19 May 2024

Riad el Fenn pool courtyard: an oasis of peace and calm
Hanging out with Richard Branson’s sister
Stan Cullimore, once of The Housemartins, explores the sights, sounds and aromas of magical Marrakech
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ichard Branson, Virgin founder and serial entrepreneur, has a sister called Vanessa. It turns out that she runs a very posh hotel in Marrakech. That intrigued me. After all, I’m never going to get invited to her brother’s Necker Island so maybe this would be my chance to live the high life. From the moment my wife and I arrived at Riad El Fenn, I knew we’d hit the jackpot. Our taxi juddered to a halt right in the middle of the old town, two minutes from the central square.

The driver jumped out, picked up our bags and waved at us to follow him down a side street. We twisted and turned and found ourselves in an alleyway with a dimly lit lamp swinging above a dark doorway. The ancient wooden door creaked open to reveal an oasis of gorgeousness.
Riad el Fenn’s resident Dachshunds
One is on the roof alongside the impressive garden that gives a perfect view of Marrakech - night or day. Our room was enormous, lined with red leather and with a fireplace at one end where every evening the staff lit a crackling fire. We were so comfy that we were tempted to stay put for the week and never leave. But after a couple of hours enjoying our surroundings, we decided we had to explore the town. I can thoroughly recommend Marrakech. The sights, the sounds, the smells and the food - everything about the place (parts of which are admittedly a bit dusty and careworn) just wants to seduce you.

The next morning we ate our fresh and fruity breakfast bathed in sunshine on the rooftop. The sun warmed our smiles, as did the sight of snow shimmering on the nearby peaks of the Atlas Mountains. We engaged a guide from the hotel and spent a wonderful day being shown round the hidden alleyways and courtyards of the city. Once we’d got our bearings and found a map, we spent the rest of the week strolling off in all directions. Sometimes we’d search out a museum or a quiet square. Sometimes we’d go in search of the storks that nest on the old town walls.

At other times we’d dive into the crazy world of the souks and the markets, coming up for air only when we’d had enough of lighthearted haggling and the inevitable mint tea that comes with it. But whenever we needed peace and quiet, we would head back to the calming ambience of Riad El Fenn. Sadly, we never got to meet Vanessa and ask her about her famous brother. However, we definitely lived the high life.

Original article published in Nov 2014. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
I have to say, Vanessa’s Riad El Fenn is pretty much the perfect chillout spot. There are cool green spaces to sit in quietly when you want to hide away from the sun, and there are not one, not two, but three, bijou swimming pools in which to splash.
"We were so comfy that we were tempted to stay for the week and never leave."
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