One hour after arriving in Marrakech, I wasn't quite sure what I was in for. Three passport control officers slowly typing in a planes worth of passengers passport details along with a the tiniest handwritten landing cards. A culture shock to say the the least. Say 'Au Revoir' to those nifty machines that never read your passport properly and piss you right off at Gatwick. God, I would have given anything for those machines when waiting to discover this land of colour.
But where the Moroccans lack in technology, they certainly make up for in design. A beautifully tiled airport interior with dazzling spherical ceiling lights and a laser-cut-esque golden wrap around the exterior architecture. A stunning entrance to a stunning city, where new meets old and the locals generally embrace the change, with every taxi driver boasting of their new and improved airport.
And it doesn't end there. Perhaps this reconfigured airport is the perfect encapsulation for this ever-changing landscape, where contemporary and traditional boundaries are merging and a highly engaged youth culture is bringing a new art scene to life. The support amongst these young creatives and businessmen is insane and after a small chat with just one, you'll end up with a list of places as long as your arm to visit, all just as good as the last. I've listed my favourite places to go below as well as some top tips for travellers (it's not the easiest city to work), keep on reading babin' babes!
Riad Rose Meryam
I searched long and hard for a traditional riad in the city and quite frankly I found the search tiresome until Riad Rose Meryam came along. I found that many looked too Western and bland, not quite the tiled floor and wall combination I was after - there are some Moroccan traditions that just shouldn't change after all. With its beautiful patterned ceramic walls and colourful decoration, Rose Meryam had me at hello (sometimes you have to look beyond amateur photography) and from the incredible reviews, I knew that we would be in for a real Moroccan experience.
The immediate welcome with mint tea and mama's homemade Moroccan sweets confirmed this and a delightful chat with the family siblings, Mohamed and Zineb, about places to visit probably made our trip what it was - perhaps you have them to thank for this guide instead.
Spacious rooms, dreamy bathrooms and tile envy all around, the abode is humble but amazing for the price, and you get the feeling that you're supporting real locals as opposed to property developers who don't really care. Zinebs's two year old son roams cheekily around the riad, bringing a smile to everyone's face and essentially making it feel even more of a home. We couldn't have felt any more a part of the Rose Meryam family, from the incredible breakfasts on the terrace to the afternoon play sessions with Amir, it really was a pleasure and I wholeheartedly recommend this as a place to stay on your next visit.
1 Derb Sidi M'barek, Quartier Sidi Mimoun, 40000 Marrakech, Morocco
Top Tip: If 5am wake-up calls aren't your thing, bring along some ear plugs. Marrakech citizens mainly abide by Islam so a call to prayer at sunrise is standard procedure. Nobody likes to wake up to, what sounds like, a man singing in their bedroom on their first morning, although actually I found it quite soothing by the third day!
Jardin Majorelle is a must visit for anyone with a love of fashion, colour, nature, anything within the creative realm. The gardens were one of the most inspiring and serene places I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing and we couldn't have asked for a more perfect day to hang amongst the greenery and snap portraits against the bright, bold hues of Yves Saint Laurent's Moroccan abode.
With over twelve acres of botanical goodness, the site was originally owned by expatriate French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and 1930s. He is actually the man behind Majorelle Blue, as the colour is used so extensively within the gardens. Saint Laurent was so inspired by the gardens that he brought them back to life in the 80's and spent a lot of time working and relaxing within the grounds. His work now takes pride of place in the gallery areas, accompanying an incredible Berber museum and a peaceful looking cafe. Arrive early to avoid queues and wear your best outfit for this picturesque setting - there are certainly plenty of photo opportunities.
Rue Yves Saint Laurent، Marrakesh 40090, Morocco
While some may say the souks are for shopping, this visual sensation was more of a source of Marrakech culture to me, one with an added bonus of very pretty interior items. You all know how I like to get lost and ultimately you can't enter the souks without doing so. Like a maze with no central location, you go in one end and find yourself on the other side three hours later, or just exactly where you started with no sense of direction at all. Glimmering lampshades, colourful ceramics and traditional tea sets line the medina and whistling, cat calling and grabbing is all but common, you just have to take it with jest and appreciate the cultures are vastly different. I'm not saying accept it, but ultimately you'll get tired of answering back just ten metres in.
One of the main things you'll be warned about before visiting Marrakech is the abundance of sellers just waiting to hustle you. While I appreciate the importance of staying weary, just politely decline any advances and never assume that someone isn't just being friendly. Many Moroccans are just looking to practise their English. My advice is to put aside the fret and go with the flow. Yes, you're likely to be ripped off at some point but will it be the end of the world? No. You'll only ever pay what you genuinely think something is worth and while that may be double what you find it for somewhere else, that haggling story will always stay in your heart.
One of our best experiences within the souks was being taken from stall to stall, almost certainly being hustled, resulting in a private tour of the dyers market, some humorous dressing up and some incredible storytelling. It probably cost us £30 worth of objects in the end, but we had a laugh and we'll remember it forever, especially when looking at our handcrafted overpriced wares in our abode.
Enter via Jeema el-Fnaa, Derb Chtouka, Marrakesh 40008, Morocco
Top Tip: When haggling, mark down the market traders price by 60% and if you're not sure walk away. They will ALWAYS lower the price if they are being genuine. They will not let you walk away.
David Bloch Gallery
David Bloch Gallery is like a taste of London within the new area of Marrakech. Completely different from its souvenir counterparts (and the Starbucks around the corner), this Gallery pays homage to contemporary design and the freshest artists in the land. I heard down the grapevine that they are also involved with lots of the street art commissions in the area.
