Mike dubbed the palatial La Mamounia “La Mamazing,” insisting on singing the theme song to Aladdin each time we returned from the crowded alleyways of the medina. While I’m fairly certain that my husband has enjoyed his fair share of Morrocan rug shopping to last a lifetime, he freely admits that he would go back to Marrakech any day to wile away the hours at this opulent Moorish-inspired hotel. The decor is as you might imagine in Arabian Nights, the service is warm and inviting, the gardens are meticulous and vast and the swanky pool is the perfect place to recoup after a day of bargaining over, well…pretty much everything. Expect to recognize the mosaic, red lantern filled courtyards and gilded spa pool as lavish instagram hotspots - they deserve the screen time. You can even purchase (and will insist upon doing so) the hotel’s intoxicating signature scent - a mixture of cedar, dates and citrus - to transport you back once you return home.
Don’t let the remote location dissuade you from a stay in the Atlas Mountains, less than an hour from the hustle and bustle of larger-than-life Marrakech. Allow the Kasbah to book you a transfer from your hotel or the international airport, as you will need an expert and a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to traverse the unmarked and unpaved roads that lead you up the steep mountain to the hotel’s perch at the “apex of the Ourika Valley.” Passing Berbers leading mules from the once a week market or goat herders tending to their flock, you will immediately sense the transformation a world away from Marrakech’s ultra-modern airport, which is just 35 minutes from the low-key kasbah. It’s an eyeopening juxtaposition of the varied lanscapes and lifestyles of Morocco and a welcome one, as the the red earth beauty that defines the Atlas Mountains will be visible from every corner. The simple elegance of the rooms feels luxurious and far away - think Moroccan wedding blankets, Beni Ourain rugs, and worn Berber poufs — and will encourage you to be drawn into the mesmerizing backdrop of the snowcapped mountains and lush green valley below. Spend your days here sitting in one of the many shabby chic Bedouin style sitting areas, walking the gardens in the quiet of seclusion, lounging by the intimate pool and enjoying lunch and cocktails amidst breathtaking views. Ask the front desk to arrange an excursion, including a hike with a Berber guide through the magical landscape.
Visit the gardens of the Jardin Marjorelle. It took the artist Jacques Majorelle more than 40 years to build his enchanting gardens filled with palm trees, bougainvilla, cyprus and water lillies. The buildings, painted in primary technicolor, will help you understand the magnetic draw of “Majorelle Blue.” The gardens were purchased by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge in 1980, meticulously restoring the gardens and enjoying their famed home Villa Oasis that presides here.
Just passed the Jardin Majorelle is a stark contrast in architecture, housing the YSL Museum. The facade which plays with light and shadow, sharp lines and sumptuous curves, and detailed brickwork that evokes the sense of fabric, the building is a site in itself to behold. Once inside, it was hard to tell who enjoyed this stop more — myself, a fashion devotee and a lover and collector of YSL Costume Jewelry through the decades, or my husband, who frankly does not care about either. Shockingly, I may go with Mike on this one, who was enthralled not just by the collection of clothing that the museum houses (Saint Laurent was one of the few designers to meticulously archive his work, which his foundation has since preserved), but the cultural history that the exhibit detailed through the clothing introduced by era and the envy-induciting social life that Saint Laurent and Berge enjoyed in Marrakech.
Wander the alleyways and souks:
Hire a guide if you have specific stops on your list, as doors are not labeled and neither Waze nor Google Maps will get you there. But remember: you are in charge. No matter how lovely a cab driver or hired guide is, it’s important to know that everything in Marrakech has a price. Our guide, highly recommended by our hotel, “lost” the paper that had each of my desired stops on it. I soon realized that none of the shops that I had chosen give kick-backs to guides for escorting travelers and their wallets to their stores. Be clear with your hotel concierge as to what you are looking for — historic sites or an escort to specific destinations — and offer to pay a higher rate (our full day guide was $25) for going to shops that may not be in the guides financial best interest.
Get a scrub down or hammam at one of the countless hotels’ luxe spas. The spa at Royal Mansour, an opulent hotel of riads and gardens built by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, is — even without a treatment — a sensory experience.
A rug and home showroom with a mind-blowing inventory of their own award winning designs as well as countless vintage and antique carpets ranging from traditional Beni Ouarin’s to technicolor Berber weavings, both of which we purchased here. The selection and experience will be closer to what you are accustomed to at home than with other dealers, but negotiating is still a part of the process here. International DHL shipping will be included in the final cost and your rugs will arrive carefully cleaned and packaged.
Concept shop of accessible Moroccan designed clothing and accessories. Think easy-to-wear kaftans and coverups that won’t look out of place once you get back home.
Just down from the Jardin Majorelle sits this jewel box of a store, offering clothing and accessories for men, women and children, as well as a small selection of home pieces. Showcasing an edited selection of pieces from local designers, like hand-beaded tunics and velvet jackets, you will not find the same pieces here as when haggling in the souks.
I’m only disappointed that I did not buy more here. The French trained pattern maker has a number of stores in Marrakech, including a small outlet at La Mamounia. They are packed to the brim with technicolor patterned silk robes, loafers, throwback swing coats and men’s printed pants that I am really going to need in my size. Please?
The Belgian designer settled in Marrakech, opening a riad (Dar Kawa) as wells as a showroom of sumptuous bedding and home textiles. I had my eyes set on the most exquisitely simple duvet with a dash of tassels along the edge, but it was sadly not available in a King. The shop will be one of my first stops when I return.
You can stay in this traditional riad, known for it’s ultra-chic interiors and fabulous shop just steps from the Medina, or simply spend time relaxing on its rooftop terrace for a meal and drinks. Design obsessives will be inspired by every tiled corner and primary colored detail, so be sure to explore and have your camera ready.
We came for dinner at the glam, sumptuously designed club, but the real fun started well into the night at the sophisticated international hotspot, which recently earned bragging rights for hosting part of Madonna’s 60th birthday celebration. Our clubbing days are well behind us, but the rich red velvet interiors paired with flowing champagne is a luxurious cry from the club life I left behind.
Dinner at Al Fassia Aguedal
Known in part for being completely run by an all female team, Al Fassia’s authentic Moroccan cuisine and warm hospitality is a perfect first night’s welcome to Marrakech. Sit in the romantic courtyard under the stars and enjoy the lamb tagine with carmelized onions and tomatoes. You will not be disappointed.
Set in a riad famous for it’s historic cooking school, La Maison Arabe serves traditional Moroccan cuisine as musicians discreetly serenade guests by guitar and lute. A fairytale dinner under the African sky beside the candlelit pool is as dreamy as it gets.
Spending a morning getting lost in the maze of alleyways, while dodging crowds, packed mules and wild motorcycles as you try to find the perfect place to haggle over rugs and lanterns is frankly exhilerating, but also requires planned escapes to recoup for the afternoon ahead. Make your way to El Jardin, a tranquil restaurant that belies the exciting madness outside it’s door. Rest and refuel in the picturesque green tiled garden space and you’ll be ready for more shopping ahead.