From the outside, Marrakech kinda looks like a city made from a mishmashed history, an abundance of coral paint and so many leftover china dishes they just started sticking them to the buildings. But the truth is: Marrakech has always been a rock and roll city; a place where hippie artists have been suckered in like flamboyant moths to a multi-coloured flame, headed here for some hazy days relaxing on the rooftops above the maze-like alleys of this mystical medina. Andy Warhol, Rita Hayworth, Yves Saint Laurent, Alfred Hitchcock, Thierry Hermés, The Beatles and those forever Rolling Stones - it’s always been a place for the jet-set to jet off too.
And nothing’s changed, baby.
We’re now semi-deep into the 21st Century and Maroc is showing no signs of turning down the music. No way, hosay. This medieval city is just getting started, lapping up its latest renaissance as the most luxe destination for the high-rollers with nowhere they need to be. And we totally get it. This African-labyrinth is the Tooth Fairy of destinations. It’s mythical, colourful, otherworldly and an absolute assault on the senses in the most epic way imaginable. You’ve got snow-capped mountains overlooking open-air spice markets, boiled-dry deserts flanked by mega music festivals, and a bunch of hotels, restaurants, bars and spas surrounded by all the magic you could wish for - endless sand dunes, bustling souks, terracotta riads and lofty minarets - all set beneath the cerulean skies.
Maroc really is the new Ibiza, and it’s time you found that out for yourself.
Stay In Luxury
There might be a smorgasbord of quaint little boutique boltholes and traditional riads for you to grab some kip in at the end of each day but, if you’re hoping to swan around somewhere that’s synonymous with unparalleled luxury, there are only three names to pop into the hat:
Mandarin Oriental: This is one of the most spectacular residences in all of Morocco. A 50-acre tranquil oasis hidden away less than 20 minutes from Djemaa el-Fna (the city’s main square). It’s terracotta buildings, orange and lemon groves, tall palm trees, glistening pools and gardens scented by 100,000 roses. Mmmmm.
La Mamounia: This place is so lavish, so magnificent and has played retreat for so many big names, it’s almost impossible to think the dust-specked souks are just confetti-throw away. It’s amazing. It’s a place where they encourage you to get lost at your leisure and rightly claim to be “a hotel for those who have all the time in the world.”
Royal Mansour: No amount of adjectives, praise or photographs could ever do this place justice. Instead, all we’ll say is it took 1,200 craftsmen more than three years to create this scene-snatching idyll and it was worth every hour because the Royal Mansour is quite literally fit for a king. It’s laid out like a medina with citrus-scented pathways winding their way from riad to riad, so you still get that authentic Moroccan experience, just in a place where you have your own rooftop plunge-pool and mosaic-tiled courtyards.
Eat Like A King
In its rawest form, Marrakech is a spectacular and disorienting mix of old world meets new age - a place you’d head to on an epiphany trip to do a little soul-searching (if it weren’t also the most amazing place to head on a tour de friends) - and you can taste that European/Middle Eastern duality in the fine dining here.
Le Grand Café de la Poste: the phrase, “there’s really nowhere else like it” is more overplayed than an Ed Sheeran song, but there really is nowhere like Le Grand Café de la Poste. Hidden down a secluded Medina alleyway, and situated in a 17th-century mansion with 1920s Art Deco styling, this place mixes a sense of French elegance and charm with some Gatsby-esque sophistication, and it does so in an African city that never stops hustling and bustling. Whether you want a late dinner or early cocktails, this place is lit.
Dar Yacout: Sod beating around the medina on this one because Dar Yacout is quite simply one of the most popular Marrakech eateries. Period. There’s just something about the combination of a theatrical interior and some truly unforgettable cooking that draws the diners in (weird, huh?). Thanks to the way the extravagant grandeur has been elegantly offset by the rustic dishes that appear from the kitchen, it’s like stepping into a fantasy palace from Arabian Nights. Oh, and the roof terrace is the perfect place to sip on a pre or post-meal drink.Bo-Zin: This restaurant goes down such a contemporary route with its take on Moroccan food, it almost does away with the traditions entirely. But don’t let that put you off because there’s something in the air here that makes the diners become dancers as the night ticks on. The pergola, the bar, the garden spaces - all of it gets entranced by the music; the singers and bands and DJs. In fact, the music is such a huge part of the Bo-Zin experience, you can pick up a CD packed-full of Bo-Zine tunes to recreate the feeling back home (which is so Ibiza).
If beaches are your thing, then Marrakech is gonna make you smile. That said, if luxury beach clubs are even more your thing, then you are gonna want to start entering all your details into whatever penny-pinching travel apps you swear by because Marrakech has proper upped its game.
Nikki Beach: While most places on the Moroccan coast are old fishing towns that only attract wanderlusty gaggles of scruffy-haired surfers and hippified backpackers, Nikki Beach has brought in their own touch of European chic and St. Tropez elegance. The food, atmosphere, music, cocktails, cabanas everything. It’s that place every Instagrammer needs to add to their Marrakech story.
