WHAT TO DO
Journeys to Marrakech should always begin in the famous Jemaa el-Fna square, which teems day and night with storytellers, jugglers, snake charmers, musicians, monkey tamers, medicine men and more. Head to the upstairs terrace of Cafe Glacier for the best view.
After a cool drink, you’ll be ready to explore the chaotic knot of alleyways that wind through the Marrakech souk district inside the pink-walled medina. You’ll be delighted by the maze of stalls selling everything from patterned Moroccan wool carpets, iron lanterns and vibrant leather babouche slippers, to glittering silk kaftans and handmade tribal silver jewellery. Don’t miss the dyers’ quarter, where bundles of fuchsia pink and turmeric yellow wool hang from the walls, and the leather souk where stalls are piled high with handcrafted leather shoes, belts and handbags.
Once you’re done shopping up a storm, find some peace and quiet in the 12-acre Jardin Majorelle, privately owned by the estate of Yves Saint Laurent. Wander through bamboo and cactus groves, past towering palms and reflection pools, and those infamous cobalt blue urns and walls, and end up at the Berber museum (the indigenous people of North Africa who make up about 60 per cent of Morocco’s population) to swoon over YSL’s stunning collection of antique costumes and jewellery.
For a history hit, visit the Saadian Tombs, dating back to the mid-1500s, where dozens of royal gravesites are crafted from Italian marble and gold gilded plasterwork. The 130-year-old Bahia Palace, a Berber mansion, will blow your mind with some of the best examples of Morocco’s artisan work, including painted, gilded, inlaid woodwork ceilings, and intricate mosaic tiles on the walls and floors.
WHERE TO EAT & STAY
Le Jardin café, set in a palm and banana tree-filled courtyard space, is the perfect place to take refuge from the madness of the souks. Order a fresh juice and fragrant lamb tagine, and watch the café’s tortoises inch their way across the gleaming green floor tiles.
If you’re brave, you might want to try the food stalls in Jemaa el-Fna square, where each night vendors cook up everything from sizzling snails, fat merguez sausages and tasty Moroccan omelettes, which you can gobble on the adjoining picnic tables.
At other other end of the spectrum is the opulent Al Fassia, where you’ll find mosaicked walls and luxurious rugs covering the floor, and delectable Moroccan fare including the specialty mechoui, or roast lamb.
You can’t really come to Morocco and not stay in a riad, a traditional opulent town house built around a central courtyard. Riad Adore is a chic, contemporary 10-room riad in a central area of the medina, close to the souks and monuments and Jemaa el-Fna. If you want to really splash out, check in at Villa des Orangers riad, where you can cool off in the sleek pool and surrounding gardens.
Just a 45-minute drive from Marrakech you’ll find the nomadic encampment of Camp Scarabeo in the Agafay Desert, where luxury tents are decorated with an old-school safari vibe, and where you can explore the gravelly mountains by foot or by camel, indulging all your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies. Alternatively, drive one hour out of the city to spend a day riding mules through the stunning ochre-coloured Atlas Mountains, and maybe even have lunch in a traditional Berber home.