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.

2 lace lamps

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.”
Extra Large room (1) © Kasia Gatkowska

(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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4 thoughts on “Marrakech: Come, to the Kasbah!

  1. Love this post! You have captured the magic and wonder of Marrakech. Some sights looked familiar and others very intriguing!
    Laura

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