Tales to come…
After our short stay at Four Seasons, we ventured into the old town of Marrakech, the Medina. We were prepared for chaos in Marrakech after reading the guidebooks and listening to friend’s stories, but upon arrival in the Medina, we were subjected to true taste of what it is like to be a tourist in Marrakech.
The taxi driver stopped and asked a local lad for directions to Dar les Cigognes, the riad that we were to stay in for two nights. The lad and driver exchanged a few words in Arabic before we were told that we were in capable hands and the lad would show us on our way. We paid the driver, pulled our suitcases out of the boot and followed the lad, down windy alleyways, past a flurry of oncoming mopeds, when we finally arrived at the riad. The boy rang the bell and asked for money for showing us the way. We politely declined and rushed through the door once open. Here we encountered our first problem; we were directed to the wrong riad, one with a very similar name, Riad les Cigognes.
As soon as we stepped into the courtyard, the confusion set in. This riad did not look like the one we had seen on the pictures and there was a small (and quite grotty looking) pool, which we also knew Dar les Cigognes did not have. With no one that could speak English, we pointed hastily to a map to ask where we were before wheeling our cases around the busy streets and luckily happening upon Dar les Cigognes.
After parading our bags through the chaotic streets in the searing 40 degree heat, the cool courtyard at Dar les Cigognes was a pardise of tranquillity, a calm from the ensuing mayhem of the streets outside. One would never have imagined what lay behind the dusty pink walls but this place was truly stunning… palatial even. All original features had been restored to impeccable detail. The house was formerly the home to a Jewish merchant who made trade with the king in the palace opposite. We later found out that the surrounding area was once the Jewish district of Marrakech before the trouble in Israel / Palestine lead to most of the Jewish population fleeing the city.
We walked in and were greeted by the General Manager for the Sansoucci Collection, Pierre Herve. After being seated on the sofa area in the beautiful courtyard, complete with orange trees and a water fountain littered with flower buds, we were treated to a sweet and syrupy mint tea. Pierre then proceeded to give us a verbal tour of the city and provided us with a wedge of sheets that contained personal recommendations – where to get the best leather, pottery, the best museums and gardens, along with the best restaurants.
We felt that we had walked into a small paradise from the bustling outside world and immediately felt at peace in the riad. We walked up the stairs to our room, unlocked the door and once inside marvelled at the original features – the beautifully carved ceiling, the enormous wardrobe and an extremely large polished concrete bath. We found rose petals on the floor beside the bed and on the bath mat and later that evening two cookies and a small bottle of milk at the bedside. It didn’t take us long to realise that what makes Dar les Cigognes so special is the attention to detail.
We dined in the square that evening at a restaurant that was recommended to us, Marrakshi. Situated in the tourist hot spot, it was noted that it is touristy but serves the best food on the square and provides good entertainment. Our honey and almond tagine was, at that time, the best tagine we had ever eaten and we enjoyed our meal.
After seeing the snake charmers and monkeys on leads wearing nappies, we retreated back to the riad for a peaceful nights sleep before taking breakfast on the terrace the next morning. We were served a range of Moroccan breads and pastries, a bowl of fruit and yoghurt, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. The breathtaking flowers sat in rows upon rows of terracotta pots and set us off planning for our soon to be very own garden (we have just bought out first flat!)
During our stay, we were also treated to a tour of the local food market by Pierre, which was followed by a cooking class back at the riad. As soon as we stepped outside into the blistering heat, Pierre took us the long way round – he wanted us to see the communal oven. Each day, members of the public would take their own dough to the wood fired communal oven and pay as little as 1 diram per loaf. Motorbikes were loaded with freshly baked breads and delivered to the local restaurants.
The tour of the food market was invaluable, smelly and at times disturbing but it gave us a good insight into Moroccan produce. All of the fruit and veg is organic – because they can’t afford pesticides and only Moroccan produce is available – because they can’t afford to import. We saw tiny kittens wandering sleepily and cats staring at men butchering chickens.
