A mixture of sensuous luxury and aesthetic simplicity, the historic Moroccan city of Marrakech attracts a fashionable crowd of winter sun seekers. The dusky, pink-walled Medina, the ‘old city’, boasts a greater density of chic boutique lodgings than possibly anywhere else in the world and the multitude of emporia will keep shopaholics busy for days. Even non-shoppers will be amazed by the colour, diversity and vibrancy surrounding the souks. In short, fabulous nightclubs, new-wave riads and radical new Moroccan food make this the coolest place to be.
Where to stay in Marrakech
Still a major player in Marrakech’s luxury league, with a series of gorgeous pavilions surrounding a vast bassin, a massive fish-filled reservoir at the centre of the resort. Amanjena is a palatial and very private retreat, and the type of guests who check in here value the peace and serenity that the location ensures. Accommodation is in eight individual ‘pavilions’ and larger, two-storey maisons. Green-tiled roofs are reflected in shallow, blue, water channels that converge on the bassin. Top-class Thai food is served beside the pool. £££££
Route de Ouarzazate, Marrakech (00 212 524 403 353; aman.com).
ANGSANA RIADS COLLECTION MOROCCO
Angsana’s six Marrakshi properties are all built around a central courtyard, with just a handful of rooms and lovely roof terraces. Five are clustered in the Medina near Bahia Palace, while the sixth is 10 minutes’ walk away in the Kasbah. You’d be hard pushed to choose a favourite: each is romantic and delightful in its own way and, best of all, guests can use the facilities of any in the collection. The all-suite 19th-century Riad Si Said stands out for its opulent decor and large pool; Riad Lydines has a sleek, more modern feel and the suite has a private rooftop hot tub; Riad Tiwaline is one of the most atmospheric with a dark-wood decked courtyard. There’s no space for full-blown facilities, but each riad has a treatment room and a hammam where Thai staff deliver exquisite massages. £££
59 Derb Lamouagni, Riad Zitoun Jdid, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 388 905; angsana.com).
Since its opening in 2001, CaravanSerai has been a hot example of mud-hut chic in the Marrakech area. Ten kilometres north of the city, it is a cluster of traditional Berber houses that have been fused together to create an ochre-toned compound with walls, arches and domes made of pisé (dried mud mixed with lime), ceilings with eucalyptus beams and original, gnarly wood doors and windows. The centrepiece is a courtyard pool framed by a massive, cotton-draped gateway. Televisions and other distractions are unavailable; instead there is a coolly elegant restaurant area leading through to a bar for laid-back lounging. Of the 17 generously sized rooms and suites, two have their own private courtyards and plunge pools. Cool, calming and comfortable, and the hammam is divine. ££
264 Ouled Ben Rahmoune, Marrakech (00 212 524 300 302; caravanserai.com).
DAR LES CIGOGNES
Named for the storks nesting on nearby roofs, the decor of this design temple is courtesy of Moroccan architect Charles Boccara and the sumptuously comfortable interiors make generous use of tadlekt, a limestone plaster. There are 11 rooms and suites and facilities include a hammam and spa, a small library and boutique but no pool. The restaurant serves local specialities such as slow-cooked, lamb tanzhiyya; and a rooftop café offers views of the snow-capped Atlas peaks. £££
108 rue de Berima Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 382 740; lescigognes.com).
Erick and Carole Kolenc are the charming owners of this small, historic riad, restored with impeccable taste and a fine eye for an artistic object. Located in the much-talked-about Mouassine district of the Medina, you can take in views of the Koutoubia mosque and the sparkling white teeth of the distant Atlas Mountains from the top-floor terrace. £££
148 Derb Snane, Mouassine, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 445 287; darmouassine.com).
With imposing candlesticks, cream drapes and crystal glasses, all is grand and comfortable in this dreamy haven with four bedrooms in the north of the medina. Dar Seven is owned by Princess Letizia Ruspoli, whose super-luxurious Residenza Napoleone III apartment is one of the ultimate places to stay in Rome. She designed the Marrakech property as a holiday home for her own family, and you can rent one or all of the four rooms when they are not in residence. The riad is decorated in tranquil whites, creams and browns, the sitting room lined with antique black-and-white prints of Turkish pashas and the courtyard doorways hung with old, lined doors. The staff of three serve breakfast and other meals either downstairs or on the roof terrace, which is fringed with agaves and banana trees. They will also book restaurants and visits to nearby hammams or organise in-house treatments. £££
Sidi Benslimane, Derb Ibn Moussa, Marrakech (00 39 347 7337098; darseven.com).
This English-owned house, if not the most luxurious in the Palmeraie – a vast, dry and dusty oasis 10 minutes’ drive from town where luxury private hotels spring from the baked earth like palm trees – is certainly one if the most tasteful. The two gorgeous suites and three rooms are set in a garden, and it has spacious reception rooms, too. ££££
Rue El Aandalib, Palmeraie, Marrakech (00 212 524 328 200; darzemora.com).
