Power Trip: Marrakesh

23 brief but invaluable tips for your next Moroccan jaunt

By Diane Rommel

 
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08 September 2017

This is Power Trip, a recurring series on hard-to-find but always sophisticated experiences in our favorite cities around the globe.

There's no city quite like Marrakesh, Morocco's most beguiling city, with its animated markets, graceful riads, world-class attractions and at least one hotel literally built for a king. It's the best possible entry to North Africa, especially as its neighbors deal with State Department travel warnings.

The city's summer heat is about to fade (temperature at press time: 101 degrees), and the winter rain — which, in the surrounding Atlas Mountains, supplies ski slopes with snow at elevation — hasn't set in. Go now.

HOTEL: Royal Mansour Marrakech

If the many-layered security at the hotel's entrance doesn't tip you off to the wealth hidden behind the tall exterior walls — well, everything inside it will, from the opulent mosaics in the reception area (hand-laid by 1,200 craftsmen) to the Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the rooms. Commissioned by King Mohammed VI, this is certainly the most luxurious city hotel in the country — if not on the entire continent.

Design: El Fenn, where Richard Branson's sister Vanessa offers 28 gorgeous rooms in a variety of sizes (and rates), with a glorious rooftop pool.

Chill: Riad Yamina, a peerless welcome from a proprietress known to spontaneously invite her guests to a family-style dinner.

History: La Mamounia, Churchill's choice while in town; he painted the Atlas Mountains from his balcony.

EATING: Nomad

You'll be far from the only tourist on the balcony at this three-year-old restaurant above the Place des Èpices ("Spice Square"), but don't hold Nomad's Instagrammability against it: on the plates are local standards — like a chicken tagine with spiced chicken leg alongside apricots, dates, lemon, ginger and saffron — that manage to pay tribute to local food heritage while celebrating seasonality and local producers.

Teahouse: Café de France. Order tea. You're paying, though not very much, for the view at this 100-year-old establishment directly above Jemaa el Fna, the central square.

Splurge: Azar. It's spectacular inside and the food's just as good. Our pick: the lamb tagine, with apricots, honey, and almonds. And be sure to book Thursday-Sunday to catch the house orchestra in action.

LEISURE:

Majorelle Garden: You'll need to sidestep a lot of people taking selfies of themselves with the fauna, but this is the not-to-be-missed collage of desert-loving plants and strong, tropical colors — one deserving of its storied creator, Yves Saint Laurent. (If you appreciate his fashion, be sure to see if the new museum of his life and work, scheduled for a mid-October debut, is open for business.)

Le Jardin: Given the price tag for a room, it blows us away that you can, for an afternoon, access the pool and the gorgeous surrounding garden — by the same landscaper who tends to the gardens at the Alhambra — for under $100.

The Medina: You can't miss this spectacular network of markets and vendors. Don't try to navigate; just pick a direction, try to stick with it, and see where you come out.

Chabi Chic: Let this inventive homewares store be your first stop when exploring the designers in the industrial Sidi Ghanem neighborhood. Plan on taking a taxi.

FIELD TRIPS:

Essaouira: It's an easy bus ride to this relaxed resort by the Atlantic, and an ideal destination for anyone looking to kick off a career in kite-surfing, given the reliable winds churning up waves. For lessons, try BleuKite.

Fez: With its medieval medina and newly upmarket hotel scene, Fez is Marrakech with about 30 percent of the bustle — perhaps too sedate for some, just right for others.

Ouarzazate: There's not much going on in town, but it's a suitable gateway for exploring the Sahara. Rest up before and after desert trekking at Dar Chamaa, and do request dinner by the hotel's pool.

WHAT TO READ

The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah
Shah asks whether one can really go home again — if "home" is the place of your childhood family vacations, and, possibly, your own family's new future.

Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud
The semi-autobiographical story of a child's experience in 1970s Marrakesh, when she, along with her mother and sister, left England for a more unexpected future.

Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir
Once banned in Morocco, this memoir is the story of a woman imprisoned for most of her life because of her father's political ambitions.

WHAT TO WATCH

Casablanca

OK, we know: Casablanca is not Marrakesh. They're 150 miles apart. They are not the same place. We don't think all Moroccan cities are the same. When you think, though, of classic movies not filmed in — that would be an exceptionally long list, from Star Wars, in which it doubled for Tattooine, to Game of Thrones — but set in Morocco, you can't help but think of the classic di tutti classics, Casablanca. The Moroccan experience of World War II is a fascinating one (see here for background on how King Mohamed V fought to protect his Jewish citizenry from the Vichy/Nazi government), and Casablanca shows just a small part of it: the struggle of Europeans to flee the war. It's just as good as its reputation would suggest — and worth watching again, if only with the knowledge that director Michael Curtiz packed his cast with real-life refugees, notably Madeleine LeBeau, who fled Nazi France with her husband and leads the performance of La Marseillaise. 

PACKING LIST

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Sunscreen
Dom Vetro Prime Base Zero Sunglasses
Cotton Beach Blanket
Moore & Giles Weekender Bag
Straw Fedora

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