WHAT TO DO
Marrakesh is a magical place and a gateway to culture of another world. It is located west of the foothills of the Atlas Mountains in the Kingdom of Morocco. The region has been inhabited by Berber farmers since Neolithic times. Marrakesh was founded in 1062, by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, a chieftain and cousin of the Almoravid king, Yusuf ibn Tashfin. The red walls of the city, built by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122, and various buildings constructed in red sandstone during this period, have given it the nickname ‘Red City’. Its Medina Quarter (Old City) was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Inside the medina is a labyrinth of souks (market stalls) where you can buy carpets, leather goods and North African spices. You’ll understand how religion permeates the rhythms of daily life when you hear the call to prayer echo out from the mosques. Marrakesh’s sights, sounds and tastes will dazzle, frazzle and delight you.
Begin your odyssey at Jemaa el Fna. Everywhere you look in Marrakesh’s main square, you’ll discover theatrics in progress. The hoopla and halqa (street theatre) have been non stop here since the 11th century. Nowadays the sound of snake charmer pungi flutes hits full throttle by mid morning, and the show doesn’t really kick off until sunset when restaurants fire up their grills and musicians tune up their instruments. Locals delight in telling tourists that its name means ‘assembly of the dead’, which could derive from the fact that public executions were likely held here in the past. UNESCO declared Jemaa el Fna a ‘Masterpiece of World Heritage’ for bringing urban legends and oral history to life nightly, and although the storytellers who once performed here have since given way to communal games, musical performers and slapstick comedy acts, Jemaa’s nightly carnival continues to dazzle. The square’s many eclectic exhibitions are not without a darker side though – you are likely to see monkeys dressed up and led around on chains for entertainment, and some of the practices of the plaza’s snake charmers are ethically questionable to say the least. Note: while wandering around Jemaa at any time of day, stay alert to cars, motorbikes and horse drawn carriage traffic, which whizz around the perimeter of the plaza (cars are banned after 2p). Also be on guard against pickpockets, particularly after sunset. Apart from that, you will definitely enjoy the electrifying atmosphere. From the square, head to the nearby Koutoubia Mosque and Gardens. Five times a day, one voice rises above the medina as the muezzin (a man who calls Muslims to prayer) calls the faithful to prayer from the Koutoubia Mosque’s minaret. The tower is a monumental cheat sheet of Moorish ornament: scalloped keystone arches, jagged merlon crenellations and mathematically pleasing proportions; the square design is an Amazigh (Berber) trademark. This 12th century tower was the prototype for the Giralda in Seville, Spain. In the 19th century, booksellers clustered around its base – hence the name, from kutubiyyin (booksellers). The minaret’s gleaming brass spire keeps its shine year round thanks to an old Moroccan technique: each year the balls are filled with mineral rich salt from the Atlas Mountains, which keeps the spire from oxidizing. Note: the area northwest of the Koutoubia minaret was once the mosque’s prayer hall, which is believed to have collapsed during the 1755 Lisbon, Portugal earthquake, killing hundreds as it fell. Stretching out behind the Koutoubia Mosque is its lovely Gardens. This palm tree dotted area of greenery is a favorite Marrakshi spot for strolling, relaxing on park benches and generally taking a quiet break. If you need some downtime after dodging motorbikes amid the medina’s narrow alleyways, take the locals’ lead and head here for a peaceful meander. There are great views of the Koutoubia Mosque’s minaret.
