Seeking winter sun at Morocco's Les Cinq Djellabas
I have a recurring stress nightmare – which is usually a sign I’m run down and need a holiday – whereby it’s the day before my French A-level exam and I haven’t yet started revising. Invariably I wake up moments before the (dream) exam itself is due to start, and the sense of relief that it’s not actually the day I’ll be tested on my command of the French language is almost worth the tossing and turning of the previous six or so hours.
Despite what’s clearly a lasting horror of that particular sixth-form day, even I can tell you that the number of thatched mud huts in the grounds of Les Cinq Djellabas number more than five – although that is about the only thing this little paradise just outside Marrakech gets incorrect.
On face value, staying in a mud hut might not sound like the best way to spend a romantic weekend away, but these, my design-savvy friends, are no ordinary mud huts. If I ever end up with a black tadelakt wall in a future home renovation, it will be thanks to the 52 pictures my boyfriend took of the lime plaster bathrooms walls in Les Cinq Djellabas’ huts: they were sensationally exquisite.
Each hut – of which there are actually 10 – comes with beautifully styled interiors, and a light and breezy bathroom that looks out onto olive trees, cacti and banana plants. I’m not a fan of the catch-all ‘eco-chic’ tag, but it’s certainly apt for the spaces that designer Thierry Isbnardon, who worked with the owner, Frederic Velissariou, on the interiors, has created. In the lofty reception, unfinished adobe walls with their iron rods still visible are used as an unusual but striking staircase, and clusters of naked light-bulbs pre-date the current fashion for them in every interior magazine going.
We slummed it in a regular suite. If you want to splash out, there’s a luxe version which comes with free-standing bathtub, but even as someone who has what some might call an obsession with free-standing baths (it comes from living in a shower-only London flat), they do feel like something of superfluous extra when there’s a zinging pool approximately 12 steps from your bed.
And the pool is as chic as it gets, all green marbled tiles and just-so-arranged loungers and beds round its edges. March, when I visited, is not the time to actually get in the pool. I did, but only when dared after a few too many glasses of wine and it was not hot. In Morocco’s boiling summers, I imagine it will be just the cooling thing. In March, while it was just about warm enough to sunbathe, there were also some rather extravagant thunder and lightening storms, which we sheltered from wrapped in blankets in the porch of our hut. (I shouldn’t really be calling them ‘huts’ at all, maybe ‘lodges’ works better.)
Aside from the interiors, the food here is exceptional. Hardly surprising given Velissariou also created Le Foundouk, which just happens to be one of the most famous restaurants in the Medina. The menu isn’t extensive, but it works. The vegetable tagine, in particular, was so good we had it twice. Each.
Everything here is thought through: your pool basket packed with towels, flip-flops and water, and left at your door each morning; breakfast served wherever you want it – in fact, food full-stop served wherever you want it, with no pesky tray or room-service charges.
When you visit Marrakech you should, of course, visit Marrakech, but we skipped it. Between us having ‘done’ the medina, the Jardin Majorelle, and all the other tick-it-off-the-bucket-list sights a fair few times, we opted out and instead spent the time more wisely: namely doing nothing more taxing than advancing the page on the Kindle and ordering more wine.
I fully expect we’ll be back to do the same again next year.
Oh, and I looked up ‘djellabas’ – it doesn’t mean mud hut, or any kind of building or lodge. It means a robe with hood, so the ‘cinq’ in the name doesn’t refer to the accommodation at all. They didn’t get anything wrong.