Back at the riad, we thoroughly enjoyed cooking our monk fish tagine and vegetable cous cous. I won’t go into too much detail here as I will be writing about this on Eat the Olympics. But what I will say is that it was the best tagine I have ever eaten – pure heaven, despite feeling a little strange about eating the fish after seeing the fish stall in the market and Pierre telling us that we were 200km away from a beach and there is poor refrigeration in the trucks that carry the fish to Marrakech!
After two nights at Dar les Cigognes, we were off to our next stop, Dar Darma. Stay tuned for the review!
Rates at Dar les Cigognes start from 150 euros.
Dar Les Cigognes
108, rue de Berima
+212 524 38 27 40
Food For Think was a guest at Dar les Cigognes
‘Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing’. The familiar words from the softly spoken pilot woke me up on my early flight to Marrakech. I lifted my blindfold off my eyes and looked out of the window. All I could see was a vast expanse of desert and sandy coloured towns dotted below the flight path. When we came into land, I couldn’t help but think that hadn’t I known otherwise from seeing pictures and footage of this vibrant city, I would have thought the only colours I would be seeing for the next six days would be cream and salmon pink, for all of the buildings in sight were painted in either colour.
I came to Marrakech with Jack primarily for the fact that we are going to explore the city and use it for the Moroccan entry for Eat the Olympics. There is no better way of getting to understand a countries cuisine than by actually exploring for yourselves.
Our first stop was the Four Seasons. We felt we were stung with the taxi fare – a guide book from 2007 and the pretty lady at the tourist information center informed us that we should be paying no more than 150 diram for a taxi to the hotel. But when you tell a taxi driver that you’re staying at the Four Seasons, you can see the dollar signs rolling in their eyes. After a quick haggle from 200 down to 180, we were off. And we were peeved when no more than ten minutes later we were rolling up the driveway of the grand Four Seasons Marrakech.
We were greeted by a bell boy and taken inside to the waiting area where we were met by the lovely PR manager for the resort. After a quick verbal tour (the resort is too huge for a walking tour!), we were shown to our (deluxe suite) and left to our own devices. We were to stay at the resort for two days before traveling into the centre to experience two riads.
The suite was impressive and luxurious with a living room area equipped with dining table and chairs, a comfortable sofa that also doubled as a bed and a huge flat screen TV. We opened the double doors, which led us into the master bedroom and saw a huge king sized bed, another flat screen TV and an impressive marble master bathroom, armed with a drench shower, a huge sunken bath, toilet, bee day and his and hers sinks. Both rooms had vast double doors, which led directly onto a long balcony overlooking the resort.
We didn’t stay in the room for long because we wanted to get down to the pool area. Upon arrival we were greeted by the pool butler who showed us to two empty beds and told us that he was happy to help should we need any assistance. The towel lined sunbeds overlooked the longest and most tranquil pool that I had ever seen. The water so still, calm and inviting. This was what we had been waiting for – a day of sitting by the pool doing nothing but listening to birds tweet and soaking up the sun. After a couple of hours, we treated ourselves to a spot of lunch on the terrace of Azzera, which overlooks the pool. A mozzarella, tomato and aubergine salad can set you back £17 but considering we also received a basket of freshly baked breads and were able to enjoy the views, we could hardly say it wasn’t worth it.
Later in the day we made use of the tennis courts, which costs around £13 per hour (includes racket, ball and trainer hire). It was my first time playing on clay and although my t-shirt was positively wet through by the end (playing in 30 degree heat is quite strenuous!) I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The first evening we dined at Solano, the resorts Moroccan restaurant. Both of us have eaten Moroccan many times. Living in London, we are lucky to have a wide range of Moroccan restaurants (some good, some VERY bad!) But we were glad to see that some of the dishes were new to us.
