At first I thought the onlookers at the breakfast buffet were merely admiring my four-year-old son’s undeniable cuteness: he was certainly attracting more than his fair share of smiling glances. But then I looked down at the floor and realized there was a soggy puddle at his feet and a trail of wet footprints behind him.
It was our first morning at Club Med’s La Palmeraie Resort in Marrakech, and Joe had run off to survey the breakfast offerings – and somehow ended up in an ornamental pond. Not the most auspicious start to proceedings but, after a quick dash back to our room for a costume change, we were able to start again.
After breakfast, we headed off to the brand-new children’s club. The clubs here are divided into three main age groups: Petit Club Med for two to three years; Mini Club Med, four to 10 years; and Juniors’ Club Med from 11 to 17 years. Baby Club Med facilities are available for babies up to 23 months, if you reserve when booking. The design of the children’s club takes inspiration from local Moroccan culture, so it’s fitting that a colourful marquee with soft lounging cushions takes centre stage, perfect for languorous chilling out – without the happy hookah pipes. Bright and spacious, with child-size tables and chairs, set out with art materials, and children’s artwork on the walls, the only downside was that the children’s books and games all seemed to be in French.
The ‘Frenchness’ of Club Med can be a sticking point for some: although Club Med is very international, the main language is French. When Joe was taking part in a treasure hunt, he and the handful of English speakers were left a little bemused (and, of course, missed out on all the vital clues) as their GOs (Gentils Organisateurs) gabbled away in French. It’s similar for non French-speaking grown-ups: it took extra concentration on my part to keep up with the French instructor in the exercise class as she shouted out instructions for our squats: “Un, deux, trois, en haut. Un, deux, trois, au milieu. Un, deux, trois, en bas.”
The original Club Med was founded in 1950 as a non-profit tent village on a Mediterranean beach – now there are over 80 resorts in 40 countries, with over 1.2 million guests a year. We were novices in the whole Club Med experience, but we could certainly see the appeal of the unique brand of eat-and-drink-as-much-as-you-like all-inclusive, with free sporting activities and children’s clubs thrown into the mix. It’s part of the reason why all-inclusive holidays are a growth trend in these money-conscious times – no chance of running up a huge bar bill as it’s all free. With its “Table Coup de Coeur” status for culinary excellence, the food was delicious – a daily choice of hearty meats and hot dishes, delicious salads and far too many desserts to choose from… The only danger is piling on the pounds if you succumb to the temptation of the rolling buffets and tea-and-cakes snacks in between meals.
At mealtimes, you can choose to be sociable or opt for an empty table – chances are it won’t be empty for long, though, as the GOs are encouraged to mingle, so you tend to end up making polite chit-chat. We were also a bit disapproving of the continental trait of smoking in the restaurants and a couple of times we inadvertently sat down in the smokers’ rooms then had to move when we realised guests were lighting up around us.
As guests, we instantly became honorary GMs, or Gentil Membres, while the staff in charge of feeding, entertaining and organising our sporting activities were all GOs. Set up to run on a basic socialist philosophy, everyone socialises and eats at the same restaurants – the idea being that it promotes a friendly, informal ambience, but this doesn’t necessarily come naturally to those of us with British reserve.
It took a while to acclimatise to the whole ‘club’ mentality, but once we’d made a note of the activities on offer – exercise classes, tennis, golf, even circus skills – we could plan each day. Joe was very happy to join in the children’s club activities, while Grace preferred to try out some of the more grown-up offerings, so we took a power walk around the grounds and tried out the gym.
The resort also has a Cinq Mondes spa, one of the few services – along with excursions, advanced golf and horse-riding classes – you pay extra for, where you can have elaborate pampering packages that give you eight treatments in four days. I opted for a facial and a massage that were nice, but it didn’t help that my female therapist looked like a man and had a habit of burping, which unfortunately broke that serene spell of calm.
Set in 27 hectares of Morocco’s oldest palm grove, Marrakech La Palmeraie has a picturesque setting with walkways lined with sunken water gullies, fountains and pretty vegetation. Its tranquillity is a stark contrast to the buzzing excitement at the heart of Marrakech, which you can get to on the resort’s complimentary shuttle bus. It stops right outside Club Med’s sister resort La Medina so you can nip in for more free food if you’re peckish, or enjoy a drink on the roof terrace with a great view over the bustling square, Djemaa el Fna, and
the bazaar, which we recognised from an episode of The Apprentice.
With Joe safely enjoying the fun at the children’s club, Grace and I ventured off through the narrow, smelly streets of the souk, tiptoeing over puddles and dodging noisy mopeds. We kept our purchases to modest pieces of jewellery and eggcups, leaving behind the fake Louis Vuitton handbags. We did buy Joe a red-and-green Moroccan football kit, though I was slightly nervous that the name printed on the back – Sektioui – might actually translate as “Wally” rather than the north African equivalent of Beckham. Back at the resort, Joe insisted on wearing it to dinner and was delighted with the great nods of approval from the waiters.
It turned out to be quite handy that Joe had made some local friends. On our last day, he managed to lock himself in the toilet and one of the more nimble waiters had to squeeze through the tiny window and release him, still wearing his Morocco kit, from his self-imposed imprisonment.
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