Offering a heady blend of culture and beauty, Marrakech is luring the in-crowd to its charming riads, bustling bazaars and must-see art attractions
Founded almost 1,000 years ago, Marrakech is one of the great cities of the Maghreb. Known as the Red City thanks to its red clay buildings that swarm the medina, it is easily one of the most beautiful and fascinating spots in Morocco. A place where Europe, Africa and the Middle East mingle and merge, this popular trading hub marries the past and present with an energy that can sometimes feel intimidating, but plan it right and you’re sure to have the trip of a lifetime.
Home to atmospheric souks and some of the most impressive architecture (both old and new) that you’ll find anywhere in the world, nowadays this intoxicating city is prized as much for its trendy art galleries, hip hotels and fine-dining restaurants as it is for its bazaars and hidden palaces. It’s to the famous medina that most visitors gravitate, where your senses will be overwhelmed with music, the call to prayer and elaborate feasts. Dark alleyways are brimming with artisan workshops and sprawling markets in which you can wander for hours. Offering a tantalising taste of Africa within easy reach, get set to fall in love with Marrakech…
Revel in a touch of glamour at these stand-out abodes
If you’re seeking opulence, you’ve come to the right place. Home to 53 luxury riads, spread across a medina filled with alleyways and secret doors, Royal Mansour Marrakech provides a rich introduction to Moroccan culture. Be sure to dine at the new Sesamo Italian restaurant by the three-Michelin-Star chef Massimiliano Alajmo.
One of the most spectacular residences in the city, the Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech is situated just 20 minutes from the city’s main square of Jemaa el-Fnaa, and with its stunning terracotta buildings nestled among palm, orange and olive trees, it’s the perfect mix of splendour and tradition.
Once home to royalty, La Mamounia has been a preferred choice among A-listers through the decades and has hosted a glittering array of VIPs in its 210 rooms. Set in lavish gardens and styled with handcrafted Moorish opulence, this is the place to see and be seen.
Those craving a cooler, more contemporary vibe should check out Radisson Blu Hotel, Marrakech Carré Eden, which called upon a chic and savvy Casablanca design studio to craft its laid-back, mid-century style. With a coveted address in Guéliz, the city’s hippest bars and restaurants are just a stone’s throw away.
… And restful riads
Charming, calming and every interior designer’s dream, Marrakech’s many riads offer welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. A quiet oasis situated in the heart of the medina, Le Riad Yasmine has an idyllic pool, which gets a lot of attention, but sipping a traditional Moroccan mint tea in the lounge is equally dreamy.
One of Marrakech’s first boutique riads, El Fenn, which is owned by Vanessa Branson (sister to Richard), is a maze of interconnected riads that take up an acre of the medina. First launched to showcase Vanessa’s impressive art collection, the display is constantly re-curated so no two visits are ever the same.
Over 200 years old, Riad Tchaikana offers stunning views of the Atlas Mountains. With just five bedrooms, it gets booked up fast, so make sure you plan in advance.
Wander the souks
With their bustling atmosphere and thrilling bargains proving an assault on the senses, the souks of Marrakech are a highlight for any visitor. There’s always someone ready to greet you at these open-air venues, where artisans have been toiling over their creations for centuries.
Traditional woven carpets, aromatic spices, colourful lanterns and pottery stalls can be found in abundance – tagine pots, serving plates and soup bowls come in all sizes, while jewelled glassware and ornate teapots make a pretty addition to any dining room back home.
Originally dedicated to leatherwork, Souq Semmarine and Souq el-Kebir are the most popular street markets in the city, and today sell practically anything you can think of. Prices here may be higher than in other bazaars, however, so if you’re willing to travel a little bit further north to where the specialist quissariat (covered markets) are located, you may be able to find similar products for less.
