Destination Guide to Marrakechby Robert Wright, Jr.
Soludos’ campaigns have taken New Yorker Robert Wright to Morocco before, and the forthcoming launch of his new custom rug company Beni brings him back—this time with photographer Grant Legan. From sunset cocktails to souk haggling, the two share how to make the most of Marrakech and beyond.
The grand dame of Marrakech hotels, La Mamounia will become synonymous with the signature fig scent that fills its lobby (stock up on these beautiful candles in the hotel gift shop). It’s got all the bells and whistles of a five-star resort, yet loads of local character in the form of intricate mosaics, resplendent gardens, and warm hospitality. We woke up early every morning to step out onto our terrace, taking in the sunrise and flocks of birds filling the gardens with song, followed by a dip in the enormous outdoor pool and stroll through the gardens. Be sure to take a dip in the serene indoor pool that’s part of Mamounia’s glamorous spa. Their traditional Moroccan hammam treatment is the perfect way to relax and clean off after a day of haggling for treasures in the chaotic souks.
The perfect compliment to a stay at the palatial La Mamounia is the much more intimate La Sultana. Cobbled together from multiple riads and near Marrakech’s main square Jemaa el-Fnaa, La Sultana combines luxury service with authentic experience. Each individual riad retains its original character, so wandering around the hotel is a journey in its own right—from cool, pale marble in one courtyard to richly layered rugs and textiles in another. Have a cocktail on the enormous roof deck at sunset for the best vantage point of golden hour in the Red City.
The perfect gear down after time spent in Morocco’s bustling city centers, Kasbah Tamadot is tucked away in picturesque mountains a 30-minute drive outside Marrakech. In short, it’s paradise. We went here after a week bouncing around Marrakech and visiting Khenifra, one of Morocco’s main rug-making centers and made ourselves right at home. The highlights include a glittering pool, white linen cabanas filled with plush pillows, perfectly kept tennis courts and rooms that take luxury tents to a new level. Isolation and relaxation are the name of the game here—as well as taking in breathtaking views of the valley from the hotel’s incredible cliffside perch. The beautiful leather Moroccan slippers in each room are yours to keep.
EAT & DRINK
El Fenn Rooftop
On top of being one of the coolest riads around, El Fenn also has a chic rooftop restaurant. Shaded with burlap panels during the day, it provides the perfect respite from the Moroccan sun for an outdoor lunch, but it’s equally ideal for a sundowner or candlelit dinner beneath the stars. Well made cocktails, delicious tagines and an in-the-know international crowd combine for magical effect–we came here again and again over the course of our stay, even just for an afternoon glass of espresso or local rosé. It’s always wise to call ahead and let them know you’re coming. During the winter months, certain tables look out on snow-capped mountain ranges.
With its modern Moroccan cuisine, global influences, and a well-designed, buzzing space, Nomad is tucked deep into the souk, just a skip from the bustling Spice Square. Ask for a seat on the highest level roof terrace for an amazing view of the markets. Think of Nomad as the cool kid of Marrakech restaurants. Go for the pastilla or a traditional lamb tajine.
Café des Epices
Situated directly on Spice Square, Café des Epices is the ideal spot for a quick lunch or afternoon tea. Owned by the same brother team as nearby Nomad, it’s a more casual spot perfect for watching the comings and goings of spice sellers in the square. Local embroiderers are set up right in front of the restaurant, and they’re happy to stitch your name or any message you’d like on woven baskets or hats during your tea break.
Tucked behind a small door down a hallway off of La Mamounia’s lobby lies the Churchill Bar. A riot of red and leopard with expertly crafted cocktails, it takes its name from Winston Churchill, who called Marrakech “the nicest place on earth to spend an afternoon.” It’s the perfect place for nursing a late night drink while listening to live piano.
