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Dar Charkia

Dar Charkia lobby

Bab Doukkala, Marrakech, Morocco
Fashion boutiques, designer brands and luxurious hotels. Welcome to the new Morocco where the only thing that hasn't changed is the price. Jane Fletcher and Becky Sage souk up the atmosphere, and the bargains, in Marrakech.

first impressions
A chic oasis of calm in the medina mayhem. Nestled in the affluent Dar el Bacha antiques district, this five-star riad has long been a firm favourite with discerning travellers. But that's no surprise given its luxurious interior, stylish bedrooms, heated swimming pool, mouthwatering cuisine and glorious views. Indeed, Dar Charkia has been voted best hotel in Marrakech by scores of previous guests. Yet such an honour doesn't quite do it justice – Blue List Hotels considers this one of the finest hotels in Morocco.

Tucked away in a myriad of bustling alleyways, the hotel's original framework is almost as old as the historic quarter in which it stands. Thanks to husband and wife team Lisa and Michael, the building has been fully restored, refurbished and modernised into what it is today – a magnificent and authentic blend of North African, Asian and European styles.

The riad itself is set around a colourful central courtyard, carefully designed to trap the sun and admit the breeze – but not the noise of the medina. This is, then, the perfect base from which to explore the city and escape the maddening crowds.

If you want to feel like a pampered celebrity, then the Dar Charkia is for you. You might say it's very Morroc n' Roll.

Dar Charkia bedroom

bedrooms
The Dar Charkia boasts six spacious suites, all of which are outfitted to the highest possible standard. Each are individually styled with bespoke fixtures and fittings, many of which are sourced from local artists. King sized beds with sumptuous mattresses and handmade linen come as standard – as do the mod cons like air conditioning.

But it's not the rooms themselves that make a stay here so memorable ... it's the lavish ern-suite bathrooms. A spot of pampering here is not the exception – it's the norm.

Bathrooms are grand, both in scale and opulence. Designer sinks are scattered with rose petals on arrival, while a selection of complimentary toiletries are yours to enjoy.

Showers are large and powerful, and there's also a handy hairdryer and large mirrors – everything a girl – and some husbands – need to get ready.

If you're looking for something extra special, the entire riad – including staff – is also available for rental.

food and drink
Moroccan food is rated among the best in the world, and the authentic delights on offer at Dar Charkia will not disappoint. Breakfast is a lavish but low-key affair, where guests are treated to an array of delectable goodies. The on-site kitchen is staffed by local chefs whose mouthwatering offerings include homemade pancakes, fresh fruit salad and a range of light pastries. Be sure to sample the daily special; the tiramisu is to die for.

Lunch and evening meals are no less impressive, with a selection of fare the hotel calls a "fusion" between Moroccan and European cuisine. Specialities include carrot, cumin and coconut soup; coriander and sweetcorn cakes; vegetable terrine with pear; lamb tagine with prunes; and chocolate tart with baked fruit.

Meals are taken either in the dining room, the courtyard, in the romantic alcoves, or on the wonderful sun terrace overlooking the city. A selection of fine imported wines, locally produced beer, water and soft drinks are available 24/7.

Whatever you do, be sure to take a stroll into the medina and sample a few of the traditional road-side dishes. These include bagh'ir, a yeasty semolina pancake, and b'stila, a pastry often used in wedding ceremonies to symbolise the sweetness of marriage.

A selection of restaurants are never far away in Marrakech, some of which offer guests at the Dar Charkia a significant discount. See 'Service with a Smile', below, for more details.

service with a smile?
The service here is like the North African sun – warm, inviting, and never clouded. Manager Lisa, who is English, and her German-born husband Michael, do everything they can to ensure a warm welcome from the outset. Arriving guests are treated to a cold drink in the courtyard followed by a detailed description of the hotel, the surrounding area, and the greater city itself. Lisa, a passionate shopper, also has a wealth of information about the best places to snap up a bargain. If you plan to go crazy, you might consider the hotel's unique shopping service – a handy local guide to carry your purchases and escort you through the medina.

Staff are also on hand to book slots at traditional hammam spas and sittings at local restaurants. Many have deals with the Dar Charkia and guests can receive a sizeable discount.

Dar Charkia pool

The riad itself offers guests a number of special extras, all of which are complimentary. The heated swimming pool in the courtyard patio is fabulous, while the sweeping views over the city's rooftops from the sun terrace are second-to-none.

The complex also boasts a small library with classic novels and board games, while the living room has wireless internet access, satellite TV, DVD player, and a log fire for winter visits.

The tranquil state of the riad is, thankfully, not affected by screaming kids – children under 12 are not accepted unless families rent out the whole place.

local attractions
There are 1001 things to do in Marrakech, and the convenient setting of the Dar Charkia makes for an ideal base. If you're feeling adventurous, head out into the medina and take to the labyrinth of alleyways on foot. This is the only 'true' method of exploring the city, and the one sure-fire method of stumbling across something 'off the beaten track'. Scattered amongst the medina are hundreds of souks, packed full of interesting curios and 'authentic' Moroccan artefacts. Be on your guard against pick-pockets, and don't be alarmed if you're harassed by both local salesman and beggars – it's all part of the experience!

The main square, known as Place Djemaa el Fna, is also a must see. It, too, is full of stalls offering their wares for a song. Keep an eye out for snake charmers, storytellers, and henna artists.

Elsewhere, be sure to visit the Jardin Marorelle, a wonderful botanic garden once owned by fashion icon Yves Saint Lauren. There's also the Museum of Marrakech, the Royal Palace and the 15th-Century mausoleum, the Saadian tombs. Meanwhile, the High Atlas Mountains are only a three hour drive away.

will it break the bank?
Expect a hol lot for your money. Prices start from just 135 per suite per night. The Douiria Suite starts from 165 per suite per night, while the entire riad is only 725. Seasonal promotions also available.

details
Dar Charkia
49-50 Derb Halfaoui
Bab Doukkala
Marrakech
Web: www.darcharkia.com

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