TRAVEL: Most eagerly anticipated, our final destination in Morocco, the exotic Marrakech did not disappoint. Upon arrival from Essaouira, we stopped for lunch at the Grand Café de la Poste, a colonial-style restaurant with a très French bistro menu. A happening spot where Français is the prevalent language, as opposed to the Arabic and Berber conversations we had previously listened to in the High Atlas Mountains. The restaurant was buzzing with a film production crew, camera equipment, and lighting et al. covered the façade of the cafe (apparently filming John Wick 3 – Keanu where are you!). With the chatter of French around us, lunch was served, a delectable salad niçoise avec French fries and a refreshing glass of pinot grigio, I almost thought I was in the south of France. We loved this sceney little hot spot!
Onward to our hotel, we checked in at La Mamounia, situated inside the pink walls of the Medina. A national treasure and formerly a cherished destination spot for Winston Churchill after the war, hence the aptly named Churchill Bar. With its lush garden abundant in flowers, fruits, and birds, with the interior decor elaborately abundant in Moorish design, I’ve decided that La Mamounia is now one of my favourite hotels. The balcony view from our room overlooked the High Atlas Mountains, a picturesque reminder of where our trip began, and the early evening sunset was breathtaking with the soft singsong of birds juxtaposed with a call to prayer beckoning across the city.
Late November was the perfect time of the year to visit Morocco, every day, the mild temperatures simplified everything. Never too hot, never too cold, it was a joy to bask under the clear blue skies without the uncomfortable pastime of sweating profusely. With three nights remaining, we had a full schedule of cultural sites to visit and local epicurean delights to devour. Each morning we relaxed at the poolside restaurant for breakfast, staring at the mist evaporating off the heated pool, as the chilly temperatures awakened our sleepiness.
The first day with our tour guide was jam-packed, which left my head spinning, trying to remember all the incredible sights we had seen. The historic Dar El Bacha Palace, located in the Mouassine district, was recently opened to the public and is the epitome of Moorish design. The craftsmanship is exquisite, the delicate intricacies of carvings on columns and ceilings with the contrast of vibrant, colourful ceramic tile work are breathtaking. The palace visit was followed by a tour of the opulent Saadian Tombs, discovered and excavated in the early 20th century — a sepulchre of a lost dynasty of Sultans. We visited the Palais Bahia, and Dar Menebhi Palace, we wandered around outside the 11th-century Koutoubia Mosque, which is the largest in Marrakech, and strolled through Djemaa el Fnna square, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site… phew! We rested at the terrace of Cafe Arabe for lunch, with a view across the Medina, which was located across the street from Le Jardin Secret, a delightful garden restored to its historical magnificence, which we visited after lunch. The garden is undoubtedly a relaxing respite from the bustling souks.
That evening, we ventured via taxi to Dar Yacout for dinner, apparently known as a complete tourist spot, but sometimes that’s just ok. We relished the lush traditional decor in this three-story Riad, with an exotic ambience highlighted with candlelight and scattered rose petals. With discreet waiters dressed in white djellaba and red fez taking care of our every need, we perused a set menu, the offerings were plentiful, more Tagines, all delicious and served with Moroccan wine. A delightful dining experience, even if it pandered to the delights of tourists.
Our last day in Marrakech was well planned, my favourite combination: art, fashion and shopping! We began the morning with an early visit to Jardin Majorelle, the home of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Lovingly restored, the house, an art deco masterpiece painted in “Majorelle Blue” nestles within the exotic garden surrounded by cactus and rare plant species. Next to the home resides a museum dedicated to the Berber culture, along with the Yves Saint Laurent Love Gallery and the Boutique Majorelle, a gift store filled with local artisan products. A short walk away, the permanent exhibition space, Musée Yves Saint Laurent, showcasing a 40-year retrospective, which included the Mondrian dress, and “le smoking” jacket, along with rarely seen artefacts of Laurent’s work. A pure treat for me to be saturated in a dark hall of creative genius.
Adjacent to the retrospective, we perused the temporary exhibition, which featured Franco-Moroccan photographer Leila Alaoui — a humanitarian, who died in 2016 from fatal wounds during a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou. This body of work reminded me of the portrait work I have seen by Shirin Neshat: The Home of My Eyes and the exhibition Alta Moda by Mario Testino. Titled The Moroccans, the dramatic photographic series was taken between 2010-2014, while travelling on a road-trip across Morocco in a mobile studio. Leila spent time in rural villages convincing locals to pose — celebrating their professions: snake charmers, fortune tellers, performers, the young, and the old, all wearing their traditional attire. I was quite mesmerized by this exhibition: tribal, authentic, respectful, a richly visual glimpse into the Berber culture unknown to many.
After much walking and pondering at the museum, we were ravenous and headed to the hotel, Royal Mansour, for lunch in the Le Jardin. The most luxurious hotel I’ve ever visited, and really worthy of its own post, but given the length of this entire trip, simply visit here and prepare to be amazed.
Friday afternoon, it was time to shop! Finally, we were heading to the souks of Marrakech, after visiting the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul in May, I was excited to compare the two locations. One thing I know for sure, we could not have navigated the souks without our guide, the labyrinth of narrow paths is bewildering!
For the best Kaftan’s in Marrakech visit Maison du Kaftan, located deep in the souks it’s a must-visit selling every Kaftan, colour, design, size, price imaginable. While I craved a Kaftan, I departed with a long sleek black velvet coat, richly embroidered in gold thread, a style reminiscent of an Isabel Marant collection, bohemian chic. With Souks galore, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, with an array of wares in spices, rugs, leather slippers, pouffe’s and ottoman’s in multiple shades and sizes, brass lighting and lantern’s, everything handmade by artisans.
We never had time to venture to the Sahara, but our final evening was the most exquisite experience, a camel ride and dinner at Desert Agafay. One can quickly feel like a tourist, but who really cares, the sunset, the desert, the dining experience were all a dream come true. One more check on the travel bucket list, well maybe half, we still need to visit Casablanca, Rabat and Fez, so we’ll be back.
I can’t think of a better finale for our Moroccan adventure; riding off into the sunset on a camel!