Monday, November 29, 2010

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO: Marrakech, PART 3 DAR JL

DAR JL MARRAKECH: HOME AMONG PALMS



Entrance

An oasis in the Palmeraie district of Marrakech. Out of rush hour Dar JL is just 10 minutes drive from the Medina. At night you enter another world. A very enchanted world, with hundreds of lanterns glowing under palms and olive trees that stretch through a vast 13 acres of grounds. A blaze of lanterns leads you up stairs to stepping stones over water into the inner sanctum of Dar JL. A sense of discovery prevails. We came out onto the main pool area which at night was impossibly romantic, with a sculpture apparently dancing in the flickers of a fire. The "yoga pavilion" was a dream-like display of lights.


DAR JL Yoga Pavillion at night
You won’t see too many people here at Dar JL. All this space has actually only 10 bedrooms spread out in various residences, fancifully decorated in a homely and colourful way. Lounging areas are spread out too, with plenty of space to get away from the other guests, should you want to.Wall hangings, carved lanterns, rugs, cushions and hand-fashioned furniture evoke an exotic mood, with themes from as far afield as Sweden (deluxe room Mora with a private terrace), Italy (deluxe room Milano), Asia (suite Cashmir) and Africa (suite Mali) (all in residence Dar Limoon).


Dar JL Lounge

Home-like lounge area of Dar Limoon leads out to the pool area (above)Three of the bedrooms lie in villa Dar Jennat which can be rented for sole use – a popular venue for parties and weddings with its large living room and extended terrace area – including plenty of outdoor dining space, sitting space and potential dance platform.






Dar JL villa spacious terrace

Two Superior Rooms (Fez and Toubakal) lie in residence La Tour – a tower that offers a view and colourful chillout areas (below)

A chillout in the tower ”La Tour” (above)

Yet another room quaintly called Hippie Village (pictured above) is a dream-like walk (or perhaps a dance) over and up a stone path, between the shadows and flickers of lanterns. It was a love affair with Morocco’s colour and textures, woven mats and wall hangings. By contrast, this faraway room features a modern kitchenette.
In this more isolated setting there is an attractive ornamental pool with live fish. Stairs take you up from the pool to the equally hip chillout area. This is a great party venue says Salma Bennani Manager of Dar JL. Among the magic of the trees, lanterns and pool, you won’t disturb anyone. On normal evenings it is open to all guests.

Dar JL is owned by a Swedish couple, who opened it to the pubic some 18 months ago, creating a little stir among those who follow luxury. One extraordinary fact about these gigantic gardens and the handful of rooms is that gardeners outnumber guests. An amazing 80% of the food on the table is organic, produced on the property, says Salma with obvious pride.

Our dinner gave witness to the care and style devoted to food. It also gave a taste of the rare individuality and magic-maker quality of Dar JL. Set up in a tent in the garden, surrounded by the flicker of giant candles in rows of lanterns under the spectre shapes of olive trees.




We sat on what I imagine are Bedouin-style cushions by a low table. Our waiter, with infectious friendliness, brought three courses that would delight beyond delight. First a sophisticated kind of spring roll, that sparkled on the tongue with flavours, followed by exotically presented salmon – baked or grilled under a half mango succulently sauced, and then a dessert to remember, chocolate cake hot enough to melt the icecream.



At the end the waiter asked if he could bring the cook to meet us, so there was really an intimate family feeling. Our tips to both seemed to surprise them, almost “no no – you don’t have to” - demonstrating their genuine friendliness.


Other delights and finesses at Dar JL are the little spa, with hammam and two treatment rooms, tennis court, and a jogging track through the olive groves. Despite the faraway feel it has hi-tech at your fingertips with wi-fi throughout the 5.5. ha estate – and the hotel loans a Moroccan mobile phone to guests to keep contact with staff.The other very nice thing is the warm welcome of Dar JL Manager Salma…one reason for the happy atmosphere.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO: Marrakech, PART 2 La Sultana


The very soul of exotic Marrakech is the Kasbah. It’s a blast of energy as men on bikes or donkey carts and women in gandoras and hijab push though narrow streets among aromatic spice stalls and buckets of luminous pink washing powder. Berber teapots, gauzy cloth…not for tourists but for the locals.

Right here in the Kasbah stands the Select Collection hotel La Sultana, turreted like a fortress, embracing luxury, peace and authentic Moroccan style. Another world. A retreat with fine dining, heated pool, spa with three hammams, body and beauty treatments, and sizable Jacuzzi. Just the place to recover after a day in the souks. We were offered a hammam, body peeling and massage experience – amazing. Ended up supple and silky, dazed and delirious with pleasure. Hard to go out after that.