Fiesta Beach: The moment you push open the doors to this outdoor paradise and discover the tropical atmosphere with your own two eyes, you can almost feel your hedonistic urges rise. From vibrant cocktails to Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, to waving over more and more bottles of Grand Crus, Fiesta kind of forces your mouth and tongue to let out a not-so-subtle “wow”.
Feel The Beat
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it, well, we’ve said it once. But we’re going to say it again: Maroc has music in its bones, which is why it comes as no shock this city has welcomed the rise in music festivals with open arms and a chauffeur-held placard at the airport, as it tells Ibiza to shuffle over.
The Oasis Fest: This festival has been doing its thing for five years now, and it’s finally ready to step out of the shadows and shake the radar so hard people can’t possibly miss it. But it’s not just the musical offering that makes this one so special. It’s got a bunch of unique traits tucked away in the nooks and crannies that give it an uber-chilled out and stress-free atmosphere. Oh, and it doesn’t refrain from pointing the spotlight on North Africa’s very own music, arts and culture scene too.
Atlas Electronic: Urgh, being lost for words is such a cliche thing to say, but the uniqueness that is location is pretty hard to chuck justified lexicons at. It’s just so Moroccan, and intimate, and wow. That’s all we can give it - a mouth open “wow”. But that’s a pretty huuuge deal in a world where crazy electronic music gigs have become the norm. So, for Atlas Electronic to have done what it has and build something truly unique out in the desert - while shining a light on Morocco’s rich traditions - is pretty mega.
For all the hidden secrets dotted about the alleyways, squares and souks, when it comes to settling into a spa session, there’s only one place worth begging, borrowing and/or stealing your way into, and that’s La Sultana. First off, this hotel is a UNESCO World Heritage listed, luxury riad-style property that’s tucked inside the Medina, glistening like a cracked-but-not-broken gemstone. And yet, that’s just the start because, after a short walk along the ornate corridors, you’ll reach the spa. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it. It’s the part of the building that opens up to reveal the most magical fairytale crystal cave. From settling into a traditional Moroccan hammam to relaxing your way through a four-hands body massage, or even requesting a sugar, spices and honey body scrub, this place has reinvented bliss.
Fun To Be Had
Marrakech is a rarity in that it will slap your senses from the second you wake up and rub your eyes to the moment you finally slip off to sleep - slowly, and then all at once. It’s a place where every sight, sound, taste and touch will dazzle, frazzle and totally enchant you, and the best thing you can do is slip on your babouches and dive right into the madness.
Soak Up The Souks: it doesn’t matter how many bazaars you’ve bartered at, or markets you’ve bagged a deal, you’ve never experienced anything more satisfying than bargain hunting your way around the souks in Medina. It’s boisterous and bustling, heavy and hustling, but there’s something about the twinkle in each vendor’s eye that makes you enjoy their bravado, wanting to snap up something special just to enjoy a deal-making handshake, whether that be some argan oil or a strong spice, a handwoven rug or some local leather. Of course, the same rule applies: it’s all about knowing when to (pretend to) walk away.
Track The Desert Dunes: You’re in Northern Africa, on the peripheries of the Sahara, so hiring a couple of buggies and a few quad bikes is a mandatory adventure; making tracks in the windswept sand and causing skin-itching clouds as you doughnut the dunes. Of course, with so many vendors offering near-identical things, the struggle becomes real. That said, our limited experience suggests Dunes + Desert is the top dog in these parts. Why? Because they take you on a ride through the Agafay desert and along the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, even throwing in a chill out session at a local hamlet so you can slurp down some proper mint tea - the way it should be done
Rock The Kasbah: About a 90-minute excursion from the centre of Marrakech, tucked away in an Atlas valley, is a breath-stealing, five-star retreat called Tamadot owned by one Sir Richard Branson. But don’t be fooled, it offers up a very different Morocco to the one of opulence you might have gotten used to because this place is very North African - the looks, the styling, the feel and food and, yes, even that cleaner-than-anywhere fresh air.
Jemaa El-Fnaa: This is the beating heart of the city; the Marrakesh you hoped you would experienced but feared you were two-hundred years too late for. It’s a huge city square that’s absolutely teeming with snake charmers, henna tattooists, fortune tellers, traditional food sellers, merchants manning odd-bit stalls, and just about every other age-old delight your brain can conjure up.
Get Your Tannery On: You need to head to the north-east of the medina because the tanneries here are something no Instagram account can do without, nor can your Marrakesh-an adventure. Don’t worry, though, you won’t need to ask for directions; the smell will lead you there. And there you’ll find everything from bags to dresses, satchels to saddles - treasures of every kind - and they are all made in the same way they always have been.
And there we have it.
Proof this Moroccan city is starting to steal the thunder from the island of Ibiza, not just the jet-setting in-crowd that have been helping the renaissance wave get bigger and bigger over the last few years. The reason? It’s different. It’s cool and classy, elegant and exciting, sophisticated and soothing. It grabs a handful of culture, music, spices and luxury and then slaps your senses silly, and who doesn’t want to be slapped by all that stuff?
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