A bridge between Europe and Africa, Marrakech embodies the mysticism of the East blended with the romanticism of the West, creating a dynamic city that is steeped in tradition, yet offers travelers unlimited modern luxuries.
It feels as if time has stood still inside of the Old City; from the echoing calls to prayer, to the never-ending labyrinth of souks in the Medina, a visit to this Arab oasis is a true Arabian Nights fantasy. The narrow streets inside of the Medina, the Red City’s historic quarter, are too tight for cars; only motorbikes, mules, and carts weave their way through the bustling passageways that are organized by craft—metalworkers, slipper-makers, tanners, and leather workers each stick to their own quarter. Parts of it even feel medieval, like the dyers with blue hands toiling inside dark rooms, and artisans chipping away at tiles—the same way it has been done since the 11th century.
Outside the narrow alleyways lies the Jemaa el Fna, a bustling square of commerce. The carnival-like atmosphere includes snake charmers, musicians, acrobats, monkeys on chains, and children peddling everything from fake snakes to spices. This chaotic bazaar becomes even livelier at night, as smoke rises from the spicy barbecued meats and vendors line the square selling everything from spices to fresh orange juice. The Medina’s five square miles has been designated a World Heritage Site, and there is nothing familiar here—no chain restaurants or billboards advertising designer goods. It remains an authentic experience in a world that continues to look the same.
It is this enchanting exoticism that has drawn everyone from Mick Jagger to Yves Saint Laurent to this fairy tale city. Outside of the Medina lies the new city, a testament to the French influence, complete with broad tree-lined boulevards, modern hotels, and bustling Parisian-style bistros. Today, Marrakech has become an international hotspot—not only because of its cultural heritage, which includes the legacy of the French who occupied the country from 1912 to 1959—but because of the sleekly redesigned riads and the influx of luxury hotels catering to international tastes.
The Royal Mansour
King Mohammed VI proclaimed his desire to attract 10 million tourists to his country in 2010, so he set out to open not just another luxury hotel, but an opulent modern retreat where his guests could stay surrounded in luxury. The Royal Mansour recently opened its doors to select guests, and we can attest to the fact that the King spared no expense on the 55 individual three-story riads, extravagant 26,000 square foot white marble spa with intricately carved, two-story lattices, and sprawling interior courtyard lined with palm trees.
Secluded by its own 10-foot-high orange wall and two 2.5-ton entry doors finished in sculpted bronze, this private oasis is linked by winding pathways surrounded by gardens. Morocco’s finest artisans were summoned to build this fortress, and everything was made from scratch, including the mosaic tile floors, precious metal ceilings, and glass-blown chandeliers. The lavishly furnished riads feature ornate tiled bathrooms, antique furniture, and roof terraces with private pools. Each guest is assigned a personal butler to cater to every whim, and the service rarely feels intrusive since the hotel staff uses an underground passageway that connects the riads through hidden portals.
There are three restaurants overseen by Michelin three-star chef Yannick Alleno, including a modern Moroccan restaurant, La Grande Table Marocaine, a sophisticated French restaurant, La Grande Table Française serving fine cuisine, and La Table, an all day dining restaurant with an outdoor terrace overlooking the courtyard. Drivers escort guests in Range Rovers or Mercedes through the city’s streets–they are even allowed to go in forbidden areas, including the Jemaa el Fna. Being a guest of the King definitely has its privileges. The Royal Mansour rates start from US$1,840 a night. For more information and to book, click here.
Just down the street from the new Royal Mansour sits La Mamounia–Marrakech’s iconic hotel that recently received a major facelift. This historic hotel was once one of Marrakech’s grandest riads, built by Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah for his son, Prince Mamoun. In 1923 it was transformed into La Mamounia, and quickly became a glamorous destination with famous guests like Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
After closing for three years, La Mamounia reopened its doors at the end of September 2009. Designer Jacques Garcia redesigned the hotel into a modern Moroccan fantasy. Like the intoxicating custom-designed scent of cedar wood that fills the hotel corridors, almost everything here has been hand crafted, including the elaborately carved wooden doorways, black marble corridors, and intricately designed metal lampshade covers lining the hallways. La Mamounia’s 136 rooms, 71 suites, and three private riads boast gorgeous interiors with hand-carved ceilings, featuring breathtaking views over arcadian gardens.
Don’t miss the 27,000-square-foot Mamounia spa that offers a traditional hammam as well as a multitude of other beauty treatments. Even if you aren’t staying at the hotel, enjoy the stunning property by dining at one of the four restaurants or order an exotic cocktail at the stylish Piano Bar. Rates start from US$450. For more information and to book, click here.
For those looking for more budget accommodations, there are a variety of tastefully restored riads inside the Medina. The hip Le Palais Rhoul is another good option. Located just 15 minutes outside of the city, in the trendy Palmeraie district, this lavish boutique property features 20 elegant guestrooms and a gigantic circular pool outside of the main lobby. This cozy retreat offers a cool respite from the bustling city. Rates start from US$350 per night; click here to book.
Whether you choose to stay at an intimate riad or one of Marrakech’s lavish new hotels, there is little doubt that the Red City’s stunning landscapes and exotic charm will lure you back time and time again.