Rooftop peaceful comfort

From La Sultana rooftop garden you overlook the Kasbah mosque, which five times a day calls the faithful to salah. On the other side of the rooftop you can actually see into a Kasbah souk where most of the women are in traditional dress and many still wear niqab, with only their eyes showing. Amazing and inspiring. The world is not all the same yet.



In your privileged place on the rooftop at La Sultana are bright flowering plants, comfy chairs, a bar, and the rooftop restaurant where you eat breakfast and lunch in view of the beautiful mosque and the Saadian tombs of former kings. There is also a plunge pool and comfortable sun beds, empty on our first mild day but full of sun bathers later on in hot sun. Oh yes – and a tent containing modern exercise equipment.

La Sultana rooftop breakfast
On the ground floor is a larger heated swimming pool and a stylish second restaurant in an open courtyard filled with glossy and exuberant date palms. At night this venue is just so romantic you could almost cry, with rich live Moroccan music by a mellow singer and master of guitar. But you do have to book. There are not so many good restaurants in this area.
La Sultana heated pool
This five star boutique hotel with its 28 rooms was created by a Frenchman from 5 riads – the typical extended family establishments of the better off citizens of Marrakech. Each riad has a courtyard that is open to the sky. Most have a garden, and all share the roof terrace and its garden. Bedrooms open with doors and windows into the courtyards. Seven suites have balconies – some privately hanging above the inner courtyards. Looking inwards is what creates the fortress against noise and heat of the sun.
La Sultana Bahia Riad courtyard
Courtyards are decorated with traditional mosaic tiles or intricate plaster work and woodwork. Original art and antiques further decorate the rooms and public areas. Little lounges and cosy corners for tête-à- tête abound on every floor. Probably as many little conversation settings in the courtyards as there are rooms.
All rooms feature a fireplace, dressing room or large cupboard, king bed, big bath (often imaginatively shaped) and separate shower, double basins – ours were gold. Suites feature marble floors, and rooms feature tiled floors. Seven suites have balconies.
Apart from our own exuberantly decorated Tiger suite, we saw three others.
La Sultana Tiger Suite lounge & bedroom (below)
Ocelot suite deluxe (below) has a private “balcony” at a higher level than the courtyard. This suite is popular with business people because of its separate office, explains Sales and Marketing Manager Julie Boisseau.
Dromedaire suite (picture below) is fancifully decorated with a camel table and other eccentricities including a secretive kind of walk in cupboard and pillars around the bath, which is meant to resemble the traditional bridal carriage on a camel’s back.
The most popular suite and a favourite with men is the Puma suite (pictured below), which comes in dark colours with large cerise flowers for vivacity, and has separate sitting room and bedroom. This is a suite deluxe and as such has a balcony, hanging out over the riad’s upstairs courtyard.
Marketing and Sales Manger Julie Boisseau explains that since every room is so differently decorated people actually like to move, and even book a series of different rooms for their stay. It is the only hotel she has experienced that.The renovation took 3 years. Craftsmen set up workshops on the site, and ambitiously created different style Moroccan interiors in every room and every nook and cranny – with leaning towards Africa here and there. Moroccan tiling – always exquisite, mixes with Moroccan ornamental plaster or decorative Tadelak, antique furniture and art.
La sultana dining room
Atmosphere…certainly Marrakech has atmosphere, it boils over and gently floats up to La Sultana’s rooftop from the Kasbah. You have your choice of seeing it from up there or going out and touching it, bargaining and intrigue – one minute away.
Its a 20 minute walk to the legendary square where the more upmarket souks start - because of one very busy road to cross (jaywalk) , for the highly strung it is probably best reached from here with horse and cart or taxi ordered via hotel.
Or you can stay inside in and feel part of privileged Morocco…ornate, elaborate, extravagant, luxurious and exotic like a tropical flower.

Monday, November 22, 2010

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO: Marrakech, PART 1 Amanjena

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO – LUXURY & INTRIGUE


Tradition lives on in the souks near the legendary Jamaa-el-Fna Square (above).
Marrakech is as exotic as you can get. In the rose-tinted city, ringed by ancient walls, time stands still in narrow streets and endless souks piled with spices, cloths, mats, lanterns and other crafts. Ladies sweep by in robes and veils…

The faraway city has now “got closer”. Direct flights put Marrakech within easy reach of London. Now Norwegian has started direct flights from Stockholm and Oslo. Perfect time for us to pay a visit to three luxury hotels in our Select Collection, with very different charms.
LUXURIOUS PERFECTION: AMANJENA
Above: amanjena bassin paths

Purely perfect luxury and grace. What a starting point. We arrived as all guests do nowadays at Amanjena – by VIP transfer. Before even reaching the door into the airport, we were waved into a VIP lounge, offering peace of mind, juice and snacks while other people ran around with our passports. Then we were shamelessly lead around the long queues at passport control into the arrival hall. Soon we were sailing along with more snacks and mineral water in the Mercedes transfer vehicle, treated to a commentary on Marrakech and what to do.

