Nashville: Music City USA

Dolly

Dolly Parton at the Grand Ole Opry (photo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry): Gotta love her!

Hatch posters

(image courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

See the Sights

Ryman Auditorium – Take a tour or see a show or better yet, do both! “A National Historic Landmark, Ryman Auditorium was built by Captain Thomas G. Ryman in 1892. Ryman Auditorium is an nine-time winner of the prestigious Pollstar Theatre of the Year award. The historic venue is well-known as the Mother Church of Country Music and is the most famous former home of Grand Ole Opry (1943-1974). The Ryman has been featured in numerous film and television projects including Coal Miner’s DaughterThe Johnny Cash Show, American Idol, Nashville, and more. While offering a diverse lineup and thriving concert schedule (with over 200 shows per year), the venue is also open for daytime tours year-round,” per the Ryman Auditorium website.

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Ryman Auditorium (photo courtesy of the Ryman Auditorium)

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This is the inside of the Ryman. Can’t you just hear Dolly singing?!?! (photo courtesy of the Ryman Auditorium)

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge – Tootsie’s back entrance is across the alley that runs along the side of the Ryman Auditorium. When bands were finished performing, they would walk across that alley into Tootsie’s. “Famous early customers were Kris Kristofferson, Faron Young, Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, Hank Cochran, Mel Tillis, Roger Miller, Webb Pierce, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline and many more,” according to its website. It’s authentic and fun and you can hear live music here.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – SO much fun! This is a modern, beautiful museum in downtown Nashville, near the Ryman Auditorium. Check out its collection, which includes…

Elvis car

Elvis’ 1960 gold Cadillac (photo courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

country music costumes

performers’ costumes (photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

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Listen to a recording session in this way-cool nautilus (photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

Elvis in Studio B

Learn about historic RCA Studio B, in which Elvis is recording here (photo courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

Grand Ole Opry – While the Grand Ole Opry (below) looks a bit cold by comparison to the Ryman Auditiorium (home of the Opry from 1943-1974), you gotta go, as this is where all the glitz is. This Grand Ole Opry has a several backstage tours that I long to do, including a VIP tour that includes hanging out ON THE STAGE as the curtain rises! Click here for the Grand Ole Opry’s “ultimate guide to a weekend in Nashville.”

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(photo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry)

Opryland

(photo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry)

Homes of the Stars tour – Years ago, I went on this and it was so much fun! Could it have changed?! Maybe but how about you check it out and let me know. It’s only 3.5 hours and could be great.

Johnny Cash Museum (Milieu 2017) – I haven’t been here but it’s got to be good.

Where to Stay

Holston House Hotel (Travel + Leisure, 2018) –  good location downtown near the tourist mainstays; rooftop bar with good views; it’s a Hyatt, so that gives me pause…is it good or cookie-cutter? Let me know! T+L says it’s the “former Noel Place, which opened in 1930 as one of Nashville’s first luxury hotels…has newly restored Art Deco details”

Hermitage Hotel (Departures, 2016) – Built in 1910, the Hermitage Hotel was the

special-rewards

(photo courtesy of the Hermitage Hotel)

grande dame of Nashville until Nashville became trendy. Great location downtown, so you can walk to the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, the Ryman Auditorium, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, major stops on your tour. Despite its lack of hipness, it’s nice…not exciting, but nice.

Noelle Hotel (Garden & Gun magazine, 2018) – in Printer’s Alley, downtown; this is a Marriott, so rooms look cold but good location

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

For THE BEST TIPS from top country music stars themselves on where to listen to live music,  click here! For example,

  • Vince Gill likes the Bluebird Cafe and Robert’s Western World and the Station Inn
  • Marty Stuart recommends American Legion Post 82 or wherever the Kenny Vaughan Trio is playing around town.
  • Kelsea Ballerini likes songwriters’ nights at The Bluebird or The Listening Room
  • Raelynn suggests Ascend and Mercy Lounge.

Wander around the bars downtown on Broadway (near the Ernest Tubb Record Shop) where bands start playing early in the day…not raucous bands, but sit-and-listen-while-you-nurse-your-beer kind of bands. In the 1970’s, this area was pretty seedy but the bands were good. Now, the bands are still good but the area is seriously cleaned up. For ex, at 416 Broadway, visit…

Robert’s Western World – “is a true, old school honky-tonk. There are many live music venues in that area (Nashville’s historic lower Broadway district), with many people sitting outside strumming their guitars. Robert’s, though, is called ‘the undisputed home  of traditional country music.'” Robert’s is one of Vince Gill’s two favorite honky tonks on Broadway in downtown Nashville. The other is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. (Milieu magazine and Garden & Gun, 2017)

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(photo courtesy of The Loveless Cafe)

The foodies reading this are probably wincing because my lead restaurant is The Loveless Cafe . During the past 20 years, as Nashville became more and more cool, gourmet restaurants began to pop up. In fact, it’s become a bit of a Mecca for excellent food. BUT, you can get snazzy food in any big city. The Loveless Cafe is unique to Nashville…and have I mentioned that it serves heaps and heaps of the BEST biscuits EVER?!?!? We’re talking country cooking in a relaxed setting. Yes, it’s 17 miles from downtown Nashville but worth it. Just look at all of the country music stars who have made the trek…

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(photo courtesy of The Loveless Cafe)

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(photo courtesy of The Loveless Cafe)

Rolf and Daughters – “is one of Nashville’s finest restaurants — and there are many now.In 2013, … (it) was voted third best restaurant in the nation by Bon Appetit.” (Milieu magazine, 2017)

Hugh-Baby’s (Garden & Gun, 2018) – “ups the ante on fast food,” (per Garden & Gun); burger, dogs, fried, smoked bologna sandwiches and BBQ; 1970’s nostalgia (counter seating); several locations

Travel + Leisure (2018) recommended:

  • Mockingbird – “upscale-diner aesthetic” downtown
  • Black Rabbit – “expect fancified small plates with a Southern accent”

For more restaurants and bars, click here to see where Vince Gill, Kelsea Ballerini, Marty Stuart, Raelynn, Carly Pearce and Brett Eldredge like to go.

Where to Shop

Manuel Couture – Manuel Cuevas is a legend, who has clothed all the greats, including Dolly, Marty Stuart, Elvis, Johnny Cash, James Dean, Emmylou Harris, etc. His store is located at 2804 Columbine Pl, Nashville, TN 37204 and you can go there! I got this tremendous suggestion from none other than the FAB Marty Stuart, the “Renaissance man of country music.” A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame who came to Nashville when he was barely a teen,  he knows the city. Click here for his recommendations of distinctly-Nashville things to do.

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Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, stylin’! (photo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry)

Ernest Tubb Record Shop – This is a genuine, old-time Nashville country music record shop with live music. I think it’d be a blast to attend the midnight jamboree! See website for more info. It’s located in downtown Nashville at 417 Broadway. 

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Ernest Tubb Record Shop (photo courtesy of Nashville Downtown Partnership)

Hatch Show Prints – This is where so many of the famous posters were made for the biggest and best country music shows. Come see the old and new and buy a few!

Music City poster Hatch

(courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

Y’all come back now, ya hear!?!

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(photo courtesy of The Loveless Cafe)

England’s Gravetye Manor has it All

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This looks like countless country house hotels, at first blush. But it’s far, far better than them all. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Gorgeous Gardens created by a Groundbreaking Designer

The gardens were designed by one of THE GREATS in garden design, Mr. William Robinson, who pioneered the English country garden look. Robinson’s home was Gravetye Manor for many years, during which time he transformed the 1,000-acre property. Today, Gravetye Manor employs eight full-time gardeners, lest you be wondering why your garden doesn’t look quite like this.

Long border view

(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Take a stroll through the gardens, cocktail in hand, as the sun is setting before dinner. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Garden design revolutionary, Mr. William Robinson, on his 94th birthday surrounded by the 94 white peonies he received as a present. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Gravetye Manor grows much of the fruits and vegetables it serves, as well as a profusion of flowers, which you will see on tables, windowsills, desks, everywhere around the house. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor) 

Beautiful Restaurant with a Well-Deserved Michelin Star

Gravetye Manor Hotel & Restaurant

That’s the Michelin-starred restaurant in the glass-fronted room looking onto the garden (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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When sitting inside the restaurant after dark, one can see the garden thanks to tasteful up-lighting. (my fab photo)

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Eating at Gravetye Manor’s restaurant is like eating inside of a Monet painting! (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

I usually find food photos intensely boring but had to make an exception here.

