It’s not often that you get to meet a real prince, especially a prince from the old and noble Roman house of Ruspoli. Italian aristocrat Fabrizio Ruspoli greets me in the courtyard of his luxurious riad hotel La Maison Arabe (lamaisonarabe.com). Birds trill in the sky above a bubbling fountain and I savour crispy pastries dusted with icing sugar that were made an hour ago by the hotel’s award-winning chef.
The luxurious La Maison Arabe boasts bedrooms fit for kings.
Fabrizio’s grandparents lived in Tangier when it was popular with western artists and writers in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The prince fell in love with Morocco after visiting his grandparents on summer vacations that he remembers with nostalgia. ‘It was so lively and exotic,’ he says.
In 1992, tired of the big city lifestyle, Fabrizio left his antiques business in Paris and moved to Marrakech. A few years later he discovered his future riad. ‘It was a famous restaurant in the medina of Marrakech, run by two French women. It was the only restaurant open for foreigners so clientele included celebrities like Winston Churchill and Jackie Kennedy,’ he explains. When Fabrizio opened the La Maison Arabe in 1998, it was Morocco’s first riad hotel. Initially just half a dozen rooms grouped around a blissfully private central courtyard, this luxurious property now counts 26 sumptuously furnished suites with balconies or terraces overlooking a large, fruit-tree-shaded swimming pool surrounded by tables where Moroccan breakfast treats are served.
Today there are hundreds of riad hotels in Marrakech, but La Maison Arabe is still the pick of the crop. It sits on the edge of the medina’s labyrinth of lanes, which means that the main sights are within easy walking distance, but the property has more space and light. The hotel also has its own private Garden Club in Marrakech’s Palmeraie, a 15-minute shuttle ride away, where guests can spend a peaceful afternoon relaxing by a vast pool surrounded by lush palm trees.
Always ahead of his time, in 2001, Fabrizio launched the first cooking school in the Kingdom of Morocco. On the last day of my stay, I take a cookery class with La Maison Arabe’s Dadas, the women who were formerly hired to cook by Morocco’s wealthy families.
The cookery school is magnificent: A dozen state-of-the-art stations are equipped with gleaming sinks, work tables and a video screen to follow the Dada’s every move as she cooks standing on a pedestal at the top of the room. The Dada makes cooking so easy that even I manage to make a decent chicken tagine.
Later that evening I have dinner at the hotel’s glorious restaurant near the pool. The heady smell of frangipane and jasmine and the heavenly flavours combine in a right royal experience that only a prince could have created.