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Take to the hills

Published 9 June 2002
Style Magazine
465th article

From left: Simon Marshall, Eleanor Dymott, Michael Winner, Mark Summers and Lindsay Lane (Georgina Hristova)

The brochure for La Roseraie says: "It is in the heart of the Berber Mountains of the High Atlas." In case you didn't know, that's in Morocco. One of my favourite places. La Roseraie is a hotel with 45 rooms and suites scattered among beautiful gardens. It's a perfect location for an Agatha Christie-type thriller. Cut off, slightly mysterious and, on the occasions I've been there, surrounded by cloud. This is because I take to the mountains when the weather changes, and my spot by the hotel pool at La Mamounia in Marrakesh, facing the flowerbeds and the olive and orange trees, becomes too cold even for my well-padded frame. Then I'm driven to La Roseraie, or to the more mysteriously beautiful Ourika Valley. This has houses clinging to the rocks, mud-hut villages where the Berbers live, endless trinket sellers and the Hotel Ramuntcho, which serves an indifferent bean soup, scrawny chicken and an inferior meringue and ice cream. But the views are well worth it.

La Roseraie is much classier, but still odd. I could imagine waking up each morning and finding a guest had been murdered, followed by the arrival of Hercule Poirot. In the lobby, an English couple sat at a computer. He said: "I know who you are, but you don't know who I am." This was true.

The lady said: "We've walked five hours a day so far."

"What's the food like?" I asked. "Hearty," said the lady. "There's never anybody around," explained her husband. "We discovered a jacuzzi. We'd been here five days and nobody told us about anything."

I went into the gardens, passing a deserted swimming pool. Another English couple were wandering about aimlessly. "How's the food here?" I asked again. "We're definitely not going to comment to someone like you," said the girl. "You just did. That says everything," I replied. We finally reached the veranda of the dining area, where the walking lady was now reading The Blind Assassin, and her friend The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life. Very suitable, I thought, as it was extremely cold. Even though they were married, she kept her own name, Eleanor Dymott, and he his, Simon Marshall. "It's perfectly legal," explained Ms Dymott defensively.

"This is like an outpost of the British Empire on an off day," I commented. We had some astonishingly good home-made biscuits and mint tea. I dictated into my tape: "There's a man sitting on my left in short trousers. He's not moving. Perhaps he's dead." At this, the man looked up. So I reckoned he was probably alive. He was a barrister, Mark Summers, who'd just been on a long walk and said he was cooling down. His girlfriend was Lindsay Lane. The owner, Nabil Fenjiro, came to greet me. His father started the hotel 30 years ago.

In the fairly sparse dining room, Georgina described the olives as "terrible". That's unusual For Morocco. She decided there was no salt on the bread and none on the olives. "Very strange, maybe this is a no-salt place," she commented, ordering onion soup. Georgina thought it was very good indeed. I found it all right. My chicken was okay, too. Chicken is one of the safest things to order in Morocco. I asked Georgina how her tagliatelle was. She said: "I'm looking for a word. I'll let you know if the computer finds it." For dessert, Georgina had strawberry tart with a sort of meringue-type souffle on top.

The whole place reminded me of an English boarding house. The last time I stayed in an English boarding house was in Brighton during the second world war. It was run by Pamela Kellino. She either was to become, or had already been, married to the actor James Mason.

I had an orange souffle at La Roseraie. It was adequate.

A couple of days later, two of the couples I'd met at La Roseraie were recumbent by the pool at La Mamounia. They both said they were highly delighted I'd recommended the change of location.

The other major hotel in Marrakesh is the Amanjena, a Disneyland, modern version of old Morocco, built far away on the outskirts of the town, amid scrubland. A lot of people like it. I find it soulless and gloomy. But it does have a fantastic Thai restaurant, serving the best Thai food I've ever eaten. Even better than in Thailand. The executive chef Barnaby Jones, came over to greet me. He's from Dorset. There's a Thai chef, too. It may be odd to recommend a Thai restaurant in Marrakesh, but I do. Everything I ate there was historic. Even you couldn't ask for more than that.


How on earth can Michael Winner justify paying £202.40 for 50g of beluga? It appears that, in general, the meal was a disaster, and considering that it cost £500, I am surprised that he did not complain more. It just shows that he has more money than sense.
Michael Kerr, Houghton le Spring

I realise that Mr Winner has worked night and day to earn his vast wealth, and of course he's entitled to spend his money as he sees fit, even if that includes throwing £500 away on a worse than mediocre lunch at Kaspia (May 26). However, for an identical sum, I feed a family of five for a month. If he would care to top up my housekeeping allowance by 100%, I could guarantee him and Georgina a truly historic luncheon - although I doubt Southport features on his chauffeur's map.
Debbie Atkinson, by e-mail

So, Michael Winner admits that he rarely replies to readers' letters (May 19). Is this because postage from his planet to the one inhabited by us lesser beings is beyond even his pocket?
Barrie Parr, by e-mail

With reference to Paula Williamson's letter (May 26) about her suitability for admittance to The Ivy, may I reassure her that I am 67, would describe myself as very fat, rather than simply "lumpy", and yet have been to lunch there several times. I have been accompanied by my balding, short and rounded husband, as well as by a very short friend. None of us is a celebrity or on the A list, and when we book, we are never asked to describe ourselves. What's more, £25 a head should suffice for the excellent set lunch. So, go for it, Paula: take your husband and you'll change your views about The Ivy.
Grace Ciappara, Northampton

I was disappointed to read of Michael Winner's recent experiences at the Four Seasons Hotel (May 5). Not only did the Four Seasons Hotel win our Top Tea Place award in 1999, it was also presented with an Award of Excellence in 2000. It did, however, fail to win any recognition in 2001. Hopefully, the fallout from your visit will have propelled it back to its former state of excellence. Mr Winner may be happy to know that my world-class team of expert tea-tasters are now visiting top hotels and tearooms in our annual search for the best.
Bill Gorman, executive director, The Tea Council

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