ALC Starter (Salad)

When I requested a starter with lots of vegetables, they whipped up this beauty with a perfect egg yolk in its center, despite its not being on the menu that night. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

ALC Dessert (Souffle)

Rhubarb souffle with ginger ice cream: Swoon! (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Old, Pretty Manor House in Mint Condition

Built in 1598 Gravetye Manor has had many an owner but its most notable was Mr. William Robinson, who lived here from 1884-1935 AND pioneered the English country garden look. He grew up poor, became a gardener, worked on increasingly fine gardens, wrote about them, and gradually saved enough money to buy the 1,000 acres that make up Gravetye Manor today. Read about him here!

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The wood is polished to a sheen and nary a speck of dust is in sight. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Hall

Reception: warm, welcoming, and flower-laden (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Gravetye Manor has 17 big, handsome bedrooms with beautiful views. Holly and Chestnut are among the best.

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This was our room, called Chestnut. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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This is the view from our window! Despite it being early Spring, the garden is still stunning. (photo courtesy of moi)

Flawless Service

Among THE best service I have ever experienced anywhere, including Asia, which is famous for its service. The managing director is a gentleman who is down-to-earth, has a sense of humor and believes it’s important for the staff’s personality to shine through because only that way does the customer receive genuinely warm service. Perfect! Considerate attention to details included:

  • When I merely glanced in the closet, the lovely woman who showed us to our room volunteered to bring more hangers.
  • When I asked for another soap, she brought two.
  • When we arrived back to Gravetye after a hike, they offered to clean our hiking boots, as if they were the finest of shoes.
  • Room service arrived when requested.
  • When we came back to the room after dinner,
    • the TV guide was open on our bed with the controls on top of it,
    • the tea kettle had been filled with water for the next morning,
    • a detailed map of the local area with the sites marked on them was open on the desk,
    • and a bookmark had been placed by each of our books.

Fun Facts

  • Gravetye Manor is 12 miles from England’s Gatwick Airport…though nary a plane will you hear when staying there.
  • While Gravetye Manor is 30 miles from central London, don’t think about taking a day-trip here, as you will be sad to leave after dinner.
  • We went to Gravetye because I had seen this article in Flower magazine about its glories. Check it out!
  • Things to Do: Many historic houses, famous gardens and fun activities abound nearby, including Winston Churchhill’s home, Chartwell, and Hever Castle, the girlhood home of Anne Boleyn, one of Henri VIII’s wives.
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My photo, of which I am VERY proud!

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

When you go the Gravetye Manor, please try to get that Rhubarb Soufflé recipe from the chef and pass it on to me. So good!

Just Heard about a Great Safari…

…in Zambia from a well-traveled friend with terrific taste. Let’s go!

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

My friend went to The Bushcamp Company this past May and loved its walking and driving safaris. Here’s why, in her words:

1. The setting – South Luangwa Park is like the original Eden.
  • The flora and fauna are spectacular and varied: dense jungle, dry sandy areas, lagoons and rivers, flat plains, and hills.
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

dusk patio

(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

drinks on beach

(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

2. It’s as yet “undiscovered.” Of course, westerners have been living and touring in and around South Luangwa for decades, but heavy tourism has not yet come to the area. We essentially had the park to ourselves.

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

3. The Bushcamp Company itself –

  • Yes, the lodge and the camps are lovely, interesting, and in spectacular settings,
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

…but the people are really what make the difference. All are locals, black and white.

  • The owners couldn’t be friendlier and more down-to-earth. A percentage of each guest’s lodging is donated to the South Luangwa Conservancy.
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

  • The majority of the guides are local, native Zambians. They are incredible. Deeply knowledgeable and passionate about the wildlife and the natural world. Also, couldn’t be nicer.
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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

4. The wildlife!

  • There’s so much of it (60 mammal species and 400 bird species), and it’s all so amazing…There is more wildlife per square foot than you’ll see elsewhere in Africa. Elephants, lions, giraffes, baboons, impala, lilac-crested rollers, black mambas – all co-exist and often within the same scene.
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

  • And you can get quite close to some of them.
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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

Twice a year, when the mangos are in season, the same herd of elephants—for some reason—marches through the lobby of the Bushcamp Company’s lodge. Click on this link to see the amazing and endearing video of their parade.

5. The safaris themselves.
  • Twice daily: very early in the morning, then tea, then back to the lodge for lunch and a siesta, then tea again, then back out for a late evening – with sundowners by the river – and a night drive.
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

On Safari - Zambia

(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

  • The night drives are so dramatic. That’s when the leopards come out to hunt, and searching for a leopard in an open Land Rover Defender in the pitch black is very exciting!
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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

  • The Bushcamp Company offers walking safaris, too, which we took advantage of.
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

6. Food and lodging. All top rate.
  • The food is excellent, and there is enough variety to suit all tastes, including every kind of “ism.” There is no shortage of gin and tonics, for those so inclined.
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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

  • The lodge is beautiful, with hippos in a lagoon right outside one’s cottage!
  • The other bush camps are each unique, with their own special character.
    • One we stayed at (Chichendi) was set by a large, spectacular wetland or lagoon, and every variety of wildlife was seen throughout the day. Sunrise and sunset were gorgeous.
    • The other camp we stayed at (Kapamba) was on a shallow river, and a huge tribe of baboons played and ran through the water in the morning as we ate our breakfast.

When to Go: My friend went in May and said, “The air was so clear and fresh and the temps were delightful.”

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

Literary Traveling Companions: Scribbling the Cat, by Alexandra Fuller; Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, by Alexandra Fuller; and of course, Out of Africa, by Isek Dinesen

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

 

Paris Hotel Crush

I have a crush on Paris’ Hotel Lutetia. Why?

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Swoon! (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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Built in 1910 & renovated from 2014-2018 (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

The Lutetia was opened in 1910 by famed Paris department store, Le Bon Marché, for its important clients, many of whom lived outside of Paris and needed a nice place to stay while making their semi-annual shopping trip to LBM, conveniently located across the street.

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Let’s go inside…(photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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The Lutetia’s architecture is a mix of Art Nouveau (the style-of-the-day in 1910, when it was built) and the then-emerging Art Deco style. Those details! (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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The swirls of Art Nouveau meet the lines of Art Deco. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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Sparkling art deco design in the Lutetia’s courtyard: Sit on the terrace below and soak up its peacefulness, far from the madding tourist crowds…just you, your Veuve Cliquot, and great architecture. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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(photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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ceiling of Salle St. Germain (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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Salle St. Germain, where old world meets new (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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Brrrr, this feels a bit cold, but on the other hand, it would be a good place to sit and observe the people in the Salle St. Germain. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

Yves Saint Laurent Couture House co-founder, Pierre Bergé, stayed at the Lutetia during his house renovation in 2009. That man knew style!

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Hmmm, this room feels a bit small and chilly…but that view! and the history of the place! and neighborhood make up for it. As with all great loves, one must overlook one or two tiny flaws. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

“De Gaulle, then a young officer, spent his honeymoon at the hotel. In June 1940, the General slept there the night before his departure for England,” per Lutetia’s website.

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big room, big view (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

Great location on a stylish, lively street in the beautiful Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of the 6th arrondissement on Paris’ Left Bank…book it!

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I like a view, don’t you? (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

“Shortly after the Lutetia opened, its early success was interrupted by the First World War and later again in June 1940, when the French government evacuated the occupied city. The hotel itself (like other palace hotels in Paris) was requisitioned during the Second World War by the occupation forces and used to house, feed, and entertain the troops and officers. In 1944, the Lutetia resumed its intended role and at the orders of General de Gaulle, the hotel became a crucial centre for displaced people and families seeking to be reunited with their loved ones. The hotel welcomed up to 2,000 arrivals each day,” per Lutetia’s website. Fascinating, nest-ce pas??!!