Next, make your way south to the Saadian Tombs at Rue de la Kasbah. Saadian Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Ed Dahbi spared no expense on his tomb, importing Italian Carrara marble and gilding honeycomb muqarnas (decorative plasterwork) with pure gold to make the Chamber of 12 Pillars a suitably glorious mausoleum. Al Mansour died in splendor in 1603, but a few decades later, Alaouite Sultan Moulay Ismail walled up the Saadian Tombs to keep his predecessors out of sight and mind. It was the French who opened them up again in 1917. Al Mansour played favorites even in death, keeping alpha princes handy in the Chamber of 3 Niches and relegating to garden plots some 170 chancellors and members of the royal household. All tombs are overshadowed by his mother’s mausoleum in the courtyard, carved with poetic, weathered blessings and guarded by stray cats and tortoises. Close by to the tombs is Badia Palace. As Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour was paving the palace with gold, turquoise and crystal, his court jester wisecracked, ‘It’ll make a beautiful ruin.’ That jester was no fool: at the beginning of the 18th century, the place was destroyed by Sultan Moulay Ismail and the materials were carried off to the capital city of Meknes. Today only remnants remain – there are magnificent views from the ramparts and a few exhibitions. Construction began in 1578, the same year the sultan ascended to the throne. Al Mansour came to be known as ‘the golden king’ and was the longest ruling and most famous of all the Saadian dynasty rulers, as well as the last of his line. During Al Mansour’s reign, Badia was the most impressive palace in the western reaches of the Muslim world – now only the vast courtyard, with its four sunken gardens and reflecting pools, give a hint of its former majesty. Note: a CGI film on loop in a room along the ruin’s far eastern back wall shows what some areas of the palace would have looked like – historians believe it was designed in imitation of the grand Moorish palaces of Andalusia in southern Spain. The ruin’s subterranean chambers house two presentations, one a photographic history of the Kasbah and Mellah area from the 1920s to 1950s, the other an exhibit about the conditions for slaves and prisoners who would have once resided in these underground caverns. Across the courtyard, a highlight is the room housing the Koutoubia minbar (prayer pulpit). Once the minbar of the Koutoubia Mosque, its cedar wood steps with gold and silver calligraphy were the work of 12th century Cordoban artisans headed by a man named Aziz. To reach the palace entrance, head through Place des Ferblantiers and turn right along the ramparts. Not far away at Rue Riad Zitoun El Jedid is Bahia Palace. It may not be Marrakesh’s oldest palace, but Bahia is certainly one of the city’s most impressive sights. Built by Grand Vizier Si Moussa in the 1860s, it was later expanded and embellished from 1894 to 1900 by his son and successor Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed. The salons of both the petit riad and grand riad host intricate marquetry and zouak (painted wood) ceilings, but the Cour d’Honneur, or Grand Cour, with its gorgeous floor of Italian Carrara marble, is the undisputed highlight. Restored to its former glory in 2018, the Cour d’Honneur was converted into a harem by Bou Ahmed after he became Grand Vizier in 1894. Indeed, the expansion and beautification of Bahia Palace was driven by Bou Ahmed’s desire to accommodate his four wives and twenty four concubines. He died in 1900, and in 1908 the palace’s beguiling charms attracted warlord Pasha Glaoui, who claimed it as a suitable venue to entertain French guests. They, in turn, were so impressed that they booted out their host in 1912, installing the protectorate’s resident general in his place. Note: only a portion of the palace’s 150 rooms is open to the public.
Le Jardin Secret is located at 121 Rue Mouassine. The foundations of this historic riad (traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard) are more than 400 years old, and it was once owned by powerful qaid (local chief) U Bihi. Here, though, it’s not the building but the traditional Islamic garden that is so special. Fed by a restored original khettara (underground irrigation system), the gardens are set up as a living museum to demonstrate the ancient waterworks. Khettara were first introduced to Marrakesh by the Almoravids in the 11th century to distribute water to the mosques, hammams and fountains of the growing metropolis. They are unique to Morocco, and the irrigation system at Le Jardin Secret was only discovered when workers started digging out the riad to restore it. The complex is divided into two parts, one planted as an exotic garden, the other as a traditional Islamic garden with fig, date, pomegranate and olive groves. The empty riad chambers include excellent exhibits (in English, French and Arabic) on the riad’s history, the importance of water