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!

Morocco beyond Marrakesh Nomadic Escape

Morocco is a land of legends and fascination, despite its closeness to the European continent, its soul lies in the cradle of its North African coastal home. A historically independent nation, it has always been a multi-cultural ancient crossroad for trade, ideas, and migratory people. There is a rhythm and beauty and an ethereal light, its charms have wooed travelers, poets, and artists, inspiring some of them to never leave. Kandinsky, Matisse, and Renoir were pleased by its evocative temptations. A heady mix of the Orient, Arabian nights, and Muslim influences.

Le Sultan du Maroc by Eugène Delacroix in Tangier

The imperial cities of Marrakesh, Rabat, Fez and Meknes offer innumerable architectural buildings left by former rulers. An enchanting country, a favorite of mine and our clients for many, many years. Besides intimate city exploration, we can include authentic desert tents along with dauntless camels to scale the dunes at sunset and sunrise…let your imagination be boundless! From the desolate deserts to domed mosques, splendid imperial palaces and tombs, the impressive tranquil Atlas Mountains, where the rich and colorful Berber culture beguiles every visitor. Morocco is truly an enticing destination. You will hear the call to prayer, Adhan, one of the finest resonances in Morocco, which takes places five times a day. Recited or sung by a muezzin at prescribed times of the day. The root of the word is ʾadhina أَذِنَ meaning “to listen’. The beauty of the call lies in its melody reverberating from the mosque minarets in the still of night or the chaos of the day. I’m captivated by it. Why not practice being quiet five times a day and be grateful for life?

Chefchaouen, Morocco

To truly explore, allow three weeks for a deep immersion, less time would focus on several cities and a sojourn in the Atlas Mountains. A thumbnail look at a longer Journey, follow me in autumn when I return to this charmed country of colorful souks, the melodious call to prayer and a visit to the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, where women are allowed to visit. Although it is only the 7th largest mosque in the world, Hassan II claims the title of having the largest minaret in the world. Capped with a spotlight that shines east towards Mecca, the minaret is 700-feet tall, towering above the Atlantic Ocean. 

Southern Morocco is a land of tales and legends. Khamilia home of ancient Gnawa tribe where you can stay and sing with these magicians by the fireplace, the road of the ancient Kasbahs, the Drâa Valley, Tamegrouote and its ancient library counting books from the 14th century brought by pilgrims, the dry lake of Iriki.

Tangier, Morocco

Moroccan cuisine has gained massive followers among food connoisseurs. Staples of most meals include lamb, fish, and fowl, including pigeon, which is considered a delicacy when baked in pastry, the b’stillah is a national favorite. Vegetables including tomatoes, eggplants and onions are typically served with the well known and loved couscous. Bread, or Khob, as in many Middle Eastern and North African countries is considered a deep cultural symbol as well as a daily staple. Crusty, round flattish loaves are often baked on a girdle over an open flame or earthen ovens.  Mint tea is served everywhere in dainty tulip glasses.

An ancient Moroccan proverb: “manage with bread and butter until God sends honey”.

Moroccan woman making Bread or Khob,

Home to Morocco’s primary international airport, Casablanca is the main gateway into the country for many visitors and often their first taste of the country. This city is an industry and business powerhouse and compared to the exotic charms of Marrakesh and Fez, it can’t compete. There is a European touch to much of its architecture, and the city has a modern swagger that is unseen in other parts of the country.

Although Casablanca’s tourist sights and attractions may not be as obvious as those elsewhere, you will find some gems if you dig a little deeper. The medina quarter is a charming area and much smaller and easier to navigate than those elsewhere. And the colossal Hassan II Mosque is top of the list on most sightseeing checklists. For film buffs, there is nothing more synonymous with this city than the 1942 cinematic classic Casablanca. Apart from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the movie’s real star was Rick’s Café, where much of the action took place.

TGV to Tangier and Chefchaouen. Tangier has long been romanticized by artists, writers, and esoteric Beat poets, who arrived at its lively shores chasing escapades. On the Northern tip of Morocco, Tangier, an ancient white walled seaside city is the crossroads to Europe.  In the 1920’s to the 1950’s it was long known as a haven to bohemian artists and an avant-garde literary community. Known for its brightly tiled interiors and in particular, a rambling estate garden of legendary Italian horticulturist and writer Umberto Pasti and his celebrated garden Rohuna. Like Matisse and Delacroix before you, wander through streets lined with whitewashed houses and allow yourself to be transported by the dreamy atmosphere of the city. With wide boulevards, a medina revealing Moorish craftsmanship, and European colonial influences, Tangier retains an enduring eccentricity, and an undeniable charm.

