Mr & Mrs Smith review: Les Cinq Djellabas
Nudity in the Palmeraie...
If you’re hoping for a pants-dropping bonkathon involving petal-strewn bed sheets, champagne breakfasts and orgiastic Marrakchi sex-marathons, look away now. Mr Smith and I are sitting in Casablanca Airport’s fast-food basement, eating lukewarm cheeseburgers, drinking lukewarm Fanta, sporadically bickering and glumly wondering whether we’ll ever get home. (Tip: if you want a romantic minibreak, avoid budget airlines, French air-traffic-control strikes and five-day flight delays.)
So far, this morning has involved: a rain-lashed 5am taxi ride to a cashpoint with an irate non-English-speaking local (it’s a long story), followed by a four-hour train trip whose highlight was a flaccid croissant and whose landscapes were so bleakly stark, we might well have been missioning across Mars.
If this all sounds cosmically diabolical, take heart: things were very different a few days ago, when we were safely ensconced at a cocoa-coloured castle called Les Cinq Djellabas, in the peaceful Palmeraie. There is a hazard to staying at romantic hotels: leaving them.
A few days ago, our prime concerns were: on which sun lounger to prostrate self? (Answer: the closest.) How early is too early for a G&T? (Answer: never.) When is bedtime? (Answer: whenever.) Back then, our sole difficulty was leaving our muslin-curtained four-poster or our airy African eco-lodge: a giant, circular, hollowed-out-nut-like haven, with a claw-foot bath tub, a tadelakt shower and palm-and-banana-tree views.
‘The shower’s amazing,’ I tell Mr Smith on our first morning. ‘Is it like standing in warm rain?’, he asks hopefully. He’s harbouring grand designs of featuring in this review as some kind of Shakespeare-cum-Casanova. ‘The shower is like standing in warm rain’, he declares, 10 minutes later. ‘You’ve already said that.’ ‘I know; I just wanted to make sure you put it in.’
At Les Cinq Djellabas, a day could be called productive if it featured one of the following ‘achievements’: dip foot in pool; unwrap ice lolly; nibble chicken hunks off skewer; nibble other things. It takes some training to get my Mr Smith to this level of unabashed idleness – he’s a hill-climbing, sales-making, beer-brewing Welshman, who drops words such as ‘activities’, ‘exploring’ and ‘outside’ with alarming frequency. Luckily, sunshine+pool+Casablanca beers have a soporific effect; soon he’s horizontal.
The sun does not do much for our conversational skills. One morning, stretched out under a white-hot sun like a molten silver lollipop, our sole exchange involves an elaborate discussion of aubergines. Our interaction with other guests is equally minimal. Every now and then we bump into each other like fat, sun-drunk honeybees colliding as they pollinate the same rosebush. ‘What the hell is that noise?’ grunts a guest next to us, as the call to prayer rises in an evocative ripple against the sounds of pool-splashing, birdsong and distant radio. I feel the same question rise in me each time Mr Smith’s phone pings with an update on the rugby. (Italy is playing Wales.)
Unfortunately the hotel has WiFi. I say unfortunately, because Mr Smith posts a photo of me looking like an anaemic hippo in a bikini, which prompts a tiresome ‘TAKE IT DOWN!’, ‘NO I WON’T!’ standoff, which is as energetic as we get all weekend.
Surprisingly, Mr Smith’s proactive approach to holidays starts to rub off on me. On day two, we venture out to explore not one, but two different places of cultural import: Palais Badi and Palais Bahia (admittedly located conveniently for the lazy traveller, just a few minutes’ walk from each other). We wander hand-in-hand around orange blossom-scented grounds, admiring ruins, ceilings and rainbow-stained windows, even summoning the energy/nerve to steal a fat orange from one of the fruit trees in the gardens. Crime tastes… unripe, so we swap strange fruit for gin-fizz cocktails at the rooftop bar beside Bahia.
Nudity alert: Mr Smith and I are hammam-bound. We’re keen to have an ‘authentic’ experience, which means stripping naked, donning baggy paper pants and getting violently scrubbed, rubbed and rub-a-dub-dubbed. We’re dunked in hot water, viciously loofah-d, sudsed on a stool, attacked with gritty rhassoul soap and massaged all over – all over – with argan oil. It’s brilliant.
On our way back to the hotel, Mr Smith gravely confides in me that the male attendant ‘DID SOMETHING’ to him in the hammam. He drops his voice and widens his eyes as he says this, leading me to picture loofah mitts being inserted where they shouldn’t, or milk baths of a literal nature. Turns out he had his foot tickled mid-massage. Being well acquainted with Mr Smith’s feet – and the likelihood of them inciting sexual fervour in another human – I will give his allegations the import they deserve, and move swiftly on.
It’s not just our feet. Our taste-buds get a tickling too, firstly at the hotel – sister to the acclaimed Le Foundouk restaurant – where we embark on a sensory overload involving approximately one-million Moroccan dips (including a bonkers-but-brilliant tomato jam) and lamb tagine with toffee-sweet prunes. Sadly, we’re so taken with the potent mahia cocktails that we run out of time for pistachio brûlée (at which point I would have done a little sob, but Mr Smith kisses my ear so nicely).
Late the following night, we take to the ink-dark Jamaa el Fna, lit by a torn-paper moon and flickering gas lanterns. We dodge donkeys and hagglers, pause for spicy chicken tagine at Chez Aicha, then hop from ghaytah-wielding band to band, hypnotised by crooning musicians and their lyrical stories. A troupe of dancing Moroccan ladyboys with wiggling hips, women’s clothing and lusty, kohl-cloaked eyes transfix us; we’d probably still be admiring them if it wasn’t for the amateur henna artist who attacks me with an over-enthusiastic mehndi pen. Mr Smith has to rush me home before I’m henna-d from head to toe. ‘You look like a burn victim’, he comments cheerfully in bed, eyeing up my murky-orange-stained limbs.
Talking of limbs, I accidentally flash a hotel gardener. Full frontal. Twice. Our lodge’s open-plan bathroom has floor-to-ceiling windows facing the hotel’s leafy one-hectare gardens; throughout our time here, I’m far too relaxed to do things like remember to close blinds. Given that we’re in the palm tree-studded Palmeraie, the gardeners are clearly used to bushes – tamed, or otherwise – so I waste no time worrying. I do, however, pause to admire the speed and diplomacy with which the gardener vanishes. By the time I’ve squawked, ducked behind the bath and peered over the tub, there’s nobody there. If that isn’t good service, I don’t know what is.