ES SAADI GARDENS AND RESORT
Set in a big park in the heart of Marrakesh, Es Saadi Gardens and Resort is secluded and exclusive. The hotel has 150 rooms and the palace 90 suites, but it is the 10 villas that really set this place apart. Each is located within its own garden, with their own swimming pools and butlers. £££
Avenue El Quadissia, Marrakesh (00 212 524 44 88 11; essaadi.com).
Extravagant and expensive beyond most people’s dreams, Ksar Char-Bagh lies beyond the walls of the Medina in the Palmeraie. The main court at the heart of the hotel is an outrageous take on Granada’s Moorish palace, the Alhambra, while the extensive gardens are designed along more Persian lines; suites are decorated with imported and local treasures. £££££
Djnan Abiaf, Palmeraie, Marrakech (00 212 524 329 244; ksarcharbagh.com).
LA MAISON ARABE
A restored, lavishly furnished old house with 26 rooms and suites around two leafy courtyards. La Maison Arabe has two swimming pools, three restaurants, a piano bar and a Moroccan cookery school on its premises. £££
1 Derb Assehbe, Bab Doukkala, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 387 010; lamaisonarabe.com).
Formerly the palace of the Crown Prince of Morocco, the hotel, in a prime site in the south-west corner of the Medina, was a favourite haunt of Sir Winston Churchill.
Avenue Bab Jdid, Marrakech (00 212 524 388 600; mamounia.com).
Designer Pierre Balmain’s former country property a few miles out of town now has rooms for rent. The garden supplies most of the vegetables for Marrakech’s finest restaurant, Dar Moha. Rural tranquillity and a down-home atmosphere are guaranteed. £
Douar Coucouc, Oasis hassan II Taseltanet, Marrakech (00 212 524 385 939; lebledmarrakech.com).
This hip all-suite riad from owner Paul Hopkins is located in the middle of the medina, a short stroll from the main square. The six en-suite bedrooms are extravagant and stylish, combining cutting-edge design with a traditional Moroccan framework. The sundrenched roof terraces are ideal for sunbathing, transforming into a lounge by night. The MK gym and spa provide entertainment, and guests can plunge into the designer pool. A highly experienced European chef creates a French/Moroccan fusion menu for the rooftop patio and a private dining room, and you can choose to dine under the stars. The six suites can be rented individually or as a whole, sleeping 12. ££££
14 Derb Sebaai, Quartier Ksour, Medina, Marrakech (01428 682262; maisonmk.com).
Located in La Palmeraie, home to grand villas and hip hotels, the Murano Oriental is the sister property to one of Paris’s most style-conscious hotels, the Murano Urban Resort. Thirty-two spacious, brick-floored bedrooms are housed in four terracotta-coloured riads, each with a sizeable swimming pool, set in lovely grounds planted with mandarin and olive trees. The architecture is distinctly Moorish, with lovely domed doors and windows, but the colour scheme is predominantly white, punctuated by an occasional vintage jazz or pop-art poster and splashes of red or black. The focal point of every room, all with high ceilings so even the smallest feel spacious, is an enormous meringue-like bed. There is a French-Moroccan restaurant in the central riad. ££££
Douar Abiad, La Palmeraie, Marrakech (00 212 524 327 000; muranoresort.com).
One of the first, and arguably the most successful of the new-wave riads, Riad 72 has just four rooms. Italian owner Giovana Cinel has created a soothing space with a minimum of fuss, and the rooftop terrace has wide-angle views over the whole of the Medina. £££
72 Arset Awsel, Bab Doukkala, Marrakech (00 212 524 387 629; riad72.com).
RIAD AL JAZIRA
The owner of Riad al Jazira, Abdelatif, has restored a number of medina houses as maisons d’hôtes and also owns the café-gallery Dar Cherifa. All make a virtue of sensitive, authentic restoration. Riad al Jazira can be rented as a whole or room-by-room. £
8 Derb Cherfa Lakabir, Mouassine, Marrakech (00 212 524 39 16 09; riad-aljazira.com).
RIAD AL MASSARAH
Real charm combines with great style at this neat budget option within walking distance of Marrakech’s Marjorelle Gardens. The riad opened in October 2006 after 18 months’ refurbishment and owners Michel Contreras and Michael Matthews (French and British respectively) have recast the house in cool, contemporary colours. Michel and Michael live on site and are very hands-on, serving breakfast, dispensing advice, mixing martinis. In keeping with the house-party atmosphere, guests eat at a long table in the dining area off the courtyard. There is a small pool, a hammam and a very comfortable sitting room with chess, solitaire and a wall of great books, plus a roof terrace for sunbathing and relaxing. The six bedrooms are decorated in cream with splashes of deep orange, reds and greens. ££
26 Derb Djid, Bab Doukkala, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 383 206; riadalmassarah.com).
RIAD EL FENN
Riad El Fenn manages to stand out on the hip riad scene; a tribute to the investment and enthusiasm of owners Howell James and Vanessa Branson (sister of Richard) and to the skills and experience of their in-house managers. Together they’ve renovated a historic property, creating 18 spacious, sorbet-coloured guest suites. Despite the grandeur of the architecture and some serious modern art on the walls, the mood is relaxed and playful, with plenty of private spaces and a rooftop terrace with views of the Atlas Mountains. The riad has a modest swimming pool, there’s also a hammam, two massage rooms, a library and a screening room for DVDs. It’s all totally fenn, which in local parlance means ‘cool’. £££
Derb Moullay Abdullah Ben Hezzian, Bab el Ksour, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 441 210; el-fenn.com).
