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Lucire: Volante
Morocco



Spice up your life A spice shop in Marrakech

Where variety is always the spice of life

In Marrakech and along its Atlantic coast, Morocco is always in fashion
by Elyse Glickman
photographed by the author

 

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 day.

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).

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Jardin Majorelle
The Jardin Majorelle gift shop


Maison Arabe set-up


Bread-making

 

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 glamour.

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 unadorned.

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 French charm.

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Mazagan Beach Resort


El Jadida

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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