Interiors: Mellowing out in Marrakech

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When Ryanair announced a direct service between Edinburgh and Marrakech from last week (4 May), the Bee family rejoiced. Five years ago, Edinburgh native Daniel Bee, 37, began investing in property in Morocco with his elder brother Richard. The plan was to find a bolthole where they and their parents, Tom and Gloria, could take a break and be guaranteed sunshine.

But their beautiful Marrakech riad proved so popular with their friends, and friends of those friends, that now they own three properties – in Marrakech, Fes and Sidi Ifni – two of which are up and running as guesthouses.

You couldn't ask for a more glamorous back story. At 17, Daniel, a keen juggler often seen busking on Edinburgh's Playfair Steps, "ran away" to join the Hungarian State Circus. He next turned up as a conveyancing assistant at solicitors Simpson & Marwick. "I used to have to run around behind my brilliant boss, who taught me about efficiency and how to run an office."

He moved into a job as a space planner at Michael Laird Partnership, an architectural firm. "It's about helping them maximise the internal lettable space," he explains. "I taught myself CAD, learned how to read architectural drawings and spent seven years around building sites watching how they work."

In his spare time he helped friends promote nightclubs. He ran the British Juggling championships in Edinburgh in 1995, which saw 1,200 people come from around Europe, and had him tackling everything from sponsorship to marketing.

Fast forward to the late 1990s and Daniel was in London working at Brown, Lloyd, James. That's Peter Brown, who managed the Beatles after Brian Epstein, Nick Lloyd, former editor of the Express, and Howell James, once a political secretary for John Major. One of Daniel's chief responsibilities was looking after Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Howell James and Vanessa Branson – sister of Richard – bought a riad in Marrakech. Daniel was, by this time, working for Avalon, finessing PR for the likes of Jerry Springer: The Opera. He and his brother flew down to attend a star-studded party, and fell in love with Morocco.

"They'd bought this heap in the middle of town and we were blown away by the building. Then they had a party where the hospitality was astonishing – lovely and considerate, with great food and belly dancers. We realised that your bang for your buck was bigger and more interesting in Morocco, and just a few hours away.

"The great thing about Marrakech is not just that the weather is warm, but that as long as you are respectful of the Islamic culture you can pretty much do what you want. People have always come to Marrakech from the coast, from the desert, and down from the north. It's a transient city, and a trading city, so it's a bit edgy."

Their three-storey Marrakech riad (riad means a four-sided house around a central courtyard) was rewired and replumbed. The rooms are vast – nine metres long – and all the bedrooms are en suite with high wooden ceilings. There's a traditional wood-fired hammam, best described as a cross between a wet room and a sauna.

When choosing furnishings, they were determined to "avoid the over-enthusiastic approach, where you find yourself in a house full of clutter". The beds, chairs and sofas were made using local wood and via traditional means. "We stuck to a simple, warm colour scheme of Moroccan red, cream and black," says Daniel. Some of the walls are finished in the local tadelakt plaster, a lime-based mix which is coloured using natural pigments, then polished and re-polished and sealed with wax and an olive-based soap."

With an emphasis on relaxation, they designed both the interior and exterior spaces to be as inviting as possible, so there are lots of wafting curtains and unexpected pockets of pleasure. "You can sit on the first floor colonnade and read, or sun yourself on the terrace. We planted the courtyard with things you can eat, and the terrace with beautiful flowers. You should be able to pick a lemon from the tree to add to your gin and tonic."

In the bedrooms – which are equipped with iPod docking stations and wi-fi – are pillows and duvets shipped from the UK, and towels and robes sourced in Marrakech. "In fact, they recently caught the eye of the head designer at Alberta Ferretti, so we've had to send him a few," says Daniel.

Natural handmade rose soap is brought in from the Ourika Valley. "It's made by a women's co-operative at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Other Moroccan beauty products in every room include local mud scrubs, a deodorant stone and amber scent," adds Daniel.

Catering to the whims of stars as a publicist would seem an obvious training ground for the hospitality industry, but Daniel has found that his guests are even more demanding.

Having said that, he's quick to stick up for his countrymen. "Scottish people travel well, I find. They go with an open eye and without arrogance. There's nothing the Moroccans like more than a joke, a laugh, warm friendship and a story – oh, and football. They're mad for football. I walked into a cafe for lunch recently and they were all watching Motherwell versus Aberdeen – with Arabic subtitles.

"In Marrakech you can buy lentils on the street and eat for 30 pence, or spend 100 a head in a posh restaurant. You can go hillwalking in the most humble way, or get a hot air balloon across the desert. Marrakech will respond to whatever price you want to spend and whatever experience you're looking for."

To that end, Riad Tizwa is designed as a home from home. The unobtrusive staff are there 24 hours a day, and it's the guests who set the pace. "Richard and I thought, 'What would we want?' The answer was 'To laze around a bit and take it easy.' So far, our record for the latest breakfast served is 2:30pm."

Riad Tizwa (www.riadtizwa.com) is available from 60 a night for two sharing a double room, including breakfast, or you can rent the entire riad from 450 per night. It has six double rooms, but with extra beds can sleep up to 16 guests.

&#149 This article was first published in the Scotsman, May 8, 2010