To start we ordered Pigeon pastilla with spicy salad to share for a starter, followed by Lamb tagine with peas and artichokes and Monkfish and prawns with tomato chermoula, vegetables and black olives for main. We were treated to green and black olives with cheese and baby plum tomatoes on sticks with a basket of bread to start. The cheese and tomatoes on sticks were a novel idea – not sure totally authentic Moroccan but I’m a sucker for cheese and tomatoes so I enjoyed it!
The starter gave us a bit of a shock when it arrived. A round filled pastry was covered in icing sugar and cinnamon. I glanced at Jacks face to see his reaction – I was worried he would dismiss it as he’s not one for mixing sweet and savoury and isn’t especially keen on cinnamon. The waiter explained that pigeon and almond was mixed together and wrapped in pastry before being fried. I didn’t know what to expect but was extremely surprised when I took my first mouthful – gamey pigeon mixed with almond matched incredibly well with the sweet topping. I might even go as far to say that it is the best new dish that I have tried in a LONG time. Even Jack liked it and that says something!
The main course was not quite as impressive. I perhaps played it safe with the lamb tagine, which was very tasty but I guess I knew what to expect. The lamb and artichoke was tender, the peas crispy.
The monkfish dish was delicious. Tender medalions of monkfish and juicy tiger prawns sat in a delicious tomato fish marinade and was accompanied by crispy seasonal veg. The portion sizes were perfect – enough to fill us without making us feel uncomfortable. Sadly though, we did not leave enough room for dessert. The poached peach tagine with star anise, pistachio sabayon, almond ice creak & Fekkas almost tempted me but after such a long day, we felt it better to retreat to our suit for an early night.
We spent two nights and three full days at the Four Seasons resort before heading into the Medina for three more nights. By the end of the trip, temperatures had soared to 44 degrees and we decided to ask if it would be possible to spend our last day lazing by the pool before jetting back to London. Luckily we were allowed and I couldn’t have been more grateful for the swimming pool and beautiful surroundings. A mere three and a half hours flight and ten minute taxi journey on the other side and you can be basking in the African sunshine at Four Seasons Marrakech. I couldn’t recommend it enough.
We also dined at Blue D’Orange and talked to head chef Francesco Montano and Pastry Chef Sylvain Nicolas. Review and interview to come soon!
Four Seasons Executive Suite costs between 550 – 740 Euros per evening.
Food For Think was a guest at Four Seasons Marrakech and Solano restaurant and flew with British Airways, which flies to Marrakech eight times a week. Lead-in return summer fares start from £224.56 including taxes, fees and charges.
To book or for more information visit http://www.ba.com/Marrakech or call 0844 4930787.
I’ve had a serious taster of the life of Riley. And I rather enjoyed it.
Some of you may be aware that back in September, I entered a competition to win a place on a press trip to Hong Kong to celebrate the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival, which took place from 27th – 30th October on West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade. I was one of the lucky winners and last week embarked on a 5 day whirlwind tour of the city with three other journalists from The Arbuturian, The Independent and TravelMail.
All through the trip I was pondering how on earth I was going to cram everything that I did into one post. I can’t. So I have come up with a solution. As I have so much to tell, I will be posting a separate piece for each part of the trip – the hotel, the flights (yes, this deserves a post of its own – you’ll soon see why), the restaurants and a host of other weird and wonderful activities to get stuck into in Hong Kong.
Please bear with me – jet lag is still lurking and I’ve got a bout of post ‘holiday’ blues.
I arrived home from a wonderful holiday in Sweden at the weekend. We flew to Stockholm, had a whole day of shopping and then got the sleeper train up to the skiing resort Åre where we skied for 5 days before taking the sleeper train back to Stockholm for another day in the city.
Having only come back from Australia 6 weeks ago, it was a shock to the system to suddenly be in a city that is -14 degrees. We trudged around stopping occasionally in little shops just to warm ourselves. It was absolutely freezing. Then we were in for even more of a shock – when we arrived in Åre it was -25degrees but it was such a beautiful place that I could forgive it!
