The dazzling city of Marrakech

Yumi Kayayan

The story

As you cross the ramparts of Marrakech you will discover a whole new world, the ostentatious Red City. The riad is a cool, verdant haven of peace in the bustling Medina. Amid cactuses and exotic plants on the roof terrace, you catch a glimpse of the red tower of the Koutoubia and the city’s ramparts. The colours and noise of the streets create a striking contrast with the pale, hot, silent desert just a few hours’ drive away. As you wind through the maze of ochre-coloured streets, you will begin to think you’ve mastered them just as you find yourself getting lost again. Surprises lie around every corner, from kittens and scooters to walls adorned with cascading bougainvillea.

Plunge into the inviting coolness of the Souks, admire the inspiring colours and textures and unearth the most unlikely finds. You will fall in love with Marrakech craftsmanship. Berber rugs overflow in the coolness of rooms that are surprisingly large for this crowded city, and Mashrabiyas and leather bags are piled high next to their sellers. Their colours and shades reflect those of this bright city. All kinds of different scented spices are presented on open display stands in a patchwork of vibrant colours. At the end of one of the winding streets, sip a cup of hot mint tea surrounded by snake charmers and tortoise sellers. The local gastronomy is refined and spicy, but an increasing number of restaurants also serve their own dishes created with hints of European and Asian cuisine, besides the traditional tajine and couscous.

Morocco is far too full of sights to see to remain in the city. As you drive through the red countryside surrounding Marrakech, you will discover stunning oases and their Berber encampments just a few kilometres away. From here, there is a closer view of the majestic snow-capped Atlas mountains. These little havens are a blend of extreme refinement and varying degrees of untamed nature. Sit and read in the palm groves or take a siesta beneath the bougainvillea. At lunchtime, couscous is served in the shade of olive trees near the springs where frogs and goats come to drink. In the surrounding desert, you will cross the odd camel and traditional tent. It would be easy to think you were in the middle of nowhere, and yet the bustling Medina is just 30 minutes away. Time slows down in Marrakech, in both nature and the city. Arabic culture has blended with French influences to create a unique, irresistible and undeniably magical coalescence.

When to go?

The best period for discovering Marrakech is in Spring, between mid-March and May, when the roses are in flower and the sun high in the sky. Another good time for strolling through the city’s streets is in Autumn, between September and November when the temperature is mild and spring-like. It is best to avoid the summer months, when it can get as hot as 45 degrees. It is also worth remembering that a large number of restaurants are closed during the month of Ramadan.

How to get there?

There are many flights to Marrakech from all the big European cities. Marrakech-Menara airport has recently undergone major work. After arriving, the best way to travel around the Medina is on foot. To get to the modern districts outside of the city walls, such as Le Guéliz and L’Hivernage, or the Agafay desert, simply hail one of the many taxis roaming the city.

Experiences

Dinners out in the desert

Set off over the red dunes in search of a little oasis lost amid the arid expanses of Agafay. Here you’ll find an ecolodge surrounded by rich greenery, valiantly defying the drought. At sunset, dinner is served in a traditional nomadic tent, featuring products freshly picked from the gardens. Gnawa musicians, fire-eaters and acrobats take turns to entertain the guests, against a splendid backdrop of olive groves and the endless ochre landscape.

Marrakesh in a side-car

Embark upon your own bespoke private tour of Marrakech and the surrounding region in a mode of transport beamed in from another age: authentic Ural sidecars as used by the red army. Your guide for the day is a French ex-pat who will introduce you to his favourite hidden treasures, sharing his infectious passion for his adopted city.

Breakfast in the sky

As the sun creeps over the horizon, take to the skies for a special breakfast served hundreds of metres off the ground. Tuck into the feast prepared by our expert pastry chef, as the hot air balloon soars towards the Atlas Mountains and over the majestic desert in the golden light of the morning.

Our address book

Al Fassia

Traditionally Moroccan

Ask a local, and they will tell you to visit Al Fassia. The food here is traditionally Moroccan, with a delicious menu of tajines and couscous. All the dishes are excellent, but the pigeon Pastilla deserves a special mention. The staff, who are all women, fill this 20-year-old restaurant with a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

55 Boulevard Mohamed Zerktouni, Gueliz, Marrakech

Le Foundouk

Between East and West

You will need a good sense of direction to find the elegant Le Foundouk restaurant in the narrow streets of the Medina, but the setting, with its candles and rose scents, is certainly worth the detour! A “Foundouk” is a type of caravanserai, but the decor here is more contemporary and perfectly illustrates the style of the new Marrakech, combining past and present, East and West. The chef is French, and the food is high quality and refined, blending Moroccan and Mediterranean tastes and tradition and modernity.

55, Souk Hal Fes, Kaat Bennahid, Marrakech

Grand Café de la poste

A Marrakchi institution

Created in the 1920s, the Grand Café de la Poste is recognisable by its colonial style decor. Its wooden shutters, raphia seats and impressive interior are irresistibly enticing. Instead of proposing traditional local dishes, the menu is more typical of a French brasserie. The food is delicious, and is the fruit of joint work by a French and a Moroccan chef. Their duck fillet is a must.

Avenue Imam Malik, Marrakech

Nomad

Cocktails with a view

The entrance to Nomad is not easy to find, but once inside, climb the staircase to the second terrace and admire the stunning view over the roofs of the Laghzel Souk and the snow-capped Atlas mountains (between November and May). The cocktails here are particularly good, and the food served is refreshing and creative.

1 derb Arjan, Rahba Lakdima, Marrakech

Le comptoir

Oriental lounge

In the evenings and at weekends, the whole of Marrakech seems to gather in Le Comptoir to enjoy a drink in its contemporary and enticing atmosphere. This bar and restaurant is perfect for staying out late, with its black and red walls, Oriental dancers and great DJs, all washed down with an excellent cocktail or two.

Avenue Echouhada, Hivernage, Marrakech

Bô-zin

A trendy garden

Situated a few kilometres from the ramparts of the old city, this restaurant bar attracts a trendy, Franco-Moroccan clientele. Skilled DJ’s set the mood with lounge music until 11pm, when the rhythm changes and dance tunes take over. Take the opportunity to enjoy a mojito in the exotic garden.

Route de l'Ourika km 3,5, Marrakech

The Beldi country club

A magical getaway

Escape the hustle and bustle of the Medina and visit Beldi Country Club, situated just six kilometres from the city. The two long swimming pools shaded by bougainvillea are perfect for relaxing around. Alternatively, stroll through the rose gardens and olive groves or visit the restaurants, unusual shops and the excellent Spa by Beldi, which is one of the best we know of to date.

KM6 route du Barrage, BP 210, Marrakech

Mustapha Blaoui

Eclectic shopping

Antique dealer Mustapha owns a veritable Aladdin’s cave that you could spend hours in. From antique and modern handcrafted items to crockery, unusual lamps and the odd, carefully selected item of clothing, this treasure trove sells everything. You are sure to find something to take back as a souvenir or give as a present.

144 Arset Aouzal Rd, Marrakech

Majorelle Garden

A legendary walk

The picture-perfect Majorelle garden is a must-see for any first-time visitor to Marrakech. Exotic trees and plants border shaded walkways which are lulled by the sound of gentle fountains and twittering birds. The memorial of Yves Saint Laurent, who bought the garden with Pierre Bergé in 1980, adds a spiritual feel to this unmissable tribute to colour and nature.

On the corner of Rue Yakoub el Mansour and Rue Prince Moulay Abdelah