Shop the interiors of Riad El Fenn with Maison Flaneur.
Much written about, and with good reason, this sensational maison d’hôtes pushes East-West fusion to the limit and is a real glamourpuss. Its sixt rooms and suites boast beds as works of art (one in Gothic-looking wrought iron, another a green muslin-wrapped four-poster), minimal, modern furnishings and bathrooms resembling subterranean throne chambers. Central to the three adjoining houses (which originally belonged to a wealthy merchant from Fes) is a Moorish courtyard garden gone wild. Services include visiting aromatherapists and masseurs; and even heli-skiing excursions can be arranged. Occasional snootiness and erratic service can let it down. ££££
9 Derb Mesfioui, Rahba Lakdima, Marrakech (00 212 524 440 926; riadenija.com).
Jonathan Wix, former owner of 42 The Calls in Leeds, bought this with the idea of making a home for himself, but has now opened its nine suites to the paying public. ££££
2 Derb El Farnatchi, Qa’at Ben Ahid, Rue Souk el Fassis, Qua’at Ben Ahid, Marrakech (00 212 524 384 910; riadfarnatchi.com).
Riad Fawakey’s three rooms are available to rent together, making it ideal for parties of friends or families. Owners Dawn and Francis Boys-Stones spent a year renovating the three-bedroom, 300-year-old house, adding local furniture, heirlooms and modern art, helped by Dawn’s day job as a personal shopper in the city. ££££
Azbezt 74 Derb El Cadi, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 73 187 346; noir-d-ivoire.com).
RIAD LOTUS PRIVILEGE
This fantastically glitzy hotel is down an improbably dark lane in the northern part of the medina. As with most riads, the street front is modest, which makes the courtyard seem all the more astonishing. Set against a pure white wall, two tall obelisks clad in mirrors stand sentry beside a pool in the centre of a black-and-beige marble floor. To either side are cream sofas, and a row of orange trees screens off the dining and sitting rooms. The decor is a fusion of contemporary chic and French Orient. Part of the style-conscious Lotus group, the hotel was designed by Antoine Van Doorne with his trademark edgy glamour. The extravagance continues in the five bedrooms, spacious hammam and on the bamboo-lined roof terrace. The three suites and two double bedrooms are huge and are decorated in strong colours. All have Bang & Olufsen sound systems and DVD-players. The bathrooms have plenty of marble and mirrors. ££££
22 Fhal Zefriti, Quartier Ksour, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 431 537; riadslotus.com).
This astonishing and little-known riad is the property of French diplomat Thierry Martin de Beauce. It boasts a huge central garden of 1,000 square metres, possibly the biggest in the Medina, and walls hung with Picassos, Dufys and Mirós. £££
64 Derb Moulay Abdelkader, Derb Dabachi, Marrakech (00 212 524 441 884).
RIAD NOIR D’IVOIRE
This sumptuous riad, which opened in December 2006 in the north-west of the medina, is only five minutes’ walk along Bab Doukkala from the food market. Access to the courtyard is through tall, cream-coloured archways; the courtyard itself is dominated by an enormous wrought-iron chandelier and by a pool fringed with banana trees. To the sides are seating and dining areas decorated with beautifully-lit objets. Co-owner and manager Jill Fechtmann is an interior designer and it shows. Her attention to detail extends to lending guests mobile phones so that if they get lost in the souk they can be guided back. As well as a shop, other facilities include a hammam, a roof terrace and a European-style salon with a library. Jazz is played most evenings on the grand piano. £££
31 Derb Jdid, Bab Doukkala, Marrakech (00 212 524 380 975; noir-d-ivoire.com).
Understated and very elegant, this is a gem of a place with only five rooms. Owner-manager Elsa Bauza comes from Mallorca (by way of Paris) and has introduced a subtly Mediterranean mood. Light is important to her, so she has created balconies and added small windows. There’s a play of textures, too: some walls are simply whitewashed, others coated with a rich, red-brown earthen plaster. The facilities are simple but very restful: a cream-and-brown sitting room with lots of books and no television set; an L-shaped pool in the tranquil courtyard; a leafy roof terrace with lovely views where breakfasts of Moroccan crêpes and fresh orange juice are served. The peace here is palpable, yet you’re only four minutes’ walk from the bustle of Marrakech’s great Jemaa el-Fna square. £
41 Derb Boutouil, Kennaria, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 665 367 936; riadup.com).
RIYAD EL CADI
A few minutes’ walk from the Medina’s central square, Riyad El Cadi is made up of no less than eight interconnected houses and offers a total of 14 supremely comfortable suites and bedrooms plus various salons, corridors and landings that serve as gallery spaces for the fine collection of Islamic and ethnic art and artefacts. Despite the trappings of antiquity, the overall feel is uncluttered and contemporary. ££
