Marrakech – The Simple Guide to What to See and Do… In Style

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Marrakech, seems to be one of THE places to go at the moment. In my travels around the internet, interspersed between the posts on Postiano (next year baby!) and the best bits of LA (the year after), it seems that this rising gem is gaining kudos as a must visit destination. Even David Beckham jetted there recently to celebrate the big 4-0. But, even with the city’s reputation gaining ground with the glitterati, it remains, almost untouched by the Western World. While the Maldives build resort after resort tailored to every luxury, Marrakech, indeed provides the best, but with style and flair that is entirely mindful of the ancient culture that proceeds it. It is a place that has to be seen, experienced and breathed in. Go with an open mind, and experience the best that Marrakech has to offer – it is a bucket list essential.

Into The Blue

The Majorelle Gardens are breathtaking on so many levels. Even if you aren’t a YSL devotee, the beauty of this place will not fail to astound you. Whether it is through the use of the colour blue (seriously, we are talking buildings, plant pots, the works), everything in this little haven has had massive attention to detail paid to it. Even the two gift shops feature, an addition to an impressive ceiling,  a wall fountain (this is not a drill!) and a dedicated area to sit in and absorb your surroundings. It also provides a haven of tranquillity from the hustle of the city, a theme that seems to be quite common thoughout Marrakech.

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To enjoy the gardens at it’s best, insure you go early to beat the crowds and the heat! There really is nothing better than wondering through the myriad of avenues, and getting lost in the beauty of it all as many have done before. While there is a memorial to Mr Saint – Laurent, a man who worked absolute wonders for fashion, it is worth noting that his ashes are in a private garden as opposed to actually there. It is impossible to visit the gardens and fail to be inspired by it’s natural beauty, and it thrills me to think that it inspires me in a similar way as one of fashion’s greatest designers.

The gardens and main house provide a fantastic opportunity for a impromptu photo shoot if the mood takes you. At the main house you will find a very obliging guide who will happily snap away to his heart’s content while you pose. In fact, I guarantee you will get bored of this before he does, but he knows all the best poses and shots so don’t miss this opportunity!

The Berber museum housed in the gardens provides a fascinating insight into a people I am ashamed to say I knew little about. It is brilliant to see the heritage of Morocco’s forefather’s being so fiercely protected and in such an accessible way. In addition to general day to day living, the museum also displays breath-taking jewellery, which is so ornate and large, it is a wonder that the wearer was even able to move! This jewellery is displayed in a star lit (read LED lights to represent!) room, which is beyond amazing and allows the jewellery to be seen to full effect.

Aside from the above there is also a separate cafe serving delicious ice cream (if you go in the summer you will need this!) and divine teas, which have amazing names such as 1001 Nights – too cool!

Inside the Majorelle Gardens Shop

Oasis In The City

With hotels realising now that guests expectations are becoming ever higher, it becomes a lot harder for them to stay ahead of the competition. Some will wow you with technology (shout out to the newly refurbed Lanesborough in London, where in one of their suites the lights are activated by your feet hitting the floor as you get out of bed) others will rely on their reputation (I will leave you to decide which ones, but you know them!) and others have an outstanding location. With the competition rising, it is quite easy for the discerning traveller to feel some what overwhelmed by the vast amount of choice available. Marrakech, is no different from the rest of the world when it comes to hosting a diverse range of hotels, and boy, do I mean diverse! The majority of them maybe opulent and house the usual required furniture, but that is where the similarities end. I didn’t think it was possible to see such a diverse range of hotels, but literally I was astounded.

La Jardins De La Koutoubia has it all, a fantastic location, right in the heart of the Medina next to the Jemaa El Fna Square, amazing rooms, pool, spa and of course, a must, fabulous attention to detail.

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When we arrived we were lucky enough to have our room upgraded (RESULT!) to a suite. This meant not only did we have our own living area, but a balcony over looking the mosque, and a marble bathroom that was big enough to host a Vegas pool party in!

In the centre courtyard, there is the hotel’s main pool, and what a pool it is. It may be the standard rectangular shape (let’s face it, to strike the balance between aesthetics and practicality, there is only so much one can do!) but it is the landscaped gardens around the pool, and the out door ‘sitting room’ that make this area astounding. Breakfast by the pool, and indeed a day lazing here (you can do this if you aren’t a resident all you have to do is buy lunch) is a must, and the people watching is brilliant!

Whether you go to the restaurant, bedroom or even the toilet, red roses (petals/ flowers) that the hotel has adopted as it’s trademark, are everywhere. It makes you feel like you are caught somewhere between an RnB video, and the George Cinq in Paris – it’s fantastic… and beautiful.