in Islamic society and the role of gardens in Marrakesh culture. High tech screens use CGI to expertly show the flow of water around the site, and there’s also a fascinating documentary on the restoration process. Found at Place Ben Youssef, the Musee de Marrakech exhibits a collection of Moroccan art forms within the decadent salons of the Mnebhi Palace. The central internal courtyard, with its cedar archways, stained glass windows, intricate painted door panels and, of course, lashings of zellige (colorful geometric mosaic tilework), is the highlight, though don’t miss the display of exquisite Fez ceramics in the main room off the courtyard, and the palace’s hammam (Turkish bath). The palace was once home to Mehdi Mnebhi, defense minister during Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz’s troubled reign (1894-1908). While Mnebhi was away receiving a medal from Queen Victoria, England conspired with France and Spain to colonize North Africa, and autocrat Pasha Glaoui stole his palace. After independence, the building was seized by the state and became Marrakesh’s first girls’ school in 1965. It was only after a painstaking restoration by the Omar Benjelloun Foundation in 1997 that the palace swung open the doors to the masses as this museum. From there, visit Maison de la Photographie at 46 Rue Souq El Fassi. When Parisian Patrick Menac’h and Marrakshi Hamid Mergani realized they were both collecting vintage Moroccan photography, they decided to open a photography museum to show their collections in context. Together they ‘repatriated’ 4500 photos, 2000 glass negatives and 80 documents dating from 1870 to 1950; select works on view here fill three floors, organized by region and theme, and include a rare, full color 1957 documentary shot in Morocco. Most works are editioned prints from original negatives, and are for sale. Note: after your visit, head up to the rooftop terrace for a pot of delicious mint tea.
A short distance away is Ali Ben Youssef Medersa. Recently reopened after a long restoration, this Koranic learning center was once the largest in North Africa and remains among the most splendid. ‘You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded’ reads the inscription over the entryway, and after almost six centuries, the blessing still works its charms on visitors. It was founded in the 14th century under the Merinids, but fully enhanced with its exuberantly ornate decoration in 1565 in the Saadian era. Next, head north to Gueliz aka the Ville Nouvelle (New City). It is full of leafy parks, cafe culture, a thriving contemporary art scene and the best bars and gourmet restaurants in town. The highlight of this area is Jardin Majorelle, located at Rue Yves Saint Laurent. Legendary French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge bought Jardin Majorelle in 1984 to preserve the vision of its original owner, French landscape painter Jacques Majorelle, and keep it open to the public. The garden, started in 1924, contains a psychedelic desert mirage of 300 plant species from five continents. At its heart lies Majorelle’s electric blue art deco studio, home to the Musee Berbere (closed on Wednesday), which showcases the rich panorama of Morocco’s indigenous inhabitants through displays of some 600 artifacts. In recent years the site has become incredibly popular and now ranks as Morocco’s most visited tourist attraction, with close to one million visitors a year. Helping to alleviate the crowds, in December 2018 the YSL Foundation expanded the gardens by opening up the section containing Villa Oasis, where Berge lived until his death in 2017. Jardin Majorelle also houses a pretty courtyard cafe, a small book and photography shop, and a chic boutique selling Majorelle blue slippers, textiles and Amazigh inspired jewelry influenced by YSL designs. Musee Yves Saint Laurent is next door to the gardens, and combined tickets can be bought for both attractions – I recommend purchasing tickets online. The captivating Musee YSL showcases finely selected collections of haute couture clothing and accessories that span 40 years of creative work by the French fashion designer. The aesthetically warped and wefted building designed by Studio KO resembles woven fabric and holds a 150 seat auditorium, research library, bookstore and a terrace cafe. The heart of the museum is the Yves Saint Laurent Hall, an entirely black exhibition space. It houses a graphic biography of YSL constructed from personal artifacts, as well as design sketches and rotating displays of his clothing and accessory collections. One of the most fascinating aspects of this part of the museum is that it sheds light on just how much YSL fashion was influenced by Moroccan culture, landscapes and aesthetics. Another highlight includes the architecture itself, observe that the building has no external windows in an effort to echo traditional riad architecture. Note: the museum is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Wednesday.
