Indagare member S. Robertson, who lives in Toronto, recently did a trip with his wife to celebrate her birthday. They spent a few days in Marrakech, at Riad El Fenn, then drove to Kasbah Tamadot, in the Atlas mountains. Then it was on to Barcelona, with a stop at the Hotel Arts, followed by a sojourn at Gran Hotel Son Net, in Mallorca. Here, he reports back on his journey:
Everything went well except the Hotel Arts in Barcelona. Even then, the issues were mostly more funny than frustrating. It’s not that they aren’t trying…you can’t get through the lobby without a greeter asking how you are enjoying your stay (somewhat disconcertingly, the woman greeters are inexplicably dressed in skirts apparently designed by the Amish). They even called before we checked out, though whoever called was blissfully unaware of any of the problems we had experienced.
The Hotel Arts seems to suffer from a disconnect between their best high concept intentions and the staff who is actually in charge of executing the plan. In addition to endlessly stumbling into what appeared to be Disney trained greeters (we always assured them our stay was fine—it seemed pointless wingeing at a new recruit who was powerless to do anything about it anyway), we also experienced some other minor annoyances:
(1) They gave our room away. We were seven hours late due to a strike at the airport in Marrakech and arrived at the Hotel Arts at 6:00 am. We called from Marrakech to let the hotel know, but the front desk denied any knowledge of our call, though they somehow managed to reschedule the driver to pick us up in Barcelona at the right time. They did find us a room, but not the one we had booked months ahead. Though they had obviously resold the room, they graciously agreed not to charge us for the night we had missed.
(2) You are probably aware that the rooms are very high tech. Every electrical circuit in the room can be controlled by a small keypad that pulls out from the bedside table. It takes a little getting used to and it can be humbling.
First, you need to complete an investigation similar to an electrician figuring out an unmarked electrical panel. It’s not that the switches weren’t marked originally, it’s that the marking wears away with time, particularly on the most commonly used ones.
Second, unless you leave a night light on, you’ll need to learn the location of the switches and memorize their relative position to each other by feel. That is, unless you want to stumble around at night in the pitch black. (The hotel has wonderful black out curtains by the way.) It’s also handy in keeping track of the worn keys. You have a choice of memorizing the switches on the central keypad by the bed, or the one beside the bathroom, or both if time is weighing heavily on your hands. I don’t know how the Ritz Carlton has overlooked such an obvious solution to this problem. It’s elegant and has the advantage of being both original and reinforcing the high tech aesthetic. Night vision goggles.
Having lazily given up trying to master the nuances of the lighting panel, we settled for the one switch that always got results: the master. This requires some compromise. There are so many electrical fixtures and gadgets in the room, you can’t find an unused electrical plug to recharge your cell phone. Hardly an insurmountable problem…just unplug one of the lamps and use that plug. That works well during the day, but not so well at night, when the master switch cuts power to the wall plugs.
The keyboard doesn’t just control the lights. It is also central to communications with housekeeping. The Hotel Arts is obsessed with ensuring that housekeeping is as unobtrusive as possible. Every evening, while you are relaxing before going out for a late dinner, they call to ask when you want your room cleaned for the second time that day (otherwise known as turn down). Strangely, they never call to ask when you would like the first cleaning. Instead, you rely on the central control panel, which has two switches that control a light in the corridor outside your door: green for “make up the room” or red for “do not disturb.” In theory, you just press the “No molestar” button the night before, the red light goes on, and you can sleep in all you like the following day, except (a) central processing cancels your instructions by default sometime around 11 am and (b) there is a mandatory intrusion at 9 every morning, regardless of your expressed desire to be molested or not.
To be fair, sometimes it’s the occupant’s fault. Given the hotel’s rather arbitrary interpretation of your intentions, it is difficult to be sure what you have chosen without going out the door of your room and checking which light is on. You hate to be a Luddite about these things, but if you have to go out of your room to double check the light, wouldn’t it just be easier to hang a highly visible sign on the outside of the door?