87 Derb Moulay Abdelkader, Dabachi, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 378 655; riyadelcadi.com).
The two Dutch owners of the Ryad Dyor, a converted guesthouse deep in the Marrakech medina, are no newcomers to the business of creating chic properties. Based in Amsterdam, interior and fashion-designer pairing Yvonna Hulst and Alberto Cortes have already transformed eight luxury villas in Ibiza. The Dyor, formerly a pair of family-owned townhouses, has six suites, one double bedroom, a mosaic-tiled courtyard, plunge pool and a roof terrace overlooking the Koutoubia Mosque and the city’s fudge-coloured brick rooftops (plus, on a clear day, the Atlas Mountains). Contemporary furniture and ceramics include pieces from Bali, Italy and North Africa. The bathrooms are finished in tadlekt and stocked with huge, hammam-style towels, and jewelled Moroccan slippers. £££££
1 Derb Driba, Jdida Sidi Ben Slimane, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 375 980; ryaddyor.com).
OUTSIDE THE CITY
A converted hilltop fort, about 20 minutes’ drive from Marrakech, with views over olive groves to the Atlas Mountains, Kasbah Agafay offers yoga lessons, camel rides and a wide range of activities. The highly regarded cookery school holds classes in a specially constructed, open-air building in the herb-and-vegetable garden, while the Dar Ouarda restaurant serves traditional Moroccan cuisine. There are 20 individually decorated bedrooms, including 11 suites, four of which are tented rooms in the gardens. Facilities include a heated swimming pool, spa and hammam, mountain bikes and tennis courts. £££££
Route de Guemessa 20km, Marrakech, (00 212 24 368600; fivestaralliance.com).
Before Richard Branson bought Kasbah Tamadot at his mother Eve’s suggestion, it was owned by an American antiques dealer who liked to entertain in style and seclusion. The kasbah’s mix of carved Indian doors, Indonesian statues, elaborate mosaics, and ornate silver chairs and sofas is as impressive as the location in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains – about an hour’s drive from Marrakech. You’ll find a gorgeous infinity-edged pool and a wing of bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool, reflecting pool and ‘studio’ (now a three-bedroom mini-kasbah in the garden). Staff are from the local Berber village and are unfailingly friendly and enthusiastic. After the bedrooms, the restaurant decor may seem strangely denuded, but the cuisine is as rich as you would expect from the land of the tagine. Activities include ballooning and riding. £££££
Asni, Marocco (00 212 524 368 200; kasbahtamadot.virgin.com).
A rural retreat in the Berber village of Tagadert, 15 miles out of Marrakech, Tigmi is a 30-minute drive from the city. This project – like CaravanSerai – is the creation of Chris Lawrence and his Arabic-speaking son Max. Design-wise, rustic minimalism is the order of the day. Ambience-wise, Tigmi is a heavenly hideaway. £££
Douar Tagadert el Kadi, km 24 Route d’Amizmiz, Marrakech (00 212 524 484 020; tigmi.com).
Where to eat out in Marrakech
Contemporary all-white, outdoor space in the grounds of the Palais Rhoul hotel. European dishes with a Moroccan flavour are a specialiity; particularly good is the cold mint and courgette soup.
(00 212 524 328 584; palais-rhoul.com).
Local people tend to eat Moroccan food at home and look for something more exotic when they go out, but they make an exception for Al Fassia. One reason might be that it is one of the few Moroccan restaurants in town that doesn’t tie you to a waist-expanding set menu. The dining room is elegantly done up in rich tones, set off by crisp white cloths. Book one of the tables with a cushion-strewn banquette for a more relaxed meal. As for the food: the pigeon bstilla (pie) is about as good as it can be, the pastry light, the meat moist, while mechoui, the roast leg of lamb, is a speciality that locals order in advance. And if you have space, try the unique, almond-flavoured bstilla of milk.
55 Boulevard Zerktouni, Guéliz, Marrakech (00 212 524 434 060; alfassia.com).
This restaurant/bar/lounge in new-new Marrakech (as opposed to the 1930s, French-built Ville Nouvelle), some three miles from the old city walls, occupies a big house, and without a crowd it can feel empty. Come later in the evenings, especially at the weekend, and you’ll find a party. ‘Asia Meets North Africa’ is Bô-Zin’s theme, an elaborate form of opulent minimalism. Drinks include everything from a range of French Champagnes to a good cocktail list; the food is as mixed as the décor: a fusion of French, Moroccan, Thai and Japanese influences that produces some surprisingly adventurous dishes (shark tagine with apricot and courgette), as well as others one might assume are not high on the fashion list, a roast rabbit among them. But food here is merely part of the experience for it comes with music loud enough to dance to.
Douar Lahna, Route de l’Ourika 3.5km, Marrakech (00 212 524 388 012; bo-zin.com).