Leather working is one of Morocco’s medieval trades, and the tanneries around Bab Debbagh, ideally situated next to the river from where they draw water to pummel animal hides, have been in use for hundreds of years. The largest cooperative, Association Sidi Yacoub, is down a lane just inside the gate, on the southern side of Rue de Bab Debbagh – you’ll know you’ve reached it when the pungent smell assaults your nose. Note: beware that scams are rife around the tanneries; hassle is guaranteed. The Association Sidi Yacoub is open to visitors and free to visit, but it’s likely you’ll be accosted by a ‘guardian’ at the entrance telling you otherwise. Try to ignore them or fob them off with a small tip and insist upon entering without a ‘guide’ (which will cost you dearly). If you’re not up for this battle, go with an official guide as part of a medina tour – this is the only way to ensure you skip the hassle. The awful smell comes from the use of ammonia in the troughs that’s used to soften the leather and strip it of its animal hairs. Unlike the tanneries in Fez, you won’t see a rainbow of dyes used; here the tanneries only work the natural leather, and dyeing is done elsewhere. Surrounding the roughly hewn troughs of clay, you’ll find the leather workers’ workshops, which have been handed down from generation to generation. The best time to come is in the morning when you’ll usually be able to see tanners at work, transforming stinking animal skins that are dropped off by donkey carts into supple leather ready to be tailored into goodies for the souks in the medina. In exchange for a tip, you’ll usually also be offered to see the tanneries from above, from one of the houses near the Bab Debbagh gate. The bird’s eye view offers a completely different perspective, but be aware that many of the ‘houses’ are actually leather shops, and solicitors can be pushy. Don’t feel pressured into having to buy something if you don’t want to. Also beware the young men on foot or motorbikes who will follow you from the central souks and then may insist upon entering with you for a ridiculous fee. Because these touts are so persistent and at times aggressive, I recommend getting a taxi to the outside of Bab Debbagh and walking into the medina, as the tanneries are only just inside the gate.
Conclude your expedition of Marrakesh with a stopover at the Palmeraie (palm grove), north of the city center. Wrapped up in the legends of the city’s beginnings, this sweep of palm studded greenery is now the haunt of hotels and chichi holiday homes where celebrities take time out from the limelight. Here, you can take a ride atop a camel under the palm trees, or pay a visit to the Musee de la Palmeraie. There’s no comprehensive archive of modern Moroccan art in central Marrakesh: it’s out here, hidden in the Palmeraie, and it’s well worth traveling for. Set in a sprawling Andalusian garden of adobe houses, the Musee de la Palmeraie displays an outstanding collection of photography, painting and sculpture. Its 20th century watercolors, drawings and oil paintings, by Marrakshi artists such as Hicham Benohoud, Abderrahim Iqbi and Larbi Cherkaoui, are particularly strong and demonstrate how local artists have been inspired by Moroccan life and Islamic culture.
WHERE TO EAT
Marrakesh has several great places to eat and enjoy a drink. Start your day at Fine Mama, located near Jemaa el Fna at 89 Passage Prince Moulay Rachid. Along with traditional Moroccan dishes, such as tagines, and a fantastic breakfast and brunch spread, the kitchen serves internationally inspired vegan and vegetarian selections, including a delicious Buddha bowl composed of falafel, fresh vegetables, lentils and beetroot hummus. Pair anything with the restaurant’s selection of fresh juices. Bacha Coffee can be found at Rue Dar El Bacha. Tucked within the chambers of the Dar El Bacha Museum, this fancy salon cafe intends to bring coffee connoisseurship back to Marrakesh. The opulent rooms are a throwback to the early 20th century French protectorate era, and the extensive list of over 200 varieties of coffee is impressive. During French rule, Thami El Glaoui, the former pasha of Marrakesh, lived in this palace and sourced coffee from all over the world to give as gifts to guests. It is this tradition that the museum hopes to revive with its Bacha branded coffees and extravagant menu. Expect gilded coffee pots, raw sugar, whipped cream and cracked vanilla served by waiters in white suits and fez hats. Be sure to pair your coffee with the signature orange blossom churros with melted chocolate, it’s simply divine. For the best pastries in town, head to Patisserie Amandine at 177 Rue Mohammed El Beqal in Gueliz. This wonderful establishment sells both French and Moroccan pastries and cookies, and there’s a full drink menu if you’d like to sit and stay awhile. Order a plate of mixed Moroccan cookies, particularly the sweet briouat (fried honey soaked phyllo pastry stuffed with almond flour, orange blossom water and sugar), and pair it with a French pastry such as the religieuse a choux filled with caramel cream and topped with more caramel drizzle. Also in Gueliz at 11 Rue de la Liberte is Patisserie Al Jawda. Here, Moroccan patissier Hakima Alami can set you up with sweet and savory delicacies featuring figs, orange blossom water, desert honey and other local, seasonal ingredients. Her shop is a lovely, old fashioned affair where well heeled Gueliz residents drop by for tasty treats. Another excellent spot is Patisserie des Princes, located at 32 Rue Bab Agnaou in Jemaa el Fna. This is one of the city’s most famous patisseries – its ice cream is the best around and comes in Moroccan flavors such as date, fig and orange.
