“ Small hotel in the Moroccan coastal town of Essaouira. „
~Essaouira - the Maze~
If we'd printed the map before we left, I think we could have found Les Matins Bleus (the Blue Mornings for those who've forgotten all their school French). To be honest, if we'd had a pen to copy the directions off the website, we'd probably have been OK. But sadly we'd done neither and as a result we found ourselves arriving in the coastal Moroccan town of Essaouira without too much of a clue where we were going. It was mid-evening by the time our bus arrived and we could have just wandered around all night and eventually found it but in the end, but sometimes it's just worth giving in and letting someone lead you there. Though not worth the MASSIVE tip Tony ended up giving the boy who led us at break-neck speed through the streets and who didn't particularly seem to know where he was going either. Never get caught without small notes in your wallet - 100 dirhams is about 8 quid and I wasn't surprised that the chap didn't quibble and disappeared faster than you could think the words 'Have you got change?'
I normally enjoy researching hotels for our trips but the holiday we had in Morocco in April 2011 hadn't been as much of a challenge as normal. Of the six nights we spent in the country, I'd won five nights by writing a very large number of hotel reviews on Trivago.co.uk. The only accommodation I had to find for us was for our one night in Essaouira. My sister and her partner were travelling with us and I narrowed the options down to two small hotels and gave her the choice. It's unwise to give my sister too many options or she'll never make a decision. She picked Les Matins Bleus on the strength of the photos of the staff looking smiley and happy.
Les Matins Bleus is located in the centre of Essaouira, my favourite Moroccan town which is situated on the coast. The hotel is down an alley just past a small mosque. It's near to one of the interior gateways of the medina. As Moroccan alleyways go, it's not one of the more intimidating ones, unlike the routes to our place in Marrakech which did tend to encouraged visions of guys with knives waiting around corners. There's a cheery blue painted door that leads into the ground floor where a pleasant atrium with a black and white tiled floor is filled with comfy chairs, sofas and pouffes. The layout of the place is classic for a riad with a central atrium and rooms set out around the circumference of the building. In order to increase the number of rooms, the owners built more accommodation on the roof terrace.
It's not just the mornings that are blue - les Matins Bleus is very blue 24 hours a day and very pretty. It looks like a child coloured it in with pink and blue poster paints. The effect is clean, fresh and instantly endearing. At the time of year that we visited (in April) the atrium was covered with a thick transparent sheet to keep the rain off but during the summer it will be removed and the courtyard will be open to the skies.
The reception desk is in a small side room and the staff all have the cheery smiles of slight hippiedom but in the nicest possible non-patchouli-scented way. The ground floor has lots of interconnected side rooms, all with lots of cushions and sofas draped in rugs and bedspreads and you can't help thinking that they could easily have squeezed in some extra rooms since all the inhabitants of the hotel on a day when it was full couldn't fill up the space downstairs. But that's nice, isn't it - to see a place that's willing to just let space 'be'? Perhaps this is a throwback to when the hotel used to be a primary school.
We were greeted by the smiley reception chap who grabbed two keys off the board behind the desk and led us up two flights of steep stairs, through the first floor with its blue wooden balcony and onto the roof terrace where we had our two rooms. There was a covered dining area where you can have breakfast if you don't want to trek down to the ground floor (or prefer to make someone else bring your food up) and there are little blue tables and chairs scattered around. There's also an upper roof terrace though there's very little to see if you take the staircase up to the top. Being on the roof meant we were outside the plastic roof cover and so our doors and windows opened onto fresh air.
Our rooms were small but cheery. They were very clean with yellow and white tiled floors and red local rugs. The double bed was covered with a striped red and orange bedspread and was comfortable enough if a little lumpy. We had a rattan desk and chair and a small bedside table as well as a small wooden wardrobe with spare pillows and a warm cover. An extra chair sat beside the blue shuttered window, ready to be taken outside if the weather was nice. The room was a bit dark but only because we didn't manage to find the switch for the light over the bed until the next day - tip to selves, don't check in after dark! Once our shutters were open the room was much nicer.
Blue painted doors led to a small narrow bathroom with a shower with good power and lots of hot water but a mind of its own when it came to direction and height. Two towels and some soap were provided. I would normally write a lot more about a room but this place really was very simple and minimalist.
~Starting the day with a smile~
After a good half a night's sleep we were repeatedly woken by cockerels. I'd been expecting the call to prayer from the mosque but didn't hear that at all - instead every time I dropped back to sleep our feathered friend put in a performance. Strangely I wasn't too bothered. I love Essaouira and I wasn't planning to waste time sleeping late. We went downstairs for breakfast which was hearty but basic. We got a typical thick Moroccan pancake, tangy freshly squeezed orange juice, good strong coffee and a basket of bread with two types of jam and some honey.
After breakfast I settled the bill. When I'd booked by email they had taken my credit card details but nothing had been charged. I told the guy I'd pay for both rooms so when my sister came down later he told her she was very lucky to have such a generous sister. He doesn't know the half of it. We asked if we could leave our bags since our bus wasn't until the evening and the bags were locked away in a storage room and we were told to feel free to come back any time during the day if we wanted a coffee or a rest. We didn't realise how useful that was going to prove to be but when you are faced with a long day ahead of you, it's really nice to know there's a bolt-hole to which you can return.
~The Service Doesn't Stop When You've Checked Out~
We headed off to see the town, have lunch, mooch about, take pictures of the harbour and generally act touristy. Unfortunately quite early on I caught my foot in a hole on the ramparts of the city walls, went down like a sack of cement and sprained my ankle really badly. Three months later it was still not fully fixed and that's probably because I walked on it for several hours before giving in and returning to the hotel to take the weight off it. I spent a couple of hours in the lovely lounge area of Les Matins Bleus using the free wi-fi and drinking generously offered free hot drinks. They even brought me a bowl of ice when I asked for it but clearly didn't understand what I wanted to do with it and I didn't like to ask for a tea towel to put it in so I just dripped on the carpets.
For my husband and me this was our third visit to Essaouira and every time we go we start planning how we'll go back, what we'll do, that we'll turn up with cameras and a suitcase full of books and book an apartment that overlooks the sea. Maybe when we're retired we'll spend a winter there - who knows but one thing's for certain, we'd be happy to go back to Les Matins Bleu and enjoy their friendly service and great value.
Les Matins Bleus
22, rue Draa
Our rooms in High Season (April) cost 43 Euros per room per night. Low season is about 10% cheaper. Contact the hotel direct as most hotel booking sites will show no availability even when the place still has rooms