There are several “palace” restaurants in Marrakech, and they’re considered local institutions. Over the top in every sense of the word, our favorite is Dar Yacout. Hidden down a quiet, darkened alley, you’d never expect the glamour that lies behind the large wooden door. An evening here starts with a pre-dinner cocktail amidst live music and dancers upstairs. Then you’re led past a lantern-lit courtyard to your white linen-covered table where course after course of Moroccan fare is spooned onto your plate from huge serving dishes until you can’t take anymore.
Jasper Conran’s first project in Morocco, L’Hotel is a riad of just five rooms tucked down a maze of winding streets. It also happens to have a gorgeous, supremely comfortable dining room. Bold yellow stripes meet tall French doors that face a courtyard overflowing with greenery. A blazing fireplace warms the room on chilly desert nights. Book a day in advance as the riad’s chef shops for what’s fresh at the morning markets based on the reservations for that evening.
Generally accepted as the late night spot in Marrakech, Le Comptoir gets going after midnight—it’s surreal, loud and smoke-filled. The last night we stopped in, there were robots on stilts and acrobats hanging from chandeliers, while both locals and tourists climbed on top of their tables to dance the night away.
As soon as you announce that you’re making a trip to Marrakech, requests for rugs start pouring in from friends. The spot that we make a beeline for every time is Lahandira, a family business that has been around for generations. The owner is one of the nicest guys around. Their new second location features a room solely dedicated to white Moroccan wedding blankets adorned with silver sequins. You should stake out a sizeable chunk of time if you’re shopping for the perfect vintage rug—to sit, sip cup after cup of mint tea, and look through countless options before deciding on your favorite. We once spent five hours sorting through the stacks, and would do it again in a heartbeat.
Jewelry shops are a dime a dozen in the markets of Marrakech, but Azrar is something different. Set into a small storefront smack in the middle of the carpet seller souk, it has an extremely well-edited collection of vintage Berber pieces crafted from heavy silver. Ask nicely and the owners will take you to their showroom, just a short walk away and chock full of even more hidden treasures.
The famous souks are a winding, confusing maze of treasures–ranging from metalworkers hard at work handcrafting lanterns to hawkers of brightly-colored spices, jewelry, argan oil, slippers, leather bags and painted pottery. You’ll read a variety of advice on haggling. It’s hard to give any hard and fast rules. Some sellers like Lahandira and Azrar don’t negotiate much as their prices are already set fairly. Others are willing to take 50 to 60 percent off of their starting point–you’ll quickly get a sense for which is which. The best tactic in your arsenal? A willingness to walk away.
El Fenn Shop
For a modern take on Moroccan crafts, visit the shop inside of El Fenn. Blankets, housewares, books and clothing live alongside each other in a chic, lofty space.
If Nomad is Marrakech’s chicest restaurant, then its store is the place to stock up on housewares that will approximate that in your own home. A spare space is neatly stocked with handcrafted terra cotta cups, delicate plates and unique carafes.
33 Rue Majorelle
Moroccan designers handcraft a majority of the goods sold at 33 Rue Majorelle. Located in Gueliz—a new town where many young professionals work and live—the shop is a decidedly modern mix displayed in a concept store style. It’s a must stop for a step inside Marrakech’s contemporary scene.
A bumpy 30 to 40 minute drive from Marrakech, Scarabeo Camp is perfect for a one night escape from the city. You’ll sleep in the desert under star-filled skies in simple yet beautiful white tents. Enjoy a multicourse lunch, and activities such as stargazing with an astronomer or camel rides through the desert.
Marrakech’s main square comes alive at night. If you’ve fantasized about the exotic chaos of Morocco, this is where you’ll find it. Snake charmers, monkeys, food stalls and the famous fresh orange juice stands jockey for position amidst throngs of tourists and locals. Cafes filled with travelers ring the square. It’s great to see at least once during your trip. As always, keep an eye on your wallet and valuables and be careful about getting involved in any of the setups taking place–you’ll likely be asked, insistently, for tips at the end of them.