Travel | Diary of a Somebody

Anouska Hempel

The hotelier par excellence meditates on a medina of one’s own

Anouska Hempel

February 09 2011
Anouska Hempel

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

It was a long day in Rabat, exploring the old and new parts of the town, looking for inspiration for my new hotel, trying to work out the balance between the traditional Moroccan aesthetic, and taking the design to a more contemporary level. This morning I got the opportunity to take a step back into this remarkable country; it has its own pace – very schizophrenic and quixotic in time. Everywhere I went, there were friendly, attentive people.

My guide took me through the back streets of the market, far off the beaten track – many of which I had missed on my previous visits. I found the most incredible fabric – a beautiful thick black material, which the shopkeeper said came from Basra 150 years ago (I immediately bought the whole roll for £150). Other shopkeepers were selling the most extraordinary equestrian paraphernalia, drawing on the city’s trading heritage.

In the early evening, we departed for Marrakech. Three and a half hours in a beaten-up old Mercedes, smelling like the local petrol station all the way. Working on the design plans for the hotel the entire journey… but hardly any reception on the phone!

We arrive in Marrakech, and deep in the Medina, walk into one of the most beautiful restaurants I know – Le Yacout. Approached by a very small wooden door and winding corridors, one high room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, leads onto another. Everywhere ancient lamps, and an old water citizen in the middle – glowing as if rubbed by a body of ants for 400 years.

When you take people here, it never disappoints – and it is always good to return. My host this evening was Achraf, who we are working for on the Rabat hotel. He was generous to a fault – huge dishes arriving on brass and silver platters, approximately 1m wide, with food to die for: lamb shank tagine, pigeon pie, aromatic couscous. Nothing too highly spiced, a gentle cinnamon flavour throughout. The wine, a 2005 red – almost a claret – did not stop flowing. With the huge high windows, arches pointing to the sky – dripping with vegetation – I was taken into a different period, into the Moroccan sky. Extraordinary food for thought for building a hotel – the thought of creating my own little medina in Rabat becomes all the more exciting.

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