“The further you go, the more you shall see and know.” Medieval Proverb
The first in a series of sharing authentic riads and hotel properties in Marrakech and beyond the city, my second Camel Caravan in four months focused on new properties in the Kingdom of Morocco, where ancient traditions in the countryside have barely evolved to the mesmerizing cities which are changing every minute!
FROM MARRAKECH: Spending several days with an expert guide and a fearless driver in Marrakech, I explored many riads within the walls of the ancient Medina and have sourced out the best of the souks; this is not an easy task, as Marrakech contains acres of wiggly alleys winding about – jammed with hundreds of haggling vendors. After your first visit, focus on an area ie communal bread ovens, babouche, or metal craftsmen.
On my first visit, years ago, had it not been for the keen guiding, I would still be roaming the souks, lost! Imperial Marrakech is magical, slightly untamed and exotic. An assortment of handmade goods are sold here: babouche (leather slippers), pottery, metal work, the street vendors offer food, however, you must be willing to witness live chickens and rabbits being butchered, sheep heads (eyeballs included) are also on display, something for every palate! An occasional camel head is offered in the open meat markets. Apparently, the government tried to modify the open meat market storage rules, but a strong outpouring of protest has kept the traditions of the open markets. There are typical grocery markets if you prefer to buy refrigerated meat, my driver delivered me to a gorgeous French Cheese shop as well and a few stores which sell excellent wines and spirits.
It is a site to behold, turban topped cobra charmers squatting on the famous Djemaa el Fna plaza, boys carrying small monkeys – be careful in your admiration, as apparently it is an implied ‘invitation.’ Two adorable monkeys were perched on me; one on my wrist and the other on my opposite shoulder – my comfort level reached an unparalleled high when the shoulder monkey explored my inner ear with one hand and twirled my hair with the other – enough intimacy with the monkey! Naturally, I was expected to pay a few Dirhams for the uninvited monkey pleasure.
Marrakech has never lost its exotic ﬂavor and seems to be on the ‘hot’ list of emerging North African style. Cooking schools are readily found here: traditional Moroccan or French cuisine.
La Maison Arabe, where I have stayed, offers a half-day cooking class at its off–site professional kitchen, in a secret gated pool and garden compound.
Celebrity boutique riads compete with the fabulous Aman resort, the Amanjena, plopped outside of town, an oasis seemingly in the middle of the desert. Amanjena, a luxury resort inspired by the rose-hued buildings of old Marrakech is situated just outside the fabled Red City.
In the din that is now Marrakech, I’ve moseyed here numerous times for a delightful garden repast – delicious dining and a quiet place to regroup from the excitement of the city. Set in its own expanse of gardens and grand open spaces with shaded courtyards with fountains that lead to the central basin, a small lake, that nourishes the gardens in which spacious standalone guest pavilions and maisons rest, all with private gardens and many with private pools. Views stretch across the olive groves and palms of the oasis, extending to the High Atlas Mountains on the horizon. It provides a marvelous view of the now snow-capped peaks.
La Mamounia is where I first reserved so many years ago for an epic Birthday Celebration and time has not tarnished its impeccable allure! The hotel sits in a prime spot in the Hivernage neighborhood, just outside the medina and almost opposite the famous Koutoubia minaret. One of the most inviting gardens in all of Marrakech, the surrounding 17 acres of royal gardens cushion the hotel from the outside hubbub and are magically lit at night. La Mamounia has always been famous for its striking blend of Art Deco and Orientalist décor. The ornate Moroccan tile work, intricate stucco and carved woodwork perfectly balance the geometric forms, exotic floral styles, and bright Fauvist colors of the Deco period. Ever since Winston Churchill (who first visited Marrakech in 1935) adopted the Mamounia as his winter home, the hotel has been renowned for its impeccable, courtly service. On guest arrival, be welcomed with hot towels, almond milk and dates – setting the stage for a the tired traveler, rooms are furnished with thoughtful touches such as armfuls of fresh roses, freshly baked spiced cakes and tempting bowls of dates.
