5* Riad Palais Calipau

5* Riad Palais Calipau

There is no doubt that on your first trip to Marrakesh, to get a real flavour of the city, you should stay in a traditional bijou boutique hotel in the heart of the Medina. These hotels once traditional houses or Riads look more like the Sultan Palaces than hotels, with their interior courtyards lined with lush orange trees, water features, thick walls and rooms decorated with mozaics, they are a true wonder of Moorish Architecture and design.

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The walls of our Riad were red and from its protective shell little could be known of the beauty that awaited us inside. Indeed, passing the dark heavy door and stepping into Riad Palais Calipau for the first time was like walking into paradise. It was cool inside, whereas outside it had been really hot and the sounds of bikes and street banter were replaced with the sound of running water. The turquoise the pool was still. It was calm here and so lovely. Big lanterns hung from vaulted ceilings, lush velvet sofas lay hidden thin net curtains. It was here that we received our complimentary mint tea served on a gold tray and yum scrum biscuits on our arrival.

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Our room was extremely large and was on the first floor. It wasn’t the best one, but wasn’t the smallest one either. The air con made our stay even more bearable as at night without it, it would have become quite hot. I loved the ceiling and the blue of the bathroom. Everything was new, from the fluffy feather pillows to the TV and the safe in the walk in wardrobe. The water was always hot and it felt really safe. In fact I wish my room at home was that nice and I came to refer to our Riad not as “our hotel” but “home”, which was quite awkward as it kept requiring clarification every time I made the error. The only slight criticism, if any, would be say that there was no mini-bar in the room and no dressing gown/slippers provided. There was however shampoo and soap stocked up daily and both the room and the bathroom were very clean.

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The hotel staff were really kind. They booked for us a Hamman & Massage spa treatment at the famous Les Bains de Marrakech, our taxi to the Majorelle Gardens, Agadir Gardens  and airport – with our taxi driver being so friendly and honest that he would charge us “only what we wanted to pay” even though he gave us some great info about the city as he drove us round. We didn’t have time for tours, but other guests we spoke to really enjoyed their day trips organized by the hotel to the Atlas Mountains, Essaouira and the desert. In fact I can’t wait to go back to do them!

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The breakfast was plentiful, with pancakes, jam, honey, omelet, yoghurt, fruit salad, as much fresh orange juice as you could drink and great coffee. We saw Moroccan families eat similar foods for their Ramadan breakfast in the evening and every time we walked passed seller’s of our morning feast, we noted with excitement “that’s what we had for breakfast”! In this respect the Riad really felt as if I was staying with a friend or a wealthy Moroccan family which really added a great experience to our fantastic holiday.

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I loved sitting down at night by the edge of the pool and gazing upwards at the open sky surrounded by candles and orange trees. After a long day bartering in the souks there was nothing better than to take a refreshing plunge after and a spot of relaxation on the roof terrace in the waning afternoon sun.  Hotel Calipau was the perfect location – close enough to the action but far enough removed to feel like an oasis of calm and a great place to relax and recharge. I really can not recommend it enough and as I had such a great time, my sixty year old parents have also decided to go and stay at Hotel Calipau for their visit Marrakesh next year!

I booked this gem through Expedia (flights included) for a great price, so make sure you check out Riad Palais Calipau’s website but also Expedia for some great last minute deals!

Maxi Dress and Mosaic Pattern Play

Maxi Dress and Mosaic Pattern Play

One of the most beautiful features of Moroccan architecture and design has got to be the incredible use of tiles of all patterns, colors  and shapes to decorate tombs, palaces, doorways, walls and courtyards. It is difficult, combining many different patterns together and yet here in Marrakesh, builders have made it seem as it if was the easiest, most natural thing in the world to do. I really found it fascinating to see plain geometric shapes create such rich and ornate decoration and the important place which mosaics hold in Moorish art.

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When I went shopping for some appropriately long summer clothes, I noticed that pattern prints were definitely in vogue at the moment and so I just couldn’t help but buy a dress that would match and blend right into my surroundings.  I opted for a maxi dress as this would be right for local sensitivities but also would take up very little space in my suitcase. Now I usually avoid this look as long dresses I feel seem to have the dreaded tent effect on me, but this I just loved how the fabric of this dress molded to my body and how the overlapping top made my waist look thinner. The geometric patterns of the dress merged with the beautiful buildings around me and even the colors were in harmony with all the surrounding greens and blues. It was comfortable and cool as it has a low cut back. Let me know what you think! 🙂

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WEARING

Flounce Geo Print Maxi Dress – FOREVER 21

Pink Sunglasses  – H &M

Evil Eye Jewellery (Ring, Bracelet and Earrings) – ALI EXPRESS

Silver Bracelet – AFGHAN CONNECTION – charity supporting education

Eclipse Thong Sandals – GUESS (Sold Out)

Boohoo Kaftan for Marrakech Sultan

Boohoo Kaftan for Marrakech Sultan

For our trip to Marrakech, we went cheap skate style and flew with only hand luggage. Indeed as much as nothing gets me more in the holiday spirit than spending excessive amounts of money in Boots, buying mini deodorants and conditioners, face wipes, Iboprophene and razors (because although I can’t take them with me on the plane I usually haven’t used one for a while), the thought of choosing 3-4 outfits that fit into a Barbie Doll sized bag on the contrary simply fills me with dread.

