Hotels in MarrakechMarrakech - Cocktails in the Kasbah
Where artisanal cocktails have replaced hashish, once-bohemian Marrakech is now all about global glamour. With a surge in real estate development, crumbling riads have given way to luxury hotels and grand boulevards, creating a Beverly Hills vibe. Add a side of French kiss, North African exoticism, and Hollywood style, and you have yourself a destination rich in culture, shopping, food, and history.
Good For: Couples and solo travelers. It’s also an adventure for families with experienced little travelers or older children.
- Arriving in Marrakech for the first time and experiencing the surprise of how much it feels like Beverly Hills.
- Spending a morning in the French Quarter, beginning with breakfast at Kechmara, followed by shopping in the area. At antique shop La Mamounia Arts Gallery, you’ll learn more about Byzantine antiques and world history from the owner than at any museum. Better yet, you can take home that traveling bar set and 14th-century gold-thread tapestry.
- Making a day and night of it at hotel landmark La Mamounia, which includes indulging in the Moroccan hammam ritual at its spa, lazing Hollywood-style at its gorgeous pools, and getting lost in the Alice-in-Moroccan-Wonderland gardens. The night scene is dress to impress, from people-watching at Bar Italien to listening to live music at Le Churchill.
- Shopping up a storm with a guide in the souk in Jemaa el Fna.
- Dancing, belly and all, at Le Comptoir Darna.
What to Know: Moroccans pride themselves on cultural and religious temperance, which is best exemplified by the city of Marrakech. Though there is a vibrant, young, and gorgeous population of locals and international expats who exuberantly enjoy life, at its core, Morocco is conservative. Dress and act accordingly in non-Westernized public places. Also, a successful trip here is about hiring. Hire a private driver and private guide for your shopping trips and to take you around the city. The souk will require a local who can help you locate the best shops to purchase your Moroccan souvenirs. It is near impossible to find places from just an address, and there are many nuances, landmarks, and history that you would otherwise miss.
Atmosphere is not the only similarity to Los Angeles. Morocco enjoys the same climate, making it a worthwhile destination year-round.
Suggested Stay: 3 Days
Riads Fit for a King
Just like the Ivy in Los Angeles is the place to see and be seen, in Morocco it’s the upscale hotels anyone who is anyone has opened, or is opening, one. Think of names like the Delano, the Taj,and the W. Earlier this year, we featured Palais Namaskar, which even has its own private jet for guests. The Four Seasons has set down roots in a prime locale steps away from the Menara Gardens, which is just a 5-minute, chauffeured ride away from the Medina. For the overall package of service, location, quality of rooms, and amenities, this is the place to stay. They’ve recreated a serene, palatial riad, fit for a king, with expansive grounds, large pools, and rooms with grand outdoor terraces. The hammam is a boutique hotel within itself, and is a necessity to decompress from the chaos of the Medina and the souk. On-site restaurants are solid, should you wish to lay low for an evening. One of the most relaxing areas is the library with a fireplace, which manages to feel like a room in a personal home.
Marrakech was once an oasis, but today, that distinction goes to Amanjena, part of the Aman resorts. Marrakech is known as the Red City for its rose-hued buildings, and Amanjena, which means peaceful paradise, has taken that inspiration in creating its own oasis 25 minutes from the Medina outside of town. Stay here for the privacy and calm. The night we were there, the Heads of State of governments that shall remain unnamed had a private party with 16 Lebanese bellydancers, but you never would have known it. Even when full, it feels like you have the resort all to yourself.
The Amanjena rooms are unrivaled among Marrakech accommodations. Each suite is an individual pavilion with spacious baths, his and her changing rooms, large bedrooms, and private courtyards. We venture to say that even for Aman, they’ve outdone themselves. Its air of privacy attracts the real hitters, royalty, and honeymooners.
To describe La Mamounia as a hotel is to diminish its importance as a landmark of political, historical, and modern-day Hollywood significance. The building itself is an architectural site, with hidden art galleries and common spaces that, to properly appreciate, almost require a docent. Luckily, the staff is more than happy to oblige with an impromptu History 101. Since 1923, La Mamounia has been the meeting place of luminaries from Winston Churchill, who their bar is named after, to the current Secretary of State, who was spotted in said bar matching the guys beer for beer. Because only at Churchill, can you get jiggy with the Fresh Prince at one table, and spy that certain actor fond of items not on the massage menu right next door.
Speaking of massage, the spa at La Mamounia takes on-the-menu items to a whole new level. The Moroccan hammam doesn’t get better than at La Mamounia, where you are bathed, lathered, exfoliated, and moisturized from head to toe. So hammam it up. Those not staying at La Mamounia can purchase a spa day pass, which gives you access to the pools and those famed gardens. Alice in Moroccan Wonderland could not have dreamed up anything this beautiful, with citrus trees and flowers that engage every one of your senses.
Le Marocain, in a newly constructed three-floor riad in the center of these gardens, is one of the best dining experiences in Marrakech. The high-brow Moroccan food with French touches is solid, but when combined with the setting, service, and people, it becomes one of those bucket-list experiences.
Funky Cold Medina
While the intel that Marrakech has become a celeb and politico hotspot has been compromised, Morocco’s cultural authenticity has not. This is still the Marrakech of your imagination, especially in the Medina, which is the old part of town. There is something sultry about getting lost in the maze of the souk, surviving the motorcycle chaos of Jemaa el Fna, and bargaining with shopkeepers whose sharp negotiation skills could give that fat-cat banker a run for his money. With a proper guide like Laetitia Trioullet, a shopping aficionado who has guided the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow though the shopping terrain, the souk can yield long-term investment as well as collectible pieces. Marrakech isn’t just a place to shop, it’s a place to buy. And there’s lots to buy so don’t blow your wad in one place. To be successful, the bargaining rule of thumb is: Don’t kiss on the mouth. In other words, you’ll get the best prices if you don’t get emotionally involved.
Near the gates of Bab Aganou, which is outside of Jemaa el Fna, is this shopping find: Twizra, for tagines and mid-priced collectibles. The high-end items are upstairs. Prices are much better than in the souk, but once again, you’ll need to bargain hard.
The essence of the Medina is Jemaa el Fna, where the snake-charmers and monkey-wielding street performers are out in full force. This is chaos at its best, so roll with it. For those who are anti-street food, this is also where you need to let loose. The food stalls offer some of the best food in the city. At Stall 25, try steaming hot harira, the traditional Moroccan soup of chickpeas and tomato broth, grilled shrimp, carrot salad, and freshly warmed pita that you can dip in a myriad of flavor-packed sauces. It doesn’t get much more authentic than this.
Bottles and Bellydancers
As for nightlife, move over bottles and models. At Le Comptoir Darna, it’s bottles and bellydancers. The scene is beautiful local Moroccans, European expats, and gorgeous Lebanese. This is modern Morocco. But don’t lose yourself in those rising hemlines, or bohemian activities. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
(Photo Credits: Four Seasons Resort Marrakech, Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Marrakech; Amanjena, Marrakech, Courtesy of Amanjena Hotel; La Mamounia, Marrakech, Courtesy of La Mamounia)