Eating in Marrakesh is an act of constant exploration. On every corner of the medina you can find street vendors stuffing msemmen flatbreads with onions and spices, cafes perched high above the street serving mint tea and rambling historic residences transformed into the city’s finest restaurants. Its cuisine developed at a crossroads of cultures. Tagines (dish which is named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked), found in nearly every Moroccan restaurant, descend from native Amazigh cooking traditions. Arabians brought spices, Spaniards brought olive oil, Jewish Moors contributed preserving techniques, and the French protectorate introduced cafes. Built on powerful ingredients like preserved lemons and smen (fermented, almost cheesy butter), dishes often feature paradoxical, sweet savory combinations, like slow cooked lamb with honey soaked prunes and crunchy fried almonds, or phyllo pastry stuffed with chicken, onions, eggs, sugar and ground almonds. For lunch, make your way to Kilim, found at Rue de la Liberte. This airy spot is the work of Kamal Laftimi, who launched the popular Nomad restaurant in the medina in 2014. It’s his first foray into Gueliz, and he brings a contemporary take on Moroccan ingredients that’s surprisingly lacking here. The menu skips from the likes of watermelon, feta and olive salad to crispy chicken sandwich with harissa (hot chili paste) mayo and fries. Vegetarian options are plentiful and inventive. The restaurant is named after a type of rug commonly found in Moroccan souks, and the dining hall uses red Berber kilim designs for its seats and cushions.
Corner Cafe is at 18 bis Kennaria. Its simple menu of tagines, couscous and kebabs will leave you unprepared for the beautifully presented dishes that emerge from the kitchen. Also noteworthy for its authentic local food is Souk Kafe, located at 11 Derb Sidi Abdelaziz. The Moroccan mezze of six cooked vegetable dishes qualifies as lunch for two – but wait until you get a whiff of the aromatic Marrakshi tanjia, with its slow cooked, perfectly falling apart beef. Several street food stalls line the corner where Rue Ibn Aicha meets Boulevard Abdelkarim Al Khattabi, but none are more famed for serving up authentic grillade than Chez Bejgueni. This is a truly local joint, and meals are great value, with free Moroccan khobz (bread), olives, harissa and freshly pulped tomatoes laced with cumin. Most diners ask for some form of mixed grill: the cotelette (lamb cutlets) and kefta (meatballs) are crowd pleasers. Next, head to Terrasse des Epices at 15 Souk Cherifia. Mediterranean ambience is guaranteed at this hip rooftop above Souk Cherifia, where beautiful people gather in booths for chilled beats and accomplished Moroccan dishes chalked up on blackboards. It’s one of the few places in this part of the medina where you can order wine or beer alongside dishes like warm goats cheese salad or fish tagine. An additional rooftop spot is Zeitoun Cafe, found at 107 Place Jemaa el Fna. This restaurant has the loveliest tiered terraces on the Jemaa. Honest Moroccan cooking and panoramic views over the square make it perfect for lingering. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the tanjia de chameau – a camel meat take on Marrakesh’s speciality dish.
