I've just returned from my second stay at Villa El Arsa and it was just as difficult leaving this time as last. Villa El Arsa is a very special place.
The riad is beautiful, exquisitely decorated with Moroccan art, crafts and textiles (most of which are for sale without the hassle of the souk). It is also spacious; comfortable; peaceful; and clean. It's perfectly located, just five minutes from the Djemaa El F'naa. There's a huge roof terrace for breakfast, sunbathing, or late-night talks over orange flower tea - after a reviving plunge in the ground floor ice-cold 'bain oriental'. Also on the ground floor is the large central dining area; a cushion-strewn library and games room with fireplace, music, DVD and TV; and a cosy, romantic, curtained alcove, with a comfortable couch. There are huge potted plants everywhere and the central atrium is shaded from the sun, so it's a haven in the heat of the Marrakech summer. But I'm keen to stay here in winter, too, to sit by the rooftop and ground-floor fireplaces. There are fireplaces in some of the rooms.
But what makes the riad outstanding is the welcome from Fabrice, Noel, Malika and Simo. They are generous with their time, knowledgeable not only about Marrakech and its attractions but also about Moroccan history, culture and contemporary life. I've learnt so much in my breakfast and late-night talks with them, adding hugely to my experience of Morocco. They'll arrange pretty much anything for you, from taxis to laundry to asking their gnawa musician friend, Omar, to perform. This year they booked a fantastic Atlas trek for us, welcoming us for one night, before looking after our luggage while we went off to the High Atlas. All this is fuelled by their obvious love of Morocco.
I feel at home here - it's like staying with friends! They fully deserve their excellent rating.