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Going for just under a week to a destination with just hand luggage is really like taking up the ultimate fashion gauntlet, the one which Ryanair merrily throws down to the vast majority of UK travelers. Concentrate the mind and get this one right and you could have not just 3 outfits but 9 (where all items can be mix matched together). Get this wrong and you could end up two odd wooly socks, a pair of shorts that are too tight, a see through Kimono and some cow boy boots that seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Morocco is a religious place and although one of the most liberal Muslim countries I would advise that out of respect for local beliefs and sensitivities (whilst in no way compulsory) to wear non revealing clothes – that is dresses or shorts which are over the knee and tops which cover at least the shoulders. It is very hot, so really if you can’t face covering up completely then that is fair enough, but the majority local women wear long floaty dresses and trousers and head scarves so you will stand out more if you don’t try a bit more conservatively than if on a girls weekend break to Ibiza.

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Being British I tend to like to get legs and arms out in the sun at the first opportunity so all my summer clothes were rather shorts and skimpy. I therefore trawled the shops and the internet for some maxi dresses, which would be perfect in the heat and for the environment to which I was heading. My most appropriate and favorite purchase of them all has got to be the £18 Kaftan which I bought from Boohoo.com It comes in a variety of colors and I opted on the more spicy green one. The long part of the dress is sheer and so goes right down to the ground although ties up at the waist to give it some great shape. It has an under dress (which could even double as a separate dress in its own right) which is shorter and so seen through sun light, the garment is long but still sexy. This was so perfect for my trip to Marrakesh I wore it on two consecutive days and the hotel manager told me how Moroccan my dress looked which I loved! 😉 I combined it with evil eye jewellery and a large solid silver bracelet. Let me know what you think?

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WEARING

Una V Neck Paisley Neon Kaftan Maxi Dress – BOOHOO.COM

EVIL EYE RING AND BRACELET – ALI EXPRESS

SILVER BANGLE – AFGHAN CONNECTION – charity supporting education

Eclipse Thong Sandals- GUESS (sold out)

 

The Red City and the Heart of Africa, the Heart of Life

The Red City and the Heart of Africa, the Heart of Life

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 We reveled in our success at bartering with the taxi driver at the airport, lowering our fare down from 150 Dhs to 120 Dhs. Was it really worth ten minutes in the backing sun to save 3 euros (1.50 per person) and risking heat stroke even though this car was almost the only one available? Probably not…but hey we were in Marrakesh and we were here to do business local style!

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The earth was dry and the houses and walls red. Palm trees lined boulevards, everything looked really smart. New mansions and apartments were being erected next to lush green gardens and new roads. We laughed and joked and exclaimed that really people had exaggerated. It sounds condescending but we felt that things looks better than we had imagined. Marrakesh we mused after all does have its own film festival now reaching the heights of Cannes itself and is being described my many as the new St Tropez. We passed Mamounia Hotel where the King himself stays when he comes to the city, its massive grounds sprawling out into the distance. Other Golf Courses, large hotels and Beach Clubs all loomed ahead. Had we flown 3 1/2 hours to see a slightly shabbier version of the South of Spain? Had we come too late? Has globalization, tourism and the property boom managed to finally sanitize even the wildest of mythical cities? We tried to ask the driver a good place to eat, but he mumbled 120 not 150 and remained silent :/ Perhaps bartering was now a thing of the passed? Anyway whatever what is done is done! We had arriiiiived and I wasn’t that hungry anyway so he could just sulk and go away.

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Impressive large red walls loomed up ahead. The rich colors of the houses really made the architecture that much more special. I felt like I was in a desert city and in this respect things started to differ from Europe. We passed through a large ornate door, one of the many separating the new town from the Medina and it was then that the world turned upside down.

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The car slowed down as vendors and people filled the narrow lanes. Donkey carts laden with melons, shops with spices piled up high in pointed mounds. Baskets spilled out of shops, jewellery and carpets adorned the ocher walls. Women covered from head to toe and young men exchanging banter, mopes, more people and cars blocked our path until we crawled along at snails pace. Then came the sounds, metal against metal from a tiny crack in the wall: a man crouching low in a cave under hundreds of broken bicycle parts, his hammer working furiously working away. A beautiful tower loomed up ahead, yellow stone with an ornate design. It was tall so I thought it must be the Koutoubia and I pointed to it and gazed in awe. But then in the distance I saw the peak of another Mosque this one higher and I realized that this was just one of the many that sprang up around the old town. Clang, Clang, Clang went the hammer. It felt medieval with so many artisans, animals and what seemed like so little order.

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Just a few minutes later the car stopped and we were directed down a side street, the name of which was written in Arabic. It was narrow and this was as far as the car could go. We were out of the tiny vehicle, out of the protective shell which separated us from this crazy outside world. From in there it has seemed so wonderful, but now it was a bit scary and the tiny weaving streets disorientating. The taxi left and we looked around us and had no idea if having not paid the full price we hadn’t been taken the full way.

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We were already walking down the little alleyway that the taxi driver had hastily instructed us to go down before leaving, when a group of young kids passed us and waved us on in encouragement. We had found the right way, but they would take the credit and the money for leading us there. Round a few bends we were hot and somewhat ruffled, not to the point of panic or intimidation but because to show hesitation in our navigation meant intervention – perhaps friendly but perhaps not, we couldn’t tell yet. A few more twists and turns and like wide eyed gazelle we gaped with relief when we arrived at the ornate door in the side of a normal red walled house. Hotel Calipau 5* the sign read. We had arrived at our destination. The big thick doors creaked open and beyond the shadows we saw the oasis.  A wave of calm, serenity and protection washed over us as we passed out of the sun and into the cool shade of the Riad. From the crazy world which we had just briefly entered into into very sumptuous surroundings with the sound of motorbikes replaced with that of birds chirping and the light trickling of water, like a babbling brook.

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We walked under vaulted ceilings and melted into the purple arm chairs. Mint tea was served on a gold tray and as I took the first sip of the sweet fragrant drink all I could do was think about that crazy buzz which I had just experienced and like a drug I couldn’t wait to put our bags down to get back out there in the heart of Africa, at the heart of life.