Best Room In the House – Riad El Fenn
I heard recently that the UKs most renowned food critic has just tried to insure his nose. I imagine this kind of thing goes on all the time: film critics insuring their eyes, music critics their ears. Being a critic is a serious job and I also intend to take it seriously: I’ve thought about it, and if I can find an underwriter to take my business I’m going to insure my vast and spreading behind.
Nothing leads you to a better appreciation of a hotel than just sitting there doing absolutely nothing. It’s hardest with new hotels, where it’s entirely possible to have ones sensory inputs overwhelmed by the novelties of the place. So, in an effort to focus properly on the job, from now on when entering a hotel for the first time I am going to be carried across the threshold in a sedan chair. This is not without complications: like all critics, I like to assess anonymously; as near as possible to the actual experience of the average man in the street/rear seat of the S-Class Mercedes. I have solved many of the logistical problems of my sedan chair, but there remains the issue of where to keep the chair and its team so that they are ready to take me to breakfast in the morning. Walking on my own down those precious few steps, I would be in danger of missing a chipped cornice or unburnished sconce. Luckily, Vanessa Bransons Riad in Marrakech provides a way round this very problem.
Here, they have come up with the genius idea of leaving a kind of pre-breakfast breakfastette on a table just outside your room each morning. Under a napkin, you’ll find still-warm croissants, orange juice squeezed so recently there are still the bubbles in it, and black black black coffee. Sitting at your table, looking out, sampling this delightful little bonus meal is the perfect way to take in your surroundings. It does mean that I had to set my alarm clock 30 minutes earlier to fit it all into my day but as I said, being a critic is a serious job and I take it seriously.
The other advantage of having sedaniers is that I can specially select them to have a better sense of direction than I do. Riad El Fenn is three houses joined together, with three separate courtyard systems. Hardly a rats maze test of complexity but it was on the second day that I realised that they don’t have two receptions – only one – and its relative position merely depending on whether I was coming down the staircase from a rooftop dinner or round the corridor from the other courtyards bar. I am however confident that there are at least three different swimming pools (I stood in the middle of each one of them and measured the depth on my belly) and at least two different tortoises (unless one of them had a paint job overnight).
El Fenns style is luxury-authentic. It has high ceilings and garishly painted stone walls, there are palms and flagstones, and up on the roof, many many beds to lie out on. There is a lot of what I think an art critic might call modern stuff on the walls. The service is quiet and gentle and smiling. The waiters were often smiling so hard that I was worried (this is a serious job) they hadn’t understood my order, but I am glad to say no one ever made a mistake.
The Best Room in El Fenn is Suite 19. All the suites are large, but this one is bigger even than a food critics ego (they average 82 m and Suite 19 is over 85m). Most of the space is given to the bedroom cum-sitting room, but just outside this is a little lobby, where you can sit and rest before going outside to eat your breakfastette. Rather inconsiderately, the shower room is so big it exceeds even my capacity for large adjectives. It is so big in fact that on my first time in there I assumed I’d walked into a public hammam and I sat there waiting for my rub down.
Suite 19 also has its own private pool. With a glass bottom. And it’s perched just above the entrance to your suite. With my spatial sense, I hadn’t quite realised quite what I was exposing myself to each morning this as I did my 20 lengths of front crawl and back stroke each morning. Or rather, who was being exposed to me. It was only on the flight back that I received an unguarded comment from your humble critics wife, commenting on my newly vast and spreading behind. But this, my dear reader, is just another hazard of the job.