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Let’s have a kir royale in the Lutetia’s Bar Josephine, and ponder those who drank here before us…Josephine Baker, Picasso, Matisse, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince) and more, more, more. Imaginez! (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

“Originally most associated with literature, just some of the historical and culturally significant figures who lived, worked and entertained at the hotel include Andre Gide and James Joyce, who wrote Ulysses at the hotel with Ernest Hemingway acting as occasional editor, Samuel Beckett, André Malraux and Saint-Exupéry followed,” per Lutetia’s website. Close your eyes and picture them drinking here.

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Bar Josephine: Order a coupe of the Taittinger Cuvée Lutetia, in honor of champagne producing family who owned the hotel from the 1950’s to 2005.  I could go for a coupe right now! Note the circa-1910 fresco on the ceiling.  (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

“Picasso and Matisse took up residence, Josephine Baker was a regular, and during the 50’s and beyond the hotel and its bar became a key part of the emergence and celebration of jazz,” says Lutetia’s website.

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Paul Belmondo (father of actor, Jean-Paul Belmondo) was one of two sculptors to decorate the hotel’s wonderfully undulating Art Nouveau façade. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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While the Hotel Lutetia is a little bigger (184 rooms) than those to which I am usually attracted, no crush is perfect! (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

Literary traveling companions:

  • “Pierre Assouline’s novel, Lutetia, …takes place in the hotel, where he gives life to a vast number of characters that really have lived or stayed in the Lutetia during the war from 1938 to 1945,” according to Lutetia’s website. The daughters of Irene Nemirovsky (see below) are among those characters. Pick it up for your stay at the  Lutetia!
  • Suite Française, by Irene Nemirovsky, which “opens in the chaos of the massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion during which several families and individuals are thrown together under circumstances beyond their control,” per Amazon. How does this relate to the Lutetia? As the plaque on the front of the hotel explains, “From April to August 1945, this hotel, which had become a reception centre, received the greater part of the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps, glad to have regained their liberty and their loved ones from whom they had been snatched. Their joy cannot efface the anguish and the pain of the families of the thousands of disappeared who waited in vain for their own in this place.” The daughters of Irene Nemirovsky were among those who waited, in vain. Their mother was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp. And her novel, “Suite Française,” was published posthumously in 2004.

Bissous, chéri!

Argentina’s Mendoza: Let’s Buy a Vineyard

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(photo courtesy of the Vines of Mendoza)

Ever dreamed of buying a vineyard? Not a big one, just a smallish patch to call your own…to squish the grapes, baby your vines, and throw a great harvest wine dinner…at the base of snow-capped mountains, preferably, where the sun shines most of the year.

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Classic harvest dinner among the vines (courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

YOU ARE IN LUCK because you can buy a small vineyard at the Vines of Mendoza,  nestled at the base of the Andes Mountains in Argentina. Plus, when it’s hot-as-Hades-summer here in the States, it’s fall in Argentina.

Let’s go down the “South American Way!” Can you hear the music playing, you swaying, while swilling a glass of sparkling?! I can.

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(photo courtesy of the Vines of Mendoza)

“…lovely squares, wide boulevards, a colonial feel, canals…” (NYTimes), Mendoza  was established in 1651 by Spanish settlers and is the fifth largest wine producing region in the world. IN THE WORLD! “Mendoza itself makes a good base for a visit with new hotels, restaurants and bars in the historic center…Just a short drive away are vineyards, adventure sports and resorts under the shadow of the Andes with wine lists that feature the best of the region.” (NY Times)

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(photo courtesy of the Vines of Mendoza)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Wander Mendoza’s plazas, including Plaza Pelligriani, where you might observe alfresco tango
  • Bike around Mendoza’s Parque General San Martin’s 1,200 acres
  • “Hire a Mendoza travel guide to take you fly fishing for trout in the region’s many streams.” (Travel+Leisure online 2016)
  • Kayaking, mountain biking, and rafting day trips
  • Ride horses
  • Hike Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the western hemisphere
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(photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

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Love the hats!  (photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

  • And of course, tour vineyards…
    • Domaine Bousquet (Departures 2016)–4 cottages–“beautiful and the wines were great,” according to my friends who visited last year
    • Bodegas Salentein..”Located in Uco Valley, this strikingly modern winery complex…includes a lavish art museum and gift shop…” (Travel+Leisure online 2016) As reported from MTF’s on-the-ground reporters in Mendoza last year, “heard amazing things about this vineyard – from our close friends and from our private driver who took us to wineries!”
    • Andeluna: Our friends did a wine pairing lunch at Andeluna and “highly recommend!”
    • Vines of Mendoza–“The tasting room features about 100 producers, and it’s the only spot in the city where you can try so many in one place,” per NY Times, 2012. Town & Country (2014) also likes it. Vines of Mendoza is a co-op business owned by wine-making hobbyists (you, perhaps?), professional winemakers and chefs. You, too, can buy one of these plots below and have the joy of working your own vineyard, with or without the guidance of the on-staff professional grape growers and winemakers. A wine-collecting friend of mine just bought one and is loving it!
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(photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

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This could be you! (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

“Apparently great deals on buying wine and shipping it back to the States, too!” according to another friend who visited last year and met fellow travelers who raved about Vines of Mendoza.

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

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(photos courtesy of 1884 Francis Mallmann)

  • 1884 Francis Mallmann — Francis Mallmann is the “it” celeb chef of Argentina. “The restaurant was born as a tribute to the wines of Mendoza and the Andean cuisine, in 1996,” per its website. “The Escorihuela Winery, which houses the restaurant, was built in 1884… houses the prestigious facilities of the Bodega “Caro” that is born from the union of Chateau Laffite led by the mythical Baron, Eric de Rothschild and Catena Zapata, led by Nicolás Catena Zapata who has been in the last 25 years the leader of the wine quality of Mendoza.” Sounds impressive!
  • Siete Fuegos at the Vines of Mendoza — “chef Francis Mallmann creates inspired regional dishes, showcasing Argentina’s famous beef. From our gardens and the surrounding land, we proudly bring you a natural bounty of local, seasonal ingredients paired with exceptional Argentine wines. From here, the culinary magic begins!” (per Vines of Mendoza’s website)
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roasting the meets and vegetables with the vineyards in the background at Siete Fuegos (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

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preparing birds amongst the vineyards for dinner at Siete Fuegos (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

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And now, let’s eat! What a gorgeous setting! Note the mountains beyond the vineyards. (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

STAY

  • Finca Adalgisa (recommended by Andrew Harper 2015 & Departures 2016): My close friends who stayed here described it as, “…a perfect oasis. We also did the cooking class there which was awesome. The hotel includes a glass of wine and an appetizer each night from 6-10 at their winery, too! It has so many secluded spots for couples to sit in…” Finca Adalgisa describes itself as a “wine hotel.” I can see why: it is surrounded by vineyards with the Andes Mountains behind them.
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(photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

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(photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

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Note the grape vine “hedges” surrounding the pool (photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

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My friends who took the cooking class at Finca Adalgisa described it as “awsome.” I bet that sweet toddler (above) learned a LOT! (photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

  • La Pousada–at Carlos Pulenta winery’s Carlos Pulenta winery’s lodge, a spectacular location…at the base of the Cordon del Plata range of the Andes.” (Travel+Leisure online 2016)
  • Vines Resort & Spa –This must be some-kind-of-wonderful because travel guru Andrew Harper included it in his 2016 list of top hotels in South America  (Departures, 2016, Travel+Leisure and Town & Country, 2014 also like it); 22 villas built with local stone, wood and leather surrounded by 1,500 acres of vineyards..
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This is really working for me! (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

Bonus: Yoga is available, as is a pool surrounded by vineyards. Horse back riding is an option, too, as are meals overseen by Argentina’s “it” chef. Yoga at The Vines

After a morning of working your vineyard, get the kinks out with a little pond-side yoga. (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

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Note the vines and Andes Mountains in the background (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

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(photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

London: Chelsea Flower Show + Hot Restaurants

 

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Chelsea pensioner admiring the flowers (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

The Chelsea Flower Show opened in London  yesterday and continues through this weekend. Naturally, QE2 was there to kick off the festivities.