My favorite place for lunch is Henna Cafe, located at 93 Arset Aouzal. Herbal teas, detox juices, henna tattoos, Darija (Moroccan Arabic) classes, good conversation… they’re all on the menu at this intimate upstairs cafe – where a local nquasha (henna artist) draws intricate designs on hands and feet, and you can munch on salads, falafel and khleer (cured lamb) sandwiches on the covered rooftop. Only organic brown henna is used at the cafe; the catalogue of designs has been donated by top henna artists from around the world and are the best you’ll find in Marrakesh. Note: all profits go to local residents in need. For some serious street food, make your way to Mechoui Alley on the east side of Souk Ableuh. Just before noon, the vendors at this row of stalls start carving up steaming sides of mechoui (slow roasted lamb). Very little English is spoken, but simply point to the best looking cut of meat – the cook will hack off falling from the bone lamb and hand it to you with fresh baked bread, cumin and salt. Choose to take away or eat in at benches behind the counter, beside the hot hole in the floor where the lamb is cooked. The most famous stall in the alley is Hadj Mustapha. Use bread as your utensil to scoop up the butter soft meat; sprinkle with cumin and salt; and then chase with olives. Note: Hadj Mustapha’s is the only stall in Mechoui Alley that has well scuffed restaurant seating, set over two floors, and it’s the only one open for evening meals. Just around the corner from the Almoravid Koubba, off Souk Chaaria, is a labyrinth of qissariat (covered markets) lined with stalls serving tagines, steaming snails and the occasional stewed sheep’s head hot off the gas burner – these are the Ben Youssef Food Stalls. The most popular food stalls in Marrakesh are the Jemaa el Fna Food Stalls. Grilled meat and tagines as far as the eye can see, plus snail soup, sheep’s brains and skewered hearts: eating amid the mayhem of the Jemaa food stalls is not to be missed. Note: follow the locals to find the stalls with the freshest produce, and be sure to seek out stall number 14 for fried fish and stall number 1 for kebabs and tagines. The whole shebang kicks off at about 4p when teams of men descend on the square hauling gas canisters by the cartload. Within an hour, 100 small restaurants are up and running with touts waving menus and urging passersby to note the cleanliness of their grills and the freshness of their meat, produce and cooking oil. Despite alarmist warnings, your stomach should be fine if you use your bread instead of rinsed utensils and stick to bottled water.
For dinner, visit La Maison Arabe at 1 Derb Assehbe. This was the first restaurant set up to cater to foreigners in the medina, in the 1940s. A long list of local wines accompanies the menu of international dishes and refined Moroccan classics. Dining is candlelit, either poolside or in the formal wood paneled salons, with a backdrop of live classical Andalusian music. The jazz bar is a wonderfully atmospheric place for an aperitif before your meal, or you can dine there with the same menu (usually without a reservation, which is recommended for the main restaurant). Wherever you choose to eat, be sure to complete your feast with amlou (argan nut butter) tiramisu – it’s heavenly. Located at 1 Derb Arjan, Nomad has become a modern classic since opening its doors a number of years ago. Spread over several floors, with multiple indoor and outdoor spaces, it offers a broad Mediterranean menu punctuated with Moroccan flavors. The sardine tart and vegetarian pastilla (pastry stuffed with goat cheese, tomato confit and seasonal vegetables) present Moroccan flavors in a new light. Dishes like grilled lamb chops and flourless orange cardamom ginger cake are a welcome treat for gluten free visitors as well. Note: reservations are absolutely necessary. Another excellent place brought to you by Kamal Laftimi (Kilim, Nomad) is Le Jardin, found at 32 Derb Sidi Abdelaziz. He transformed this 17th century riad in the medina into a contemporary, beautiful oasis where you can dine beneath a canopy of banana trees, serenaded by songbirds, as tiny tortoises inch across the floor tiles. The menu’s modern edge shines through in dishes like beef tanjia (stew) with pickles and stuffed sea bream with preserved lemon sauce. Next, head to Dar Moha at 81 Rue Dar El Bacha. Mohamed ‘Moha’ Fedal is Morocco’s foremost celebrity chef, and his restaurant in a conveniently accessible corner of the medina is the sort of establishment that locals whisper about with reverence. It’s a formal affair, but the bright blue walls, big pool and mature trees make the dining room a memorable setting for his updated local classics. The evening menu is a five course extravaganza – don’t skip the salad course, composed of 14 rotating salads made with raw and cooked seasonal ingredients.
