If you’re a sucker for romanticized anything, then you’ll know this is a classic quote from Casablanca: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” And frankly speaking, that right there, was my first introduction to Morocco. A filmic moment (iconic as it may be), but one that is limited to the confines of Casablanca. While Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman opened the snake charming gates to this world for us, the film shows just a peppering of an intro to this incredible country – riddled with color drenched souks to explore, medinas to frolic, tagines to be devoured with good friends in tow, and culture (copious amounts of fascinating culture). Enter Markus Anderson. One of my closest friends in the world, and a frequent traveler to Morocco and beyond. As former global membership director for Soho House Group, and current consultant for the bespoke members only club with a caché that needs little introduction, Markus knows what is chic, beautiful, timeless, and inherently fun. Here is the Insider’s Guide to Marrakech by one of my absolute favorite people in the world.
Riad El-Fenn – A large part of the reason I keep returning to Marrakech is without a doubt Riad El-Fenn. There really is no place like it. Tucked just inside the Medina, it is a colourful oasis full of phenomenal art and an exquisite mix of traditional and mid-century furnishings. Outstanding food, three swimming pools, lovely attentive staff and spectacular guest rooms all combine to make this place unlike any other. From the moment you walk through the door, you’ll feel at home. End each day with a glass of local rose as you watch the sun set over the Koutoubia and rooftops of the city. Heaven. Owners Howell James and Vanessa Branson (who coincidentally founded the Art Biennale here) have made sure this is a sanctuary you won’t want to leave.
The Souks – One of the charms of Morocco is that, upon landing, you find yourself in another land. The Souks of Morocco provide the perfect place to wander and peruse the traditional crafts of Morocco. You’ll find stalls full of everything here from incredible spices and dried fruits to textiles, leather, jewellery and ceramic goods. Take in the sights and sounds of Marrakech while getting lost in the endless alleyways of this Berber market ending up in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, one of the largest squares in Africa and the centre of activity and trade. A word to the wise – if you let someone put a cute monkey on your shoulder, don’t be shocked when you have to pay them to take it off again!
Al Nour – Visit this shop in the Medina to find amazing hand embroidered silks and linens. Al Nour is a cooperative that employs, trains and supports disabled female artisans in Marrakech. They have great gifts for both men, women and children as well as a beautiful collection of household linens (they also do made to measure).
**Insider Tip** After a rug?! With so many rugs to choose from, and vendors to haggle with, the experience can be borderline overwhelming. Speak to Meghan or Willem at Riad El-Fenn who will put you in touch with “their guy”. He’ll come pick you up and take you winding through the Medina to a beautiful showroom housed in a Riad. There you can sit and sip traditional mint tea while they help you find what your after in a tranquil setting. They also have a stunning contemporary collection and colourful adaptations of popular Moroccan styles such as indigo blue variations of the popular Beni Ourain style. And the best part is when you’re done, they’ll even ship it home for you. Sorted.
Beldi Country Club – A short ten minute drive from Marrakech, Beldi provides the perfect recovery day outside the city. An enormous swimming pool stretches through an ancient olive grove surrounded by loungers to dream the day away. Also surrounding the pool are rose gardens to wander, a spa should fancy a massage (or traditional Hammam experience – paper underwear anyone?!) and an incredible restaurant for a well deserved boozy lunch.
Jardin Majorelle – If you get the chance, be sure to spend a couple hours wandering around the exotic gardens at Majorelle. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge loved this place so much after their first visit in 1966 that they ended up buying the joint. (Note: when YSL died, he adored this place so much his ashes were scattered in the rose garden) Their home here, Villa Oasis, also painted in “Majorelle Blue”, now houses a museum well worth a visit.
Photos via: Marcus’ own, El-Fenn, Souk 1, Souk 2, Al Nour, Beldi Country Club, Jardin Majorelle