The first proper café in the sinuous alleys of the Medina, Café Arabe fills most of an old traditional-style house, with seating beneath orange trees in the courtyard and in a couple of colourful adjacent salons. It serves Italian food (the café’s owners are from Rome) and a lengthy menu of traditional, Moroccan and fruit teas, plus juices, a buffet of salads and pastas, and a selection of own-made quiches, tarts and pastries.
184 rue Mouassine, Marrakech (00 212 524 42 97 28; cafearabe.com).
In a city of cultural combinations, it should come as no surprise to find Moroccans eating pizza in the Ville Nouvelle. On a quiet street facing what was the central market, this simple pizzeria is one of the most popular tables in town. It has survived by serving reliably good food and keeping its prices down. The room takes inspiration from the Alps rather than the Atlas. The food comes from either side of the Alps: thin-crust pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired oven; steaks and a couple of French classics are there for variety. The waiters manage that French trick of being both brisk and friendly. The only problem is Catanzaro’s popularity: everyone wants to eat here so you need to book ahead or be prepared to queue. Once seated, you will find tables so close together that if conversation dries up on yours, you can listen in on your neighbours and catch up on international gossip.
42 rue Tarik Ibn Ziad, Gueliz, Marrakech (00 212 524 433 731).
The humble Chez Chegrouni is everybody’s favourite cheap restaurant in the Medina. It looks like a garage space with a small terrace out front but it is clean, well run and popular with both locals and tourists. Choose from soups, salads, grilled meats, couscous and tagines on the menu (in English) and scribble your order on one of the paper napkins in the table-glasses; hand it to a waiter and it will come back as your bill at the end of the meal.
Jemaa el-Fna (00 212 524 65 47 4615).
The Pourcel twins won three Michelin stars in their native Montpellier, but their first opening in Marrakech was a less than glorious affair. Crystal sees them back on track. Attached to the Ibiza-branded Pacha nightclub, the room is grand and bright with touches of modern Deco. The menu the brothers have created (they don’t actually cook at Crystal, but have installed one of their Montpellier-trained chefs) is Mediterranean, predominantly Italian, and offers some of the most inventive cooking in town, with dishes such as pasta with snails, polenta with dried fruit, and ravioli with prawns and spinach. Although expensive for Morocco, prices are reasonable for cooking of this quality.
Pacha Nightclub, Boulevard Mohammed VI, Marrakech (00 212 524 388 400; pachamarrakech.com).
The former home of designer Pierre Balmain now plays host to what is very possibly Marrakech’s finest restaurant, the 19th-century riad setting only enhances the experience, especially if you are lucky enough to nab a table in the walled garden. Book well ahead for Friday and Saturday nights.
81 rue Dar el Bacha, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 386 400; darmoha.ma).
The food is similar in quality and quantity to that at Le Tobsil (see below), but here the restaurant’s reputation rests as much on its looks as its tastes. The building is a madcap mansion with flowering columns, candy striping, fireplaces in the bathrooms and a yellow crenellated rooftop terrace on which drinks are served prior to dining.
79 rue Sidi Ahmed Soussi, Bab Doukkala, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 38 29 29, daryacout.com).
GRAND CAFE DE LA POSTE
The decor at the 1920s Grand Café de la Poste – wooden blinds, potted palms, wicker chairs and acres of white linen – shrieks colonial Morocco. So, too, do parts of the menu. The surprise is that the food, a collaboration between a French and a Moroccan chef, is very good. How about a dozen Oualidia oysters washed down with a glass of chilled white? Duck breast with baby potatoes? Lunch tends to be a lighter affair: a fabulous local goat’s-cheese salad, croque monsieur, or grilled sardines. But the food is only part of the reason to go: head here for lunch, especially at weekends, and you’ll find the covered terrace packed with locals and expats. In the early evening, it’s popular for an aperitif; and later, depending on what festival is on, you might find Hollywood stars or Brit artists in the dining room.
Corner of Boulevard el-Mansour Eddahbi and Avenue Imam Malik, Marrakech (00 212 524 433 038; grandcafedelaposte.com).
LA GRANDE TABLET MAROCAINE
Traditional Moroccan food is given a Michelin-starred upgrade at the Royal Mansour. Head chef Yannick Alléno (who has a run of stellar hotel restaurants, including the Cheval Blanc in Courchevel and One&Only The Palm, Dubai) has succeeded in fusing sticky aromatic pigeon pastillas with white-gloved silver service. The room is beautiful, an intricate arcade of carved archways, lattice and lanterns. A table-full of small plates and delicate salads is followed by spicy lamb couscous, blue lobster or spectacularly fresh sea bream with truffles gathered from the Atlas mountains. And the kitchen is startlingly accommodating: many dishes can be rendered vegan, in case you want your diet to be as cleansing as your hammam.
Royal Mansour, Rue Abou Abbas El Sebti (00 212 5 29 80 80 80; royalmansour.com)
Le Comptoir is a legend in Marrakech, but not necessarily for the food. The Franco-Moroccan dishes are served with some panache and rarely fail, but the atmosphere and the spectacle are much more memorable. It’s a mix of restaurant, lounge and boutique, in a large Art Deco villa. Head straight to the upstairs bar for a pre-dinner drink and you’ll understand what the fuss is about and why this place has a reputation. Downstairs, the large, plush-red dining room is more stageset than restaurant. The menu is a mix of French, Moroccan and Asian influences, so there is a couscous and a magret de canard but also beef with ginger, soya and sesame. Minds tend to wander from the food to the floor around 9.30pm, when lithe belly dancers descend the big staircase to cavort around the tables.