This holiday was certainly not a foodie holiday. When I say this, I mean that I wasn’t able to snoot out the best foodie destinations and this was because there aren’t many in Åre and I wasn’t in Stockholm for long enough! We did however eat a LOT in the form of home cooked meals in the apartment that we stayed in.
The foodie hi-light of Åre was the bakery selling amazing breads and pastries (it was a bit expensive though) and the delicious hot chocolates with whipped cream that were available in every mountain restaurant and cafe and because of this I looked forward to my daily 11.30(ish)am stop. We ate lunch in one of the restaurants on the first day and it was really really bad. We ordered what was supposed to be a goulash soup but what came looked to me like the remnants of a cup-a-soup with left over boiled potatoes and a bit of caraway seed added in for good measure. Not a good start.
We stopped for lunch a couple more days and thankfully the food was much better. I had a burger in one delightful mountain restaurant with a view to die for. Sorry that I didn’t get a picture of the food here! The next time we stopped, we ordered the traditional Swedish dish of ‘meat and potatoes’, which was slightly cold when it arrived at our table and to be honest was relatively bland but just what we needed to warm us up for the duration of the day. We also ordered a fantastic cheese and ham toastie.
One evening we attempted to eat out at a local restaurant called Madonna’s but upon arrival were told that there was no table (even though there were a couple free and a group of people that arrived after us were seated straight away, not having booked either) and it took them about 15 minutes to take our order for take away and a further 15 minutes to deliver it. Then when we got back to the apartment, they had got two of the pizzas wrong! Still, they were delicious and they offered two free pizzas the next day, which we ate on the sleeper train back to Stockholm.
We arrived back in Stockholm at 7am and we desperately needed somewhere to go for breakfast as none of the shops open until 11am. We found a great little place called Louie Louie in the trendy Sodermalm district and ordered some fantastic hot chocolates and toasties. The breakfast options seem a little limited in Sweden. You can get great pastries and I was happy to stick to a cinnamon one but the others in my group were after some hot options.
My foodie hi-light of the whole holiday was a little bakery called Fabrique on a nearby Sodermalm street, which sold fresh breads, cakes and pastries. I deliberately shared my toastie so that I could go past the bakery and get a cinnamon and cardamom bun. It was fantastic. It took me right back to when I visited Peter’s Yard in Edinburgh and was wowed by the Cardamom bun that I had there. I have the recipe so I’m going to have a go at making it myself at home soon.
One of the most amazing things that we did in Åre was go carting…….. on ice! The river freezes over completely in the winter and they create a go carting track that you race around on, trying your hardest not to slide all over the place. Completely surreal – I wish I could do it again!
I’d love to go back and visit both Stockholm and Åre in the summer time – I bet it’s absolutely beautiful.
I have a real craving for cinnamon at the moment, much to the amusement of my workmates and it has reminded me of a breakfast that I had when I was in Edinburgh a couple of weekends ago.
One of my workmates lived in Edinburgh during her uni years and sent a few recommendations before we embarked on our 3 day trip. One of those suggestions was Peter’s Yard. So naturally, we decided to head there for breakfast. It ended up being a pretty late one and we didn’t want to eat too much as we had a hefty lunch planned at Petit Paris. We opted for a delicious Cinnamon bun and a lovely pot of tea to go with it.
My friends ordered a flat white and cappuccino, which looked too delightful not to capture on film!
The cafe itself was buzzing and full with very, very cool looking couples, yummy mummies and university students. The high ceilings made it feel very light, airy and modern (very Scandinavian). The food looked fresh, the salads tempting. There was also a table holding freshly baked breads, cookies and pastries.
The first things that I saw when I walked in were the infamous Peter’s Yard Crisp Breads. I bought a packet a while back and immediately fell in love. They are just delicious and perfect with homemade chilli jam, my boyfriend style.
I really would love to have stayed for lunch but we had shopping and a scrummy French meal to attend to. I would be eternally grateful if they were to open a cafe in London!