Dec 07, 2017
The enchantment of the Rose City emerges with the dawn sun slowly revealing talismanic ochre-pink walls.
Rulers have come and gone over the past millennia but nothing has usurped the mesmerising sights, smells and sounds within the walled medina, where the cacophony of Moroccan life sounds under the stern gaze of the Atlas Mountains.
The gentle music of a fountain mingles with birdsong at the serene Riad Les Yeux Bleus. This small luxury hotel in Bab Doukkala sets guests up for the day with a Moroccan breakfast spread on the rooftop terrace: cold cuts, cheese, omelette, honeyed apple cake and, naturally, endless cups of all-important mint tea.
It’s a short walk through the medina’s haphazard streets – past Berber men in djellabas (hooded robes) and women in colourful caftans – to riad La Maison Arabe. In its luxurious, lantern-lit hammam, tradition demands surrendering to a no-nonsense woman wielding savon noir (a thick black soap) and being buffed, steamed and massaged to perfection – or an approximation of it.
All roads lead to Djemaa el-Fna, the central square where Berber storytellers and musicians work the crowd for loose dirham, flute-playing snake-charmers bring children’s storybooks to life, medicine men offer cures for any ill and street-food vendors specialise in everything from garlicky snails to sardine sandwiches. Graze and call it lunch then climb the steps at Café de France to the rooftop terrace overlooking the action for coffee and pastries.
Take a deep breath and plunge into the souk, the storied bazaar at the heart of the medina. It would take weeks to properly explore this eccentric jumble of alleyways and their miniscule tributaries. Getting lost is almost a given; try to remember landmarks (or leave a trail of breadcrumbs) because wi-fi will not save you here. Even the most apathetic shopper will be energised by the displays of metal and wood crafts. And the leather in jewel-like hues is a testament to the still-thriving tanneries of Marrakech and Fez.
Take a taxi to Jardin Majorelle, a one- hectare walled garden created by French painter Jacques Majorelle and restored by the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. It’s a beautiful respite from the city’s madness. And in the spirit of fashion, sophisticated shopping is just a Kelly bag’s throw away, with shops such as 33 rue Majorelle selling designer garments and homewares by local artisans.
For dinner, Moroccan specialties at the mood-lit, luxurious riad Pepe Nero include a delicate cinnamon-accented pigeon bastilla and dusky spiced lamb tagine. One is then duty-bound to set the dial to the city’s cosmopolitan delights at the opulent Le Palace (Angle Avenue Echouhada et rue Chaouki Hivernage; +212 5244 58901). Drinking cocktails and dancing under twinkling chandeliers is the perfect end to a timeless Marrakech day.
Top image: Riad Les Yeux Bleus