Morocco is a gateway to Africa, peppered with natural and human-made wonders. From the vastness of its dream-like deserts and imposing mountain ranges to the colourful riot of its ancient cities, there is something about Morocco to please any visitor. We also love it for the food, the shopping opportunities - plenty of treasures to take home and once-in-a-lifetime finds - and of course, for the warm hospitality. For the first step into this land, we dig deep into Sarah-Jane’s memories of one of its major cities, Marrakesh.
Pictured above: the rooftop of La Sultana, captured by Sarah-Jane.
What boutique hotels sometimes lack in scale is often made up by well, style. There's a particular brand of character a smaller business can harbour - the unique flavour, the attention to detail, the little flourishes, the authenticity. When it comes to boutique hotels, El Fenn is no exception. A great modern take on Moroccan interiors anchors the atmosphere, while its three pools and excellent concierge service really take it to the next level. Soak up the mood-enhancing visual mash-up of beautiful handmade tiles and vintage furniture while you listen to the staff's plentiful tips - all the local knowledge you'll ever need. The El Fenn boutique - a tightly edited selection of the best local designers and artisans where everything, including the wall decor, is on sale - is set within the bar and restaurant area of the hotel, ensuring prime position to stock up on local treats while sipping on a mint tea.
Picture credit: El Fenn
For a more luxurious five star experience, you can’t beat La Sultana. Enriched by opulent interiors and impeccable service, this is sun-bleached perfection, soothing scents and historic provenance in all of their majestic glory. Located in the UNESCO listed Medina World Heritage Site, an afternoon in their luxurious hammam is a must for all senses.
Picture credit: La Sultana
For style and substance, head to Riad Mena - and its bed, bath and 'Beyond': tiered terraces overlooking a garden of palm, citrus and banana trees, the Medina at its doorstep. An easy 10-minute walk to the Jemaa el-Fnaa and the Mellah's spice souqs, it is proof of owner Philomena Schurer Merckoll's globetrotting style and taste. Beautiful interiors and a natural sense of flow takes you from the garden courtyard to pool patio and to the curtain-screened loggia - and beyond - via a maze of staircases. Bohemian, fresh, elegant and unpretentious, it is luxury minus the fuss. We love it for the welcoming atmosphere that can be private or very convivial. With six rooms only, an excellent therapeutic menu (yoga, massages, Japanese callisthenics, detox menu and Tai Chi classes) and sumptuous décor, this is home away from home - you just may never want to leave.
As for the real 'Beyond', you'll find it only forty-five minutes away, in Riad Mena's country outpost, a two-acre permaculture farm at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. The perfect counter-post to its buzzy city sister, this is a nurturing experience in a wonderfully grounding location - perfect for whiling away the days.
Picture credit: Riad Mena & Beyond
A short drive from the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh is a tranquil lodge set in several hectares of cacti and centenary olive trees. There, a pared-back way of living, home-cooked food and sleeping under the stars await you. One of Sarah-Jane’s favourite places to stay, the Berber Lodge is all about refined simplicity. Nested near the village of Oumes, we love it for its deep connection to the preserved Moroccan nature and for the calm of its nine individual lodges laid out in a Berber village feel. Perfect for that digital detox you’ve been craving all year.
Picture credit: Berber Lodge
Immerse yourself in this World Heritage site at sunset, where the square comes alive with storytellers, snake charmers and acrobatics. Street vendors will sell anything from barbecued brochettes to chicken tagines, hot fried fish and snail broth from steaming carts lit by fairy lights, so get ready to try some new flavours and soak up a truly authentic atmosphere!
Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons
Situated in Marrakesh’s bustling Medina, enter through a tiny hole in the wall and you’ll find yourself in a charming garden full of olive trees. Feast in a fresh repast of vegetarian dishes while you sip on homemade lemonade and admire the calming, driftwood-inspired interiors. Finish with a strategic exit through the gift shop.
Picture credit: La Familia
Picture credit: Grand Café de La Poste
All jet-setters in the know will inevitably whisper the name of this modern Moroccan eatery. With a fresh menu and cool rooftop cocktail bar overlooking the spice market, this is a welcoming gastronomic feast sure to hit the picture-perfect spot.
