I have to admit, I nailed it this time. Not that I tend to get our holidays wrong – I do far too much research for that to happen. But there’s nothing like the smug glow that comes from a holiday that’s got everything right. For the first time ever, my son Leo cried on the way to the airport home because he didn’t want to leave. It really was that good (poor Leo).
Fawakay Villas in the exotic city of Marrakech is no stranger to the Trunki Files. Back in 2012, Files contributor Lynsey extolled its virtues on a holiday with her (then) 18-month old son Casper. I’ve had it earmarked for a half-term break ever since, putting it on my hot list in 2015. But the wait for Baby Rufus to be a little bit older (now nearly 2) meant it wasn’t till May 2016 we finally got there.
So what makes it so special?
Quite simply, Fawakay Villas, run by English couple Francis and Dawn, is unique – certainly for Morocco (if I was to compare it to anywhere, it would be the fabulous Caserio del Mirador, also a Trunki Files favourite). The place is not just child-tolerant, or child-friendly, it’s child-centric; everything just works for families.
Firstly, there’s the set-up: three villas, together with Francis and Dawn’s house, in a walled, secure complex about 20 minutes from the medina. Each family gets their own villa, which has 3 or 4 bedrooms depending on which one you choose. We stayed in Lak Lak, which has inter-connecting bedrooms (a double and a twin) downstairs, plus a master suite on the first floor accessed from an external door (we didn’t actually use the master suite as we needed to be close to the children during the night). Although the property is not self-catering (believe me, this is actually a huge plus), each villa has a kitchen for fixing a drink or a snack – hugely helpful with kids, plus there’s a lounge and dining room, so space enough for everyone and not a sofa-bed in sight.
Whilst each villa has its own (unheated) plunge pool and terrace, and plenty of privacy afforded by the expansive gardens, the action – in warm weather at least – all happens by the beautiful communal pool area. The main pool itself is heated, plus there’s a decent size kids’ pool. There’s also a pool bar, which works on an honesty basis when Francis and Dawn aren’t about, and copious areas for lounging about.
Adjacent to the pool is a lovely large lawn ideal for romping toddlers and big kids with water guns. Seriously comfortable bean-bag-loungers, day beds, parasols, giant Jenga and a table tennis table complete the scene.
Everything about this set-up worked for us. We love villa accommodation but don’t want to feel isolated or cook for ourselves; we love boutique properties that feel personal, where the hosts are present to attend and chat to you; and we love a place where the scale is such that we can give the children freedom to roam, knowing they are safe and never far away. Villas Fawakay is all these things.
Service-wise, a five star hotel Fawakay is not. There’s no front desk or concierge; no turndown or chocolate on your pillow; no daily change of towels and linen; and many staff don’t speak English. The experience is unapologetically informal and much more akin to staying in a private home – but with people about to take away the chores of everyday life. You are greeted by Francis who’ll fix you a gin and tonic and show you the ropes and he’s on hand to sort what you want – a taxi into the medina, a cooking class, a trip to the mountains. He is not your private butler and won’t ‘tend’ to you, but if you need him, he’s never far away. His wife Dawn – a welder by day (you’ll see her creations all about the grounds) – is often around in the evenings to serve you at the bar or have a chat. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the ‘pets’ that roam the complex – dogs, peacocks, and an inquisitive donkey, Doris, much-loved by children but a menace if you leave your door open – she’ll eat whatever you’ve got going (to our dismay, our herbal tea bags were gobbled).
Meals at Fawakay are a pleasure – not because the food is world-class (actually, it’s delicious home cooking); but because you can eat when, and where, you want. You simply tell the kitchen what you’d like in the morning and it arrives – to your terrace, dining room or by the pool. There’s none of the agonising waiting that happens in restaurants – you get the kids to the table when the food’s ready. And they can get down and go roaming when they’re done, leaving you to sip your rosé. We particularly loved breakfast, as there were little surprises every day – a different jam, a new type of bread, a different cake. Best of all, you don’t have to go near a supermarket, oven or dishwasher all week – everything is done for you by chief chef and housekeeper, Bouchra, and her team of smiling ladies.
What’s there to do?
