Marrakech is so Moorish

by Amanda.Statham

Exotic, beautiful and just four hours’ flight away – what could be better than a magical weekend in Marrakesh?

Flying into the North African city of Marrakech in Morocco, with its backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, date palms and flat-roofed pink buildings, makes your heart soar. Before you’ve even reached the ancient walls of the Medina and heard the mosques’ haunting call to prayer or haggled for treasures in the souks, the view from your plane window makes you feel like you’re at the start of a romantic adventure.
 

What to see & do

 
Marrakech is a great city to wander around together on foot; it’s relatively safe, there are few cars in the Medina (though watch out for motorbikes hurtling by) and lots of people around 24/7 to ask for directions if you get lost. Visitors are drawn to the magnificent main square, Djemaa el Fna, a simmering mass of people and brightly decorated stalls. It’s particularly magical at sunset, when you’ll find storytellers rubbing shoulders with snake charmers, street dentists and henna tattooists. If you want to join in the mêlée, sit down at one of the many food stalls’ long trestle tables and tuck into delicious chicken tagines and vegetable couscous for as little as £2. The souks (markets) edge the square: dive in and delight in the sheer volume of rainbow coloured leather bags and slippers, silver jewellery, intricate carpets and woodcraft on offer. Haggling is all part of the Marrakech experience - as a rule offer one third of the asking price and settle halfway. If you want to escape the frenetic pace of life in the Medina, flee 20 minutes from the city walls to Jardin Majorelle, an oasis of calm and Yves Saint Laurent’s former private gardens. The bright green palms, lily-filled ponds, rare blooms, bright yellow and cobalt blue tubs and carved doorways are a treat on the eyes so don’t forget to take your camera. Within the grounds there's also a small Museum of Islamic Art, worth a visit for the amazing Berber jewellery.
 

Wining & dining

Le Marrakeshi is a glamorous restaurant tucked away at the top of some dimly lit and rose petal-strewn stairs just off Djemma el Fna. Its rooftop location means you can see all the action below, the candle-lit tables create a romantic atmosphere and belly dancers and fez-wearing waiters spice up the night. Try the lamb with prunes or chicken with honey and almonds for a delicious treat. For an intimate dinner book a table for two at Villa Des Orangers, a Relais & Chateaux hideaway that serves up gorgeous French cuisine. For drinks, don’t miss out on cocktails at The Churchill Piano Bar at La Mamounia, one of the world’s most glamorous hotels. I love their Maimoun Cocktail, which (if you want to try it before you go) is a third of an ounce of Amaretto, a third of an ounce of fig alcohol, four ounces of brut Champagne and a drop of mint syrup.
 

Hot hotels

Riad Tarabel opened its grand wood doors at the end of 2007 and instantly became a Marrakech hot spot. Like other riads in the city, the three bedrooms are centred around an orange tree-filled central courtyard, but that’s where the similarities end. Forget the rich red and gold fabrics, dark wood furniture and dimly lit rooms that are de rigueur in Moroccan interiors - Riad Tarabel is refreshingly white, light and simple. It’s no surprise to find that its French owners are in the interiors world, as each room is exquisitely planned, with perfectly placed antiques, paintings and mirrors adding just the right mix of classic and contemporary. Each of the three bedrooms is unique; ground floor Argana has a four-poster bed and Jasmine on the second floor has a grey claw-foot tub and chandelier, but best of all is the Palmeraie Suite, which is huge and boasts a bathroom with bath and shower big enough for a football team, a lounging area with flat-screen TV and giant bed with cloud-like duvet and pillows. There’s a pretty roof terrace, where you can enjoy delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a sumptuous dining and lounge area, where staff will set up a projector so you can watch your favourite films in front of a roaring fire. I also love, love, love the Riad Lotus Privilege for its super sexy rooms; think marble baths, mirrored walls and flat screens that float down from the ceiling so you can watch films from the comfort of your four-poster.
 

 

Amanda.Statham

Travel editor of Cosmopolitan and You & Your Wedding magazines, plus freelancer for various national newspapers and magazines. Author of the Brit's Guide to New York and The Globetrotter's Guide (out in May 09); keen photographer and addicted to travel. Aside from roaming the planet, I love cocktails, surfing, sunshine, reading and flip-flops. Favourite places? It's soooo hard to whittle it down. My perfect morning would be waking up to sunshine and the call to prayer in Marrakech before having breakfast on Riad Tarabel's rooftop, with views of the whole city. Lunch would be a long and lazy affair sitting with friends at the huge al fresco table at Villa Fontelunga in Tuscany, while an afternoon surfing at Hana in Maui or Florianopolis in Brazil would be hard to beat. For sundowners, it has to be a gin & tonic on an African safari, and for a night out, New York, New York, or Jamaica's remote Pelican Reef bar. Built by owner Floyd from mangrove sticks, it lies on a sand bank one-mile offshore from Treasure Beach, can only be reached by boat, and is the coolest bar on the planet.