Marrakech guide

WGSN, July 28 2005

This walled city is an exotic, chaotic mix of maze-like streets offering a treasure trove of accessories and interiors goods. But for those eager to separate the tourist tat from the totally chic, a bit of extra work is required.

Doorways and alley views

Jardin Majorelle

Villa des Orangers

It’s no longer simply a matter of exploring the souks to find those beautiful bargains, as many of the little stores offer the same type of goods (tagines, carpet bags, slippers and more tagines), but instead it’s a case of searching out those newer boutiques and shops with a little extra New Marrakech style to offer. This is a city of hidden delights.

Many of these boutiques are French-owned, as the recent influx of foreign residents to the city comes mainly from France – as well as Italy and the UK – all keen to snap up bargain riads (traditional guesthouses) ripe for renovation. Together with the large amount of villa and resort construction taking place outside the Medina in the new town of Gueliz and in the luxurious Palmeraie, Marrakech is a changing city.

Although newly-sanitised (as far as Marrakech can be), with less of the street hassle and more special plain-clothes tourist police keeping an eye on visitors – on the orders of the dynamic King Mohammed VI, or M6 as he is known – there is a still a decadent air to life in the Medina. Wandering the small alleyways, there’s always the hope of catching a glimpse of the tail end of Talitha Getty’s kaftan disappearing around a corner, or perhaps finding Keith Richards lounging on a stylish rooftop terrace surrounded by a cloud of kif smoke.

It’s this inspirational side to Marrakech that is central to any visit to this city of artisans. To capture the original spirit of the city, head to the area around the Jemaa El Fna square and the souks just north of this. The sourcing of products can often be left to more industrial cities such as Casablanca, but that’s not to say that there aren’t any good suppliers here – just head out to the Sidi Ghanem industrial area for many good interiors showrooms. A brief stop in the new town of Gueliz on the way can also throw up some interesting stores.

Moroccan restaurant at La Maison Arabe

Riad Enija

La Mamounia

Medina: Jemaa El Fna, Mouassine and the Souks
Jemaa El Fna is the central hub of life in the Medina. At night, this wide-open central area is awash with restaurants, medicine men and crazy-eyed storytellers. During the day, the various terraced cafes lining the square are great for people-watching in the shade; head to Les Terraces de L’Alhambra, Argana, Café de France and Café Glacier.

For direction, the tall pink tower of the Koutubia Mosque marks one of the main entrances to the square. You can enter the souks, which run North from Place Jemaa El Fnaa and the neighbouring Place Bab Fteuh through rue Moussaine (facing Café de France, head left) or through the arch on rue Semarine a block north of Jemaa El Fnaa.

Believe it or not, there is a plan to the souks, although it’s often easier to just follow your nose. But, roughly speaking, the jewellery souk can be found behind Argana and the spices and olives souk behind Le Terraces de l’Alhambra. To the left of the arch on rue Semarine is the clothes souk, followed by the textiles souk. The handicrafts and antiques souk is north of this, before the Mouassine mosque. Back on rue Semaraine is the herb souk, followed by leather, then carpets and wool, and back towards the Mouassine fountain are the pottery and metalwork souks.

This is followed by the dyers section, one of the oldest parts of the souks and well worth a visit to view the workers knee-deep in huge vats of colour-saturated dye.

If you can stand the stench, head to the tanneries north east of here off the Place de Moukef, full of fundouks (traditional stabling and storage). The tanneries aren’t obvious to see but usually you will be approached by a local who will offer to show you around – but be sure to grab some fresh mint or anything else suitable for covering up the stench of tanning hide.

Back in the Mouassine area, near the mosque of the same name, there are a few stores worth noting. Kulchi is a recently opened store from the owner of fashionable boutique and nightspot, Comptoir, near to the atelier of local fashion designer Kenza Melehi. Another local tailoring team is Beldi (near Bab Fteuh up from Jemaa El Fnaa), offering Moroccan style geared towards western tastes.

There’s also Moha, an objets d’art specialist packed full with furniture, and Cherkaoui, facing the Mouassine fountain, which offers everything needed to furnish a home in the traditional Moroccan style. A good quality lantern shop is Founoun Marrakech, which is just second on the left after passing through the arch to the souks.

There are a few showrooms that offer stylish interior design by expats who have settled in the city. Try Bridgette Perkins, whose fabrics are sold at the Amanjena resort; FB Design for metalwork; and Nouala for made-to-order furniture.

Sidi Ghanem (industrial zone)
Grab a taxi (preferably from your hotel, as you might need help giving directions), secure a fixed price and head out on the 20-minute journey to the Sidi Ghanem industrial zone on the Route de Safi. It certainly isn’t pretty, but keep the taxi with you to drive you around the zone (the most popular showrooms usually have a group of taxis waiting outside).