Avenue Echouhada, Hivernage, Marrakech (00 212 524 437 702; comptoirdarna.com).
This is one of the chicest of the city’s new-style restaurants, with a dark, moody decor that invites you to lounge on cushions pondering the relative merits of a croquant de chocolat noir, coulis de fraises or glaces de pistache. Le Fondouk applies cutting-edge European interior design to a fine old riad. The food is Moroccan with excursions into French and Italian cuisine. Book ahead at weekends.
55 Souk Hal Fassi, Kat Bennahïd, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 378 190; foundouk.com).
Uber-glam restaurant beside the gardens at La Mamounia, where sumptuous 14-course feasts (from date-stuffed quail to pungent orange salad) are served. Sit on the terrace, under the stars.
Avenue Bab Jdid s/n, Marrakech (00 212 524 388 600; mamounia.com).
LES TERRASSES DE L’ALHAMBRA
Outstanding views come as standard at Les Terrasses de l’Alhambra, which is on the edge of Jemaa el-Fna, at the heart of the Medina. It’s a smart, French-run operation with coffee, tea and ice cream served on the ground floor and dining on the first-floor terrace from a menu based around salads, pizzas and pasta accompanied by freshly squeezed juices. If the heat is too intense (and it often is) there is the option of the air-conditioned interior. LE TOBSIL 22 Derb Abdellah Ben Hessaien, Bab Ksour, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 444 052). In typical Marrakech fashion, the food at Le Tobsil just keeps on coming, course after course after course. But far from being a test of endurance, the experience is more like unwrapping presents at Christmas: you can’t wait to see what’s next. Aperitifs are followed by a swarm of small vegetarian meze dishes; then comes a flaky pastilla, followed by a tagine and a couscous dish; finally there is fruit and tea/coffee accompanied by cakes or pastries. The setting is equally rich, a gorgeous old house deep in the Medina where guests are seated on two levels around a courtyard and entertained by gnawa musicians playing a trance-inducing Moroccan form of blues.
Jemaa el-Fna, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 42 75 70).
The interiors of Nomad are definitely more Scandi-chic than Moorish riad. And the food is some of the most inventive in town, with beef belly confit basted with spiced tea, and apple and beetroot clafoutis with carob ice cream. It also has a terrific bartender, who will mix you a stiff mojito as you kick back on the cushions on the terrace and watch the sun setting over the city rooftops. Accessed through the rambling Medina maze, find the location on Google Maps before you start, otherwise you’ll be wandering for hours.
Derb Aarjan, Marrakech Médina (00 212 5 24 38 16 09; nomadmarrakech.com).
TERRACE DES EPICES
Kamal Laftimi is a smart young Moroccan who started out with a small riad, Tlaata wa Sitteen. His Café des Epices in the heart of the souks is now an obligatory stop for anyone in need of a light lunch and the Terrace repeats the formula with laidback seating in open-sided booths, cool music and big views. This time he has added a good all-day Franco-Moroccan dining menu. Specialties include salads and grilled meat and fish, and there is always a range of fresh juices – orange, of course, all year round, and whatever else is in season. Young expats not normally seen on this side of town can be found lounging on the banquettes, while an increasing number of foreigners in search of a quiet moment in the souk are making their way up the stairs to this rooftop hideaway.
15 Souk Cherifia, Sidi Abdelaziz, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 2437 5904; terrassedesepices.com).
Marrakech does fashion-dining very well, perhaps nowhere better than at Villa Rosa. The villa has been done up fin-de-siècle boudoir-style: gilt mirrors, dark walls, button-back chairs in red or black velvet. It is the sort of place you want to see at night (the reason, perhaps, why it doesn’t open during the day), sitting in the shadows in the courtyard, or under the candles in the library and bar or, best of all, at one of the tables overlooking the courtyard. Ambience is provided by a house DJ and the attentive staff. The food, as everyone except the waiters will tell you, is a copy of the menu at Café Costes in Paris, which means it is fusion – North Africa mixed with France and the Far East. The surprise is that the food is very good: beautifully prepared and well presented.
64 Avenue Hassan II, Gueliz, Marrakech (00 212 24 4496 3564; villa-rosa.blogspot.com).
The best nightlife in Marrakech
Café Arabe is a firm favourite among the foreign contingent, and the rooftop terrace practically overlooks the nearby mosque (the call to prayer sounds particularly fine at sundown). It’s the perfect spot for an alfresco drink, and also serves dinner.
184 rue el Mouassine, Marrakech (00 212 524 429 728; cafearabe.com).
