Escape To Es Saadi – A Passion For Art And Detail By Fiona Sanderson
“The utmost pleasure of an Art Collector is to share his passion with other Art Lovers and as many people as possible” – Elisabeth Bauchet-Bouhlal, Président Directeur Général, Es Saadi Palace Gardens & Resort, Marrakech, Morocco
The Luxury Channel was delighted to meet Elisabeth and her family, who run the Es Saadi estate and whose exquisite taste has produced something quite unique in the heart of Morocco. We spent time with her to explore her passion for art, and find out why Es Saadi has become such a success….
Situated in the heart of Marrakech, Es Saadi Palace Gardens & Resort is located close to both the bustling, history-filled Medina and the quiet of the Hivernage neighbourhood in a peaceful backdrop of lush greenery. The resort resonates with the beating heart of the city and the calm of a remote oasis. The Es Saadi Palace was built by Moroccan architect Aziz Lamghar, who studied at l’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and has 84 suites and 8 Ksars, which are two story Berber-inspired villas. The Oriental architecture and design of the Palace is based on the ancient Palaces of Marrakesh, and every detail of the interior has been inspired by a love of art and design, overseen by Elisabeth and her team.
Elisabeth designed the interiors as though they were her own home, using antiques from around the world that she and her husband had collected. “We had a dream and didn’t know what it was,” she told me, “but when something beautiful comes along, you have to take it.”
The resort was originally created in 1966 by Jean Bauchet, not long after the Casino de Marrakech was built in 1952 (the first casino in Africa, and currently the only casino outside the US that welcomes the World Poker Tournament). The resort has been passed down through three generations of the Bauchet family and today, founder Jean Bauchet’s daughter Elisabeth Bauchet-Bouhlal and grandson Jean-Alexandre Bauchet-Bouhlal (along with Jean-Alexandre’s wife Caroline) lead the management of the resort.
“The hotel has been a success since the beginning,” Elisabeth tells me proudly. “When we opened, we were new – rather like a boutique hotel today. From the beginning, people came to our hotel because it was different and it was trendy, and in the sixties, everything was changing. My father knew that if you opened a place, you had to get photographs of it in the papers, and the best way of doing that was to get well-known people and VIPs photographed there. That’s why we had the Rolling Stones stay here for two weeks, so there were pictures in the press!”
Elisabeth’s family roots are in France rather than Morocco, but she clearly feels that this has only aided the success of the resort. “It was fashionable,” she tells me. “It was French people coming with new ideas, great cuisine and good service.” So how did the Bauchet family end up in Marrakech? After moving from a village in the north of France to Paris in the fifties, at the age of just 24, Jean Bauchet wound up working at the world-famous Lido, frequented at the time by the Pasha of Marrakech. Recognising Bauchet’s talents, the Pasha suggested he might want to do something in Marrakech – and so it was that the seed of an idea had been planted in Bauchet’s mind. “He definitely fell in love with Marrakech,” Elisabeth smiles. “It was different then, and it was love at first sight. But Marrakech has always had something different.”
Elisabeth herself, however, didn’t move to Marrakech until she was 23. “As a child, I wasn’t brought up here,” she says, looking around at the hotel that is now her home. “I was living in Paris, and that was our home. When I first came here, I actually wanted to be an interpreter, but my father said no, you’re going to work for the family – and it was a time when you didn’t say no to your father!”
Jean Bauchet’s dream was achieved by investing the money he had made as an artist living in Paris, but this artistic background has had a massive impact on the way the resort has developed and grown. “My father knew a lot of artists, and he also knew how difficult it was for them to live and to paint, to really find the time to do what they liked, because they had to earn a living doing something else,” Elisabeth says. “My father felt he had to help them. He gave a monthly salary to young artists and at the end of the year, they would give him a painting. We would go and choose what we liked, which was nice. My father was always interested in art, so he bought famous paintings, more expensive paintings, but he wanted to help the young artists succeed too. They did a lot of modern art, abstract art, which was rather new and people weren’t so accustomed to it. Today, though, Moroccan art is flourishing and it’s amazing. I’ve always supported it.”
Indeed, the family philosophy behind the entire resort is to support local and authentic design in order to maintain the spirit of a city steeped in culture, heritage and tradition, thus creating an homage to the best of Morocco. The art collection now numbers some 400 different pieces, including abstract paintings, large sculptures and interesting frescoes from a range of young emerging artists and renowned Moroccan talent, reflecting the diversity and culture of modern Morocco.
Aside from the art, what else is Es Saadi famous for? Well, the beautiful and reinvigorating Spa, for one thing! “What is important to us is to give people the feeling of being in an Arabian dream for a while, and to escape the stress of everyday life,” Elisabeth says. The Spa is certainly the place for doing just that, with 24 treatment rooms spread over three floors, including a Dior Institute – one of only two in the world. Bliss! We particularly liked the Moroccan hammams, inspired by ancient Oriental traditions in stunning eastern décor with mosaic zellige fountains and stuccoed cupolas. The perfect place to hide away and be primped, polished and pampered! It’s no surprise to hear that the Spa won at the World Luxury Spa Awards last year.
Another highlight of the trip was a hot air balloon ride, courtesy of Ciel d’Afrique. We left Es Saadi before dawn and drove to the countryside, where two balloons took off as dawn broke. The views of the Atlas Mountains were simply stunning, and we then enjoyed a delicious Berber breakfast on descent.
All too soon, though, my Arabian dream came to an end and I left Morocco and the beauty of the resort behind – although this perfect combination of the two cultures of France and Morocco, married with authentic Moroccan design and five star customer service means that I won’t be leaving it behind for long. A return visit most assuredly beckons.