Dar Yacout is at 79 Sidi Ahmed Soussi. This fabulous traditional restaurant is set in a gorgeously decked out riad deep in the medina. It was one of the first locations in these parts to offer a multi course gastronomic Moroccan diffa (feast), and thirty years on it has lost none of its shine. Take aperitifs on the panoramic roof terrace, then settle down for an unforgettable meal in one of the lavishly decorated salons. Located at 40 Rue Bab Taghzout is I Limoni. Escape the medina into a calm oasis in this riad turned restaurant, which serves a mixture of Italian and Moroccan food. The middle of the courtyard is full of lemon trees – a homage to the restaurant’s name and a hint to diners that they should follow the citrus on the menu to dishes like lemon zest and mint ravioli. If you want to stick to the Moroccan side of the menu, look for options such as chicken tagine with oranges and apricots. The neighborhood of Gueliz was created during the French protectorate in Morocco as a home for the international community outside of the medina. Le Petit Cornichon is a French bistro found at 27 Rue Moulay Ali in Gueliz. It seeks out the finest seasonal produce the medina has on offer to create weekly, changing a la carte and set menus. Note: the restaurant allows smoking inside, which can be unpleasant for some diners. Finally, there is Al Fassia. Located at 55 Boulevard Mohammed Zerktouni in Gueliz, this famed restaurant has been in business since 1987, and is renowned for its all female team. This stalwart of the Marrakesh dining scene is still considered one of the best. The menu champions the classics of Moroccan cuisine – start with the pastilla, a baked phyllo pie stuffed with chicken, onions slow cooked with creamy eggs, almonds and powdered sugar. Then dig into one of the more unusual tagines, like chicken with caramelized pumpkin or beef with almonds, shallots and rice. Note: reservations are essential.
End your evening in Marrakesh with a drink, or perhaps some Moroccan mint tea. The best place for a tremendous cocktail is Barometre, located at Rue Moulay Ali in Gueliz. Step into a mad professor’s underground lab where apothecary jars and brewery piping line this dimly lit bar. Forgo the classics for a house special – try the Marrakesh Market with whisky, cinnamon, orange and saffron, or a Moorish Coffee with honey, cinnamon and nutmeg. Note: the doors close at midnight, but those already inside can linger and live out fantasies of clandestine Prohibition era gatherings. The bar is closed on Sunday. If you’re in the mood for a speakeasy tea room, seek out Chichaoua at 69 Place Rahba Kedima. Note: look for the black door left slightly open, leading to an ascending tiled staircase, just west of Cafe des Epices on Rahba Kedima. That’s the entrance to this secret tea room launched by Nomad restaurant across the square. Ask for a rundown of its house blends, including the signature sweet orange and fresh spearmint, before settling in on the pink sofa.
WHERE TO STAY
Marrakesh offers a number of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is Riad L’Orangeraie, located in the heart of the medina at 61 Rue Sidi el Yamani. This lovely riad is a short walk from Jemaa el Fna and not far from Koutoubia Mosque. Individually designed rooms have traditional, colorful decor, tadelakt plaster walls and decorative wooden ceilings. All feature free WiFi and air conditioning. Breakfast and hot drinks are complimentary, and dinner is available for a fee. Other perks include a courtyard pool and a delightful rooftop terrace.
A second option is La Sultana, located at 403 Rue de La Kasbah. This sophisticated, luxury riad is adjacent to the Saadian Tombs and close to Badia Palace. Elegant rooms feature complimentary WiFi and non alcoholic minibars, plus satellite TV and iPod docks. Upgrades add private balconies, a whirlpool tub and a living room with a fireplace. Amenities include an outdoor heated pool, a sundeck and a restaurant with a seasonal rooftop terrace. There’s a pool table, a library and a cocktail lounge, as well as a spa with open air massage rooms.
Marrakesh has a fascinating history, wonderful culture and delicious cuisine. It treated me well and I look forward to returning.