Step into an entirely exotic culture, spiced with old-world colonial charm, exuberant colour and sensual chaos at every turn
It took French painter Jacques Majorelle forty years to create this twelve-acre garden oasis in the heart of the ochre city, complete with its now iconic intense cobalt blue residence, inspired by the distant Atlas Mountains. In 1980, Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent purchased and restored the property, which had long been a point of inspiration for the Algerian designer. It is also where his ashes were later laid to rest. Today, the enclosure’s striking blue abode, which merges moorish design with a touch of the Art Deco, is a museum, but the property’s true charm is hidden within its sprawling water lily ponds and giant cacti garden. That said, be sure to check out the museum’s significant collection of Yves Saint Laurent’s framed Love Cards (actually the size of posters), which were sent out to his nearest and dearest from 1970 to 2000 to welcome in the new year.
TRAVEL TRUFFLE: Have lunch at the city’s other Le Jardin – a lush courtyard café, located deep within the Medina that’s an oasis of palm fronds, glowing green tiles and shamrock hued paintwork. Watch out for the pet turtle that roams freely under foot, as budgerigars sing from wooden cages.
More than just a hotel, La Mamounia is a Marrakech institution that celebrates the Moroccan Art de Vivre in its elaborate hand crafted mosaics, traditional hammam bath house and sprawling royal gardens planted with fragrant citrus trees. The 5-star landmark, which opened its doors in 1923, also combines Art Deco and Moorish design influences (in 2010 it underwent a 3 year, $176 million refurb), and has accommodated guests from Winston Churchill to Gwyneth Paltrow over the years. From the cinnamon milk and fresh dates offered on arrival to the hotel’s elegant ice cream pavilion nestled within its manicured gardens (originally a gift from the Sultan to his son), the finesse is in the first class details here. Visit for a drink at the Churchill bar, stay on for dinner, but do yourself a real favour and check-in. This is one of those destination hotels that’s best enjoyed from the inside, as the palatial rooms are easily the property’s most magnificent feature.
TRAVEL TRUFFLE: Prefer a boutique hotel within Marrakech’s medina? Book Ryad Dyor. It took 3 years to convert two, 300-year-old merchant riads into this contemporary stay situated around a traditional, open-aired courtyard with its own hammam and plunge pool. Another great option is Vanessa Branson’s El Fenn. Here you can also hire a private riad next door if you’re travelling in a group.
This is a city where pretty much all of its restaurants are geared to the tourist trade. So if you don’t want to eat at a market stall you just have to accept it and move on. One that does, however, nicely balance traditional Moroccan fare with western service standards is Dar Yacout. This romantic, old city restaurant serves a moorish set menu that begins with sunset drinks on a rooftop terrace to live Andalusian music, followed by a Moroccan feast by its lantern-lit pool. The King of Spain has eaten here, and this meal certainly is fit for a King, and a king-size stomach. Beginning with all manner of local dips, breads, pickles and spiced vegetable salads, the shared entrée is followed by a tagine of lemon and green olive roasted chicken, a tender shoulder of lamb and vegetable couscous, finished off with a puff pastry dessert, tiered trays of Moroccan biscuits, and of course, fresh mint tea. The set menu is around £70 per head, and you must book ahead.
TRAVEL TRUFFLE: Filled your quota of tagines? Try Bo Zin for a less traditional night out. This outdoor restaurant is situated within a lush Japanese garden and has a party atmosphere that you could find in New York or Hong Kong. Book a table for an Asian fusion meal or simply go for drinks at the buzzing outdoor bar.
If the idea of sharing a communal courtyard and a tiny plunge pool with a whole riad of guests fills you with dread, then the Amanjena is for you. Composed of just 40 rooms – which are more like individual pavilions or mutli-bedroom maisons – and spread across acres of manicured date palm groves, this ochre resort perfectly marries privacy with a warm intimacy that flows through its emerald green tiled waterways. Designed by Edward Tuttle, you will be blown away by its perfect symmetry, elegant arches, hibiscus-lined pool and the consistent hum of bird song. Bath looking out onto lime trees, fall asleep to the trickle of your own fountain or a crackling open fire; the only real reason to leave your suite is to refuel at the hotel’s Amanemu Japanese restaurant, or to work on your swing – two of Marrakech’s premier golf clubs lie within putting distance.
TRAVEL TRUFFLE: Another great example of modern moorish design is Le Grade Café de la Poste. Conceived by Studio KO and located in the new part of town, this brasserie-style restaurant has a cool, colonial vibe that dates back to its founding in 1925. Sit outside on the misted terrace for lunch, or alternatively stop by for a pre-dinner drink from 6:30pm. The cosy upstairs bar is decorated with low-slung tables and giant cushions.
Nestled within the bustling Medina, this gallery cum concept store, owned by former Italian Vogue style editor Alessandra Lippini and her partner Fabrizio Bizzarri, curates an eclectic mix of contemporary art and design furnishings. The three-floor riad is a striking showroom for the couple’s interior prowess and is open by appointment. The creative pair also share an art and design school in Tahanaoute, some 20km from Marrakech, with Italian architect Sergio Calatroni.
TRAVEL TRUFFLE: Fusing moorish Moroccan and Scandinavian design, restaurant Nomad, just off Place des Epices, overlooks one of the Medina’s most colourful squares, and is the ideal place for a late rooftop lunch or a buzzy evening out. The food here is as equally pleasing on the eye as it is the taste buds, offering a modern twist on local classics. (The couscous vert is not to be missed.) Nor are the square’s basket and spice stalls, which are of a far superior quality to the tourist tat that you find around Jemaa el Fna.
“Since the Euro crisis has thinned the crowds, now’s the perfect time for adventurous travelers to enjoy the Red City’s new relative bargains.”
“Browse a carefully edited selection of other goods from Morocco and beyond, including unusual vintage jewelry, dramatic leather caftans and djellabas, embellished with snakeskin and ostrich, by the American artist Paul Rowland.”