The joy of Fawakay is that you don’t have to do very much. When it is warm and sunny (as it was for us) it’s the perfect place to relax on one of the daybeds and just sunbathe, read, take a dip in the pool or simply enjoy the beautiful gardens. What’s more, if you’re there during school holidays, it’s likely your kids will beg you not to leave because they want to hang out with new-found friends. (Francis and Dawn’s young son, Ziggy, loves making friends with new arrivals).
What’s particularly endearing is that, without ever leaving Fawakay, you can enjoy Moroccan experiences: there’s a hammam (how I loved seeing peels of dead skin flaking off me!); a henna lady visits to do tattoos; and Bouchra offers cooking lessons.
When you do summon the energy to leave – and you must – the obvious destination is the medina and its famous souks. Francis will organise cars and a guide if you need one (we opted not to have a guide as we had been to Marrakech before). Far from being intimidating or stressful, we found the souks great fun with the kids. Leo threw himself into bartering and played the game perfectly with the shopkeepers, telling them he ‘only had 40 Dirham left’ and ‘would need to talk to Dad to see if he could lend me any more money’. There are trinkets galore for little girls so Ginny was happy scouring for mirrors and jewels; and even Rufus contentedly sat in his buggy, taking it all in. If the hustle does get too much, you always can retreat to one of the roof terrace cafes for lunch – Francis recommended Nomad by the Spice Market and he wasn’t wrong. Trendy, modern Moroccan food with tasty (safe) kids options, high chairs and staff who positively indulge children.
The other excursion we opted for was the Atlas Mountains. About 1.5 hours’ drive took us to the beautiful Ourika Valley and town of Setti Fatma. En route, we stopped at an argan oil co-operative, which moderately interested the kids (Ginny was later inspired to make her own face cream from a few argan nuts and some rose petals), but the whole family really enjoyed the ‘trek’ up to the waterfalls at Setti Fatma. Hardly remote (this is a very popular destination for weekending Moroccans as well as foreign tourists), the trek is fun (if mildly treacherous at times), with lots of stalls selling orange juice and souvenirs on the way to keep the kids distracted. Best of all, we were there in the short cherry season, so gorged on these delicious fruits all the way up.
Further day trips on offer include water parks and dune buggying, but we’ll save these for next time – because when somewhere’s this good, I’m sure there’ll be one.
What does it cost?
For what you get, it’s all very reasonable. Refreshingly, you don’t get stung for going in peak weeks – it’s the same price all year round, around £300 per night B&B (with discounts occasionally available). Meals are good value – it’s about £18 for a 3 course dinner, or £5 for children’s meals. A hammam and massage (about 2 hours) is £45. Basically, we never felt like we were getting fleeced and didn’t worry about the bill at all.
When to go?
Marrakech is a year-round destination; but when to go depends on what you plan to do. If you want to lounge by the pool in guaranteed heat and sunshine, you should be opting for May or October half-term, when conditions should be perfect (it was about 28-30 degrees in the day but comfortably cool at night when we were there in May). You could go in July and August but you’d need to be prepared for very hot temperatures (40+ degrees) and your inclination to do much will be severely clipped, which is a shame given all that Marrakech offers. At Christmas, February and Easter you take your chances a bit more. Hot weather is not guaranteed (indeed, some rain is likely) but you could be lucky and get some lovely sunshine, it will certainly be warmer than the UK and, on the plus side, the Atlas mountains will be at their most beautiful, with snow on the peaks. Something to consider is Ramadan – dates move every year but Marrakech is more subdued at this time and arguably not at its best for a visit.
For a first adventure with the kids away from the beach, Fawakay Villas is perfect. Marrakech is an intriguing, exciting and rewarding destination – just 3.5 hours away and with no jet lag – and Fawakay is uniquely set-up for families to make the most of it. In my opinion, a holiday here maximises your enjoyment and minimises stress. If you want a choice of restaurants, a chocolate on your pillow, take offence at peacock poo on your terrace or are horrified at the thought of a donkey nosing through your door, don’t come here. But if you see this as all part of the experience, and are happiest when your kids are happy, don’t hesitate. I know what I’d choose.