Suite Escape: Lalla Mira, Morocco
In tourist terms, Marrakech may be Morocco’s most popular city but it’s far from peaceful. On a scorching day, stumbling through its labyrinthine souks is more draining than delightful. The throng of touts and traders clamouring for your attention grates after a while too. To experience the country at its most mellow, I went instead to Essaouira.
On the west coast and cooled by sea breezes from the Atlantic, this small town’s core is a coil of cobbled streets closed to traffic and flanked by timeworn, whitewashed houses. It’s also home to Morocco’s first eco hotel, Lalla Mira.
In her previous life, its founder was an organic gardener in Germany and her commitment to the environment extends far beyond requesting guests reuse their towels. A water-recycling system is in place to preserve that most precious resource -- the Sahara isn’t far away -- and solar panels by the roof terrace help meet the hotel’s energy needs. Bed linens are made of organic cotton; food is locally sourced wherever possible; the hotel supports a nearby women’s cooperative. It’s the kind of place you as a guest can feel good about supporting and, perhaps more decisively, it’s also the kind of place where it feels good to be a guest. Although our room was somewhat plain it was homely and comfortable -- and cheap too, with double rooms starting at around $55.
The most beguiling feature of the property, however, is its hammam, the oldest in all of Essaouira. Beautifully decorated with emerald tiles, its cloaked by billows of steam and shadowy bodies lathered in all manner of oils and lotions. I indulged in a treatment too, and had a rather hirsute man coat me in a mask made of ground volcanic ash before scrubbing me vigorously with a coarse mitten. If that sounds a tad uncomfortable that’s probably because it was a tad uncomfortable, but afterwards my skin was tingly fresh and I left thoroughly de-stressed. And for anybody who has been to Morocco, that's not a travel claim that comes lightly.