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Monday, 16 February 2015 12:00 AM

Churchill and Roosevelt in Marrakech

“Simply the nicest place on Earth to spend an afternoon”

Before the Second World War, in 1935-6 Winston Churchill (during his period out of official office) spent the winter in Morocco on a painting holiday and was reported to have been particularly taken by Marrakech due to the contrast of arid country and mountain backdrop. Many believe that Marrakech inspired him to create some of his finest his watercolours and he termed the city the “Paris of the Sahara” and “simply the nicest place on Earth to spend an afternoon”.

Latterly, in 1943, Churchill met with the Allied military planners, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, in Casablanca to continue plans for the war against Nazi Germany and Churchill took Roosevelt to Marrakech for a few days break, saying “You cannot come all the way to North Africa without seeing Marrakesh” and, on Roosevelt’s protestations, “I must be with you when you see the sun set on the Atlas Mountains.”

The party stayed in the Villa Taylor owned by a wealthy New York family in the Ville Nouvelle district (the Gueliz), the main residential area for wealthy colonialists, just 5 minutes’ walk from the Majorelle Gardens from whose tower Churchill and Roosevelt watched the sunset over the old with the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains behind.

Roosevelt is reported to have said to Churchill, having been helped up the stairs on a chair “I feel like a sultan: you may kiss my hand, my dear.” Churchill is reported to have said “It’s the most lovely spot in the world.”

Roosevelt left the following morning, while Churchill stayed an extra day and painted his only painting of the war - a view of the Atlas Mountains.

Churchill took several holidays in Marrakech after the war but not at Villa Taylor, possibly because the owners were not keen supporters of the Democrat Roosevelt, and Villa Taylor was subsequently bought by the then king of Morocco and subsequently fell into disrepair and is not open to the public. In Churchill’s post war winter holidays in Marrakech he stayed at the hotel La Mamounia.  

Marrakech Today

Obviously Marrakech has been transformed dramatically over the past 70 odd years – budget airlines have opened by mass tourism which has led to a proliferation of hotels (including riads in the medina, an excellent development since Churchill's visits) and a burgeoning tourist souk – but the essential character that drew Churchill there, the steer beauty of its position, remains and is the basis for a holiday to remember.