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I Too, Dwell in Marigha

Picture this scene: seated under a pergola on a crisp but sunny morning in late November, I’m enjoying freshly made harcha and msemmen (panfried semolina and flatbreads respectively) drizzled with honey and olive oil. Clearly in the distance, the sing-song call and response of local Berber villagers is clearly audible, as they are underway with the olive harvest. With a steaming pot of mint tea to wash it all down, these tranquil and bucolic mornings are the petit plaisirs of Moroccan living, and the sorts of experiences that await anyone willing to slow down and savour the country’s pastoral gems.

In this instance, while the scene and setting feel remote and far removed from the daily tribulations of city life, I’m only an hour or so outside of Marrakech, in the High Atlas foothills near the Berber village of Ouirgane, visiting the recently opened Olinto hotel. Since the pandemic, my appreciation for restful countryside and rural retreats has reached new heights, and over the past several years I’ve taken to searching high and low throughout the country for that perfect concoction of comfort, authenticity, and value.

While Olinto is no doubt pricey, I’m happy to report here is a hotel stay truly worthy of a splurge: Olinto has been about five years in the making, making of the shell of a previous hotel the object of a careful restoration and expansion. Extra care went immediately into curating the gardens. Among the mix of olive and other native trees, carefully selected vines, bushes and aromatic shrubs, the feeling of stepping into Olinto is one of entering gardens that feel much older than they actually are. Rammed earth and brick structures are cleverly spaced out in the form of nine stand-alone pavilions (three of which with private heated pool) offering complete privacy. A strict policy of only two people per pavilion and minimum age requirements ensures a level of tranquility throughout the property. Another pavilion is exclusively the fireplace lounge with intricately carved ceilings and coloured-glass panels, where evening aperitifs are taken before diners tuck in at the simple restaurant. At the time of writing, plans were in place for a traditional hammam and a cooking school where clients could confect traditional Moroccan specialities with the hotel’s chef.

What makes Olinto truly different from the numerous high-end hotel offering in rural Morocco however, is thanks to its owner, the legendary Marrakech hotelier Fabrizio Ruspoli di Pioggo Souasa, the Italian aristocrat behind the first Riad hotel/restaurant in Marrakech to open in the late 90s: La Maison Arabe (still going strong but now under different ownership). Tired of the Marrakech scene, Ruspoli sold La Maison Arabe in late 2019 but as he confesses, “I can’t just sit still” and threw his creative talents for decor and keen sense of what makes hospitality truly luxurious into Olinto. Further to that, Ruspoli wants to make Olinto a haven for classical musicians and composers and has created an entirely separate wing on the property which in the future will welcome artist residencies, and for the benefit of Olinto’s guests, occasional recitals. A classically trained pianist himself, Ruspoli spoke to me enthusiastically about this aspect of his project and the theme of classical recitals could not be better paired this pastoral setting.

You don’t need to be a classical music freak to appreciate Olinto, but what Ruspoli has created here is nothing short of a masterpiece of orchestration.

Sebastian composes symphonic Morocco trips straight out of the Kingdom, in both major and minor progressions. Get in touch with him to start your personal Moroccan opus.

You don't need to be a classical music nerd to appreciate Olinto, but it helps to think in terms of classical music as what Fabrizio Ruspoli has done here is nothing short of a masterpiece of orchestration.

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