Open since 2010, the gallery offers a well-rounded baseline catalog of several dozen artists, both international and Moroccan, emerging and established. Post-graffiti, Conceptual and Optical Art all feature firmly throughout the year and each visit could potentially be very, very different! Well worth a trip for some contrast to a 'standard' Moroccan trip.
Rue des Vieux Marrakechis, Marrakech, Morocco
TO EAT / CHILL:
A stand-out place to eat for me was Le Jardin. We nearly didn't make it for fear of getting lost in the souks on the way but miraculously another recommendation didn't quite take our fancy on arrival, and we decided the brave the winding roads in search of the green walls of Le Jardin. And green it certainly was. Botanical hues make up this rather special three-floored restaurant with greenery all around, complete with birds and a friendly resident tortoise. The interior was soothing and refreshing, as was the fresh juice and iced coffee served to us. Boy is the coffee good in Marrakech! The menu is fairly contemporary with a Moroccan twist, as are all of the restaurants in this small creative chain (keep readin' below).
I tucked into a fresh tuna Niçoise salad while the boy chowed down on a cheesy quiche concoction and some very salty chips (the really good kind). There was plenty of the more common Moroccan cuisine though with tagines and couscous a staple dish on the menu. Le Jardin is extremely vegetarian / pescatarian friendly, a very good pick for those that can't quite brave some of the more traditional restaurants for fear of simply having the meat picked out of their dish!
32 Souk Jeld Sidi Abdelaziz, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
Nomad is a pretty special dinner retreat in the heart of the Medina. We lucked out on a walk-in spot just before sunset but I would recommend booking ahead as it does get very busy around this time. Nestled into our very own private terrace area, we watched the hive of activity in souks below, listened to the call to prayer echoing around us and dined on another tasty meal of contemporary Moroccan grub. The traditional tagine was mourish and full of flavour while the goats cheese pastella to start was spicy, with a little bit of crunch and a whole lotta goats cheese.
Upon entry you're greeted with a magically modern tiled workspace and this fresh interior continues throughout, with a few old school additions too. Glowing lanterns sway in the warm breeze and create a magical and thoroughly more expensive atmosphere. Note that all of my restaurant recommendations are extremely well priced for the food, service and ambience on offer.
1 DERB AARJAN,RAHBA LAKDIMA، Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Café des épices
Café des épices is another sister restaurant to Nomad and Le Jardin, so we knew it would be good from the get go. I'd describe this as more of a breakfast or lunch spot, with its relaxed atmosphere and easy going interior. While there is again an amazing rooftop (it's just across he road from Nomad), I'd advise settling down in the ground floor sun and people watching the visitors to the market, the stall holders and the local regulars that seem to regularly partake in creative meetings here.
We didn't eat here but the food looked great and very reasonably priced so I'd definitely try it on a return visit. This is the spot for a freshly squeezed orange juice or delicious mint tea, the perfect accompaniment to some morning sunbathing while taking in the sights and sounds of the souks.
Derb Rahba Lakdima, Marrakech, Morocco
Le Grande Cafe de la Poste
We were recommended Le Grande Cafe de la Poste as a place to hit up when in the new town, even if just for a quick iced coffee. It's a little more of an expensive treat (still standard London prices) but the luxe decor and effortlessly cool clientele make it quite the hot spot for a lunch trip.
French influences run strong in this restaurant so don't expect a traditional meal, rather one that you might find in the bistros of Paris. The boy swears down that he had the best calamari of his life, while I enjoyed a Camembert creation, all accompanied by lashings of bread. Try this as a special date night treat or if you're celebrating, you'll be made to feel like gold.
Avenue Imam Malik, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Max & Jan
I'm not sure that shops are really destinations as such, as they're so hard to find, but Max & Jan is totally one I'd try to seek out, especially if you're nearby at Le Jardin. Nestled in the souks, this is a shop with actual selection and pricing and you just know upon entry that the curation has been carefully considered.
From contemporary ceramics, to eclectic fashion and all of the incredible homeware choice, Max & Jan showcase upcoming Moroccan designers and creators, with a focus on bringing them to international markets. Their own cruisewear range takes pride of place in the shop and quite frankly I think this is a pretty special place to make a purchase.
de, Route Sidi Abdelaziz, Marrakesh, Morocco
Norya Ayron Boutique
The Norya Ayron boutique sits within a terrace in Le Jardin (see how all these places are linked), featuring floaty designs and modern versions of traditional Moroccan dress. Think long, flowing kaftans and pretty patterned dresses. All of the designs are limited editions and therefore have the price-tag to match but are easily wearable for all the summers to come.
Designer Norya Ayron runs the exclusive boutique, so you can meet her yourself, have a chat and learn about all of the famous celebrities she has dressed while also coo-ing over her beautiful beaded clutches and sensual jewellery. Quoting the lasdy herself, 'the brand stems from a deep desire to help women of the old city ,for them to make a decent living and eventually emancipate.' Sounds like a very decent mission!
D.S.Abdelaziz, Marrakesh, Morocco
Last on my list of places to check out in Marrakech is this tiny contemporary homeware store, Chabi Chic, just below the Nomad enterprise. Many of the gorgeous ceramics in here are cheaper than you'll pay in the souks and as you can see, there's a slightly more contemporary style when it comes to the aesthetic - predominantly coming through in stripes which can never be a bad thing! There's some European flair within the designs, but still with Moroccan culture at the heart.
The brand also has spots in the industrial quarter of Marrakech and the highly acclaimed La Mamounia hotel, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled if you're in those areas.
1, Derb Arjan, Place des Epices, Marrakech