P1040017Welcome to the New Age

Marrakech may be fiercely protective of it’s heritage, but just when you think it could not get any more traditional in it’s approach, it throws you a curve ball… Enter the Sofitel. Built outside the old city walls, this hotel mixes the new with the old perfectly. While I am not usually a fan of vast hotel empires, this baby, is different. Enter the lobby and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in any lobby or any hotel in the world, but outside in the gardens, lanterns hang from the trees, the humidity of Morocco returns, and you are reminded where you are in subtle detail. Head up to the terrace, the new becomes more prominent, but the old is still ever present. Sit in a softly cushioned booth that would not be out of place in one of the top clubs in the world, and select your cocktail from the menu. A menu which presented to you on an iPad… yes you read that correctly – an iPad. How cool is that?! As a girl who loves a cocktail, and having toured many bars, this was a first. You encounter the newest forms of technology and yet, as you gaze out over the infinity pool, the old walls of the city remain a consistent remainder, of the many, MANY years of history that surround you. As the sunsets, bathing everything in pink,  as the camels glide past on their way home, there is no denying it,  Despite the latest innovations, you are still immersed in your Moroccan experience.

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P.s. – the combination of the new hotel with the old city in the background provides the perfect place for some shameless selfies!

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The Empire in Morrocco

The reputation of La Mamounia proceeds it. Winston Churchill stayed here, Doris Day sang from one of its balconies, and with that in mind, it is perhaps little wonder that the hotel is one of the best known in Marrakech – and certainly one that has a strong sense of style, and history.
Before you are even though the front door, there is no doubt that La Mamounia is somewhat of an establishment. Ceremony and circumstance still have a place here. That said, the larger than life brightly coloured French Bulldogs statues preserve a playful element.

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One notable thing when you enter pretty much any hotel in Marrakech, is that as soon as you step through the doors, all the hustle and bustle of daily life quickly disappears, and is replaced by a realm of tranquillity.
It is clear that in the renovation of this fabulous establishment, of course, no expense was spared. Enter into a sea of marble, where two vast chandeliers dominate the ceiling. One of thing that continues to amaze me in Marrakech is the intricate level of detail that can be seen EVERYWHERE. La Mamounia is no exception. I highly recommend sneaking a peak at the private salon which is immediately on your left after you enter the hotel.

The private salon.. complete with penguins!

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The advantage of going in the height of summer (i.e. When no one else wants to go) is that during the day, you practically have the whole city to yourself. Indeed even at night, the bars do not become the bun fight that is common place in many European bars and hotels. Not only does this lack of ‘Joe Public’ create an awesome opportunity for photos, but you can make believe that you are in your own private residence. Stroll through the manicured lawns of La Mamounia, (accompanied by yet more French Bulldogs!), past the pool, to the patisserie outpost. Here, marvel as the beautiful cakes, enjoy an ice cream in the shade, and debate whether the macarons really are better than those at Ladureé…

P1040341Journey Into The Past

If experiencing the many different ‘angles’ of Morocco is high on your agenda, like all great adventures, you need to leave the city. There are many tours on offer, including one giving you the chance to visit the desert and stay over night in a tent. Now in my romantic mind this conjures up images of Lawrence of Arabia (wrong country I know, but you get the idea) and eating incredible food under the light of a 1000 stars. The reality, from what I hear is somewhat different.  Imagine travelling the distance from Kent to Liverpool… But now imagine you have to conduct this journey on roads that are not too dissimilar those featured in ‘Top Gear’s Bolivia Special‘… Not fun. In summary, a trip to the desert for one night is too much travelling, and yes you will have the kudos of being able to say that you stayed overnight in the Sahara desert (believe me, this was seriously tempting) but I would bet you would end up too travel weary to actually appreciate it. Coupled with the fact that it is searingly hot in the August, plus a heightened presence of snakes and scorpions, all in all, this seemed like an adventure for another time, and a longer stay.

What is doable however, is a day adventure into the Atlas Mountains. So hire yourself a guide and 4×4 and get to it! The best excursions I think give you an insight into a variety of things outside city life, including visiting Berber villages, seeing how the famous Argan oil is really made, and exploring the formidable Kasbahs. The mountains are beyond stunning, and the geographical make up of the mountains varied. One minute you feel like you are in a Western film, and the next you could be forgiven for being reminded of the barren red rock synonymous with the planet Mars. Even more incredible are the people that live here. The Berber people according to our guide (and given that he is a Berber himself, I am inclined to believe him!) retreated to the mountains in a time when their very existence was under threat, and have remained there ever since. It is only in recent times that electricity, internet and the obligatory Sky dish have appeared in these remote mountain villages, yet traditional family values and a sense of community remain at the heart of it all. These families live the ultimate of working together and playing together. Indeed one of the highlights of the trip for me has to be stumbling across an ‘inter village’ football match. The sense of togetherness, and of living for the simple things in the present moment, just made my heart swell with joy. Faith is also paramount and each village has a Mosque, with a daily call to prayer. The Imam is an authority in the community, and I love the fact that you can go to him for advice. Cue various conversations amongst ourselves about what we would ACTUALLY ask him…