My impressive Royal Suite with two utterly charming terraces faced the gardens and was aligned with the famous 12th century Koutoubia Mosque, daily calls to prayer waltzed ethereally through my gorgeous suite. Current Netflix series ‘Inventing Anna’ has a segment featuring Mamounia – in all its resplendent glitz.
I’ve visited many refurbished contemporary riads, decorated in chic and muted tones or traditional Moroccan interiors, all maintaining the time-honored Islamic architecture and characteristics, however many are updated with small central pools, which is very typical of Moroccan architecture.
Vanessa Branson’s 28 room EL Fenn is a chic, upscale boutique with plenty of old Morocco charm set in the heart of medina. A combination of charming riad living with an impressive array of swanky interiors, which are hands-down some of the most gorgeous you’ll find in Marrakech. Tucked down a side alley right next to Bab El Ksour the riad is easy to find and taxis can draw up within a few steps of the front door. The Djemaa el-Fna is an uncomplicated 10-minute walk away.
Rooms with lots of jewel tones, inviting places to lounge strewn with colorful throw pillows, and enchanting keyhole arches. This property also delivers on stellar facilities with several pools, a hammam spa, peaceful courtyards with a hammock, and excellent rooftop dining. It’s no surprise their spacious and luxurious rooms are popular with the celebrity crowd! My suite was the largest on property and I could have never left! Sumptuously elegant, fit for a Pasha!
Villa des Orangers, we have clients staying now. In the heart of the medina, not far from the entry to the souks and the main square, two French brothers have transformed a historic riad, just twenty seven rooms and suites nestled in a rambling garden and small pools. Opening onto two courtyards—one of which has a swimming pool—the rooms and suites, each named for a local spice – think saffron, nutmeg, and turmeric, and decorated in rich gem shades.
An ancient Moroccan riad which provides a home away from home for travelers. The hotel’s public spaces are separated into a lovely tiled formal garden area, featuring trickling fountains and plots of blooming flowers, and a quiet area which hosts the mosaic pool and a traditional steam hammam.
The riad also enjoys an elevated position than its neighboring buildings, resulting in particularly great views from the sun-drenched rooftop terrace. Gaze at the snow-capped Atlas Mountains from the luxe lounge chairs, a straw hat is shared for extra sun protection. Return for sunset to sip cocktails or a candlelit romantic dinner.
Our local team organized a private story telling evening for me in one of the private salons – it was pure theatre with two actors reciting ancient Moroccan stories, with the backdrop of a wood burning fire and the sound of an ancient oud played by a local musician. Heaven, truly heaven! Another evening, I enjoyed a private dinner in a beautifully decorated salon in brilliant red tones and the oud player just outside my salon. The staff go to great lengths to spoil our guests.
The streets of the Medina, the historic old quarter, are teeming with donkey carts, zippy scooters, veiled women, exotic food stalls – a sensory overload, shadowed by the 12th Century Koutoubia Mosque, which in a rather rhythmic, wailing chant, calls Muslims to prayer ﬁve times a day; I enjoy the soothing call- some semblance of calm to override the chaos of the city streets.
The best of Marrakech can be discovered with our marvelous guides and fearless driver; these trusted companions with the tales of the complex medieval history, the ﬁnal, if needed, bargaining point in the souks, a guide to tasting the best spices, ﬁnding vendors selling indigenous music, facilitating introductions in a small school in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, sourcing traditional Moroccan handicrafts, obtaining reservations in the best local restaurants and ultimately the chaperone who is a resource for all needs while traveling to Morocco, we travel with these experts to make certain our clients will enjoy The VV Best Journey.
What makes anyone travel, especially such a distance? We connect with others, we connect our experiences and attempt to make an abstract connection with our ‘daily routines’, returning home inspired to modify the mundane and retain the transformed clarity which travel often provides – the gift of the travel experience.