If you’ve ever wondered why Morocco’s distinctive Franco–Arab culture
epitomizes glamour global popular culture-40 years after Marrekech’s
hippie hideaway heyday, look no further than the iconic Yves Saint
Laurent. He was so enchanted with the place that his making the
city a second home was only the beginning of that global love affair.
His reinvention of Moroccan jellaba, jabador, burnous and tarbouch
garments not only inspired some of his most influential 1970s fashion
collections but also fashion designers around the world to this
Laurent was hardly alone. Marrakech is also widely associated in fashion circles with Talitha Pol-Getty, a Laurent muse credited
for defining the hippie-chic æsthetic now enjoying
a comeback around the world. However, Marrakech’s mystique goes
back further in time. The Hollywood Regency décor style with
its definitive Moroccan influences has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity
in both private homes and boutique hotels and restaurants. Speaking
of which, boutique hotel forerunner la Maison Arabe, home to a wildly
popular cooking school, has been a favourite escape for the likes
of Winston Churchill and Jackie Kennedy since its 1946 opening.
Marrakech’s continued impact on fashion carries over to interior
design and food—starting with the simple-but-enticing grilled foods
sold in the old city’s main square, up to trendy “date night”
restaurants like la Selama, to the exquisite marocain nouveau restaurant
at King Mohammed VI’s le Royal Mansour Hotel (Marrakech’s definitive
luxury property, whose backdrop was one of the few redeeming elements
of Sex and the City 2). The spas at La Sultana’s boutique properties
in Marrakech and Oualidia are so sumptuous that you could easily lose track of time, even if you just opt for their basic massage or facial.
Individual spice markets, which on many levels personify Marrakech’s
colour and diversity, have their own distinctive personalities. The
spice shops in the old city’s souk display their wares with artful
abundance, everything literally piled up. Herboristerie Bab Aganou
organizes its displays in an apothecary-like setting with pharmacist-like
experts who explain the uses of spices and herbs. The small spice
shop favoured by Mohammad Nahir, my cooking instructor at la Maison
Arab, is set up almost like an Asian tea shop with spice samples
arranged in delicate boxes and bowls.
The souks in old Marrakech and Essaouria are everything you would imagine to be: dizzying mazes of stalls selling everything from
leather goods, to ceramics, tagine pots in every size, metal lanterns,
jewellery, clothing and antique stalls (with a surprising number of
menorahs, seder plates, and Kiddush cups next to mid-century souvenir
kitsch and posters).
The Jardin Majorelle gift shop
Maison Arabe set-up
Travellers on a tight schedule, or those who may be overwhelmed
by souk crowds or the price bargaining process, will like the colourful
boutiques recommended by Youniss Darif, my group’s savvy guide whose
past charges also included a certain A-list ‘pretty woman’
among other celebrities on his strictly confidential list.
Twizra is best known for its exquisite Berber and tribal sterling
silver jewellery, while Bouchaibe is a condensed version of the larger
old Marrakech souk, with specific departments organized for easy
navigation. For people willing to invest a few extra bucks on cotton
or silk Moroccan tunics, Boreade Tunic and Caftan delights with
an array of confections that would make the owners of the American
resortwear boutiques Calypso envious.
Not surprisingly, the Jardin Majorelle Gift Shop in Yves Saint Laurent’s old back yard is packed with chic items for home and wardrobe, and just across the road, concept store 33 Rue Majorelle does the same kind of alluring turn with clothing and home accessories from
Morocco’s young, emerging designers. Darif also finds the el Badi
Art Gallery, Ethyno Art and le Chateau destination shopping for
his top-drawer clients.
However, to fully appreciate your purchases and perhaps put yourself
in Yves Saint Laurent’s hallowed shoes, Marrakech’s top tourist
draws are also essential places that both awe and inspire. Koutoubia,
the Badia and Bahia Palaces, the Saadian Tombs, Dar Si Said Museum
and Djemaa El Fna Place epitomize Marrakech’s earthy, but timeless
While many roads lead to Marrakech, as well as Fez and Tangier,
the route along the ocean that originates in the entry point of
Casablanca is one less travelled road worth taking. Given the different
personalities of the cities lining Morocco’s Atlantic coast (not
to mention refreshing, cool breezes and surfing), this may change
once these “best kept secrets” Moroccans and well travelled
Europeans get out.
The newly opened Mazagan Beach Resort outside El Jadida, about
an hour out of Casablanca, does an approachable take on Moroccan
culture, making it a suitable place for first-time visitors to Morocco,
couples with children, business travellers and convention groups.
The fare at its seafood-focused fine dining establishment, Sel de
Mer, takes wonderful advantage of locally sourced fish with recipes
that like the hotel’s surroundings are a fusion of Moroccan, Mediterranean
and French culinary influences.
Once you get your bearings, El Jadida proves to be quite inviting
with its narrow street, historic walled area and its history. It
was sort of a “Haifa” for Morocco in earlier times, with
Christians, Muslims and Jews mixing freely. This little town is
best explored in early morning, when bakeries are selling piping
hot loaves of bread so delicious they can be consumed completely
The boutique hotel, la Sultana, is so charming and romantic that at the time we wanted to stay there, we had to settle for breakfast
and a spa treatment as members of the Moroccan royal family had
taken over the property. I could understand why, after a short tour
through the property, an elegant brunch, a massage and a post-card
perfect view of the ocean. It provides an interesting counterpart
to Oualidia, a rustic fishing village with a touch of old southern
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Mazagan Beach Resort
La Sultana, Oualidia
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The Jardin Majorelle Gift Shop in Yves Saint Laurent’s old back yard is packed with chic items for home and wardrobe, and just across the road, concept store 33 Rue Majorelle does the same kind of alluring turn with clothing and home accessories from Morocco’s young, emerging designers
Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.