La Gazelle D'Or is the perfect place to get away from it all. We visited over Christmas to get away from the full on, commercial, in-your-face bore Christmas has become in the UK.
It is close to Taroudant (but not close enough to walk in my opinion) so that you can absorb the melee of the souks and markets with Moroccans going about their daily business and about 45 minutes from Agadir which is far more commercialised. If you are travelling from the UK, BMI now offer a twice service from Heathrow so that you don't have to travel by car for 3-4 hours from Marrakech.
The hotel is located in grounds of a couple of hundred acres. Much of the land is farmed and the end results can be sampled in the restaurant! The grounds are very well maintained by an army of gardeners wearing bright orange jump suits, vaguely reminiscent of Guantanamo Bay. They do a grand job and are very smiley and appreciate you taking time to admire their work.
There are about 30 villas in total. One line of about 16 (closer to the restaurant and main building) overlook vast lawns. A second row behind them (separated by trees and an access road (used by horses and the occasional donkey)) have their own 'back garden' shared with a pair - great if you have children as each pair of villas has an interconnecting door.
The villas themselves are huge with a great open fire and seating, a large and comfortable bed, a dressing area and massive bathroom with walk-in shower and two separate sinks.
I liked the fact that it had its own front garden too, complete with lemon tree. There was also a lovely terrace at the back with built in seating which was covered in white roses and jasmine. This is where breakfast was served. A quick call to room service and breakfast was upon you in a matter of moments. The standard breakfast included wonderful fresh clementine juice, pancakes, muesli, pastries, fruit and yoghurt - definitely enough to see you through until lunchtime!!
If you don't fancy the walk up to the pool area, each villa has two comfortable sun loungers where you can read and soak up the sun in privacy. You may even be joined by the hotel's old and arthritic dog - Timo - who lurches in and tends to stay with you all day if you are around. The garden is big enough for a game of croquet which helps pass the time and isn't too strenuous an activity to be going on with.
The pool is a real boon - particularly because of its size - good for lengths. So many of the pools in Marrakech for example are just plunge pools. The only problem was that it wasn't heated very well (at all??!!) and it felt like you were swimming in icy waters for the first few days. The owner soon realised and got the heating turned up and it got more bearable!
Lunch - a buffet - is served poolside and offers very similar salads and tagines every day, so a bit of a disappointment if you are expecting variety. Dinner is served in the restaurant and although perfectly edible was not stunning and we did expect more. Unfortunately, there was no escape from Christmas even here (the French influence) and we had to endure a gala dinner on Christmas Eve, for the French and a gala dinner on Christmas Day, for the Brits. Christmas trees were also placed on tables in the centre of the dining room as well as strategically around the bar area.
One of the more permanent staff fixtures at the hotel is Adam who is very friendly and a great piano player to boot, so it was great to have an aperitif while he was 'tinkling the ivories'.
Talking of staff, the service was excellent. All of the waiters were very attentive and keen to ensure that you had everything you wanted. They were also keen to practice their English and the longer you stay the better the rapport.
While we were staying, the owner (Rita) was also there and she was keen to ensure that everyone was enjoying themselves and encouraged people to tell her if there was anything amiss - sometimes difficult for us Brits to do - much easier to moan about it behind closed doors!!
The one criticism that I do have about this idyllic hideaway, and it maybe just because of the time of year we were there, is that I felt that we were intruding on a regular gathering where everone knew each other. It was a tad cliquey and those people who had not been to the hotel before were a little marginalised and easy to spot. That said, the staff did not differentiate between those guests who had been there before and those that hadn't.
It is without doubt a real 'away from it all' place - restful, peaceful and beautiful. It has an atmosphere and environment where you can recharge your batteries, regroup, read all those novels you haven't got round to or even write your own! All in all a wonderful retreat.