First thing that happens everywhere in Morocco? You are poured mint tea – so we drank mint tea before we even entered the astounding resort. This was repeated at all 4 hotels we visited.
With serene distance, 20 minutes drive from the turbulence of the Medina, Amanjena wraps you in a romantic and exotic cloak of well-being with its theme of water, rose tinted domes, palms and Moorish arches, surrounded by the greens of a golf course.

It’s like being inside a giant artwork. You move to see it, to be part of it. A central man-made lake containing fish (the bassin) and radiating waterways reflect domes and palms. You follow tiled walkways constantly meeting symmetry, until you discover the swimming pool where people lie on sunbeds and eat and drink in the sun.


Amanjena pool
At night there are Moroccan lanterns burning everywhere, creating a lavishly romantic atmosphere. Laid out along tiled and white stone walkways, all symmetrical.
Amanjena romantic night
The rose-tinted domed pavilions offer more exquisite symmetry. Our bathroom is big, with green marble “his” basin and separate “hers” basin; his dressing area and hers…each with a dressing gown and cashmere cloak (for colder nights); slippers and flip-flops (big for him and dainty little ones for her).
Amanjena pavilion bath

In our courtyard garden we have two sunbeds, with a her hat and a his hat (out of straw). Plus a small dining table with two chairs and if we get visitors they could just flop onto a huge white sofa under an open pavilion in the courtyard. In the centre is a little pool full of floating rose petals, and all the time the fountain tinkles...how romantic can you get?

Pavilion courtyard sofa

Amanjena has three restaurants – a casual one around the pool, a Thai restaurant, and a French Moroccan. But the most popular dining place is actually in your own accommodation or at private venues like the Bedouin tent. Afternoon tea in the bar is another great tradition – mint tea is poured from a silver tea pot held high above tea glasses in a traditional Moroccan tea ceremony – and you are to watch the whole process.
amanjena tea ceremony

We chose the poolside restaurant for lunch. A superbly delicious aubergine dish 140 MAD. In the evening we chose the romantic Moroccan restaurant, which had the allure of live Moroccan music, indoor olive trees and marble columns. Traditional couscous with vegetables 260 MAD (less than 260 SEK).

amanjena Moroccan restaurant at night
Afterwards we walked around the serene and magical property, heartrendingly romantic, with lanterns reflected in the bassin. Though Amanjena was 65% occupied, you hardly saw a soul except friendly staff giving the old Moroccan heart salute. Guests are either dining romantically in the accommodation or doing the big Marrakech thing at the Square, which we will discover soon…
Marrakech snake charmers

For USD 450 plus 10% tax Amanjena will arrange a private visit to the Square. The driver will pick you up again and bring you “home” at time of your choice.The thing to know about Marrakech is that crossing a through road with cars, donkey carts, horse drawn carriages and dozens of bikes needs more than judgment. If you don’t step into the road, no one will stop – so you also need faith. The people of Morocco are very nice, kind and helpful on the whole. However, finding your way without scores of people trying to talk to you and lead you to a shop where they get commission, makes a discreet guide seem worth his weight in best souk gold.

Marrakech Kasbah niquabs

Intrigue, bargaining, colour, mystery and vibrant life…Marrakech.

amanjena bassin reflections

Reflections in the lake or bassin – full of live fish.Amanjena is perfect for those who want to chill out totally – imbibe the romance, beauty, and serenity, sun by the pool, play golf (1 minute away), enjoy good food and romantic evenings, body rub in the hammam, bliss out with massage, or make souk shopping and sightseeing sorties with the possibility of guidance or by taxi …
Further tips on things to do coming later.Breakfast is the most popular meal to eat in the accommodation, but nevertheless we chose to eat by the pool. The “Amanjena breakfast” included homemade bread, homemade croissants, homemade yoghurt , homemade strawberry jam, fresh fruit cut into a swirl of colourful design, musli (and other cereals) and café latte without any fuss over a supplement.


amanjena breakfast

This fabulous breakfast of home-made delights, VIP transfer and a massage are included in our latest offer from Amanjena.

