T+L's Definitive Guide to Marrakesh
Published: March 2013
By Maria Shollenbarger
Marrakesh is on a roll as enterprising locals and expats reinterpret Moroccan traditions in fashion, architecture, food, and nightlife across the city.
The only way to navigate the medina is on foot. The lanes get crowded, so pay attention to valuables.
Petits taxis are perfect for short trips. Flagging one on the street is better than negotiating at a hotel queue, where drivers prefer to charge a set fee.
Grands taxis (usually Mercedes-Benzes) are better for longer journeys—out to the Palmeraie, say—and best booked in advance by your hotel. For half-day or day tours, Akaman employs multilingual drivers with a fleet of new vehicles, from Minis to Range Rovers.
Getting There: Royal Air Maroc flies direct from New York and Los Angeles to Casablanca. From there, catch a 40-minute flight to Marrakesh Menara Airport.
See + Do
Four spots not to miss, from a 1930’s garden to an over-the-top spa.
Jardin Majorelle: Designed in the early 20th century by the Orientalist painter Jacques Majorelle and acquired in 1980 by Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent, the 12-acre botanical gardens have colorful local flora, along with a small café, bookshop, and the Musée Berbère, with Berber art from Saint Laurent’s own collection. Rue Yves Saint Laurent.
Maison de la Photographie: This riad museum hosts rotating exhibitions of more than 6,000 original photographs, most of them quotidian scenes taken between 1870 and the 1950’s. The building, one of the medina’s tallest, houses a tea salon on its roof; stop for a steaming cup and take in the view of the city rooftops. 46 Rue Souk Ahal Fes.
Medersa Ben Youssef: One of the largest Koranic schools in Morocco, the 15th-century Ben Youssef (attached to the mosque of the same name) is a stunning confluence of carved cedar, zellij tile work, and ornate stucco. Book a private tour, which includes visits to the minuscule dormitory spaces where some of the 900-odd students lived. Place Ben Youssef.
Spa at The Royal Mansour Marrakech: Proprietor King Mohammed VI’s hotel is a showcase of Moroccan artisanship, and the 27,000-square-foot, white-filigree-and-glass spa is virtually a city in itself. The treatment suites have terraces and pools, and the beauty salon is a gleaming temple of white marble. Opt for a traditional hammam using the sumptuous Marocmaroc skin-care line. Rue Abou Abbas al Sebti; treatments from $115.
Our favorite treasure troves in the medina and beyond.
For table linens and sleepwear that merge traditional handiwork with a modern aesthetic, head to Al Kawtar (57 Rue Laksour). Fenyadi (219 Z.I. Sidi Ghanem) is stocked with tea sets, oil lamps, and a divine skin-care collection—all minimalist takes on traditional Moroccan design. Emerging local designers show at 33 Rue Majorelle (33 Rue Yves Saint Laurent): expect slinky silk-jersey playsuits and burlap tote bags stamped creatively with Berber motifs. Ignore the frosty reception at Moor/Akbar Delights (7 Rue des Vieux Marrakchis); the boutiques—two of the city’s most refined—merged earlier this year, but the slick, organic-fiber clothes are still the same. At L’Ourika Boutique (77 Daffa Warbaa, Souk Semmarine), the Tazi brothers cut Fassi embroidered djellabas and tunics to measure—and ship them worldwide. You could furnish your entire home at Mustapha Blaoui’s Trésors des Nomades (142-144 Bab Doukkala), chockablock with quality textiles, antiques, metalware, and ceramics. Swing by the Souk Cherifia (Sidi Abdelaziz, Dar el Bacha entrance), a warren of stylish independent traders, for delicate gold jewelry at Stephanie Jewels (No. 26), leather accessories at Lalla (No. 47), and streamlined hand-embroidered linens at La Maison Bahira (No. 15).
Sophisticated authentic fare and easy café lunches—here’s where to go now.
Le Jardin: The owner of the venerable Terrasse des Épices opened this shabby-chic garden café last spring. Guests sit at vintage tables and feast on casual staples, from salade niçoise to crisp, tangy Moroccan briouates (vegetable- or meat-stuffed phyllo triangles). 32 Souk El Jeld, Sidi Abdelaziz. $
Les Trois Saveurs: Housed in La Maison Arabe (the hotel owned by Italian nobleman Fabrizio Ruspoli), this lovely space, set under porticoes, serves faultless Moroccan dishes—the pastillas perfectly balance spicy-sweet and savory—plus pan-Asian specialties and French classics. 1 Derb Assehbe, Bab Doukkala. $$
Le Loft: Behind black-varnished shutter doors hides a fashionable newcomer to Guéliz. Le Loft serves bistro standards executed to perfection (not to mention a mean mojito). Le tout Marrakech table-hops in the dining room and on the front terrace. 18 Rue de la Liberté, Guéliz; 212-5/2443-4216. $$
A Palace for Every Palate
Palace restaurants are all about candlelit courtyards, Berber musicians, and heaping platters of food. Each has its loyalists: Dar Marjana (15 Derb Sidi Tair; $$$) and Dar Yacout ($$$) are in the top echelon, as is the newer and less pricey Le Tobsil ($$). Chef Moha Fedal updates the experience with lighter fare in Pierre Balmain’s former riad at Dar Moha (81 Rue Dar el-Bacha; $$$).
Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
The five-star arrivals, the perennials, and our picks of the chicest (and best-value) riads.
Four Seasons Resort: Those who claim it lacks authenticity miss the point: this clean-lined resort offers discrete adults’ and kids’ pools; a boutique curated by top local stylist Laetitia Trouillet, who stages pop-up “souks” at the hotel; and flawless service. Hivernage. $$$$
La Mamounia: The grande dame’s Jacques Garcia–designed renovation ushered in ornate, haute marocain décor—plus three private riads, a subterranean spa, and a buzzy restaurant. Medina. $$$$
Palais Namaskar: Whimsical best describes this 12-acre fantasyland, where Indian and Moorish architecture collide and enormous suites and villas have contemporary Italian furnishings. Palmeraie. $$$
Riad Abracadabra: Don’t be deterred by the name; inside, you’ll find an inviting indoor-outdoor lounge, rooms lined with novels and vintage design magazines, and a charming roof terrace. Medina. $
Riad Joya: A stone’s throw from the city’s main square, Djemaa el-Fna, Joya’s seven-room house is all about sleek neutrals (not a gold-leather pouf in sight) and a warm, supremely capable staff. Mouassine. $$
Riad Vanessa: This intimate, simply stylish gem has four en suite bedrooms and a courtyard strewn with deep sofas and kilims. There’s also a sitting room with a fireplace. Medina. $
The Selman: Another Jacques Garcia chef d’oeuvre, the Selman’s modest two-story dimensions belie generous rooms in rich purple and yellow silk velvets. The owner’s Arabian stallions graze in immaculate paddocks next to the open-air Le Pavillon restaurant. Agdal. $$
Taj Palace: From the mammoth scale to the extravagant interiors, the Taj seems destined to divide opinion. Rooms have rosy tadelakt walls hung with beveled Indian mirrors and balconies overlooking what is surely Africa’s biggest pool. Palmeraie. $$$
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
Three Marrakesh insiders open their style files.
Human rights advocate, blogger, owner of Peacock Pavilions hotel
My work takes me all over the Middle East and Africa, but Marrakesh is my home. I bring visitors to Fadila El Gadi (by appointment only), which makes one-of-a-kind women’s and men’s clothing. Beldi Country Club is great for a casual poolside lunch. Pepe Nero opened last year in an old riad in the medina—the chef, Khalid Robazza Essafa, trained at Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy.
Owner, Ministero del Gusto gallery
My partner, Alessandra Lippini, and I opened our gallery in Mouassine in 1998; we restore vintage furniture and host art installations. Back then, the expat community was small. Galerie 127, in Guéliz, is owned by a Frenchwoman; she represents international and Moroccan photographers. Another one to watch is Topolina (134 Dar El Bacha; 212-6/5134-5795). Designer Isabelle Lallemang buys djellabas and rugs and “upcycles” them with silk, lace, or tassels to make wraps, shoes, and bags.
Founder, Dar al-Ma’mun, and owner, Fellah Hotel
I run an international center that promotes the cultural scene in town; we have lectures and performances throughout the year. A wonderful place for tea close to Djemaa el-Fna is Terrasse des Épices. The Bahia Palace is a real treasure that showcases Marrakshi-Andalusian architecture, popular in the late 19th century. In Guéliz, I go to Le Kechmara, owned by two Frenchmen, who often organize concerts. Locals gather there for lunch or cocktails.
Before You Go
Stories and sounds to get you in the mood.
Hideous Kinky: Esther Freud’s novel, inspired by her itinerant 1970’s childhood, is brought to life in the film starring Kate Winslet and Franco-Moroccan superstar Said Taghmaoui.
Caravane: British music producer Nick Wilde compiles the country’s best musicians and lays them down in all their traditional (and modern-remix) glory.
The Voices of Marrakesh: Nobel winner Elias Canetti’s 1968 book encompasses the mayhem of the medina, the storytellers of Djemaa el-Fna, and the rituals of the city’s many cultures.