A maze of narrow alleyways snaking in between ochre walls, their shadows providing protection from the blazing sun – Marrakesh’s daytime temperature rarely falls below 20 degrees celsius. Fruit vendors selling prickly pears on every corner, the smell of spices drifting out from the kitchens, closed doors opening to reveal luscious palm bedecked courtyards tucked away, hiding from the heat… The red city – guarded by the Medina’s imposing walls – spells out an exotic mystery, a bohemian charm enveloping you in all its understated opulence.
This city taught me color – Yves Saint Laurent
Riad Yasmine is somewhat of a wunderkind; run by a young French couple, this chic 7 room boutique hotel – just a stone’s throw away from the Medina’s souks and sights – has garnered rapid social media fame… An extremely photogenic courtyard may have something to do with this. Despite a rapid ascent to popularity and increasing demand, the newfound fame has yet to go to its head. A charming stay, this luxurious take on a traditional Moroccan riad is the perfect spot to unwind and cool down after a day of exploring – the central patio is fitted with a plunge pool, an oasis in the midst of the sweltering hubbub. The hosts, the location, and the hotel itself all add up to make this a sanctuary you won’t want to leave.
P.S. If you have a little extra time to frolic around, head outside the city for the perfect getaway spent lounging next to grandiose swimming pools, strolling through ancient olive groves and indulging in a traditional Hammam spa experience. Marrakech is home to a spread of luxurious resorts – most are located in Gueliz, Hivernage and Palmeraie or along the Routes de l’Ourika and de Tameslouht – and whilst I don’t suggest skipping a stay in a quaint Medina riad altogether, a few days spent recharging in scenic seclusion are never a bad idea!
You can’t visit Morocco without tucking in to a tagine or two. Marrakesh’s streets are filled with everything from fresh produce to aromatic spices and vendors selling an array of sweet and savory local delicacies. Head up a level or two and you’ll find rooftop terraces with vistas stretching across the Medina towards the Atlas mountains, where you can tuck in to a world class gastronomic feast… A foodie’s paradise.
I Limoni is a cafe by day, Italian restaurant by night with a subtle Marrakshi twist. Hidden in a whitewashed, lemon tree filled courtyard – you’ll find that most restaurants are either in courtyards or on rooftops, secluded from the frantic city life just a few meters away – this, dare I say it, hidden gem is a local treat. Although a splurge – with prices comparable to those in any large international city – the menu’s Italian and Moroccan offerings are exquisitely prepared, the candlelit atmosphere an extra bonus. Eat here if you’re looking to treat yourself/have exhausted all the local offerings and are craving an authentic Italian meal.
Just across from the place des épices and souks, you’ll find Terrasse des épices, a spacious rooftop treasure serving up local and international dishes, all with some extra Moroccan flavor. If you’re yet to devour a tagine or cous cous, here’s the place. Flavored with spices from the bustling market just below and served in gargantuan clay pots, come with an appetite because the sumptuous food is too good to leave behind. With views across the Medina to the Koutoubia minaret, stop at this hideaway to soak in the views in between stocking up at the souks.
Ben Youssef Madrasa is a 14th century Islamic college next to the Ben Youssef Mosque – as this is a religious site, visitor entrance to the mosque itself is prohibited. An exquisite example of Moorish architecture and fine detailing, the shadows of this cavernous building hide ornate detailing and zellij – the name given to Moroccan mosaics -, tessellated patterns of vibrant reds, greens, and blues. If you’re here to lap up the copious cultural offerings, the madrasa can’t be missed. From here, wander across to the souks, passing through the place des épices – a square brimming with hessian sacks all bursting at the seams carrying fragrant spices – on to the famed Souk Semmarine, where you’ll find local leathers, jewels, knock off designer bags and glittering costume jewelry… Just remember to barter! Jemaa el Fna – Marrakesh’s main square – is a world unto itself, and whilst on the very beaten path, the atmosphere here is unrivaled. Pick up a freshly squeezed orange juice – a welcome refreshment on an inevitably hot day – and meander towards the alluring music where you’ll find snake charmers charming, you guessed it, snakes.
If you’re looking to cool down, Marrakesh is home to multiple thriving gardens, providing a much needed dose of tranquility. Within the Medina is the Bahia Palace, a series of high ceilinged rooms opening out on to vast courtyards and perfectly manicured gardens. An expansive demonstration of opulence, the palace’s craftsmanship captures the essence of Moroccan style. My personal favorite? The Jardin Majorelle, Yves Saint Laurent’s eccentric yet serene Marrakech abode. Amble along in between the looming bamboos, cobalt blue pots scattered along the path, a subtle nudge to the Art Deco era. It’s easy to lose track of time in these exotic gardens and worth taking a few hours out of your day to wander around the dreamy premises.
Whether you’re only visiting for a weekend or can’t help but stay for longer, Marrakesh’s timeless charisma will leave you endlessly fascinated, eager to continue devouring all the city has to offer and yearning to come back for more…