LWSY Marrakech Part One > Inner Sanctum > El Fenn
One of the most wonderful things about Marrakech for us Londoners, is the ease of getting there. To begin my week long adventure travelling through some of the leading design hotels and Riads, I woke up in London for a 6.30am flight from Gatwick, to be by the pool at El Fenn having breakfast by 10.30am. With just an hours time difference, you can arrive and set your body clock to relax mode in an instant. (Pic credit above Joanna Vestey).
Marrakech Menara Airport is small and you are only a short car journey (15 minutes or so) into the Medina or surrounding hotel resorts (whether that be Amanjena or the Four Seasons). All the places you’d want to stay are so easy to get to, most offer a transfer service so you can avoid the ‘how much are they going to charge me for this’ taxi ride.
My first night in Marrakech (and my first trip here) was to be at El Fenn. I had very carefully researched where I wanted to stay each night (I love to hotel hop, FOMO and all that) and because of my busy itinerary I chose El Fenn for its location and its design. El Fenn means ‘Art’ in Arabic and ‘hip’ in local slang. Quite an accurate description of what was inside.
Owned by Howell James and Vanessa Branson, El Fenn has quietly developed from a six bedroom family retreat (formally one of Marrakech’s great private homes which they purchased in 2002) into a beautifully atmospheric riad which opened to the public in 2004.
Since their first opening (in 2004) and with the expertise of renowned Moroccan architect Amine Kabbaj, neighbouring riads were purchased and twenty-two more rooms and suites have been added. All individually styled they intertwine thoughout three tree filled courtyards.
Polished lime plastering was used in a rainbow of colours to create walls, baths and bed frames. Original tiling was renovated and you can see that the cedar ceilings have been restored to their former glory in some of the suites and bedrooms.
There is a 7000 sq ft roof terrace with dipping pool (perfect to slip into with a book), spa, restaurant and plenty of nooks and corners to hide away in day and night. I can’t tell you how magical it was to step inside and just breathe. Complete tranquility. This is a place to kick back and hit the snooze button. The first day spent there was 100% the most relaxing day of my year. Without a care in the world and every reason not to think about anything other than the moment I was in, I was fully restored by sunset.
We arranged to be collected by El Fenn’s transfer car (300 dirham), safe in the knowledge we’d be swiftly delivered to their door with no fuss of getting lost or booted out of a cab too early. As we arrived our driver carried our luggage down a narrow alley through another even more hidden alley to a very unassuming black doorway. Morrocan architecture traditionally shuns all exterior decoration, it is their faith and culture to look in on personal beauty and whats inside. With nearly metre thick walls you are lead down a deep red corridor with giant chequered flooring into a fragrant and serene first courtyard with a rose petal filled fountain, and deep violet day beds.
Now, music to our ears, what did we need first? The wifi code and a cold drink, a beer perhaps? Mojito? His words not ours. Hallelujah, a hotel that speaks our language.
From my own research there were a few nooks that I wanted to see for myself, that bathtub where Lupita Nyong’o was photographed for US Vogue, the famous hammock in the courtyard, and the killer pool (one of three at El Fenn) which is overlooked by one of the beautiful courtyard landings.
Above photo credit David Loftus ℅ El Fenn
One of El Fenns tortoises, they are super friendly and love a gentle tickle…
Outside the library. A place we soon realised is most important in any hotel. The semi comatose state that El Fenn will induce you into needs to be every once in a while woken with a good book. We all know once you start a good book you can finish it in less than a day, and no one likes travelling with a tonne of books do they. El Fenn was well stocked. I know we left one or two in our room.
We arrived mid-morning and were certainly not expecting to have access to our room so early so we headed to the roof to acclimatise to the hot hot heat. Marrakech takes some getting used to this time of year. Notoriously one of the hottest times, we were actually lucky that it wasn’t warmer than it was (temps reached between 35-39 degrees daily when usually at this time it should reach 45-50 degrees).
Our first nook of the day. With vast swathes of kilim rugs adorning all the day beds and shaded areas, the vibrant jewel like colours were a clear reminder that you were so close to the Medina and famous souks. A reminder to us also that we must not forget to go and explore the surrounding area.
The Berber-tented area was the perfect spot for a bit of respite from the heat, and our designated spot for lunch that day.
On a clear day you have sweeping views of the Atlas Mountains. The Koutoubia Mosque can be seen from the green gardens by the roof pool villa. Below is the shallow dipping pool. A perfect spot in the morning, but it got very very hot in the midday sun.
