How do some women stay eternally young? Here in Marrakesh I meet up with Jean-Alexandre Bauchet-Bouhlal, who runs the Es Saadi complex – or so I thought. Then an invitation comes to meet his mother.
Here is this young-young gorgeous woman, Elisabeth Bauchet, who married a local half-French Moroccan and they became Mr and Mrs Bauchet-Bouhlal (hence their only son’s double-barrelled name).
Elisabeth is a dream, lively, witty, into everything. What is her secret, how do French women retain their vivacity and their skin and the gleam in their youthful eyes – forever, it seems?
She looks straight at me, when giving her answer. Love and passion, she says. Mr Bauchet-Bouhlal, who is an engineer, is not around..
How many others are in this family business? She laughs. Mama, her mother, is really in charge. Mama (Henriette Bauchet, still known as Mme Jean Bauchet) is back in France, travelling round the country to lay flowers, on All Souls Day, November 2nd, on graves of all those who have meant a lot to her in her short life.
But she is coming back this weekend, flying by herself, an enormous vodka and tuck up under a blanket – airline food is all awful, she says. She only looks ahead, those who love her say. The following weekend, she celebrates her 92nd birthday. Yes, Mama not only travels by herself, she works full-time.
She runs Casino de Marrakesh, and is on duty, right on top of it all, from 7.30 each night through to 3.30 the following morning… and come November 23rd, she has to be on duty by 2pm for a 13-and-a-half-hour shift as she is running her annual World Poker Tournament.
Casinos, it seems, are in Mama’s blood. Her husband, Jean Bauchet, who died 15 years ago, owned the Moulin Rouge in Paris and started Casino du Liban in Beirut. He was persuaded by a Moroccan bigwig to set up Africa’s first casino, hence the opening of Casino de Marrakesh here, in 1952.
Well, like the proverbial Topsy (who just grew) or Neville Shute’s classic A Town Like Alice, a casino needs a hotel, hence the opening of Casino de Marrakesh’s Es Saadi Hotel. From its 1966 opening, it attracted all the glitterati, Elisabeth recalls. Charles Aznavour came to sing at the casino, and Josephine Baker and Maurice Chevalier. The Rolling Stones, with Marianne Faithful and other hanging-on girlfriends, made so much noise that they were put up in the top (fifth) floor of the hotel, with the fourth floor kept empty to provide a sound-buffer from other guests.
Jean Bauchet understood marketing before that word was even coined, says his daughter, Elisabeth. Bring in the right people and others will follow. Yves St Laurent and his other half, Pierre Bergé, were locals (Bergé still calls this ‘home’). This is indeed home for many – up to 60% of overnight guests are regulars.
Marketing continues, not only via the casino and its poker but via the annual International Marrakesh Film Festival, for which this is top hotel partner: 2010’s honorees included Marion Cotillard, who came with her husband Guillaume Canet and loved it all.
They undoubtedly stayed in Es Saadi palace. Yes, the growth continued, and in 2007, the other side of the casino, the giant Es Saadi Palace opened, with a two-floor open octagonal lobby rising to a sculpted white cupola of a ceiling. And there are eight luxury villas, each with their own pool, in the 20 acres of surrounding immaculate gardens, which also of course have tennis courts, and Morocco’s biggest curvilinear pool complex.
And, back inside the Palace, there is a two-floor Dior Institut spa with a 20-foot circular relaxation pool around a century old eucalyptus. There are only two Dior Instituts in hotels – the other is at Hôtel Plaza-Athenée Paris. Wonder if this one, orchestrated by Jean-Alexandre’s wife Caroline Bauchet-Bouhlal, has, like the aforementioned Mama, a secret to longevity. Back with her feet on the ground, Mama – says new young friend Elisabeth, having shared her own secret of eternal youth – Mama always has a glass of good red wine, only one but GOOD, with every meal). Love it, love them, love life.