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(photo courtesy of BBC)

Lest you think of the Chelsea Flower Show as a frumpy gathering of old lady tea-sippers, behold the world of floral arts that you will see upon tiptoe-ing through the tulips…

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gorgeous garden created by Hay Joung-Hwang (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

  • Show-Stopping Gardens (like the one above) created in one week’s time on what were the bare grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the Chelsea pensioners. Click here to read a fascinating article about the relationship between the hospital and the 100-year old Chelsea Flower Show. I am told these gardens can cost $200,000 or more to create. That’s why most of them have corporate sponsors.
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This is the Best Garden Award winner, the Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC (a charity). “Designed to raise awareness of the work of the NSPCC, this garden’s design is a metaphor for the emotional transition that takes place in a child as they experience the positive impact of the NSPCC’s work,” according to the RHS website. (photo courtesy of the RHS)

  • Horticulture: Over 90 nurseries, growers, and florists creatively display their wares in the vast Great Pavilion. Here you will see the best tulips, the best roses, the best lupins, etc., in all of Britain.
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Peony headdress seen in the Great Pavilion (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

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Horticulture: displays of the very best of each kind of flower you can imagine (photo courtesy of BBC)

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admiring the rose display in the Great Pavilion (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

  • Floral design
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bridal designs (photo courtesy of the BBC)

Where to Stay

No wonder the Queen visits the Chelsea Flower Show every year! Let’s hop on a plane and join her! Click here to see my hotel recommendations. The closest are the Draycott, the Sloane Club, and the Sloane Square Hotel.

Where to Dine

Make your reservations at the hottest London restaurants at the moment, as culled from Mimi’s Travel Files, …

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Kitty Fisher’s tiny subterranean dining room feels like a secret club with great food

  • Kitty Fisher’s, in Old Mayfair, stylish, intimate, good press…and I liked it, too!
  • Barrafina, Spanish tapas, no reservations, lots of rave reviews
  • Ottolenghi, “Oh!!! I love Ottolenghi….spectacular food!!! Great deli, too,” says my friend who has lived spectacularly and dined in London for many years. Ottolinghi is haute Israeli cooking from big foodie media star
  • Frenchie, Parisian import in Covent Garden
  • Riva in Barnes
  • Aquavit, in St. James, although my London friend, who has loved Aquavit for a long time,  has heard its service can be a bit off, from time to time
  • Sexy Fish , in Berkeley Square, is “very good,” per my London foodie friend
  • Chess Club, in Mayfair
  • Gymkhana, in Mayfair, perennially lauded Indian restaurant (UPDATE, March 2019: I just ate here and while the food and service were excellent, the ambiance was mediocre)
  • Palomar, in Soho, modern-day Israeli food in attractive setting; “love it, small tasty dishes pretty casual atmosphere but excellent food. ….as is its sister The Barbary,” per my London friend
  • The Greenhouse, tranquil French in Mayfair; “Good restaurant. Good quality. Not amazing but not disappointing,” per my London friend
  • Hawksmore Knightsbridge, art deco/1930’s glam
  • Park Chinois, in Mayfair
  • While these are not  new, they are wonderful!
    • River Café, superb Italian food in a transporting setting
    • Quo Vadis , delicious, creative food & excellent service in intimate setting in Soho.
Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk

Quo Vadis (Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk)

 

 

 

Richmond, VA: More than the Jefferson

Going to Richmond? Now you have more hotel choices than the Jefferson. For something completely different—i.e., cheerful, fresh, fun—try Quirk.

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(photo courtesy of Quirk hotel)

Since Departures, CN Traveler, and Travel+Leisure recommended it, Mimi’s Travel File had to go to Quirk. It’s stylish and happy. Built in 1916 as a department store, Quirk’s windows are large and ceilings are high. Recommend room 515, a king suite with vast views of Richmond.

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In addition to its bar and restaurant, there’s an art gallery and stylish store just off of Quirk’s lobby. (photo courtesy of Quirk hotel) 

It has a pretty design palette that carries through from the lobby to the hotel rooms.

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Quirk’s happening rooftop bar (photo courtesy of Quirk hotel)

My sources tell me that nearby Graduate hotel also has a happening rooftop bar, called Byrd House.

Full disclosure: While I loved Quirk and would go back in a heartbeat, the housekeeping had some flaws (missing buttons on the remote, curtain stuck, phone that didn’t ring down to reception). When I brought them to the attention of the staff, they took notes, apologized and reduced my room rate. I plan to stay there again because I loved it.

Bonus: Quirk has valet parking, so you don’t have to mess with a parking lot.

See the Sights

So, now that we have our room squared away, let’s see my two favorite sites in Richmond…

  • St. John’s Church, circa 1741 and the site of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.
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St. John’s sits atop Church Hill, the first neighborhood in Richmond. And what a pretty neighborhood it is! Old, gorgeous houses large and small, and good views. (photo courtesy of St. John’s Church)

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George Wythe, signer of the Declaration of Independence and mentor to Thomas Jefferson, is buried in St. John’s Church’s graveyard. (photo courtesy of St. John’s Church)

  • The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has an outstanding collection (esp. its art nouveau furniture), gorgeous garden, fab gift shop and two nice places to eat.
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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (photo courtesy of VMFA)

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ garden (photo courtesy of VMFA)

Let’s Eat

And speaking of eating, where shall we dine? I highly recommend:

Brenner’s Pass in the hip, low-crime neighborhood, Scott’s Addition (architects’ offices, craft breweries, etc.). The food is amazing (the highly discerning James Beard Foundation likes it), decor mod and attractive, and service terrific.

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If you prefer a retro-fast food feel, I hear the burgers at nearby Boulevard Burger & Brew are stand-in-line-it’s-worth-it delicious.

For an old-timey box lunch to send you on your way once you check out of Quirk, go to Sally Bell’s.  “Inside each box is a happy meal from a better time,said Bon Appetit magazine. Works for me!

LOGO (2)

Marrakech: Come, to the Kasbah!

When I think of Marrakech, I think of…

La Mamounia‘s glamorous big pool and gardens

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La Mamounia’s big, glam pool

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La Mamounia’s long lobby cocktail bar has a terrace that overlooks their garden, above. So relaxing and dreamy!

I think of the serene beauty at the Dar el Bacha Museum of The Three Confluences, whose fascinating exhibits showed me the similarities between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism…

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Dar el Basha Museum of the Three Confluences

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Just look at those beautiful carvings above a door into one of Dar el Basha Museum’s exhibit rooms!

I think our lazy, hazy lunch on the rooftop of El Fenn…and the views

Breakfast © Kasia Gatkowska (1)

(photo courtesy of El Fenn)

FOODb ©David Loftus

(photo courtesy of El Fenn)

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The Atlas Mountains as seen from a wedding table on El Fenn’s rooftop

I think of the shockingly wonderful color combinations at Yves St. Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle

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The Jardin Majorelle complex includes a small jewel of a museum dedicated to Berber costumes and jewelry.

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The Jardin Majorelle was designed by painter Jacques Majorelle, son of famous art nouveau furniture designer Louis Majorelle. YSL bought Jardin Majorelle after Jacques’ death.

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window at Jardin Majorelle

And I will never forget the excellent people-watching at the intimate and sophisticated cocktail lounge at the Royal Mansour, a fabulously upscale hotel built by the king to show off Morocco’s artisans in the most tasteful way. Click here for the story. I saw Middle Eastern women in long, flowing dresses with smashing big jewelry as pretty as the tiles of Morocco.

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Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty….

See the Sights

Founded in 1059, Marrakech has many sights to see!

  • From Town & Country…the famed sites:
    • Jemaa el-Fna, the old market square anchored by the…
    • “the elegant minaret of the 12th century Koutoubia mosque, prototype of La Giralda in Seville (“In those days Morocco was more important than Spain,” he said);
    • the splendid 15th-century Ben Yousseff Medersa (Rue Assouel), or Islamic theological school, which has 132 upstairs rooms where students once lived and labored (the complex is now a museum) and at whose entrance is the inscription, “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded.”
    • “be sure to visit often the Berber Museum in Marrakech’s Jardin Majorelle. (The garden, now public, was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle and later owned and tended by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé.) Berber tribes…are renowned for their finery. But nothing prepares you for the magnificence and grandeur of their jewelry and clothing as collected and displayed in this little museum Bergé founded as an homage to Berber culture in 2011, after YSL’s 2008 death.” (Thank you, Town & Country!)
  • Saadian Tombs (aka, Tombeaux Saadiens) gorgeously carved & tiled 16th century tombs located by the Kasbah Mosque
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Even the tombs are tiled in Morocco!