For post-dinner drinks on a Saturday night, le tout Marrakech decamps to Le Comptoir for funky music in a gorgeous setting, resplendent with black and red tadlekt walls and a slinky grand staircase littered with pink rose petals. Well-heeled Marrakech comes out to play, with expensive drinks and a ritzy clientele. Interesting as an experience of modern Morocco at its most Westernised and fashion-conscious, it also serves dinner.
Avenue Echouhada, Hivernage, Marrakech (00 212 524 437 702; comptoirdarna.com).
LE PALACE JAD MAHAL
This is a complex of bar, restaurant and dance space beside the roundabout just over the way from the Mamounia. Take in the outrageous folie de grandeur of this contemporary orientalist fantasy.
Avenue Haroun Errachid, Hivernage, Marrakech (00 212 524 436 984, palaisjadmahal.net).
Sister to the iconic Ibiza club, Pacha Marrakech has a club, two restaurants (including Crystal, which features in, a pool and a bar in the sprawling complex.
Avenue Mohamed VI, Marrakech (00 212 524 388 400; pachamarrakech.com).
What to see in Marrakech
HISTORICAL SITES AND MONUMENTS
ALI BEN YOUSSEF MEDERSA
Visit the Ali Ben Youseef Medersa for its spectacular interiors, so striking that it upstaged Kate Winslet in the scenes they shared in the film Hideous Kinky. The 16th-century Koran school, where up to 900 students would have lived and studied, was lovingly restored and buffed up to perfection in the late 1990s. The serene courtyard has a central water-filled basin and façades enhanced with tiling, stucco and carved cedar.
Place Ben Youssef, Marrakech (medersa-ben-youssef.com).
A 19th-century palace with lush decoration so highly worked that it verges on kitsch. Open daily.
Riad Zitoun el Jedid, Marrakech (palais-bahia.com).
The centrepiece of Marrakech is the square tower of the Koutoubia minaret, attached to the Koutoubia Mosque, built in the early 1100s. It’s not particularly high but it towers over the Medina thanks to a long-standing planning ordinance that forbids any other building in the old city to rise above the height of a palm tree. The mosque is closed to non-muslims and women.
Avenue Mohammed V, Marrakech.
MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES
DAR CHERIFA 8
Set in a restored townhouse among the souks, Dar Cherifa is a literary café and gallery space. Owner Abdelatif Ben Abdellah – who also owns Riad al Jazira – is a leading light in the rejuvenation of the old city. Here he has taken great pains to expose carved beams and stucco work while leaving walls and floors bare and free of distraction, all the better to enhance the hanging of regular exhibitions by resident local and foreign artists. The venue also hosts occasional performances by gnawa and Sufi musicians and incorporates a small library. Anybody is free to drop by, and tea and coffee are served.
Derb Charfa Lakbir Mouassine, off Rue Mouassine, Marrakech (00 212 44 42 64 63; dar-cherifa.com).
MUSEE DE MARRAKECH
At the heart of the Medina, the Musée de Marrakech is a conversion of an opulent, early 20th-century house formerly belonging to a local grandee. Exhibits rotate but concentrate on Moroccan and/or Islamic arts and crafts such as court ceramics and tribal textiles. The star attraction is the building itself, particularly the polychromic-tiled central court. There’s a pleasant courtyard café and a very good bookshop. Crucially, the museum is one of the very few air-conditioned buildings in the old city – worth the price of admission alone during the hot summer months. Open daily.
Place Ben Youssef, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 441 893; museedemarrakech.ma).
SQUARES AND GARDENS
Jemaa el-Fna, the main open space in Marrakech, is as old as the city itself. It is thronged day and night with a carnival of local life, including snake-charmers (a few dirhams for a photograph with a snake draped over your shoulders, and a few more to have it removed); dentists (teeth pulled on the spot); scribes (letters written to order); herbalists (cures for everything and nothing); and beggars (to whom Moroccans give generously). In the evenings, the square becomes a venue for alfresco eating and entertainment of a bizarre nature with troupes of costumed acrobats, storytellers, magicians, transvestite dancers and semi-mystical gnawa musicians attended by small knots of wild-eyed devotees giddy on the repetitive rhythms. Tourists are welcome to watch but nothing here is staged for their benefit.
Privately owned by fashion designer and long-time Marrakech resident Yves Saint Laurent, the Majorelle Garden was created in the 1930s by two generations of French artists, Louis Majorelle and his son Jacques. The former’s speciality was furniture, the latter’s Orientalism, but the enduring Majorelle legacy is a virulent shade of powder-blue that carries their name. It colours the water channels, urns and the artists’ former studio (now a museum of Islamic art), making a striking contrast with bamboo groves, cacti, great palms and pools floating with water lilies. The effect is like walking through a Gauguin painting.
Avenue Yacoub el-Mansour, Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech (00 212 524 301 852; jardinmajorelle.com).
The best things to do near Marrakech
KASBAH DU TOUBKAL
A stunning restoration of an abandoned hilltop stronghold by two English brothers and their Moroccan partner, Kasbah du Toubkal is two hours south of Marrakech on the lower slopes of Jbel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. Guests are driven from the city to the village of Imlil, then transferred by mule. A simple Berber lunch is taken on the kasbah’s upper terrace with snowy peaks looming high above. Afterwards, there is a spot of trekking before the trip back to the city, arriving by 6pm. For those reluctant to leave, the kasbah offers accommodation ranging from dormitory beds to a split-level, glass-walled suite.
