Marrakech is one of my favorite cities because of the way it blends history and tradition with innovation and energy. I have visited the city many times and am always entranced by its glamour and exoticism. While I love to stay at La Mamounia, I have also found special small riads in the city and sexy villa hotels in the Palmeraie just outside the city. On a recent trip, I discovered cool new restaurants and chic shops to add to my favorites list. Among them: just-opened boutiques, which bring European flair and a modern edge to the medina; three cool clubs, including one from the Buddha Bar founder; and three casual French bistros that serve the ever-growing French expat community comfort food in hip surroundings. Here are links to my top picks and new discoveries:
Where to stay
For a central location: The legendary La Mamounia, which has long offered the best of both of Marrakech’s worlds (proximity to the medina and a parklike setting), reopened a few years ago after a much-needed renovation by designer Jacques Garcia, the man behind Paris’ famed Hôtel Costes. Garcia calls the new La Mamounia his “modern day fairytale.”
For a resort setting: This decadent palace, on four acres of Persian gardens, comes complete with courtyards, rosebushes and fountains. The French owner studied Arabic culture, and although the building is new, it has been made to convincingly appear centuries old. The twelve suites are grand and calm, with Moorish-style baths and small roof terraces.
Where to eat
Le Studio: This hip wine bar/bistro in Gueliz serves staples like mussels and escargots as well as salmon ravioli or Wok shrimp. Reserve ahead as the restaurant is small and wildly popular.
Le Loft: In the heart of Gueliz shopping and near the new Hermès building project, Le Loft feels like a slice of the Marais in Marrakech with exposed brick walls, cozy banquettes and tall tables in the back with counter stools and views to the kitchen.
Where to Shop
Topolina: The French designer behind this shop had been selling her designs at 33 Rue Majorelle but now she has opened her own universe.
Maktoub by Max & Jean: Fashions have been sold in the medina since the 12th century but never before have the walls held a “concept shop” mixing many designers’ work in a space that feels like a stylish salon.
Studio Lalla: Marrakech’s legendary personal shopper Laetitia Trouillet has opened a showroom on Rue de la Liberté where she features the full range of her bag collection as well as hosts visiting designers.
Al Matjar: Carpet sellers abound in the medina but my new favorite shop for everything from Berber rugs to intricate woven antiques is the new space that was opened by the son of the owner of the clothing shop Au Fil d’Or.
Souk Cherifa: Another favorite spot in the medina is the Souk Cherifa where a number of new boutiques have opened in the second story courtyard space just below Terrasse des Epices. Look for Baboucheshop, Sissi Morocco, Lalla, Un Dimanche au Soleil, Meriam Rawlings and Zaaz.
Djellabar: Parisian club king Claude Challe, who founded Buddha Bar, has a new hot spot in Marrakech.
Delano Sky Lounge: The rooftop bar on the top of the Delano hotel boasts one of the best views of Marrakech.
Palais Jad Mahal: Sleek SUVs line up nightly to let the beautiful people be whisked by doormen into the club of the moment.
Top Ten Musts in Marrakech
Based on my many visits to Marrakech, I have a short list of things that I highly recommend to first-time visitors
– Stay at—or at least visit—La Mamounia which has been restored and totally glammed up
– Visit Yves Saint Laurent’s Majorelle Gardens for a glimpse into how good taste can flourish in Marrakech
– Eat at least one traditional Moroccan meal, which will drag on forever and may not convert you to be a regular pigeon eater, but will give you insight into the culture. (Good places to do so: Dar Moha, Dar Yacout or Le Tobsil.)
– Take a day trip or overnight to the Atlas Mountains to see the incredible landscapes and Berber villages.
– Savor great French food and a buzzing outdoor terrace at the Grand Café de la Poste.
– Enjoy lunch by the pool at La Mamounia and revel in the garden surroundings.
– Do not miss the Moroccan ritual of a hammam treatment.
– Lounge on a rooftop at sunset to take in the view of the red city with the Atlas backdrop.
– Go out to the Palmeraie for a dinner or even a weekend to get a sense of the serenity of the palm grove.
Finds inspired by or found in Marrakech that you can shop on Taigan
Melissa Biggs Bradley is the founder of the travel website Indagare. She has visited Morocco numerous times and plans to be back twice in 2013. To read more about Marrakech, go to http://indagare.com/destinations/16/departments