  • Palais el Badi —  ruins of royal 16th century palace (Elle Decor), near the Saadian Tombs
  • Bahia Palace — “the opulent late 19th-century residence of a slave turned vizier, with beautifully tiled unfurnished rooms and painted wood ceilings” (Elle Decor)
  • Jardin Agdal — “a massive garden of pools, channels, and fruit orchards, near the Palais Royal but south of the medina” (Elle Decor); 12th century; UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Jardin Menara — “acres of olive groves surround a small 1866 pavilion overlooking a vast reflecting pool, southwest of the medina” (Elle Decor); UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • “where Patrick Manac’h, a sophisticated Oxford-educated collector, opened the Maison de la Photographie, the city’s first photography gallery, dedicated specifically to black-and-white images of North Africa (Rue Ahl Fes),”  per Departures, 2016.  The Telegraph (2017) also likes this. I went here and liked it. It is small with evocative photos.
  • Guéliz, a modern district just northwest of the medina, which was built by the architect Henri Prost in the early 20th century, during the period of the French protectorate. Its wide avenues, Art Deco architecture, and buzzing sidewalk cafés are a welcome foil to the narrow alleyways that make up the medina. Guéliz is also home to some of the city’s most interesting galleries, including Galerie 127, which showcases Morocco’s emerging photography talents, and David Bloch Gallery.” (Elle Décor, 2012)
  • “About 20 minutes north of Guéliz is the cobbled-together factory district of Sidi Ghanem, also called the Quartier Industriel. Driving by the battered, nondescript facades, you’d never guess that this is where some of the city’s most innovative artisans are at work. French designer Laurence Landon, for instance, offers his one-of-a-kind Art Deco-style mirrors and lamps…” (Elle Décor, 2012)

  • This doesn’t sound good: “…10 golf courses around its Ville Nouvelle, the modern, Europeanized district established by the French when Morocco became a protectorate, in 1912. It also had a water park with waves, called the Oasira, and in the past decade the access roads to the medina, or old city, have been sprouting sprawling ‘palace’ hotels.” (from Town & Country)
  • Boucharouite Museum – rugs made by Berber women, reminiscent of Rothko and Kandinsky (Elle Decor, 2015)
  • Museum of African Contemporary Art — (aka, MACAAL) a family’s collection, referenced in artnet News article, 2018; also recommended by NYT, 2017, which said, “splashy new Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (Macaal). The center is the latest cultural offering at Al Maaden golf resort, whose course already showcases large-scale outdoor sculptures by international artists”
  • Dar Si Said Museum (aka, Museum of Moroccan Arts) — “breathtaking Moroccan jewelry, woodwork, cedar furniture, and traditional wedding chairs” (Elle Decor)
  • Guide: I highly recommend Mr. Ira Jarna, recommended to us by La Mamounia. A Berber who was raised in Marrakech, Ira is educated, charming, and good-looking. Perfect! Gwyneth Paltrow was one of his clients.
  • Field trip: “venture to the High Atlas Mountains, which begin just 45 minutes outside Marrakech…” (Architectural Digest, 2018)

Shopping

The two most beautiful things I saw to buy in Marrakech are rugs and exotic brass lamps, cut into lace-like patterns that throw beautiful shadows on the walls.

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I covet these lamps! Look for them in the medina.

rug shopping

Les Nomades de Marrakech (Zaouiat Lahder No. 40) is the rug store to seek out in the medina because they don’t haggle. This is a huge relief, if you don’t like to negotiate prices. The most they will reduce their prices is 10-15%.

  • In the medina
    • “The Pajama Shop (in Souk Semmarine Rbaiya No. 18) “Ignore the slightly brighter-colored, commercial pieces at the front of the store and ask owner Sirari Mustapha to show you the ‘plus simple’ children’s and adult’s pajamas in ultra-fine white, gray, or cream cotton. They are just as fabulous for wafting around the pool as for sleeping in. At around $20 per pair, I always bulk buy.”  (Vogue, 2017) no website
    • Topolina (two locations = 436 Z.I. Sidi Ghanem & 134 Dar El Bacha, in the medina)A charming little clothing boutique near the entrance to the souk. Every piece is in a different print, often in wonderful silks and cottons, and cut in circular or square shapes for wonderful volume and swing. The printed turbans are divine, per Vogue, 2017. Travel+Leisure, 2017, & Black Tomato/goop.com also recommend it; no website
    • Tresor des Nomads (144 Rue Bab Doukkala) recommended by Town & Country, 2016; famous home decorating store filled with Moroccan treasures, owned by Mustapha Blaoui
    • Mustapha Blaoui “The quintessential Aladdin’s cave of souk treasures–rugs, lanterns, furniture, and objets.” (Elle Decor, 2015, & Tory Burch, 2018 & Black Tomato/goop.com)
    • A few steps from Mustapha Blaoui is Darkawa, recommended by the NYTimes, 2018, for home textiles; located in the medina, between Dar Bacha and Bab Doukkala, at Arset Aouzal 170
    • Riad Yima  – “A boutique, art gallery, tea room … all at once and in the heart of the medina, a few steps away from Dar Kawa,” per Darkawa owner. NYT, 2017, also recommended it, saying, “a funky and flamboyant cafe-boutique-gallery where every surface pops with radiant hues and crazy geometric patterns. The space was founded by the photographer Hassan Hajjaj, whose color-soaked street portraits of Moroccan dandies and fashionistas line the walls”
    • Popham Design Cement Tiles – recommended by Darkawa owner; located in the medina at Kaat Benahid, Derb Ouali, 18
    • Chabi Chic –  (1 Derb Arjan, Place des Epices, under restaurant Nomad in the medina; & at the Hotel Beldi Country Club, Route du Barrage) “new homewares line…offers a fresh take on traditional Moroccan tableware with stylish patterns and colors,” per Elle Decor, 2015. Travel+Leisure, 2017, & NYT, 2017, also recommend it.
    • “A design district is emerging at Souk Chérifia, courtesy of boutiques like Khmissa, which channels the spirit of the jet-setter Talitha Getty through psychedelic caftans, slippers and accessories with a 1960s feel.” (per NYT, 2017)
  • In Gueliz,
    • shop Studio Lalla (5 rue de Liberte) for boho handbags and jewelry, recommended by Travel+Leisure, 2017, & Elle Decor, 2015
    • Rue Majorelle (“How to Spend It”, 2016) “Our store is the antithesis of the crowded souk,” says Monique Bresson, who with Yehia Abdelnour runs 33 Rue Majorelle in the flourishing Guéliz district of Marrakech. This delightful two-storey space fuses the made-by-hand skills of the medina with the chic, calm aura of Paris boutiques such as Colette and Merci. “We specialise in modern takes on classic Moroccan crafts,” says Abdelnour of the wares by over 90 different artisans – from ceramics and paintings to design-led fashion and beauty products. “Under one roof you’ll find all the vibrant talents that exist in Morocco today, ” The Telegraph (2017) also likes this. Travel+Leisure described it as “a well-edited mini-souk”
    • Anitan – “Savvy carpet shoppers skip the souks in favour of this minimalist atelier adjacent to the Jardin Majorelle where owner Faïza Lahlou has already done a thorough first edit. Upstairs, hammam towels get a neutral hued makeover while Rif tribal ceramics are fantastically lacquered in the full colour wheel,” per Departures, 2016.
    • Maison Artc Fashion (street Mohamed El Bequal, 96 Residence Kelly) these “theatrical designs–ornately embroidered tunics, coats reworked from vintage Berber carpets–have been shown at Paris couture week…prices are steep” (Travel+Leisure, 2017, & Black Tomato/goop.com)
    • “Then wander down Rue des Vieux Marrakchis and Rue de la Rue de la Liberté, where you’ll find fashion-forward trends in Moor (7 rue des Anciens Marrakchis)
    • and candy-coloured loafers in Atika.” (The Telegraph, 2017) I want these!
    • Lalla (35 Boulevard El Mansour Eddahbi) for “fab bags & accessories” (Elle Decor, 2015)
    • Some Slow Concept Store (76 Boulevard Mansour Edhabi) – “A freshly opened villa-boutique dedicated to modernMoroccan craftsmanshop set in a rose-colored 1930’s building,” per Tory Burch, 2018. no website
    • Ben Rahal (28 Rue de la Liberte) “My favorite rug shop in Marrakesh is in the new part of the city.  It’s on the pricey side, but has a truly beautiful selection.  This is where I take my clients—celebrities as well as folks like me—who value quality over quantity and just want one or two really fabulous Moroccan carpets.” (Travel+Leisure 2014)
    • Maroc’n Roll 1432 – “Down a dodgy, snaking lane in the city’s modern Guéliz district, Yves Saint Laurent protégé Robert Merloz teams up with Fez tanners, Berber embroiderers and Middle Atlas carpet weavers to turn out rocker-chic zelig-patterned clutches, silver-studded black-leather babouches and desert-style tunics recast in diaphanous fabric with delicate tribal motifs,” per Departures, 2016. The FT’s How to Spend It (2016) & CNTraveler also like this.
    • Rue de Yougoslavie (recommended by NYT, 2017)
      • Cmooa (Compagnie Marocaine des Oeuvres et Objets d’Art) is an art space that houses…
        •  Macma (Musée d’Art et de Culture de Marrakech)
  • “Where the Medina specializes in artisan crafts, the Ville Nouvelle (new town) prefers to showcase the work of a new generation of Marrakshi artists in contemporary galleries such as
  • Soufiane Zarib (16 Riad La Rous, Dar El Bacha) — “Carpets are everywhere in Marrakech, but the selection here is extra inspiring. It has two spaces, one next to the Yves Saint Laurent museum, and one in the medina,” per Tory Burch, 2018

