Win a holiday to Marrakech
PUBLISHED: 21:06 28 June 2014 | UPDATED: 21:06 28 June 2014
Kent Life takes the hassle out of an early morning flight by staying at the new Hampton by Hilton at Gatwick North before heading for a blissful break in Marrakech
Faced with an early flight to your holiday destination, what better way to begin your break than with a hotel literally at the airport?
That was my happy start to a long weekend in Marrakech, tootling along the M25 from Tonbridge the night before, parking right by the brand-new Hampton by Hilton at London Gatwick North Terminal, which is literally moments from the airport check-in desks.
My gleaming white, air-conditioned bedroom immediately helped me relax and I was able to stay connected thanks to free WiFi and a handy lapdesk.
You can watch movies on the LCD TV and freshen up in the spacious bathroom with a walk-in power shower, which blasted me awake far too early the next morning after a comfortable night’s sleep.
Had I been so inclined I could have had a workout in the free 24-hour fitness centre or held a meeting for up to 16 people in the flexible meeting room, equipped with the latest A/V technology. Maybe next time.
A continental or hot breakfast is included in your stay, depending on the time you require it, and the 24/7 snack area came in very handy the evening before, when I enjoyed a glass of wine and a light meal in the contemporary bar.
The hotel itself is smart, modern and brand new – it opened at the beginning of the year and is a great addition to Gatwick. Reception staff are polite and patient and a useful security extra is that only guests can operate the lifts to rooms via their personal key card.
My favourite bit of all, however, was being able to check my bag in after 8pm the night before. I just strolled across the connecting walkway from the hotel reception area straight into the airport, which meant the next morning I could waft past the crowds queuing straight to departures.
Three hours and10 minutes after take off, I was in Marrakech airport and being whisked by chauffeur-driven car to the Villa Dinari, a scenic 20 minutes away through the Red City, so named for the colour of its buildings.
We passed horse-drawn carriages – and cars and scooters weaving in and out of traffic at speed – with the vast city walls to one side and equally vast palm groves and unexpectedly lush greenery to the other.
I was greeted warmly by English owner Heather, who has lived in Marrakech for 26 years but only bought the land the villa stands on in 2000 with her Moroccan husband Abdel Benhrima, an experienced tour guide who works under the name Our Man in Morocco.
Abdel and his team can take you on everything from a half-day trip to unearth the secrets of the souks to a month-long, once-in-a-lifetime journey to discover this most exotic of North African countries.
The couple spent the next four years designing and building their beautiful home and holiday villa, which sits in some two acres of landscaped gardens that offer ‘secrets’ at every turn, including very English roses mingling with cacti, bougainvillea and olive trees.
Centrepiece is a raised pool and jacuzzi surrounded by inviting loungers with parasols. There’s a well-stocked bar too. I was soon poolside sipping mint tea and nibbling little sweet home-made pastries and a delicious savoury pancake.
The combination of birdsong, sunshine and an early morning flight soon took effect and I snoozed until a light lunch was served at tables outside the restaurant, which only opened this March.
The plan is that it will eventually become a destination dining place too but at the moment it is reserved solely for guests – cool and contemporary, with dramatic sculptures and its own bar area, it is extremely attractive, but the lure of eating all my meals outside proved too much on my brief visit.
Four of us – a young couple from Hampshire, a middle-aged Belgian lady and myself – enjoyed spicy chicken, a delicious Moroccan salad and pitta while chatting across the tables. It’s that kind of relaxed, friendly place and you start to feel immediately at home, whether in a group or alone.
After lunch I went for a bit of an exploration while my fellow guests sought the comfort of a shady hammock or one of the double four-poster beds invitingly dotted around the grounds.
Villa Dinari brings together the traditional historic style of the riad, which focuses into an inner courtyard garden offering peace and privacy, and a modern family home – the couple live here with their son Adam, when he’s home from university.
It’s a perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, yet still close enough to the centre of the ancient city for you to dip into and enjoy all the fabulous sites and restaurants it has to offer.
A selection of eight bedrooms, suites and self-contained garden chalets creates a relaxed environment and while each room has its own character, they all have one thing in common – a seductive mix of soft colours, rich Moroccan textiles and the best craftwork of local artisans.
I stayed in the glorious Dinari Suite, which included a well-stocked kitchen, an elegant lounge with French windows onto a private terrace and an en-suite double bedroom decorated in accents of green.
