Chrissy's Collection: Heure Bleue Palais, Essaouira, Morocco
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What is Chrissy’s Collection?With her lengthy travel background, Chrissy has years of experience assessing accommodation with quality and customer satisfaction firmly in mind. She was also a hands-on Director of an upmarket Kensington apartment-hotel for five years.
As our own Silver Travel Advisor we are delighted that Chrissy brings her experience and eye for stylish detail when she reviews Boutique and Country house hotels. Chrissy’s Collection are her personal recommendations of hotels with something extra that makes them stand out from the rest: discreet and exceptional levels of personal service; stylish, contemporary and comfortable interiors where relaxation is key; smaller, quirky or character properties; luxury hotels with super spa facilities, exquisite dining or amazing locations. In short, very special places.
Graham Greene would have loved it here. And so did I.
In fact, although this was the first stop on my Moroccan tour with my husband, as soon as I stepped through the inauspicious heavy carved door from the busy street I knew it would be my favourite hotel.
Like many Moroccan gems there is no hint from the outside of the magical interior that exists behind the large door. And in this respect the Heure Bleue Palais scores very highly. Stepping inside from the heat, hustle and bustle of the medina is like walking into another world – an oasis of calm and tranquillity from another era. Not quite 30s, but distinctly pre-war, reminiscent of an upmarket ‘Casablanca’ and under the watchful managerial eye of Francois rather than Rick. As stylish but better-looking than Humphrey Bogart, Francois is charm personified and personally ensures the needs of his eclectic mix of guests are met by his attentive, yet unobtrusive, staff.
Welcomed with a freshly squeezed jus d’orange whilst our passport and check-in formalities were taken care of, we sipped and savoured both the wonder that is Moroccan orange juice and the architecture of this beautifully restored traditional riad.
The open-air colonnaded and palmed courtyard is the beating heart of the hotel where you can sit and relax for breakfast, afternoon tea or an early evening aperitif. Birdsong, palm trees gently swishing in the breeze and the soothing trickle of the water fountain make this a very relaxing space. In the evening the tinkling of piano keys from the English lounge or music from the hotel’s own well-known lute player add to the magical ambience of this special central area from which all rooms of the hotel converge.
With 35 rooms and suites on three floors, all overlooking the central garden courtyard, the rooms have been refurbished to a high standard with a nod to Essaouira’s European and colonial heritage, whilst retaining traditional Moroccan and African style. The décor, furnishings and marbled bathrooms all create an understated luxurious feel totally in harmony with the ambience and heritage of the riad. The early morning dappled sunlight gently filtering through the shutters and small coloured glass panes into the room will be a lingering memory of our lovely suite. As will the rose petals scattered across the bed and scented tea-lights burning in the room before bedtime.
Needless to say the food didn’t disappoint. The breakfast buffet featured a wide variety of fruits plus newly harvested dates, figs, almonds and walnuts and table service offered eggs, crepes and delicious local specialities. Lunch is taken poolside on the roof terrace with views towards the sea and overlooking the ramparts and the usual jumble of buildings typical of Moroccan medinas with satellite dishes, washing lines and roof gardens all jockeying for position on the skyline.
Dinner in the Moroccan Salon was very special. The high ceiling with ornate carved wooden panels and rich tapestry walls, banquette seating and cushions, lit by glass lanterns and candles and opening onto the garden courtyard, created a rich and intimate dining experience. And then there was the food! We started off with a selection of Moroccan vegetarian appetisers with the perfect blend of herbs and spices that disappeared very quickly. As Essaouira has a thriving fishing industry, not surprisingly, there was a good selection of interesting fish dishes on the menu. I opted for turbot in a light rosemary butter sauce that was excellent. He had the lamb tagine – slowly cooked and infused with candied spices – which he still maintains was his best meal of the holiday. Eyes bigger than our bellies we forced ourselves to share a pudding, a selection of chocolate desserts and ice creams, by which time had we been able to move we would have been in seventh heaven.
The roof terrace was actually one of the biggest surprises about the hotel. From viewing the details online I expected it to be a small area mostly taken up by the swimming pool. I was pleasantly surprised to find the terrace was quite spacious with a good selection of beds and shaded seating areas as well as a nice little corner bar and dining area. And a nice touch, straw Heure Bleue hats thoughtfully appeared for forgetful husbands and other sunbathing males who, without exception, had nothing to protect their follicley challenged heads. Another surprise was the peace and tranquillity of the roof terrace, as I had mistakenly thought the bustle of the busy medina below might deter serious relaxation and sunbathing. However, once the aforementioned straw hat was in place he was snoring for England and the novel discarded in favour of a relaxing snooze in the sun. Even the calls to prayer gently wafting over the rooftops didn’t disturb and added to the ambience of being somewhere very different.
This was our first experience of tasting Moroccan wine and the L’Heure Bleue, an exclusive wine created by Francois in association with a French viticulturist in a vineyard just a few kilometres inland from Essaouira was excellent.
After dinner we retired to the English lounge and cigar bar. Another beautifully panelled room with a distinctly colonial feel – large leather armchairs, antler heads and open fireplace for the short winter period. On the mezzanine level there was an atmospheric low-ceilinged snooker room as well as an intimate cinema with seating for about ten where movies can be viewed on request. On the ground floor there is a traditional Hammam offering a variety of treatments but sadly I didn’t have time to sample – next time.
Part of the Relais & Chateaux Group whose quality charter is: Courtesy, Charm, Character, Calm, Cuisine; the Heure Bleue Palais more than meets all of these qualities. This is definitely a hotel for the discerning traveller.
Fans of Graham Greene and his use of atmospheric locations in his novels would love it too.
Heure Bleue Palais
For hotels in Essaouira, Marrakesh and throughout Morocco, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Kirker Holidays.
Other properties from Chrissy's Collection:
- Chrissy's Collection: Amangalla, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka By Chrissy Nason
- Chrissy's Collection: Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa, West Sussex, England By Chrissy Nason
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- Chrissy's Collection: Kasbah du Toubkal, Imlil, Morocco By Chrissy Nason
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- Chrissy's Collection: Legado Mitico, Buenos Aires, Argentina By Chrissy Nason
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- Chrissy's Collection: Sofitel Metropole, Hanoi, Vietnam By Chrissy Nason
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- Chrissy's Collection: The Torridon Hotel, Wester Ross, Scotland By Chrissy Nason
- Chrissy's Collection: Hazel Manor, North Yorkshire By Chrissy Nason
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