Eat, Drink & Be Merry!

  • Mimi’s Travel File’s three favorite restaurants in Marrakech were:
    • Al-Fassia — a women-owned, run and staffed restaurant in the new part of Marrakech whose decor is 1940’s Morrocan (made me want to elegantly light up a cigarette and order a Manhattan), whose service and food are very good, and whose prices are surprisingly reasonable.
    • El Fenn‘s swank rooftop bar and restaurant for local wine…and a breathtaking view.” (Town & Country, 2014) Loved this!
    • La Maison Arabe — lunch atop La Maison Arabe after our FUN FUN FUN cooking class there. Do it!
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La Maison Arabe’s cooking class: They gave each of us a tagine as a party favor!

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After we had finished our cooking class, La Maison Arabe’s staff served our culinary masterpieces to us on their peaceful rooftop with views of the medina.

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The beautifully clad man provided subtle, transporting musical accompaniment to our lunch at La Maison Arabe.

You will not starve in Marrakech. Just look at all of the recommendations I dug up in Mimi’s Travel File…

  • From Departures magazine (Departures has excellent taste), 2016
    • “the new Salt-Marrakech (108 Rue de la Bahia; 21-25/2438-2740; salt-marrakech.com), which brings guest chefs from around the world to cook for a few weeks in a very lovely, otherwise very traditional riad; and
    • Kanoun (BP 67, Asni; 21-25/2436-8200; virginlimitededition.com), in the beautiful 11-year-old Kasbah Tamadot, which is owned by Richard Branson and is an hour’s drive from the center of town
    • Nomad, in the  spice market, rooftop tables with views of  the walled city (Conde Nast Traveler, 2017, Forbes, 2017 & Travel+Leisure, 2014, & Black Tomato/goop.com say, “two gorgeous terraces, traditional Moroccan food with a modern take;” La Mamounia recommends it as a good place to eat in the medina)
  • Beldi Country Club – “splendid outdoor dining room, encircled by rose bushes” (Elle Decor, 2015)
  • Fellah Hotel — “worth at least a meal is the sparsely elegant, adobelike Fellah Hotel, nine miles outside the city on the  road to the High Atlas. Part Berber farm, part community outreach program, part artist colony, part spa resort with a glamorous pool…it is a fascinating combination of ethics, aesthetics, and hospitality,” per Town & Country, 2015. Departures, 2014, also recommended it.
  • Le Jardin — “While you are at Le Jardin, don’t miss the Norya Ahron Boutique, located on the first floor,” recommended by Darkawa owner, 2018; lush garden patio, near Darkawa, in the medina (32 Souk Sidi Abdelaziz, medina); Black Tomato/goop.com & La Mamounia like this, too
  • Terraces des Epices – rooftop terrace, lively, good for drinks, French-influenced food, per Black Tomato/goop.com; La Mamounia & Forbes, 2017, also recommend it; location is Sidi Abdel Aziz, 15 souk cherifia
  • Yacout – recommended by Black Tomato/goop.com. While the decor is beautiful and very “Arabian Nights,” I thought the food was mediocre.
  • L’ibzar –  in Gueliz, recommended by NYT, 2017; La Mamounia recommends it, too
  • “A night out in Gueliz can take you down the bourgeois or bohemian path. For the former, join the stylish young professional Moroccans who fill the couches at Pointbar, a dimly lighted and laid-back lounge with D.J.-spun mainstream house, soul and R&B tunes.”   recommended by NYT, 2017
  • “For a bohemian vibe, pack into Le 68, a cozy and convivial cubbyhole bar where Moroccans and European expats from the arty-intellectual set soak up wines from an extensive menu of French and local vintages by the glass.” recommended by NYT, 2017
  • “on the lush grounds of the Dar Rhizlane hotel are angular, airy and lined with glass walls. And, like greenhouses, they bloom with exotic and fragrant specimens — in this case from the genus of neo-North African haute cuisine,” per NYT, 2017
  • Jnane Tamsna – “If you’re staying in the Medina, there will be a moment when you need some peace and tranquility away from all the hustle and bustle. Situated in the middle of the Palmerie area — think of the Beverly Hills of Marrakech– Jnine Tamsna is an oasis, 20 minute drive north of the Medina. The area is filled with mega mansions belonging to uber-rich owners who range from Saudi royals to Italian football stars. Jnane Tamsna, however, exudes understated and natural charm. It’s run by a French-educated hotelier, designer and art collector Meryanne Loum-Martin and her ethno-botanist husband Gary Martin.” (Forbes, 2017)Book a table by the swimming pool under the olive trees for the Mediterranean-Moroccan inspired daily menu.
  • Tory Burch (2018) recommends…
    • Restaurant La Famille (42 Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid) – “vegetarian food here mixes Moroccan and Italian influences and is served in a peaceful garden hidden in the Medina.”
    • Le Jardin Secret (121 Rue Mouassine) “This private palace and its botanical garden have just been renovated and opened to the public last year. It’s a beautiful haven…” (also recommended by the NYT, 2017)
    • Restaurant Le Grand Cafe de la Poste (Avenue Imam Malik) – “A not-to-be-missed institution in the modern neighborhood of Gueliz. The decor is somewhere between Paris and Morocco and so is the food…” (Forbes & La Mamounia like it, too.) Mimi’s Travel File thought this was not worth the trip, as it was a weak imitation of a Parisian bistro with wan references to Morocco.
  • Cocktails: The absolute best ambience at…
    • The Royal Mansour’s cocktail lounges
    • La Mamounia’s Majorelle Gallery provides a view through its huge open doors onto its terrace and big, lush gardens

Hotels

  • La Maison Arabe (Andrew Harper)
  • Amanjena (Andrew Harper)
  • Riad Orangeraie (Andrew Harper)
  • Jasper Conran’s new L’Hotel in the medina (Vogue & Conde Nast Traveler, 2017)
  • Richard Branson’s sister “bought a riad after her first visit in 2001 and eventually turned it into the cozy-chic boutique hotel Riad El Fenn” (Elle Décor, 2012; Town & Country, 2014) “swank rooftop bar”; Conde Nast Traveler, 2017, said, “If your idea of Marrakech is waking  call to prayer echoing from the Koutoubia Mosque and sipping mint tea in the square, then an Old City riad turned hotel is the way to go, and Vanessa Branson’s El Fenn is the best in the category.”
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(photo courtesy of El Fenn)

