When our fearless leader, Mr. Herff, recently returned from Marrakech he was full of praise and wonder. He said Marrakech and the surrounding area is “infinitely curiosity filling,” a place of colors, sounds, smells that are stirring and splendid. He raved about how the people are incredibly warm and welcoming and that there is a treasure trove of places to explore. Marrakech is one of those places that used to be under the radar but in the past few years has been popping up on Instagram feeds and Pinterest dream boards with regularity and for good reason. It has an amazing mix of culture, architecture, food, and shopping. Famed haute couture designer, Yves Saint Laurent was so taken with it he made it his home and recently the YSL Museum dedicated to his work opened in the city to rave reviews.
When choosing a place to stay you can search through a list of riads with exotic names (a riad is a traditional Moroccan home with no outside windows but with wonderfully spacious interior gardens) but the best of the list is the Amanjena. “Aman” in Sanskrit means peaceful, while “jena” is Arabic for paradise, an apt description for this hotel. It is a collection of pavilions set within a grove of palms and almond trees. The Moorish architecture, with its columns, arches, scroll and tile work is astounding. If the Amanjena is booked up, you could opt for the Royal Mansour, which is a composition of riads with restaurants and a spa around the main reception area. At the least we recommend you drop in for tea to take in the traditional Moroccan tranquility and opulence.
Several tour companies offer guided tours and excursions for any range of tastes, ages, interests. Mr. Herff recommends Abercrombie and Kent, saying that his tour guide was one of the best he’d ever had, “he knew every rock, every mosaic.” There are many must-sees to check off your list. For the history buff, there is the El Badi Palace. Though somewhat in ruins now, it isn’t hard to visualize its former splendor – including over 300 rooms once decorated with gold, turquoise, and crystal. You should definitely climb the walls for incredible views of Marrakech. For the fashion enthusiast, the Yves Saint Laurent museum is a must. It houses a collection of 200 haute couture outfits by the designer and highlights the influence Morocco had on his collections. Also, the Jardin Majorelle is worth a visit. The gardens were bought in the 80s by Saint Laurent and they blend Moorish and Art Deco features among rare blooms (interesting fact: YSL even scattered his ashes here).
For the architecture lovers, the city is a treasure trove but we highly recommend a stop at the Ben Youssef Medera Kuran School. Founded in the 14th century and still run as a school where boys memorize the Kuran, it is a haven of architectural beauty sure to astound. Of course, you must stop into the souks (local markets) to bargain for textiles, spices, jewelry, and pottery. The riot of color and sounds can be dizzying and intoxicating. Stop in a riad or café for a tea and sit back to watch the people and traffic buzz by. There is also a creative food scene and eclectic nightlife to enjoy as well as numerous other museums and historical sights to investigate. You will never lack for something to do while in Marrakech.
A few nights in Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot in the Atlas Mountains outside of town is a great way to decompress from the fast-pace of the city. It is a gorgeous peaceful retreat where once recovered, you can go hiking and see Berber villages. Or you can opt to lounge by the pool while the kids ride donkeys around the property. The fresh mountain air, beautiful vistas, and gardens will certainly help you recharge.
You should see Marrakech in combination with the other vibrant cities of Morocco – Fez, Casablanca, Tangiers (if you have time should definitely day trip from Tangiers to Chefchaouen, to see the buildings painted in varying magical shades of blue and pick up various handicrafts that can’t be found elsewhere in Morocco. Your Instagram followers will thank you for filling their screens with bright colorful images.) Another option would be to add Marrakech to your visit to southern Spain as it is a short flight away and the architecture and culture tie in nicely with a visit to Andalusia. However you like to arrange it, the important thing is to get there and prepare to be dazzled.