere elevator ride away and drops you to a quiet unoccupied hallway, slip into the café and peruse the morning menu of breakfast pastries, quiches and fresh coffee. Mosey back to the elevator and make your way to the cozy bed view and welcome the day. Tribe of the Bed Girl necessities. One can truly be under cover now with the mask rule, a covert coffee excursion is practically guaranteed. Transitioning in the afternoon and evening hours, the East Bay Provisions menu offers fresh breads, gourmet deli sandwiches, craft beers and local wines.

I love a glamorous hotel lobby, one where I can linger and people watch. The Claremont lobby and public spaces are elegant, vast and extremely comfortable. I love to observe random guests and create their life story. Have you discerned that I sometimes must wait for my non-Virgo friends who don’t have internal time clocks and respect punctuality!?

Claremont Hotel Lobby

Many reasons to stay at the charming Claremont Hotel – in pre-pandemic days, theatre, boutiques and divine dining brought me to Berkeley. One can still safely wander Fourth Street, a bohemian mecca of retail therapy. The Gardener is stunning, offering a diverse mix of merchandise, a destination for Bay Area residents and visitors, there’s always something new to see. Blocks of interesting boutiques to explore.

On your meander to the Claremont Hotel, don’t miss the extraordinary Tail of the Yak Trading Company on Ashby. I’ve been stopping in for over 40 years, it’s packed to the gills, but gorgeous; marvel at paper lanterns and garlands, antique chandeliers, fantastical vignettes of curious objects and paper works. Each of the new, vintage and antique gift items, which range from fine stationery to imported textiles to unique glassware, are personally selected by the owner artists. I’m so surprised when my friends say they haven’t been – they are wowed by the sensory experience. Check Covid hours as you don’t want to miss this whimsical experience.

The Claremont Hotel hillside location offers splendid hiking, wander down to the edge of the parking lot, and look to the left for a hillside stairway, known as The Short Cut. It ascends through narrow paths on the edges of tree and brush lined homes. The Short Cut was landscaped as an extension of the original 14-acre, park-like grounds of the Claremont Hotel. San Juan Island palm trees, matching those bordering the front of the hotel, were planted along the lower two-thirds of the path. As you climb the steps, the old palms still stand on your left. Look closely on the right to spot some tenacious survivors, struggling for light among the live oaks, pittosporum and shrubs.

Talk about people watching, this is an architectural playground of notable interesting homes. Initially the steps are composed of worn rocks without handrails, it’s tricky footing and can be covered by broken branches and leaves, but as you climb up the hills interrupted by a street, the stairs are more uniform and there are handrails. The steps and walls at the lower end of the path were fashioned from the same stone as the lower front façade of the hotel and the public hardscape in the Claremont-Uplands neighborhood.

It’s steep, but the house peeping and the aromatic fragrance of eucalyptus and pine trees will motivate you to reach the peak for the panoramic views. One route ends at Garber Park, but I’ve not explored it yet. Wander down the narrow curving streets back to the hotel or descend the stairs for more garden glimpses.

Stair walk near The Claremont Hotel

I spent a few days over Thanksgiving and found even more paths and hills! The Claremont leads to multiple outdoor experiences. From the back parking lot, head down the hill and make a right on Stonewall Street and continue to the Claremont Canyon Regional Reserve, a very steep incline upwards to Panoramic Hill. Walking sticks advised! Saving my knees the next morning led me down hill from the tennis club to the tree lined luxurious neighborhoods. Don’t worry, it’s uphill on the return, you’ll engage your muscles and relish the ancient homes, a neighborhood of historic architecture. Head down hill to Russell Street and Claremont Avenue, locate the historic red brick entry gates of Claremont Court and wander through the tree lined streets with many secret paths defining the neighborhood.

Incline to Panoramic Hill

The 25,000-square-foot Fairmont Spa at the Claremont offers oodles of relaxing and restorative services: hot stone massages, lavender scrubs and an Ayurvedic re-balancer are just a few of your options at this serene California Craftsman-inspired space. (Check for Covid openings).

Iconic 1950’s style Club pool at The Claremont

It’s almost hard to believe that the city is just a hop, skip and a jump away when you’re relaxing in the comfy armchairs or lounging around the gorgeous pool (Check for Covid pool options). Prior to the pandemic, lounging under the ivory umbrellas at the main pool felt like a scene from a movie at a 1950’s country club. It’s old school elegant and relaxing, a splendid spot for reading or catching up with a friend or a favorite niece.

I feel I am Covid safe during my frequent visits to The Claremont Hotel. Visit the local boutiques and practice the same distancing you do at home, browse and meander back outside to the leafy trees festooned with tiny white lights. Nosh and return to hike the steps, mental clarity is restored, and strenuous physical activity is achieved.

We need to escape the routine and tedium of the pandemic. There are getaways in teeny doses and I highly recommend The Claremont Hotel for a slice of local history and an elegant Staycation.

The Claremont Club and Spa, a Fairmont Hotel