Bold visions - Issue 170 - Magazine | Monocle

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Hidden oasis

Rosemary, Marrakech

It was the bathrooms that first convinced Laurence Leenaert and Ayoub Boualam to purchase Rosemary, a riad tucked down a narrow, unsuspecting street near Bahia Palace in central Marrakech.

Laurence Leenaert, co-owner of Rosemary

Initially, Leenaert – a Belgian ceramicist and founder of LRNCE – and Boualam, her Moroccan husband and business partner, wanted to move their studio into the two-storey building. But then they saw the bathrooms: one luxurious and the other fit for a queen (with soaring ceilings, marble floors and an oversized, sunken marble bathtub for two). “It would have been a shame to demolish them,” says Leenaert, as Monocle joins her and Boualam on Rosemary’s rooftop for a breakfast of fresh bread with honey and the house-fermented yoghurt.

Leenaert designed almost everything inside, including tables and chairs
Plant-filled rooftop
Moment of calm
Private sitting room
Bedroom adorned with pieces designed by Leenaert
Stained glass window in one of the bathrooms

The couple had heard about the sale of the riad from the previous owners, a French couple who wandered into their showroom one day. “They were convinced that the riad was for us,” says Leenaert, who at the time didn’t even know the building existed. “That’s the beautiful thing about Marrakech: you never know what’s behind the walls.” Looking at Rosemary’s soaring walls from the narrow alley outside, you can hardly imagine that such an oasis exists. The only exterior visual cue is an elaborately carved wooden door and a small sign with a sprig of rosemary, which, much like an olive branch, signals a place of peace. Open the door and a tiny sanctuary awaits – a peaceful courtyard with the branches of a giant tree extending over the roof.

On the ground floor, there’s an abundance of nooks: a small, tiled pool, a cushioned seating area with a carved sandstone table, a living area filled with books and a marble and zellige hammam. The five rooms are spread across two terraced floors, which have wooden balustrades and terrazzo floors. Each room has its own character, whether it’s a skylight, tiled green bath, open shower, sitting area or balcony.  Even though the couple has been running its ceramic brand for almost a decade, and expanded with textiles and clothing, extending the vision to a riad had never crossed their minds.

“That’s the beautiful thing about the Medina, you never know what’s behind the walls”

“It was a very impulsive decision,” Leenaert says of the purchase. “We also love to travel,” she adds, noting that they’ve collected ideas from their journeys. One of the most stimulating trips was one to the south of France. “My work was very inspired by the Mediterranean and French painters,” adds Leenaert. In Rosemary, they saw an opportunity to showcase the city they adore. “All the craft in Morocco is important, so it’s nice to share that,” she says. They flicked through their Rolodex of makers, from carpenters to plasterers and masons. “We have all this knowledge about handcraft and working with artisans,” says Boualam. 

From the rooftop, it’s hard to tell that you’re deep in the busy Medina, a chaotic part of Marrakech. After a day of pounding those pavements, there’s no better place to retreat to.

Island delight

Further Hotel, Bali 

On the fringe of Bali’s southwestern coast, past bustling and built-up Canggu, lies Pererenan, a sliver of a seaside village where coffee shops and roadside lunch shacks squeeze between terraced rice fields. Just a few minutes from its black-sand beaches is Further Hotel, a low-rise terracotta marvel dreamed up by husband-and-wife duo Claudio Cuccu and Martine McGrath.

The boxy building appears to change colour throughout the day, from ochre to nut brown, depending on the sun. Entering the lobby and ascending the staircase to the rooms is like entering a candlelit cave. Further Hotel’s first 10 rooms opened last summer alongside Bar Vera, a wine bar and French-inspired restaurant on the ground floor.

Laying the table for dinner
Bar Vera
Façade of Further Hotel
Claudio Cuccu and his wife, Martine McGrath

“It was important that we try to do something that could not be compared with anything else,” says Cuccu. He has lived in Bali for nearly 20 years, during which time he launched several small hotels and brands, and met McGrath. After selling the Slow, a hotel and restaurant in Canggu, in 2017, the couple took a break to start a family. Three years later, he and McGrath were “itching” for a new project. The name for the hotel emerged first. “We thought, ‘We need to do something different, we need to try and push a little bit more, we need to go further,’” says Cuccu. “And then this word just stuck with us. It became kind of a motto.”