Rainfall is very low in Marrakech. Temperatures ranged from 16 to 25 during our stay in November. Winter is a great time to visit. Later there will be snow on the Atlas Mountains bringing them into glittering focus. But you can still swim at Amanjena as the pools are heated, and the private pools may even reach 30 degrees C.

A pool pavilion is therefore a very good idea for mid winter. We checked out a pool pavilion – like ours, except the garden is larger and contains a swimming pool. Pool pavilions can connect with pool pavilions to make rather luxurious two bedroom accommodations (with pools).




Sunbeds, outdoor dining and a huge sofa under an open roof lie in front of the Pool pavilion – and more sunbeds on the other side of the pool (under the orange tree)

We also checked out a Maison. This is a stately villa on two levels, with a sitting room overlooking the pool, and a second bedroom downstairs with private entrance.

amanjena maison pool

The sitting room of the Maison looking out onto the heated pool.Upstairs is devoted to the master bedroom (image below) with cosy lounge nook and a huge bathroom including his and hers dressing rooms, and a long dressing table cum desk.
People often set up their laptops at this ample dressing table with its view over the hedge to the bassin, says Director of Sales Mafalda de Braganca.



Amanjena has six of these two-storey maisons. Maison Jardin differs in that it has a private garden and butler service.
The prime accommodation is the Al-Hamra Maison, with an extensive garden and the bedrooms both on the same level, along with butler service, indoor and outdoor dining areas and pool – of course, of course.
Final note: Amanjena has fast uncomplicated free wi-fi – no codes. Not at all third world...and yet exotic and soul-filling without doubt.

amanjena lobby area

Click here for our Amanjena page in the Select Collectin 2012-2014 website.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010




This picture we took this summer at Frégate Island Private in the Seychelles. It is truly a magical picture portraying the ideal paradise setting. And we promise no photoshopping or editing has been done.


Monday, November 15, 2010

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO: Phuket, part 2 AMANPURI


PRISTINE LUXURY IN PHUKET We made a voyage of discovery to Phuket, to see old favourites and newcomers and to monitor the luscious luxury that oozes from our handpicked resorts. Forget all about charter resorts lining exploited beaches. The tropical island of Phuket is pure unadulterated luxury and sheer natural beauty when travelling Select style.

AMANPURI We arrived in the early morning sunshine of Phuket, met by the smiles of a perfectly dressed limousine chauffeur from Amanpuri. Only half an hour later we were already being pampered, met by a whole team of staff with perfect ceremony, and more smiles.



Meticulous and discreet service continued to surround us. That and endless palm trees waving in the breeze, graceful pagoda-style roofs and inspired décor creating an exquisite Thai flavor. Privacy, grace and class form the keynote at Amanpuri. Not just class – top class.


Sala outside our Pavillion


Our Pavilion, set like all the others in the vast coconut plantation, was spacious Thai chic, featuring a sala with sun deck (also perfect for enjoying the sunset), along with a truly oversized bathroom and dressing area. There are 40 beautiful pavilions.

But it gets even more luxurious for the celebrities and other lucky ones hiding out in the serenity of the 30 villa homes – each with clusters of two to six pavilions grouped together with own pool. We could image an elite wedding party, a 3G 50th birthday celebration – or just Jack Nicholson brooding there with his entourage and private butler. Not sure why we thought of Jack Nicholson – maybe it could be Madonna catching up with her meditation. Whoever is in there, the point is you wouldn’t know it – discretion at Amanpuri is everything.


Above: The pool area at one of the private villas
Below: Another view of the private villa and pool


Depending on low or high tide the beach is split in two sections– the bigger with water sports attracting families, and a smaller more romantic beach. It feels private though there is no such thing as a private beach in Thailand.







Still we chose the pools for our swimming. One pool is almost part of the restaurant – especially nice for girls that look like models. Among the few guests we saw in that vast and peaceful resort, quite a few looked like that – i.e. gorgeous.



The main restaurant, the Italian and the bar all embrace the sleek and stylish pool area

Thai blessings followed us to the extensive Spa, where had an incredible massage.

And Thai flavor followed us into evening when live Thai music created exotic ambience without being intrusive. In addition to a Thai restaurant, there are two others – one Italian and one (in high season) Japanese. Two bars add a little buzz to the languid evening atmosphere and sense of wellbeing. For energetic activity – you have 6 tennis courts and fully equipped all glass gym with spectacular views.

The closest hyper-activity can be found 20 to 30 minutes distant in Phuket or Patong Beach. All round, five stars is not enough to explain the serene elegance and exotic tropical charm of Amanpuri.

Read more about Amanpuri by clicking here


Amanpuri Beach Club and pool