Two hours southeast of Tangier, is Chefchaouen, the Blue City, the Blue Pearl of Morocco, an otherworldly escape sits high up in Morocco’s Rif Mountains. Surrounded by striking green valleys which are a vibrant contrast to the beautiful blue and white houses and mosques. There are endless opportunities for scenic hikes and walks in the Rif Mountains that surround Chefchaouen. Artisan shops offer traditional hand-made goods including handwoven rugs, Moroccan lamps, Berber textiles and ironwork, jewelry, caftans, and woven baskets.

Further south lies Fez, Morocco’s spiritual and cultural capital. Fez vies with Marrakesh for the title of Morocco’s most exotic city. This is the country’s spiritual capital, and despite the encroachment of modernity, it has maintained its authentic appeal down through the ages, holding onto its stately bearing as an Imperial City. Its minaret and dome-punctured skyline and timeless, crumbling Islamic architecture are top things to see for travelers.

Only one suggestion of the multiple exclusive torus we can offer here. Architecture and Islamic garden Tours Lose yourself in the gardens of ancient palaces and exotic Riads perfumed with orange blossoms, citrus, blood red roses and the sweetest jasmine. The tour combines an overview of the fascinating and beautiful world of Moroccan Architecture which showcases all the main ornamentation and decorative techniques from floral motifs, geometry, ceramics to calligraphy, symbolic of the rich cultural heritage of the vast Islamic empire and uncovers the mysteries of the Islamic concept of Chahar-bagh, the four-fold garden and leads us to discover earthly paradise revisited.

Overnight at Riad Fes Restored to its original glory, this Relais & Châteaux property is in the Medina, in the heart of the ancient city of Fez. Riad Fès is renowned for its luxury, impeccable service, and fine restaurant, it has been restored to its original glory in the heart of the ancient city, a serene atmosphere with decor reminiscent of Arabian Nights. 

Sahara Desert. Overnight Desert Luxury Camp

Skoura. Surprisingly lush and abrupt as it springs from the tawny landscape, Skoura deserves a lingering look for its kasbahs and its rich concentration of date palm, olive, fig, and almond trees. Pathways tunnel through the vegetation from one kasbah to another within this fertile island—a true oasis, perhaps the most intensely verdant in Morocco. Skoura is such a magical place, that if you’re on a grand tour of the Great Oasis Valleys, think about basing yourself here.

Stay Dar Ahlam. On the fringes of the Moroccan desert, shaded by the palms, lies Dar Ahlam. Terracotta colored stone meets cerulean skies as this traditional Kasbah cuts an imposing shape across the landscape. Experience a land of adventure from this Kasbah near Ouarzazate, gateway to the Moroccan desert. Unwind in a haven of manicured lawns and fragrant almond blossom. Or step out into the wilderness of the desert for a night under the stars, where you will soak up the elegant beauty in the privacy of your own luxury tent. Secluded by palm groves and almond trees at the edge of the Moroccan desert, this two-hundred-year-old rammed earth Kasbah the color of Champagne is an original maison des rêves. Gracefully made over with all modern comforts and the necessary technology, this singular fourteen room hideaway overlooks the Atlas Mountains, with a palm shaded swimming pool, hammam and candle-lit massage room. Dar Ahlam is not so much a hotel as a team of over 100 people dedicated entirely to you. Meals are customized and served to you among a selection of distinct, private settings like their flourishing gardens by Louis Benech, the gifted designer of the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris and the Bosquet du Théâtre d’Eau at Versailles.

Trek into the Valley of Roses, explore among the corn stalks and pomegranate trees of a nearby palmeraie and drive to the hilltop vestiges of a 12th century Berber village for a traditional tea ceremony at dusk.

