I’m embracing the cold weather at the moment – I love waking up to crisp skies, icy breath and pavements that sparkle with frost, and of course I’m beginning to get very excited about my upcoming trip to Iceland. But while I plan for snow, I know others are craving a bit of sunshine. So, I thought I’d share some tips for exploring one of my favourite destinations for winter warmth: the bustling, beguiling city of Marrakech.
Short flight times from Europe make Marrakech the perfect choice for a quick break, and it’s hard to believe somewhere so exotic lies within such easy reach. I first visited in 2012 and I instantly fell for the city’s chaos and colour. I loved getting lost in the tangled alleyways of the medina, where donkey-drawn carts clatter along the cobbles and stalls are piled high with aromatic spices. I loved watching the theatrics in the main square, Djemaa el Fna, which comes alive at dusk with acrobats, snake charmers, storytellers and more. And I loved escaping to the serenity of the jasmine-scented courtyards and fountain-filled gardens hidden behind high sandstone walls. It’s an assault on the senses in every possible way, and there’s a trove of beautiful hotels, boutiques, restaurants and museums to discover…
El Fenn (Derb Moullay Abdullah Ben Hezzian, Bab el Ksour)
This is one of the chicest hotels in the city: a trio of interconnecting riads decorated with an eclectic mix of local crafts, contemporary art and mid-century modern furniture, and arranged around a series of petal-strewn courtyards. There are heated marble pools, hammocks strung between trees and daybeds heaped with kilim cushions, plus a roof terrace gazing out over the Koutoubia mosque to the distant peaks of the Atlas Mountains.
Riad Chi-Chi (Derb El Anboub 12, Quartier Al Baroudiine)
This pretty little riad has a candlelit courtyard with a plunge pool, bedrooms and loggias decorated in calming creams and whites, and a terrace overlooking the medina’s jumble of rooftops. The staff are lovely (they happily came to my rescue when I got lost on my way back from dinner!), and it’s excellent value.
Hotel by Beldi (Route de Barrage, Cherifa)
This place is perfect if you want to retreat from the madness of the medina at the end of the day. It sits in rambling, rose-filled gardens a 10-minute taxi ride from the city centre and has been designed to resemble a traditional Moroccan village, with ateliers, several restaurants, and rooms furnished with handwoven textiles and Berber carpets.
Getting lost in the souks is a must-do Marrakech experience. You’ll find silver jewellery, leather bags, babouche slippers, beautifully etched brass lanterns, embroidered cushions and more. Haggling is part of the fun, though the ever-increasing number of tourists visiting the city means bargains aren’t as easy to come by as they once were.
Souk Cherifia (Sidi Abdelaziz)
When you tire of haggling, this is the place to go for fixed-price boutiques, including Sissi Morocco (handmade purses and pillows), Lalla (leather bags) and Nectargan Argane et Bain (bath and body treats made from argan oil).
La Maison Fenyadi (219 Sidi Ghanem)
Fenyadi, located in Marrakech’s Ville Nouvelle, stocks a beautifully curated range of candles, ceramics, linens and other homeware, all combining traditional crafts with contemporary design. Perfect if you want to add an authentic yet minimal touch of Morocco to your home.
Atelier Moro (114 Place de Mouassine)
This hidden boutique has no sign, but if you manage to locate the right door you’ll be rewarded with handmade clothes, linens, pillows and more.
Terrace des Epices (above Souk Cherifia, Sidi Abdelaziz)
This place is perfect for resting souk-weary feet – an open-air rooftop café with low cushioned seating, chilled music, and a menu of Moroccan-inspired salads, sandwiches and mezze plates.
Le Foundouk (55 Souk Hal Fassi, northern medina)
This lounge, bar and restaurant sprawls over several floors, with excellent cocktails, French-Moroccan cuisine, and lots of dark, candlelit nooks to discover.
Le Jardin (32 Souk El Jeld, Sidi Abdelaziz)
Set in the leafy courtyard of a 17th-century mansion, Le Jardin is an oasis of cool in the middle of the medina. You’ll find trickling fountains, shady trees, wandering tortoises and fabulous organic food.
Be inspired by:
Ben Youssef Medersa (northern medina)
This now-defunct Koranic school was the largest of its kind in North Africa. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, with colourful tiling, mirror-like pools and ornately carved archways and windows.
La Maison de la Photographie (northern medina)
Spread across a tall, skinny riad, the Maison de la Photographie houses a striking collection of photographs depicting Moroccan life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its roof terrace, said to be the highest in the city, is a great place for a mint tea or tagine, and there’s a selection of prints for sale.
Dar Si Said (southern medina)
This isn’t the biggest or the most ornate of Marrakech’s many palaces, but it’s my favourite. It was built in the 19th century and now houses a beautiful collection of antique Moroccan handicrafts, with a shaded courtyard at its heart.
El Badi (southern medina)
This ruined 16th-century mud-and-sandstone fort was once the most luxurious abode in the city. Today it’s wonderfully atmospheric, with storks nesting on crumbling ramparts and walls that glow red in the evening sun.
Le Jardin Majorelle (Ville Nouvelle)
Originally designed in the 1920s by French artist Jacques Majorelle and then owned by Yves Saint Laurent, the Jardin Majorelle encircles a cobalt-blue villa, with groves of banana trees, cacti and giant bamboo to stroll around.
All photography by Abi Dare