Glass is mesmerised by La Sultana, an exquisite riad in the centre of Marrakech
When planning a trip to Marrakech, the question of accommodation is always a difficult one. With around 800 riads – traditional courtyard houses – to choose from (and that’s just the registered ones) and hotels springing up around the city faster than Tesco Metros in London, it is hard to decide where to stay. Which is why Glass was so delighted to discover the exquisite La Sultana.
Situated in the centre of Marrakech, the approach to La Sultana is much the same as that to any of the city’s other riads – from bustling dusty street to calm and tranquillity, a change so sudden and complete that it never ceases to amaze and enthral me. This feeling is made all the sweeter by the knowledge that, until fairly recently, as a westerner I might not have been able to go in. My mother, for example, who was brought up in 1960s Morocco, has never been into a riad – she was never invited.
Passing from the frenzy of the street then, into a riad, and seeing what is hidden behind its tall walls, still retains a certain sense of exclusivity and secrecy which cannot be delivered by the brash shop-fronts calling visitors into contemporary hotels.
At La Sultana, the transition from street to riad is further enhanced, and the tantalisation prolonged, by a long brick corridor via which the Almohade riad, the first of five riads which have been linked together to create La Sultana, is reached.
The brick columns and the vaulted ceiling give the impression of entering the crypt of an ancient cathedral, beautifully lit and tastefully decorated with a series of artworks giving a taste of things to come inside.
La Sultana is flawless. Each of the five riads, formerly all private residences, which have now been knocked together, is a revelation and a lesson in Moroccan craftsmanship and artistry. Travelling from one into the next offers a series of delightful discoveries, from the Bahia Riad, an immaculate exercise in minimalist restraint, to the joyous opulence of the Shéhérazade Riad, whose jewel-like tiling and Senegalese furniture cannot fail to charm.
The journey from the public street, to the semi-public riad, continues into the privacy and exclusivity of the bedrooms. Each of the 28 rooms, hidden behind its wood-carved door, is individually decorated and has its own lavish bathroom.
The colours and attention to detail found in La Sultana set it apart from other, more ramshackle versions found elsewhere in the city and from the minimalist décor which is very much “a la mode” in newer hotels attempting to imitate western style. Here every surface is covered, patterned or textured with handmade materials, carvings or simply with clever lighting. Yet, unlike the 1990’s version of the “Moroccan look” which was exported to Europe during that decade and focused on bright colours, busyness and the everyday of the souk – La Sultana achieves restraint in palette and tone whilst retaining craftsmanship and layering.
A collection of art and furniture collected by La Sultana’s owners on their travels all over the world, decorates the riads and creates small moments of pause, reflection and discovery. These pieces are framed by beautiful vistas or curated in elegant displays. Buffalo-horned furniture sits alongside South African masks, on North African kilims lit by Middle Eastern lamps.
The mish-mash of styles and cultures is complete, yet the objects work in perfect harmony with one another since they are all beautiful, unique and handmade. Were it not for the discrete staff and the extreme luxury, La Sultana would feel very much like a home, rather than a faceless hotel.
Like the décor, the food is delicious, perfectly presented and elegant. Coupled with the requisite spa / hammam and an elegant swimming pool, the restaurant makes reasons to actually set foot out of the riad and into the city few and far between. Which is certainly saying something of one of the most energetic, beautiful and exilerating cities Glass has ever discovered. If you are planning on staying at La Sultana, you’d best plan on feeling very sorry to leave.