The hotel was designed by Italian architecture firm MORQ and Studio Wenden, an Australian design studio, and takes inspiration from the design heritage of terracotta as well as Balinese architecture. The latter is especially evident in each room’s semi-outdoor shower, located in an open-air annexe that folds around the bedroom, and in the welcome intrusion of light and air, filtered through the gaps in the hand-laid brick walls. Everything is custom-made, from the bricks of the façade to the soaps, towels and in-room toiletries by Object, a brand led by McGrath and Amy Wenden of Studio Wenden, in collaboration with Jakarta-based perfumer Oaken Lab.

Gentle afternoon light in a guest room
Terracotta hallway

In addition to the 10 guest rooms, there’s a standalone studio a few minutes away. By July the hotel will consist of 26 rooms and a rooftop pool as well as Bar Vera and the first overseas outpost of Melbourne café St Ali, all located across four buildings on the same street in Pererenan. Cuccu calls Further a “diffused hotel”. “We don’t build up, we build along,” he says. Rather than remaining ensconced in the “big bubble” of a resort, Cuccu wants guests to walk around, experience the neighbourhood and interact with residents. “For us, the landscape surrounding our hotel is created by what was already existing in the village.”

Arcadian treasure 

Manna, Arcadia, Greece 

As a child, Athens-born Stratis Batagias was sent off every year to a summer camp in the Peloponnese. He would spend weeks in the mountainous region of Arcadia, taking part in all manner of outdoor activities during the day and sneaking off after dark with friends to explore an abandoned sanatorium in the forests nearby. “We would come with flashlights and tell spooky stories,” says Batagias. “To me, the building had something magical about it. I would dream about owning it and turning it into a place for people to gather.” 

Timber grids in the guest rooms are complemented by marble
Balcony flanked by forest

That dream became a reality in 2014, when the state-owned building was put up for auction and Batagias bought a 50-year lease. He set about getting the necessary paperwork to transform it into a hotel, a process that would end up taking longer than anticipated. “Bureaucratically, it was extremely hard. If I was just seeing it as an investment, I wouldn’t have had the patience. But there was so much emotion involved for me, it gave me the strength not to give up.” The building was designed by Swiss architects and constructed in 1927 as a treatment centre for soldiers with tuberculosis, as it was believed that the oxygen-rich mountain air would help the patients recover. But when penicillin was first introduced, the sanatorium became redundant and was subsequently abandoned. It was later looted and its wooden roof was entirely removed and reapplied to a new hospital in the town of Tripoli.

It was in this derelict state that it came into Batagias’s hands. “It was ready to collapse. But because it was one of the first buildings in Greece to be made with concrete, it had managed to stay standing. But only just.” To restore the building, Batagias enlisted Monogon Office for Architecture and Athens-based K Studio, who kept its heritage-listed façade and sweeping terrazzo staircase. The building was otherwise entirely reshaped but keeping the same lofty proportions of the original structure with tall ceilings, wide corridors and towering windows. An extension to the back of the building, which had collapsed decades earlier when a tree fell on it, was also rebuilt using local grey stone and now houses some of the hotel’s 32 guest rooms. Interiors are an understated mix of neutral-toned walls, dark timber joinery, marble panels and soft, moss-coloured upholstery. From woodworkers to stonemasons, a variety of local craftspeople were called upon to create these pared-back interiors. “Much of the furniture was custom-made for the hotel,” says Batagias. “But we also have a mix of pieces from international design brands like Baxter and Driade.”

Manna is popular with Athenians seeking solace
Many rooms feature mountain views
Apothecary-style bar

“To me, the building had something magical about it. I would dream about owning it and turning it into a place for people to gather.”

Since opening, Manna has become popular with Athenians looking for a weekend escape. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the Greek capital and its secluded, mountainside location sits on one of the country’s longest certified hiking routes, the Menalon Trail. Within easy reach is also the scenic Lousios gorge, a popular rafting spot, and the Mainalo ski resort. But for those just looking to unwind in peace, the hotel has a fully equipped spa, cosy bar warmed by an open fire and onsite restaurant from acclaimed chef Athinagoras Kostakos. “The menu is authentic Greek food with a twist,” says Batagias. “The idea is to use as many local producers as we can. My favourite thing is the fir tree honey. It’s very special.” 

But no matter how guests choose to spend their stay, Batagias believes that it’s the perfect spot to sit back and watch the seasons unfurl. “Poets and artists from the 19th-century Romantic period were particularly inspired by the pristine wilderness of this region of the Peloponnese,” he says. “The Arcadian Ideal is all about man living in harmony with nature. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve with Manna. Here, you really feel all the seasons very deeply. It’s a beautiful thing, seeing the nature change around you.”

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