Football Match

Argan oil has been an established beauty secret for a while now. But its origins, aside from the ‘infamous goats in trees’ image are somewhat less known. By way of example, the oil is produced from a nut and on first production, does not look dissimilar to peanut butter. Furthermore, you can actually eat Argan oil (it’s a different type from your hair product so PLEASE don’t try eating that!) a fact that had also escaped my attention. You could argue it was the heat getting to me, but the texture of the oil even felt different from its UK supplied cousin. In case you aren’t aware of the beauty benefits, you can put Argan oil in your hair, put it on your skin, cuticles, the list is endless. If you are travelling to Marrakech, invest in going to see the women that make this elixir of youth, and purchase in order to support this traditional craft.

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If you have seen some of Hollywood’s old, or even modern day classics, the go to location for desert locations is usually Morocco.  It doubled as Abu Dhabi in Sex and the City 2 (the stunning airport is instantly recognisable) and head out into the Atlas Mountains, more specifically the Kasbahs, it is literally like walking onto a Hollywood film set. Even if you aren’t immediately aware of what a Kasbah is, I would be likely to wager you had seen one. In a nutshell, the Kasbahs were fortresses for defending the city in times of siege. From the outside, they rise, imposing, high above the landscape, giving them strategic advantage. They look plain, formidable, and solid. Perhaps this why Hollywood makes the trip over here to film so often. The Kasbahs are today, as they were when first conceived. This theme continues once inside, and what is especially lovely to see, is that the local people continue to go about their daily lives as they always have done within the walls. In some Kasbahs, there is still the same level of architectural detail witnessed in Marrakech. Ornate ceilings and imposing doorways are the order of the day, all in a myriad of greens, blues and golds. It is such a shame that people drive past these places on a daily basis, without having any clue on the treasures hidden inside. One Ksar in particular that is worth visiting is Aït Ben Haddou. Now a World Heritage site, this gem has played major roles in Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and a small TV series, you may have heard of called Game of Thrones. This is to name but a few. Aside from being a movie star in it’s own right, it represents a great space to not only get a sense of the history that has gone before, but also to get some peace from the city. Standing at the top of the Ksar, you are able to see for miles in every direction. The feeling of vastness does serve to remind you how tiny we are in such a big wide world. The view is also diverse. From the lush green landscapes of the nearby town, with its minaret calling the residents to prayer, to the vast plains of wilderness framed by the ageless mountains, the world is your oyster, and is yours to seek out.

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Jemaa El Fna

Visit the main square in Marrakech during the day, and you could be forgiven for wondering how it has forged its reputation as one of the city’s must see destinations. Visit it again at night however, and that is when it really comes alive. To really see this occurring, it is worth visiting one of the many restaurants that edge the square, for dinner and a cheeky cocktail as the sun goes down. Watch the snake charmers come, then the ‘henna ladies’ and finally the food stall owners. There is a reason why the Jemaa El Fna is known as the world’s biggest BBQ. Benches upon benches line the centre of the square, and they are always, always full. Brave the markets, where pretty much anything can be brought (you want knock off trainers, no problem, you want to buy some teeth, also no problem!) and explore the very best of Marrakech, it really doesn’t get much better than this.

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Sundown Cocktails

The Kosy Bar is a renowned location to visit while in Marrakech and this is not without foundation. Set on 4 levels and mixing traditional Moroccan decoration with the more contemporary, this venue not only houses the expected restaurant and bar, but also a to die for spa, complete with pool. It may seem like a slightly odd mix, but you know it works, and it works well. But aside from all that this beautiful place has to offer, there is perhaps one main thing people come to visit it for. The view. From it’s open bar, the view stretches on one side up to the Jemaa El Fna Square, with the Koutoubia Mosque taking pride of place in the skyline. Storks nest at the Badi Palace, and it is beautiful to see them fly back to their nests and settling down for the night. For a great place to socilaise, excellent food and some amazing views, the Kosy Bar ticks all the boxes.

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***

Marrakech was never really high up my agenda of places to visit. It was definitely on there, but perhaps a little lower than it ought to have been. As the trip drew nearer, and I dived deep into the guide books (I LOVE to be the girl with a plan!) I became more excited than ever to travel to somewhere that was so different to anywhere I had experienced. The city did not disappoint, neither did the surrounding area we explored, but as always, landmarks come and go – it is the people that keep the spirit of a place alive. In Marrakech, when you engage with people you can genuinely see what they are all about. People have a willingness to help you, and just observing how they conduct themselves does led you to consider things from a different perspective. There is no rocking your Rolex on Instagram or all the stuff that goes with this, life is simpler than that. If you travel to Marrakech prepare to have your eyes opened. Not only to the city and it’s amazing culture, but to the opportunity to have space to consider what is really important in life.

 

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