Exploring the wonders of Marrakech
Full of some of the world’s most whimsical wonders, Marrakech, an oasis of beauty, culture and character in the Moroccan desert, has been a city that has long enchanted me with its promise of exhilarating adventures and chic hotels. Known as the Red City, this vastly popular place has climbed the ranks through recent years, reinventing itself into a cultural hotspot, complete with 5-star luxury, design hotels and fine dining, all surrounded by architecture that will knock your socks off.
A place I will never forget, Marrakech fulfils every Arabian fantasy. Breath in the beauty of Yves St Laurent’s aromatic gardens, gander through the glittering mosques, take a camel ride with backdrops of the Atlas Mountains, enjoy mouth-watering tagines and shop the souks.
Much like the Middle East, Spring and Autumn in Marrakech almost always guarantees sunshine and cool temperatures, whilst the summer and winter can be temperamental, with temperatures dropping through the night during the winter, and rising significantly during the day in summer. As the city is mostly outside, cooler times of year are preferable, giving you a climate with ample of time to haggle at the souks, a tradition in Morocco, and drink tea in one of the many hospitable cafes and riads.
Transforming into one of North Africa’s most sought after destinations has resulted in an influx of fabulous hotels, ranging from boutique riads to monster complexes. However, there are two that still wear the crown for being the top places to stay in the city, the first is the infamous Mandarin Oriental Marrakech. Imagine a place surrounded by majestic gardens filled with olive trees and more than 100,000 fragrant roses, sounds like heaven right? Well yes, it’s not far off to be honest! With the snow-capped Atlas Mountains forming a breath-taking backdrop, this stunning hotel celebrates rich Moroccan heritage through subtle Berber references without comprising on the utmost luxury.
A quick 20-minute drive from Djemaa el-Fna, the centre of the city, the five-star space accommodates 54 private villas and 9 suites inspired by Andalusian-Arabic influences, all scattered amongst the lush greenery, centuries-old olive trees and roses. Whilst the outside boasts subtle nature, the inside has a similarly strong sense of place, with beautiful symmetry and stunning artwork. White, cream and beige are complimented by warm mahogany and colours that match the vibrant gardens with traditional tadelakt motifs, mouth-blown vases and hand-woven wool rugs seen that are seen throughout.
Each villa at the sanctuary comes with a private pool and acres of space, providing the ultimate privacy. Each villa features elegant marble bathrooms, with specially developed products by local, paraben-free, brand Nectarome. The pool and outdoor areas are an invitation to relax and unwind either in the warmth of the sun or in a shady alcove filled with traditionally designed cushions from Marrakech homeware label Moon Garden. The same colour palate is evident throughout the suites, complimented by a retractable TV at the base of the bed, automated shutter systems, a fully stocked mini-bar and amazing views of the gardens and beyond. Additionally, all the villas have an outdoor kitchen that allows the restaurant team to come and cook on site, creating memorable experiences for in-room romantic dinners.
Those of you who are looking for the crème a la crème can check-in to the stylish Signature Villas, all designed as mini riads with private infinity pools, four-poster loungers, sofa seating, a fireplace, dining area and a fully equipped kitchen making the outdoor space as useful as the indoor. Home to orange trees, almond trees and many fragrant plants as well as 65 heated pools – the largest number of any resort in Marrakech – this stunning hotel should be high on everyone’s wish list.
The other equally sought after resort is the stunning Royal Mansour Marrakech, a hotel that, in its hay-day, often hosted guests of King Mohammed VI in its 53 private riads. Literally a palace fit for kings, the three and a half hectare estate is full of winding passageways, stunning green gardens, leafy courtyards and Moorish-Andalusian architecture.
The location is one of the keys to its success, due to its close proximity to the city centre, however, once inside the cosy confines, the hotel has the ability of making you feel like you are a millions miles away from the hustle and bustle of Djemaa el Fna. This is mostly thanks to the style and character of the hideaway – a fortress set in manicured gardens dotted with quaint lily ponds and impressive fountains. What many of your might not know however, is that the hotel has just expanded its ‘Jardin’, developing its vision of beautiful living.
Combining the spirit of a traditional Moroccan garden and contemporary inventive design with Berber soul, the new Le Jardin, created by Spanish landscaper Luis Vallejo, engulfs you from the moment you enter the driveway. The various elements of the new gardens work together beautifully, revealing the beauty not only of the planting, but also the spaces. A grid of olive trees recalls the structure of historic gardens whilst palm groves create shady zones, perfect for relaxing afternoons with a good book. Date palms, a traditional fruit in Arabia, rise above the ramparts giving way to ponds brimming with wildlife. Perfumed with the scent of orange-flower by day and jasmine by night, the new Le Jardin also has its own swimming pool and restaurant.
Days can be spent in one of the seven poolside huts, each with delightful main sitting rooms, opening onto a poolside terrace, decorate in a style that is a both contemporary yet minimal. The designer has left no stone unturned creating a space perfect for hours of relaxation by the water’s edge. Sun decks and shaded zones furnished in hues of grey, beige and burnt sienna surround the centre-piece, the 30 meter swimming pool, with the nearby restaurant offering a pop of colour with carefully placed orange chairs on the outdoor terrace. The butler service is remarkable, acting as a guardian angel throughout the stay. With the hotel connected by an ingenious system of underground tunnels, staff can access the riads swiftly and discreetly, invisibly ensuring comfort as well as privacy.
Outside of hotel life, there is so much to see and do. They say you haven’t really been to Marrakech until you’ve got lost in the souqs, a tip I definitely agree with! Djemaa el Fna, home to snake charmers and storytellers, draws the crowds for its character, charm and chaos. Here you can learn about astrology, shop the nearby souqs for local trinkets and watch the crowds whilst enjoying a mint tea in a café.
All visits to this cultural hub should entail a trip to the Jardin Majorelle, a botanical garden once owned by Yves Saint Laurent, which provides colourful and shady retreat from the manic city centre. Spend a blissful few hours drinking in the vibrant colours of the beautiful plants and the giant palms, marked as one of the many wonders of Marrakech.
Take a walk through the tangled angles and see the craftsman with their centuries-old silks, trinkets and carpets. Slippers, also known as Babouche, are popular purchases in this part of the world and the Ironwork is definitely something to be admired. In Mouassine, young designers are trailblazing contemporary clothes shops in historic foundouks, whilst at Souk Cherifa, a market within a market, you can pick up Berber-style beanies, personalised straw hats and printed purses, all tailored to the latest trends.
Hot air ballooning is another a popular pastime, and over the past 20 years, thanks to the blue skies and infrequent rain, the city has emerged as a destination for balloon trips. Taking in what is undoubtedly the best view of the Atlas Mountains doesn't come cheap, but I would definitely agree that it is money well spent.