  • Mandarin Oriental (Departures magazine, 2016; The Telegraph, 2017; Architectural Digest, 2016; Conde Nast Traveler, 2017) 54 villas 20 minutes’ drive from the medina, “gorgeous garden, ” per The Telegraph
  • Riad Joya (Town & Country, 2015) 7 suites, rooftop restaurant with excellent food, in the medina
  • La Mamounia (Town & Country, 2015) Conde Nast Traveler, 2017, says La Mamounia is “one big fabulous spectacle.” While I don’t usually like large hotels, I stayed here for six nights and loved it.
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(photo courtesy of La Mamounia)

  • The Royal Mansour (Town & Country, 2015) 53 stand-alone riads; CNTraveler, 2017, says, “you’ll play out a modern One Thousand and One Nights fantasy in a private riad with our own rooftop terrace and hammam.” This is a very impressive and pretty place.
  • Villa des Orangers (Town & Country, 2015) 27 rooms; Two of my friends went here for hamams and said it’s very pretty.
  • La Sultana in Marrakech. It’s in the heart of the medina and is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Not to mention smelled—they cut hundreds of fresh roses there everyday, and the fragrance is intoxicating,” per AD 2016 article. Town & Country, 2015, also recommended it. 5 riads combined to form a 28 room hotel
  • Es Saadi (Conde Nast Traveler, 2017)
  • Riad Dar Kawa (Tory Burch, 2018)

When  to Visit: “Spring (March-April) and fall (October-November) are the ideal seasons for a visit,” advises travel aficionado Andrew Harper.

Tip: “Make sure to carry small dominations of the Dirham; there are many places to leave a small (coin) tip.” (good advice from our friend, Andrew Harper)

Another Tip: “ Joel Zack of Heritage Tours Private Travel. He has deep insider knowledge of the country (having lived there), excellent local contacts, and terrific guides. Tell him your interests— sightseeing? Shopping? Hiking? Mountain biking? Spa time?—and Heritage will craft the itinerary right for you (info@htprivatetravel.com, 800-378-4555″ (from Town & Country magazine)

What to Pack: While Morocco is the most liberal of northern Africa’s Muslim countries, it is still Muslim. Advise you pack accordingly, i.e., don’t flaunt skin (leave mini-skirts and strapless dresses and shorts at home). In the medina, the little roads are mostly dirt and often dirty, so don’t wear high heels or pants that will drag on the  floor.

DVD Traveling Companion: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

If I had had a couple of more days…

  • Skoura — Dar Ahlam, 14 suites, has it all: luxury, top-notch service, simplicity (you’re in the midst of a working oasis farm), a superb chef, and a rich menu of culturally immersive activities tailored to your interests and included in the price. A night at its desert encampment, Dar Ahlam Nomad, is an add-on—but absolutely worth it. For more information on Dar Ahlam, see “Taking You Higher,” in the March issue of Town & Country (maisondesreves.com).” (per T&C, 2015 & How to Spend It, 2015)
  • Scarabeo Stone Camp — (Travel + Leisure, 2013) less than an hour’s drive from Marrakech
  • Essouiria: “The other blue-infused city, though not in as obvious a way, is Essaouira, a couple of hours from Marrakech on the sea. The fishing village with strong trade winds—a favorite of windsurfers—charms just about everyone who walks inside its walls containing narrow yet vividly adorned cobalt-trimmed alleyways, camel-studded beaches, excellent (and less haggle-riddled) shopping, and food. La Table by Madada has the best Moroccan cuisine in town, while expats who fell in love with Essaouira have opened impeccable French (Umia) and Italian (Silvestro) spots in the vicinity. Where the shop owners in Marrakech are aggressive, sometimes abrasive, here they’re exceedingly mellow, perhaps softened by the sea air. Berber rugs and excessive amounts of vintage jewelry can be found, thanks to many selling wares retrieved from the desert and mountains” (AD 2018)

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Morocco: Fez Fabulousness

The first building I entered in Morocco was my hotel in Fez. Right away, I knew I was not in Kansas anymore!

Entrance
entrance to Palais Faraj hotel
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Palais Faraj hotel’s courtyard

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This door at Palais Faraj shows off Morocco’s decorative arts in one fell swoop: painted and carved wood, tiles in many patterns, lace-like plaster work…a rich and happy visual heritage that is centuries old.

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This is Fez’s medina, founded in the 9th (!!!) century, as seen from the rooftop terrace of the Palais Faraj.

Now let’s go into the medina…

Fez’s medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site…all 540 acres of it! Hold onto your hats because wandering around the medina is fascinating and fun. Here you will see the major cultural sites of Fez, observe its medieval lifestyle, and see the exotic wares for sale in its little shops.

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Men in djellabas (long robes with pointed hoods) are ubiquitous, not to mention evocative! Djellabas are long coats, worn over clothes: made of wool in winter and cotton for summer.

See the Sites in the Medina

  •  Al Qaraouyine (aka, Karaouinne), is a Koranic college founded in 859, the oldest continuously operating university in the world!
  • Al-Attarine Madrasa (Koranic school) founded in 1325 (adjacent to Al Qaraouyine)
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Note Al-Attarine Madrasa’s gorgeous tiles, woodwork, and carved plaster!  (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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Bou Inania Madrasa

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architectural detail at Bou Inania

  • Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts “housed in a beautifully restored caravanserai, a rooming house for traveling merchants.” (Financial Times) This multi-tiered, wood-paneled caravanserai was built in the 14th century.
  • Batha Museum of artisan objects (peaceful garden, pretty carved and painted doors, pottery, etc. with interesting history)
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Our guide, leading us through the medina: Every few hours when the call to prayer was broadcast, he would duck into a mosque to pray for 10 minutes.

A Note about Tour Guides: While I prefer not to be herded around by a guide, I highly recommend hiring one to navigate Fez’s medina because (1) you will most definitely get lost otherwise (2) the merchants will leave you alone (3) our guide, Mohamed,  advised us how much to pay while haggling with various merchants. Hire a guide:

  • Through your hotel. That’s how we got our excellent guide, Mohamed.
  • Hire Mohamed directly (Cell: 0661 2524 88 or mohamedalami410@gmail.com)
  • “…sign on to a savvy local tour: the four-hour “Hidden Fez” offered by Plan-it-Morocco, a travel company run by two women — English and Australian — who live here and know the city inside and out. The tours, usually led by Moroccans, visit the city’s exquisite private palaces, enchanting hidden gardens, spaces where weavers work hand looms, the odoriferous tannery quarter and other places you would probably never find or gain access to on your own. The tour requires a minimum of two visitors and costs 1,600 dirhams. More information is available at plan-it-morocco.com.” (NYTimes, 2017)
  • “there is nothing like a tailor-made tour from Fez-based New Zealand novelist Sandy McCutcheon, a contributor to The View from Fez blog (riadzany.blogspot.com), one of the most useful resources on the city, or his colleague Helen Ranger to give you the inside track on Fez, while showing you the best places to buy Berber rugs and the rest of Fez’s traditional crafts.” (“How to Spend It,” 2011)

TIP: “Many maps of the medina are either poor or incorrect (plan de Fez is the exception),” according to The Ruined Garden restaurant in Fez medina

TIP: “Most of the souks and cafes in the Fez medina are closed on Friday” (NYTimes 2017)

Shopping in the Medina

The things to buy are leather and suede (made by tanneries in the medina), pottery and tiles, carved & inlaid wood, Berber rugs, and metal lamps cut in lace-like patterns. Argan oil is big, too.

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Poterie de Fez

  • Poterie de Fez (Quartier de Poterie, 32 Ain Nokbi Route Sidi Hrazem) — Love this place because they showed us how tiles are made, how tile designs are laid into place, and how pottery is painted. They can make anything your little heart desires.
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artisan at Poterie de Fes

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Got to have this sink from Poterie de Fez!

  • Terrasse de Tannerie, El Haj Ali Baba (no. 10 Hay Lblida Chouara) for a huge array of leather and the softest suede clothes, purses, wallets, belts…plus the proprietor offers an interesting explanation of the tanning process, complete with views from its terrace of the dying vats in the square below.
  • Au Coin du Bois (20, Derb El Hammam, Guerniz) for gorgeous carved and inlaid wooden items
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Au Coin du Bois: This soaring courtyard is typical of Fez’s palace architecture. Today, the palaces are used as riads (small hotels), elegant shops, and private homes.