(3) Speaking of housekeeping, there was one face cloth in the room. It is apparently a scarce resource in the hotel. I understand that it is not unusual for Europeans to use what we would consider hand towels, instead of face clothes, so the only face cloth was the one beside the bidet. It’s only a prop. I used it the first day and housekeeping never replaced it, though in a rather unexpected development, they did leave us someone else’s underwear instead. No…it wasn’t newly returned laundry. It was also a wholly inadequate replacement for the face cloth.
I have some experience managing hotels. I know that events occasionally transpire that require discretion (who knows how the underwear appeared in our room?!), so I wasn’t particularly surprised by the front desk’s studied lack of interest in how the underwear got there in the first place and and appreciated their assurance that the they would be removed immediately, or at least as soon as the gentleman on the phone recovered from the fit of giggles he was valiantly struggling to suppress.
Housekeeping eventually appeared. They were non-plussed by the underwear. Did we want them cleaned? That was a nice touch. Perhaps they would clean them before apologetically returning them to their rightful owner. It’s these little things that make the difference. Anyway, once they understood the true nature of the problem, they gladly took the underwear away. It seemed to be the highlight of their day too.
Anyway…sorry for the digression. Notwithstanding these minor grievances, it’s hard to hold it against the hotel staff. They are almost unfailingly enthusiastic and good natured. Barcelona is so filled with pleasant surprises that a few unpleasant ones don’t really don’t add up to much.
It seems unfair to have devoted so much space to the one thing that wasn’t perfect. The Riad El Fenn, Kasbah Tamadot and Gran Hotel Son Net were outstanding, though Kasbah Tamdot really stands out. It is practically note perfect. They upgraded us to one of the tents. If we go back, I’d pay the premium. They are fantastically romantic.
We were also upgraded at Riad El Fenn to the only room that has its own private plunge pool on a roof terrace. Outstanding place to have an evening cocktail. I had been to Morocco many years before, but had forgotten that it is almost impossible to explore a city like Marrakech without a knowledgeable guide. So much goes on behind the doors and walls. I know that Indagare pushes the idea of hiring a guide or personal shopper, but I would say it is nearly mandatory. Riad El Fenn found us a guide who had grown up in Marrakech and he took us into some places we would never have been able to find on our own. He also claims that much of what you find in the souks is made in China, though not all of them. Given the number of them, it should save a lot of time knowing which ones to avoid. By the way, the food at Riad El Fenn is really good.
Gran Hotel Son Net was also a treat, though they are experiencing some moisture in their villas that causes them to smell a little musty. It’s hard to understand how they can be musty given the island has hardly had any rain since May. Our villa wasn’t too bad, but according to one of the Son Net staff, some of the villas are very bad. Son Net is trying to rectify the problem, but they have been trying for a year now and don’t seem to be able to get a handle on what’s causing the problem.
Unless you intend to stay on site, it is almost mandatory to rent a car to get around Mallorca. Depending on what turns you on, driving on some of the mountain roads is half the fun. Never mind the fabulous views. We also chartered a boat for a day to take us up the west coast. It was extremely scenic and, for some reason, the water on the west coast was far warmer than the water on the south coast, where the sand beaches are. The water is almost impossibly clear on either side. We were swimming in almost 70 feet of water and could see the bottom! I wish we had done the charter at the beginning rather than the end. It is a good way to get your bearings if you intend to explore the mountainous part of the island. We didn’t get a chance to eat there, and I don’t know what the name of the restaurant is, but according to the skipper of the boat, there is a really good, informal sea food restaurant in the tiny port of Deia. Though we drove through Deia, I didn’t even see a road to the port.
My wife and I look forward to arranging another trip with Indagare soon.
Read Indagare’s Barcelona report
Read Indagare’s Marrakech report
Read about a great guide for the souk in Marrakech
Read Indagare’s Mallorca report