The floor is tiled, the windows have wooden shutters and there are lovely touches like wrought-iron lanterns, silky drapes on the arch into the bedroom, a hairdryer, cotton Kaftan-style bathrobes and pool towels.
All rooms have tea and coffee-making facilities, iPod docks and mini bars in all rooms. The tensions just slip away ….
That evening I joined Heather and her mother (visiting from Essex) at the poolside bar, the popular focal point for an aperitif before a candle-lit dinner on the restaurant terrace. If you prefer, you can eat by the pool or at one of the more intimate settings pocketed throughout the gardens, depending on mood and occasion.
We tucked into delicious savoury filo pastries served with a tomato and pepper salad, a succulent lamb and pear tagine and chocolate mousse. Yes, dear reader, I slept very well indeed.
Much refreshed I took breakfast under a palm tree – fruit and yoghurt, scrambled egg with pitta, a pot of (English) tea – then joined Heather and mum Beryl again for a shopping trip in Marrakech.
I couldn’t have had a better guide, Heather not only drives like a local, parking right by the entrance to Marrakech’s famous souq, the biggest in Morocco, but she is fluent in Arabic and French - and knows the place like the back of her hand.
We dived in and out of this Aladdin’s cave of tiny alleyways and broom-cupboard-size shops, marvelling at the ornate lamps, brilliantly coloured babuches (Moroccan leather slippers), rich luxurious carpets, leather bags, djellabas and loose, colourful trousers – perfect in the heat.
I’d have been lost in seconds and would have spent all my dirhams in the first shop, but with Heather in charge I got some notable bargains and had a thoroughly fabulous morning (there is also a regular bus service to the centre of Marrakech every 30 minutes from Villa Dinari).
We ended up, as everyone inevitably does, at Jmaa el Fna, The Place of the Dead, the ancient heart of Marrakech. Here in North Africa’s most vibrant and exotic square (known locally as La Place), snake charmers, storytellers and acrobats entertain the passing crowds, as they have done for 1,000 years.
By day the bustle of henna artists, potion sellers, fresh orange juice vendors and red-robed water sellers; by night the curling smoke of 100 barbeques spirals over the largest open-air restaurant in the world (Heather’s top tip: “Head for stall No 14 for the best Moroccan-style fish and chips in town.”)
After an al fresco café lunch we picked up the car (attendants keep your keys and move vehicles around to get as many in the car park as possible – and they clean it) and headed back to the tranquillity of the villa and that inviting pool once again.
More sunbathing, relaxing, drinks by the pool and a delicious spicy chicken meal with the family before a slightly earlier night ….
Alas, time to go already – breakfast (with the family’s dogs) on my own terrace, last photos, fond farewells, promises to return, already dreaming of my daughter getting married here (weddings are very popular) – and I was back at the airport.
Just time for some last-minute shopping, including two gorgeous necklaces and a trio of spices, and before I knew it I was back at Gatwick and home for tea, without even the hassle of retrieving my car – there it was, bang outside the Gatwick Hilton. Perfect.
I loved the Villa Dinari and Heather’s hospitality – I haven’t been this relaxed in years. Next time I’ll be there for at least a week and, with Abdel’s help, visit the Atlas Mountains, sleep under the desert stars, explore the Majorelle Gardens owned by the late Yves Saint Laurent and perhaps even brave a camel ride.
Kent Life has teamed up with Villa Dinari to offer one lucky reader a three-night stay for two people in a double room to include breakfast for two.
The prize is valid until 19 December 2014, with dates subject to availability, but does not include flights or meals other than breakfast.
In addition, all Kent Life readers who book four nights or more at the Villa Dinari will receive one free night and a complimentary bottle of wine.
To be in with a chance of winning, just answer the question below and then send your answer with your name and contact details (including a daytime contact number) and email to: email@example.com or send a postcard to: Kent Life, Archant Kent, Apple Barn, Hythe Road, Smeeth, nr Ashford TN25 6SS.
Please put ‘Villa Dinari’ in the subject line. Archant competition rules apply (for full terms and conditions see www.kent-life.co.uk). Once the winner has been notified, they will need to book directly with the owners.
What is Marrakech famously known as?
a) The Desert City
b) The Pink City
c) The Red City
Deadline for entries: 31 July 2014
FIND OUT MORE
Villa Dinari Alpha 41, Lots Bouzaoui
Commune al Ouidane
00 212 524 32 89 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hampton By Hilton Gatwick
Longbridge House, North Terminal,
Gatwick Airport RH6 0PJ
0871 360 2180
Flights courtesy of www.easyjet.com