Off to the High Atlas Mountains at indulgent and magical Kasbah Tamadot, where days are spent hiking to nearby villages, doing sunrise yoga, and immersing oneself in the unique Berber culture. Situated in the spectacular Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the award-winning Kasbah Tamadot is owned by Sir Richard Branson. This 28-bedroom hotel is perched at the top of a valley with views up to Mount Toubkal and over to some of the traditional Berber villages that dot around the region. Postcards soon from my Berber tent, the private deck is equipped with loungers to soak up the views and where I will enjoy outdoor dining under an ebony sky bursting with a thousand stars.  My Berber Tent Suite is awaiting my arrival!

In the Berber language, Kasbah Tamadot means ‘soft breeze’. It’s easy to imagine you’re a million miles away from it all in the gorgeous surroundings of Kasbah Tamadot. Located in Asni, a little village and marketplace in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, an area inhabited by the friendly Berbers,

File:Berber village Atlas.jpg
Berber Village in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Depart the magical Kasbah for a short ride through the mountains to Marrakech. The maze of souks must be explored in the covered bazar, I wouldn’t navigate without a guide, pedestrian movement can be interrupted by beasts of burden, mostly donkeys; the scent tells you of the wares. Every type of similar object sits side by side, the leather merchants rest on mounds of bags, prices aren’t marked, it’s a plucky game of negotiation. The Spice Traders Square is the epicenter of the medina, the fabric covered market tables groan under the weight of conical towers of pungent spices. Mysterious herbalist concoctions, baskets brimming with rose petals, this is the best place to purchase the well-known ras el hanout, the famous Moroccan spice blend. Argan oil is best found in a pharmacy as it is a staple product.  Open air vendors will tempt you with their colorful wares and snake charmers do exist on the famed Jamaa el Fna Square, in the Marrakech medina quarter.

Marrakech’s Jardin Majorelle is a must visit, designed in 1920 by famed French painter Jacques Majorelle. Historic museums, surfing on the coast and trekking in the great Atlas Mountains are only a few of the striking and authentic offerings. Private visits can be arranged to the Yves Saint Laurent home, Villa Oasis, followed by a privately guided tour to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, where guests are taken into two worlds dear to Yves Saint Laurent’s heart: fashion and Morocco. This awe-inspiring museum exhibits a significant part of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent’s collection, and is a legacy to Marrakech, a city that held such a crucial place in Yves Saint Laurent’s life. The Museum of African Contemporary Art is the first museum dedicated to African Art in Morocco, giving a voice to young, emerging, and established artists, to be proud of their roots in their continent.

Many exclusive tour options but two I am interested in doing besides roaming the souks and private gardens. Calligraphy means “beautiful writing” and Arabic calligraphy (or more properly, Islamic calligraphy) is considered a high art form in the Arab world and is increasingly gaining recognition and appreciation worldwide. Evening Cocktails with Private Storytelling The Moroccan tradition of Hikayat, or storytelling dates back almost 1, 000 years. Some stories were recorded and other stories are passed orally. Hikayat was used as a way to pass on cultural beliefs, such as moral lessons to children and to entertain people on long winter nights. This form of entertainment was found in cities throughout Morocco but today Marrakech’s Jemaa El Fna square is the only city that’s keeping this tradition alive. Reserve one evening to enjoy a private session of this dying art in the comfort and peace of your hotel with the master Storyteller Ahmed Ezzarghani in both Arabic and English before dinner.

Moroccan Tradition of Storytelling Revives in Marrakech

In Marrakech as in other larger metropolitan cities, there are two choices for hotels, authentic chic riads within the walls of the ancient medina for a truly cultural mix or at larger hotels outside the medina. Or stay in both, enjoy the medina culture in the old walled city, where you can walk everywhere amid the fascinating maze of streets or escape the constant activity and slumber outside the walls in luxurious five star hotels. Something for every taste.

Activities have been carefully designed to provide our clients with some of the best experiences that are available in Morocco. We can tailor the activities to your needs, creating full day programs and include meals, fun elements or romantic touches to make your stay in this exotic country truly magical and memory making! An awe-inspiring country with a solid sense of culture.

“As a young child I wanted to be a writer because writers were rich and famous. They lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit. They sniffed cocaine in Mayfair and they penetrated forbidden swamps with a faithful native boy and lived in the native quarter of Tangier smoking hashish and languidly caressing a pet gazelle.”

— William S. Burroughs