Imlil, Morocco (00 212 524 485 611; kasbahdutoubkal.com).
Where to shop in Marrakech
Committed shopaholics should take a ride out to the Quartier Industriel at Sidi Ghanem. This is the city’s warehouse belt, home to several fine factory showrooms. Akkal does modern takes on classic Moroccan shapes in furniture and ceramics, but also sells linens, clothes and pick ‘n’ mix dinnerware in the most fantastic colours. Prices are half what you’d pay in Europe.
Quartier Industriel Sidi Ghanem 322, route de Safi. Marrakech (00 212 524 335 938).
Wealthy Marrakech socialites hoping to turn heads at the next soirée pay a visit to Beldi. A tiny kiosk of a boutique at the entrance to the souks, it is the display space for the work of brothers Toufik and Abdelhafid. Together they tailor seasonal men’s and women’s collections of Moroccan clothing in the most beautiful colours and fabrics, fashioned with flair and an eye to Western tastes. Beautiful handmade velvet coats lined with silk start from around Dhs1,700, men’s shirts in fine linen start from about Dhs500.
9-11 rue Mouassine, Bab Fteuh, Marrakech (00 212 524 441 076).
Florence Taranne’s Kulchi boutique, near the Medina’s Bab El Ksour gate, had its origins in her small shop in the courtyard garden of supper club Le Comptoir. Her own-label clothing is light and playful, marrying trippy colours and patterning with Moroccan cuts and embroidery. Accessories include raffia shoes from Essaouira, leather shopping bags with khamsa (hand) motifs and T-shirts by Hassan Hajjaj (as worn by staff at hip London restaurant Momo).
1 Rue Ksour, off Rue Sidi El Yamani, Bab El Ksour, Marrakech (00 212 524 437 702; kulchi.com).
MINISTRO DEL GUSTO
This gallery is owned by fashion-editor-turned-furniture-designer Alessandra Lippini and her partner, Fabrizio Bizzarri. It has become a key shopping destination in Marrakech. Go for the gorgeous wooden furniture, bas-relief panels and local objets d’art. Lippini often works by special commission from interior designers. Appointments are preferred, but there is always someone there to open the door to a casual visitor.
Derb Azouz 22, el Mouassine, Marrakech (00 212 524 426 455; ministerodelgusto.com).
It’s a lazy cliché but no description better fits Mustapha Blaoui than ‘an Aladdin’s cave’. Hidden behind blank-faced double doors, it’s a warehouse piled with floor-to-ceiling irresistibles from candlesticks and lanterns to pots and bowls and tables and chairs. There’s enough ornamentation and inspiration here to furnish a whole series of Changing Rooms. The helpful staff will happily organise shipping overseas.
142-144 Bab Doukkala, Marrakech (00 212 524 385 240, mustaphablaoui.com).
Riad Tamsna houses a gallery, as well as an emporium selling all sorts of homewares, from bed and bath products to local delicacies and pots of preserves. There is also a restaurant specialising in a Moroccan fusion of Indian, French and Lebanese cuisine.
Riad Zitoun Jdid 23, Derb Zanda Daika, Marrakech (00 212 524 385 272).
At the heart of Marrakech, filling the alleys north of the central square, are the souks, mile after constricted mile of tiny, closet-sized emporia. The sheer number of shops is overwhelming – 100 of them in 100 metres – although many seem compelled to offer exactly the same non-essential wares, particularly babouches (canary-yellow slippers, from Dhs30), jellabas (embroidered gowns, from Dhs100) and etched brass platters the size of manhole covers. Every section of the souk has its own speciality, with alleys devoted to everything from spices and ironwork to the ingredients necessary for casting magic spells. Areas worth seeking out include the Criée Berbère, a knot of dimly lit, roofed passageways that was once a slave market but is now the centre of the carpet trade, and the Kissaria, a ladder of arrow-straight, shoulder-width alleys lined with stallholders specialising in cotton, clothing, kaftans and blankets. The most photogenic is the Souk des Teinturiers, or dyers’ souk, rendered dazzling by drying sheaves of coloured wool. The shops nearby major in pottery, lanterns and assorted pieces of metalwork. Souks are generally open daily 9am-7pm and closed Friday mornings. Hotels all but push guides on clients, warning of the dangers of unaccompanied forays into the souks; but you don’t really need them. It’s almost impossible to get lost: the myriad alleys may be winding but the Medina is not that big and you only need ask a local for help to be set back on the right track. And as for guides securing cheaper prices when haggling, forget it – any savings made are more than gobbled up by their own commissions.
How to get to Marrakech
Marrakech International Airport is 5km south-west of town.
AIRLINES FROM THE UK
Atlas Blue (020 7307 5803; atlas-blue.com) easyJet (easyjet.com) Royal Air Maroc (royalairmaroc.com Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com)