Insider’s Guide to Marrakech
I’ve travelled to so many places over the years, but it’s Morocco that has truly captured my imagination as time goes on. There’s just something here that captivates me. Perhaps it’s the different pace of life. Or the incredible people I’ve met…or is it the food, the culture, the atmosphere…? Whatever it is, this intoxicating mix keeps me returning over and over again. If you’re looking to explore Marrakech, I’ve compiled a short sampling of some interesting things to see and do, as well as some local characters and my favourite haunts. This list is certainly incomplete but will give you a little taste of ‘off-the-beaten-path’ with some classic Moroccan must-dos.
Places to See
Immerse yourself in the arts of the ‘ochre city’ from past to present. My top choices: Musée de Marrakech (Marrakech Museum), featuring both modern and traditional Moroccan art, is housed in an ancient palace, itself a prime example of Andalusian architecture. Right next to it is the Ali ben Youssef Medersa, a beautifully ornate 14th c. former theological college. Located right in the medina (old town), you’ll also find the Musée de la Photographie (Museum of Photography and Visual Arts)
Take a walk in the Jardin Majorelle, long associated with fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, and peruse the private collection of St. Laurent’s own creations and local artisans. This autumn, look out for a brand new Yves Saint Laurent museum that is set to open, featuring over 5,000 items of clothing and 15,000 accessories in a 4,000 square metre (43,000 square feet) space. Finally, for a look at modern artists and art forms, head to the Musée d’Art et de Culture de Marrakech (MACMA).
Jemaa el-Fnaa Square
It’s Marrakesh: it’s inevitable that you will eventually end up at Jemaa el-Fnaa square. But go there at nighttime, when it really comes alive (and so you can skip the heat of the day). Linger over a mint tea and head to one of the terraces for an elevated view of the action down below.
Souks and shopping: get lost!
A fun game to play is walking in the souks without a local guide, getting lost, and finding your way out…it’s honestly a wonderful way to wander and discover something new! Try to find the Terrasses des Epices for lunch or the Souk Cherifia for great shopping.
Search for authentic Morocco in the Sidi Boutchich neighbourhood, getting to know the incredible artisans that work in this district.
If it’s a new, modern Marrakech you’re looking for, head to the industrial zone of Sidi Ghanem. Not particularly photogenic, but this is where you’ll find lots of modern local and international designers. (No haggling here!). Look for Florence Teillet’s showroom, filled with incredible hand-woven textiles and fabrics.
Take the time to stop at Mohamed Bouskri’s new art gallery, Bab Doukkala, for a chat with this amazing character. Do as Sarah Jessica Parker did and stop by Aya’s Marrakech for kaftans and other accessories; share a mint tea and conversation with proprietor Nawal, while admiring her latest creations.
Where to Eat and Drink
Have a drink at the decadent and palatial La Mamounia at cocktail hour. Expensive, yes…but legendary!
Take a leisurely walk in the quiet neighbourhood of La Kasbah and enjoy a lunch at La Sultana, all far from the bustle and frenzy of the rest of the medina.
For a taste of real Moroccan cooking just like at home, have dinner at Al Fassia. The mostly female staff have been cooking traditional cuisine for over 25 years here, and you will not be disappointed.
Get out of the city for a bit of fresh air, and drive out to the Kasbah du Toubkal for lunch with a view. Located in the foothills of the Atlas mountains, even director Martin Scorsese himself (who visited when he was shooting Kundun) considers these spectacular surroundings some of the best views in the world.
Where to Stay
Rest your head in style at the Riad Farnatchi. Don’t miss out on their fantastic spa, including an upscale Moroccan hammam. Head into the desert for an unforgettable experience: sleep under the stars at the Scarabeo Camp. It’s almost like travelling back in time, but with a luxurious feel instead of a dusty expedition.