Marrakech in Morocco was once an African trading crossroad, but it has become an exotic, buzzing city. Known as the Red City, it’s kept its ancient traditional charm while embracing all things hip and stylish whic might explain the buzz around those famous New Yorkers from Sex & the City!
What’s not to love? There’s the sun, the 1001 nights atmosphere, the shopping and the excellent exotic food of course… but also gorgeous luxurious bars, restaurants and hotels to keep you busy.
The desert climate is lovely and warm, but be warned, July and August are just too hot to move. Try Spring and autumn for the best time, and in winter, the Marrakech International Film Festival draws in the A list crowd, but that does mean rather cool nights. If you plan to party, avoid Ramadan (dates change every year).
The city is jam-packed with restaurants, from street side stalls where you can sample anything from fresh orange juice to turtle soup for a few dirhams, or chic French and Moroccan fusion restaurants.
To rub shoulders with the local chic crowd, head to Villa Rosa, one of the city’s latest hip fine dining addresses with a theatrical red velvet décor and delicious menu that won’t break the bank. It’s the perfect place for a romantic gourmet meal, and we loved the light scallops in butter with a drop of local wine. It’s so exclusive, rumour has it George Clooney had a birthday bash there.
For a gourmet rooftop meal, try Bab Firdaus, a swish riad where we found the city’s best traditional chicken Tagine. To really push the boat out, in a fairytale setting, book a table by the indoor pool at La Sultana, a legendary riad hidden in the Kasbah quarter where we highly recommend the indulgent fondant chocolate cake.
Fancy a drink?
A few years ago it was hard to get served alcohol in Marrakech but today it’s all about the partying. Grab a local ‘Casa’ beer with a view at Le Marrakchi on the Jema el Fnaa square or head out of town to the infamous Nikki Beach for a slice of St Tropez style bling. Why not nip into the Meridien N’Fis? The bar is another hotspot, where the legend says Colin Farrell racked up a $64,000 bar bill.
Stay in style….
To stay at the heart of the action, book a room in a gorgeous riad in the medina. They are all about stylish interiors and friendly service with welcoming staff who make these tiny oasis in the heart of the city feel just like home.
Out of town, at the Palmeraie there’s a variety of resorts such as the very swish Murano Resort. All about cutting edge designer style, it has all the trimmings of a luxury resort including a cool bright red pool, gourmet restaurant and funky bar complete with live DJ. Even if you don’t stay, join in the hip Sunday brunches where all Marrakech’s jet set comes out to play.
All about shopping….
Shopaholics will love spending hours “lost” in the vibrant souks. The smells, sights and sheer bustle of life is intoxicating. Fortunately for visitors, touts and hassle have all but disappeared in the last decade.
Pick up anything from leather goods to Moroccan lanterns, sparkly ‘babouche’ slippers or spices, but remember haggling is expected, and time consuming! Keep smiling and take your time. Other great souvenirs are tea glasses, silk bedspreads and giant ceramic dishes. Out of town, follow Mohamed V avenue and Rue de la Liberté for big brand names like Zara but there’s no doubt the souk is more fun!
As for sightseeing…
The soul of Marrakech is its hectic 1000 year-old medina. Its narrow streets are a real maze awash with people, animals, bikes and the occasional car. Peer past the impressive ancient wooden doors into the ‘riads’ inner courtyards, a tiny oasis of fresh air amidst the constant noise. On Jemaa el Fna square join the crowds in front of snake charmers and story tellers which keep the city’s exotic vibe real.
To get away from it all, stroll through the Menara Gardens on the edge of the city amongst olive groves and roses, and catch Marrakech’s most photographed landmark: the lake and pavilion built by Sultan Adur-Rahman. The French Majorelle Gardens are also a must, and further afield it’s worth heading to the lush green Ourika valley road which winds its way towards the Atlas Mountains leading to the seven waterfalls of Setti Fatma, one of country’s best kept secrets.