Picture credit: NOMAD Marrakesh
Sitting pretty just opposite the tranquil Majorelle gardens is a concept store known for being the Moroccan answer to Colette in Paris. Whatever you can dream up, 33 Rue Majorelle probably has it: dainty jewellery, wooden furniture, vibrant textiles, modish interiors and Warhol-esque Pop Art. Made by artists and up-and-coming designers alike, expect the cool local treatment on everything from artisanal clothing to unusual homewares.
Picture credit: Majorelle 33
A cool and contemporary take on the traditional items, such as ceramics and kilms, Lrnce offers a new take on the traditional that is amazingly done: the kind of find oversized suitcases are made of. Obsessed.
Picture credit: Lrnce
No trip to Morocco is complete without a pit stop at the fashion fantasyland that is the Marrakesh souk. Set in the bustling energy of the Medina, it's all silk caftans draped in storefronts, heaping piles of soft leather Moroccan slippers and crouching artisans hammering silver into dainty jewellery. A dream for homewares, fashion, knick-knacks and food - plus it's always good fun to haggle with the locals for the perfect wicker basket.
If you are time-poor to soak it all in, be sure to at least stop at Moustapha Blaoui, described as an Alladin's cave of all the best interiors the Souk has to offer. Just down the road is the new carpet showroom by Soufiane - once you see his carpets, you will never go anywhere else. Stop by Jardins Secret, a not-all-that-secret but fun garden amid the bustle, where you can stop and recharge before you hit the shops again. Finally, La Fil d'Or is the best for traditional Baboosh slippers and cotton kaftans.
Picture credit: an artisan's tiles, captured by Sarah-Jane.
A beautifully curated selection of rugs by fellow Australian Cassandra Karinsky. Her new showroom is as breathtaking as her rugs.
Picture credit: Kulchi Rugs
Belgian designer Valérie Barkowski spent decades behind a slew of international brands before falling in love with Marrakesh and opening Dar Kawa, a traditional guesthouse in Morocco. Everything from the bedrooms to her showroom, located a few minutes away, is imbued with her strong aesthetic signature, mixing hand-embroidered details and gorgeous colourful tassels. Save room in your suitcase for this one-stop-shop for luxury bed and bath linens.
Dig deep and bargain hard at the local vintage flea market — find old silver and retro furniture, often sourced from old hotels that are being demolished. The best place to pick up Tamegroute pottery at the best price.
Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons
In the cool industrial district, this vast treasure trove has curated a collection of 20th-century European designer vintage furniture, exciting objects and Belgian bed linen.
Textile designer Randall Bachner produces all his own fabrics. In-store, watch the fabric be hand-loomed in front of you while you shop his collection of shirts, jumpsuits and harem pants.
The word magical may be often overused these days, but magical is the only way to describe a traditional hammam experience. Your trip to Marrakech is not complete until you are slathered in black - and yes, magical - olive-based soap and scrubbed until you are as soft as a baby. We particularly love the day spa at La Sultana for a truly luxurious experience - just one may not be enough.
Picture credit: La Sultana
Gallery 127 is Sarah-Jane’s pick for beautifully curated shows on Moroccan photography. Bonus points for location: the gallery is nestled in an incredible loft-like space which is worth a visit for itself.
Picture credit: Gallery 127
The hottest museum opening for 2017, be stunned by the beautiful building of KO architects while immersed in couture gowns and the history of Yves Saint Laurent's time living in Marrakech. The museum also houses a library of over 5000 books on fashion.
Picture credit: Arcspace.com
Yves Saint Laurent poured his love into these gardens where he lived with Pierre Bergé - and the cacti, bamboo bushes and palm trees will forever thank him. The garden - all 12-acres of botanical paradise - has been gifted to the city of Marrakech, as is now complete with a gift shop chock-full of decorative pillows and handmade jewellery.
Picture credit: Lonely Planet
Perfect for a day of tranquility for when you really need to hit the reset button, this is one special treat you should definitely indulge in. You’ll know it as soon as you arrive - a huge rose garden will greet you, and the scent is unmatchable and unmistakable. A dreamy retreat only 15 minutes from the Medina, this is the ideal spot for speaking the hot desert sun, swim in a tiled 50-meter pool or read a book from cover to cover to get you in full relaxing mood. Whether you choose to spend your day dipping your feet on the pool, taking a long nap under an olive tree or indulging on a beautiful fish barbecue (or maybe all three), a day here is a must to gather your thoughts and leave feeling utterly refreshed.
Picture credit: Beldi Country Club
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