Not quite ready to relax we continued to explore El Fenn, so headed back downstairs through the art filled corridors and through to the Carrara marble pool area. Look a little closer at the artwork and you’ll notice pieces by Anthony Gormley, Bridget Riley and Francis Upritchard.
I loved this little table. Set in the courtyard of the main pool, it was wonderful to see the team at El Fenn sit together and enjoy Ftour the night we stayed. We visited during Ramadan, and this evening meal is taken to break the daily religious fast.
Finally time to have a dip before heading up to our suite. The wonderful thing about this time of year is that it’s not high season (due to the heat) so we were thrilled to be offered a larger suite during our stay. Although following our tour I would honestly tell you that you would be happy in any of their rooms. All are full of character, and all have outdoor space, whether you are in one of the courtyard rooms, junior or colonnade suites, you’ll always find a spot for yourself. Trust me, any room is a go.
The view of the main pool from one of the riad landings. This is one of those spots at El Fenn where you’ll find yourself lingering and just thinking how beautiful it is to be here, and how lucky we all are. At least I did.
Along the landing to our junior suite…
Another little reading spot outside our room…
The entrance to our suite above, and a picture of the interior below. Some suites have an open wood fireplace (like ours) others have hand-carved cedar ceilings. Our deep red leather lined walls were quite striking and easy to live with. Artwork from the owners personal collection rested against the walls unhung, and complimentary wine and soft drinks were left daily. The shower was incredible, and the bath so deep an attempt to fill it was aborted after such a long first day in the sun. Be warned, be prepared for the wait if you want it. Totally worth it I’m sure! Heavenly bath salts were also provided as were the gorgeous hooded and tasselled dressing gowns.
After asking for our room key we were informed there wasn’t one. No need we were told. That made me smile. We were safe here, you could feel it in every way. Security was manning the front door 24/7 also.
Outside all the rooms are little living spaces, and each morning a pot of tea, coffee and milk are left for you to discover in your own time before making your way up to the roof for breakfast.
As we were only at El Fenn for a night, no plans were made to leave this sanctuary. So after we settled into our room (translate as quick quick bikinis, pool pool pool) we made it to the roof again for a lovely salad before dipping in and out of the pool for the afternoon.
Lunchtime… Pic ℅ David Loftus
Dinner was a very relaxed affair. At dusk the city lights up so head up to the roof in time, grab a glass and just watch.
The Moorish architecture blended with the modern design features, and a simple menu offered all that you wanted after a hot day. El Fenn are real foodies, offering the best of traditional Moroccan food as well as European dishes. As it was our first night in Marrakech of course we had to try the tagines…
Chickpea, Harissa & Cauliflower Tagine / Mixed leaf Salad
Lamb Tagine a la Mroyza with Dried Fruits / Couscous
Passion Fruit Sorbet
After an incredibly deep sleep I woke up to the little set up of coffee outside our room, threw on a kaftan and headed down to one of the courtyards for my soon to be daily 20 minutes with my laptop before heading to the roof for breakfast.
Holiday breakfast of dreams, shakchouka. YUM.
The roof, picture credit David Loftus ℅ El Fenn
After a mid-morning swim and an hour or two by the pool it was time to move on to our next hotel, La Sultana. Even though we were there for just 24 hours, the serenity that it brought us was priceless. I can absolutely understand why El Fenn is such a popular weekend destination. We missed out of visiting the spa, far too much time was spent on that roof terrace, perhaps next time though.
I can certainly close my eyes and still smell the bougainvillea. Memories of the courtyards all lit by candle light, the tea lights in jam jars swaying in the light breeze early evening. The mint tea and pastries that are left out for guests late afternoon and the fire pit by the pool at night. There are so many memories. On reflection of the 4 other hotels we stayed in this week, we quietly drew up a ‘Best Of’ list. El Fenn won in so many categories. All will become clear at the end of my Marrakech posts at the end of the month. The staff were on the right side of invisible but always there when you needed something. The linen was a dream, in fact the only points I noticed that some could consider as negatives, in my mind were positives. You won’t find a tv, iPod dock or phone in your room, but this has been carefully considered. This is the charm of staying in a riad. Simple, elegant living.
Poolside, picture credit David Loftus.
As my #GlobeTrotterTravels continued, off we went to La Sultana…
Junior Suite rates start from €300 for July/August and rest of the year it’s €400. Courtyard Suites start at €200 and for the best Family Villas and Riad Vanessa rates start at €500 a night.
My stay was courtesy of El Fenn. With all thanks to Annabel at Julia Spence Public Relations, and Megan and the team at El Fenn.
Images ℅ David Loftus, Joanna Vestey, Lillie Stamp & LWSY