  • Talisman Art Gallery (No. 150 Sidi Moussa Guerniz) for many beautifully sophisticated antiques like this chest, for which my husband is still longing…
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bureau of inlaid mother of pearl and camel bone from Talisman Art Gallery

In addition to these beautiful things are others, exotic and intriguing. For example…

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Yep, that’s a real camel’s head hanging in front of this butcher’s stall. I was not tempted. I don’t think this woman is interested, either…although they do have similar profiles!

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The local Coke distributor: While walking through the medina, we had to step aside numerous times for donkey-drawn carts to pass. The streets are too narrow for cars.

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A realtor’s display: Not exactly like the glossy photos of houses in our realtors’ windows!

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We saw numerous little stores like this. Can you guess what these are??? Portable thrones for carrying a bride about on some poor men’s shoulders. Who wouldn’t want to be queen for the day?!

Sights Outside of the Medina

  • Royal Palace – While you can’t go inside, this is fun to see. It is one of the king’s 45 palaces.
  • “an afternoon stroll takes you past the swarming Bab Bou Jeloud gate and into the Jnan Sbil gardens, recently reopened and a delicious respite from the city’s pressure-cooker heat…,” per How to Spend It. We recently visited this and while it’s not world-class, it is a nice, open green garden that one can walk through in 15 minutes.
  • “While the Ville Nouvelle, the administrative quarter invented by the colonial French, has wide avenues lined with Jacaranda trees, shiny modern cafeterias, office blocks and ATMs, the soul of the city resides in that gigantic medina” (How to Spend It)

Day Trips

  • Field trip: “From there (Fez), a three-hour drive gets you to Chefchaouen, the famed Blue City that is even more dreamy in reality than in photographs. Imagine if there was fresh snowfall in Santorini, in every shade of periwinkle, indigo, sky, and powder blue. There, you can almost feel sustained off the visual stimulation without food, but when hunger sets in the best (casual) meal can be had at Bab Ssour, while prime views of the stacked blue city are had from the top of Lina Ryad, the prettiest riad in town.” (Architectural Digest, 2018) My friend, who went to Chefchaouen this month, says there’s not that much to do here so recommends one night only.
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on the road from Fez to Volubilis

  • Field trip #2: See the beautifully preserved Roman ruins at Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site…Easy day trip from Fez (1+ hours drive) and fun to drive through the countryside, which is covered with acres of olive and fruit trees.
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Volubilis

  • To be Combined with Volubilis: One hour’s drive from Volubilis is the 17th century capital of Meknes, one of Morocco’s four imperial cities & a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the FT recommends seeing the mausoleum of Sultan Moulay Ismail, Bab Mansour gateway, the ruins of the Sultan’s stables (built to accommodate 12,000 horses!), the Granaries, the Dar Jamai Museum (19th cent. palace) w/collection of ceramics, jewelry, and textiles; nearby is the holy city of Moulay Idriss. The drive back to Fez takes about an hour.
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one of 20 gates interspersed among Meknes’ 40 km. of walls around the city

I recommend our driver, Karim Khalil, of Transport Touristique VIP (karim2011khalil@gmail.com). Our hotel, Palais Faraj, arranged for him to drive us from Fez to Volubilis to Meknes and back, which was a great day.

Let’s Eat!

Cocktails & Restaurants

When you make dinner reservations in the medina,  the restaurant asks “with or without a porter?” Take the porter. Otherwise, you will be fruitlessly wandering the medina, hungry and confused!

  • “…it’s an adventure in itself to venture—with a porter to guide you—into the medina after dark to savor the six-course prix fixe menus at Nur, open in September for its second “season” of fine modern-Moroccan-with-a-Mexican-twist cuisine, made from ingredients purchased each morning in the market and formed into innovative dishes later (they’re closed in summer),” per Architectural Digest, 2018). CNTraveler (2017), Wall Street Journal (2017) & NYTimes (2017) also recommend Nur, as does Mimi’s Travel File. The decor is modern, elegant medina.
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Our best meal in Morocco was at Nur. This is an aerial view. The restaurant has extremely high ceilings and is small. Stylish and deelish!

  • “The candlelit tiled courtyard of the five-room riad hotel Dar Roumana (House of the Pomegranate) offers a romantic setting in which to discover the excellent cooking of Younes Idrissi. The changing prix fixe menus are inspired by the French and Moroccan kitchens.” (NYTimes, 2017) Mimi’s Travel File can attest to the food and romantic ambiance of this traditionally beautiful riad in the medina.
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Dar Roumana is a beautiful riad with good food in an elegant setting.

  • “The casual Café Fez, in a walled, lushly planted garden, is run by the renowned French antiques dealer Michel Biehn…Reasonably priced, friendly and serving fresh, inventive Franco-Moroccan cooking, this place is especially popular with local expats.” (NYTimes 2017) Mimi’s Travel File recommends CF (it’s fun!), as does CN Traveler, 2017.
  • Eden, the restaurant in the Palais Amani, was recommended by CN Traveler, 2017. If you would like a break from traditional Moroccan decor, this modern, white and pretty (slightly cold in feel) restaurant is a good get. I liked the bar at Palais Amani.
  • The Ruined Garden, in Riad Idrissy, was recommended by CN Traveler, 2017
  • Cafe Clock  was suggested by Travel +Leisure, 2015

Hotels

  • Palais Amani (Andrew HarperNew York Times, 2017 & Mr. and Mrs. Smith recommend this; Mimi’s Travel File visited it and thought it attractive)
  • Palais Faraj (Abercrombie & Kent, 2016 and Travel+Leisure 2015) – highly recommend! We stayed here for a week last month and loved the decor, location and nice staff. PF is built up against the medina, on the outside the wall.
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Palais Faraj bedroom: note the Berber rugs on tiled floor, carved wood door frames and terrace

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fountain in Palais Faraj’s courtyard

  • Architectural Digest (2018) said: “It should be required to stay at a riad (the Moroccan term for a house with gardens) inside the medina, many of which have been lovingly restored into intimate boutique hotels. There are handfuls of particularly pristine and transportive ones to choose from, including
    • the Relais & Chateaux property Riad Fes, with its peaceful pool and incredibly chic wine bar, and (Departures, 2016 likes this, too)
    • Palais Amani, the regally outfitted 17th-century bolt-hole of stained glass and Technicolor tile work whose ceilings are sky-high and whose rooftop is being transformed for open-air cooking classes and dining.
    • Karawan Riad opened two years ago after a painstaking ten-year restoration and renovation that comprises intricate moucharaby paneling and a lounge wallpapered with rich red rugs. (T+L, 2015, also recommended it) A friend of mine stayed here this month, loved it & said, “It’s gorgeous!”
    • The food at all these riads is mouth-watering…”
  • “Overlooking the medina, the 50-room Sahrai became Fez’s first real boutique hotel when it opened in 2014. Using rich local materials like biscuit-colored Taza stone and custom-made décor like copper-framed lanterns, the Parisian designer Christophe Pillet coined a new decorative idiom of contemporary Moroccan chic that has made this stylish establishment a favorite of the local beau monde. Join this cosmopolitan crowd for cocktails either in the curtained open-air gallery near the bar or in the rooftop bar overlooking the city.” (NYTimes, 2017) Travel+Leisure (2016) also recommended it.

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BTW, while many Moroccans speak English, more speak French, and all speak Arabic or Berber. How’s your Berber?

Bon voyage!

Fascinating article on the First Marrakech Edition of 1-54 Art Fair: Had to Share it with You!

The contemporary African art fair 1-54 made its African debut in Marrakech, Morocco, in the Grand Salon of the ritzy La Mamounia, one of Winston Churchill’s favorite hotels. Held over the weekend, 1-54 welcomed 17 international galleries, which exhibited more than 60 contemporary artists from across Africa and its diaspora. Sales were strong but, with the…

via Strong Sales at the First Marrakech Edition of 1-54 Art Fair, But Don’t Talk About ‘African’ Art — artnet News