On top of its famous street food scene, the city has made some serious strides into fine dining
Le Petit Cornichon
Owned by Erwann Lance, who has several Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and New York, Le Petit Cornichon is stylish, contemporary and colourful, so it’s no surprise that the style set gather here. Tuck into dishes such as sea bass ceviche with grapefruit and pink peppercorns of tarragon chicken. lepetitcornichon.ma
Bringing a taste of Australia to Morocco, chef Andrew Cibej aims to capture the laid-back culture of the country with a modern twist, by way of delicious dishes designed to share. Favourites include homemade ricotta with roasted red peppers, balsamic-glazed lamb ribs and chargrilled sirloin sandwiches. plus61.com
Located in the Pacha complex, which is also home to the famous Ibiza nightclub of the same name, those seeking a touch of glamour should definitely pay Le Crystal a visit. A Moroccan Italian menu comprises the likes of shrimp risotto, garlic parmesan gnocchi and foie gras ravioli that are definitely worth the price tag. pachamarrakech.com
Craving a taste of authentic Moroccan cuisine? Marrakech is sure to awaken the senses through traditional flavours influenced by Spain, Arabia and France, and the streets are teeming with these wallet-friendly eateries. Dedicated to empowering disadvantaged women through culinary skills, guests can enjoy an ever-changing menu of local dishes at Amal Women’s Moroccan Restaurant. For stunning views to accompany your meal, Al Baraka, in the heart of the legendary Jemaa el-Fnaa, does some of the best couscous in the city. Taste light and simple Moroccan fare at the magical Dar Marjana while the belly dancers sway – if you’re feeling adventurous, try the pigeon pie.
If it’s one-of-a-kind pieces you’re after, Marrakech isn’t short on stylish boutiques that are as unique in interior design as they are in merchandise.
Globetrotting Belgian designer Valerie Barkowski’s concept store V. Barkowski is reminiscent of a high-end New York loft that showcases her fine white bed linens and fluffy towels that come delicately trimmed with her signature mini pompoms, while Norya Ayron sells an array of fashion-forward silk and cotton kaftans and abayas loved by the likes of Sharon Stone, Monica Belluci and Kate Moss. For medina-style streetwear, head to Max & Jan for a selection of soft drape dresses, slouchy pants and billowing dresses perfect for a summer beach holiday, while at Laly, browse the rails for bold capes, camo babouche slippers and pochette purses by designer Badra Benjelloun.
Belgian designer Valerie Barkowski’s concept store V. Barkowski is reminiscent of a high-end New York loft that showcases her fine white bed linens and fluffy towels that come delicately trimmed with her signature mini pompoms, while Norya Ayron sells an array of fashion-forward silk and cotton kaftans and abayas loved by the likes of Sharon Stone, Monica Belluci and Kate Moss. For medina-style streetwear, head to Max & Jan for a selection of soft drape dresses, slouchy pants and billowing dresses perfect for a summer beach holiday, while at Laly, browse the rails for bold capes, camo babouche slippers and pochette purses by designer Badra Benjelloun.
Ask a local
Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki, blogger at Maroc Mama (marocmama.com), shares her insider tips on how to get the most out of your trip.
“The best advice I can share about visiting Marrakech is to have a sense of humour and accept that you will get lost in the medina. I’ve found when you can be lighthearted and laugh with people it really breaks the ice and you’ll end up having a much more pleasant experience. One of my favourite neighbourhoods is the kasbah, because it still has the older charm of traditional Marrakech without some of the extreme busyness you might experience in other areas. Be sure to try tangia (not to be confused with tagine) when you’re here; it’s the speciality dish of Marrakech made with very slow-roasted lamb, garlic and preserved lemons in a clay pot. If you want a keepsake to take back home, spices or Moroccan tea glasses are easy to pack and are sure to be used long after you return.”
Delve deeper into the city’s beating heart
Marrakech has a fascinating and complex history, with an impressive array of museums and sites to prove it. Take a walk around the Saadian Tombs – Saadian Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Ed Dahbi spared no expense in crafting his burial site, importing Italian Carrara marble for his own mausoleum. A fascinating piece of Marrakech’s historical jigsaw, El Badi Palace is another great attraction and even though it largely stands in ruins today, you won’t have any trouble taking a journey back in time and imagining the splendour of the palace’s heyday. In complete contrast is the well-preserved Bahia Palace, which once housed the Resident General during the French Protectorate.
If you’re a fashion lover, make time to visit the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech. Dedicated to the late designer’s work, it showcases a rotating curation of 5,000 items of clothing, 15,000 accessories and thousands of sketches and documents stored for four decades.
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