First stop should be Amira on the third road in at number 344. Featured in Wallpaper* and plenty of French interiors magazines, it sells quality wax candles in a wide variety of colours and dramatic yet simple shapes, which can be bought in boxes and with wooden stands. Owner Rodolphe Guilmoto told WGSN that he mainly sells to hotels and for film productions, but a new technique of printing any motif onto the wax is sure to get the department stores calling.

The Akkal (no 322) showroom offers some of the most stylish contemporary ceramics WGSN saw in Marrakech, as well as clothing designed for the French market.

Al Asad (no 368) is another furniture showroom, along with manufacturer Carré Meubles (no 266). Fleur de Sel (no 433) offers expensive art de la table but be sure to visit La Kasba d’Aline (no 525) for sophisticated yet casual apparel.

Also worth visiting are: Magie D’Orient (no 111) for everything under the “Oriental” banner; Metiers D’Hier (no 532) for metalwork; Vincini (no 525) for leather; Peu d’Ane (no297), Maison Mediterranéenne (no 230), Khamsa (no 391), Fan Wa Nour (no 16) and De Bouche a Oreille (no 280) for artisanal work and handicrafts.

Guéliz
The new-town area of Guéliz is not exactly impressive. It might be best to head there in the early evening after lunchtime closing, otherwise it’s like a ghost town. However, there are some interesting stores in the area, particularly on rue de la Liberté.

On this street, Darkoum and Intensite Nomade are the more significant stores, offering chic interiors and apparel, the latter stocking designs by young Moroccan name Noureddine Amir. L’Orientaliste is a set designer’s heaven, offering oversized 1930s tourist posters – but don’t expect to find a bargain. Atika is the place for chic leather shoes

Elsewhere in Guéliz, Amazonite is well known for its historical jewellery and artefacts but again, it isn’t cheap. Be sure to stop by Galerie Birkemeyer for quality leather goods without that just-patched-together carpetbag look to be found in the souks.

El Badii antiques is another treasure-trove for high-end artefacts, all with fixed prices, while La Porte d’Orient is a small store with a large warehouse behind it, full of treasures.

A final stop, Tazidriss, offers simple Moroccan clothing with a choice of fabrics.

Other stores
There are many other boutiques dotted around Marrakech that are worth a visit, but remember to call ahead to ensure that they are open or to book an appointment.

The Comptoir Boutique in the Hivernage area is located behind this popular restaurant and offers a hippie-inspired take on Moroccan clothing and accessories.

Mustapaha Blaoui in the Medina is the name recommended by any Marrakech fan. Essentially an excellent antiques and accessories warehouse with reasonable prices, it supplied furnishings to the Villa Des Oranges (See Where to Stay section).

Riad Tamsna, also in the Medina, is a popular space offering a bookshop, shop and lunch-only restaurant. Here you can find some of the most stylish Moroccan goods (ask for owner Meryanne Loum Martin), including furniture and accessories such as jewellery by hot name Amina Agueznay

Au Fil D’Or in the Souk area comes recommended for its quality jelabas, jackets and clothes, as does Chez Brahim – a higher-end babouche market full of shoes and slippers – and Tazi Freres for apparel.

Maison Tyres is also worth a mention for its hand woven silk throws in every possible colour.

Even it’s just for lunch and a glimpse at this exclusive Amanresort, the boutiques at the Amanjena resort stock some choice local goods.

Inspirational Marrakech
There are some must-see sights in Marrakech, all rich in design inspiration. Perhaps the best known is the Jardin Majorelle, the gardens of Yves Saint Laurent’s house created by Jacques Majorelle in the 1930s, with its bold “Majorelle blue”, aqua and yellow colour scheme. Go early or brave the midday heat to avoid the tourist coaches and be sure to view the Musée D’Art Islamique situated in the house itself.

Where to eat and drink
Whether it’s sheep’s brains, liver or pigeon, Moroccan food is never less than interesting. In Marrakech, you can dine on some of the best tagines, salads and desserts in the country.

Alcohol is not restricted and many restaurants have full wine menus (try the local vin gris), although you’ll be hard-pushed to find an independent bar serving alcohol. Often riads will provide good dinner options but there are plenty of alternatives.

Traditional Moroccan restaurant Dar Yacout, serving up course after course in flamboyant surroundings, and the exotic Comptoir are perhaps the two most well known restaurants. These are closely followed by the gastronomic experience of Tobsil and the intimate decor at French-Moroccan Foundouk.

Riad Tamsna also comes recommended for lunch, while Chez Chegrouni, next to the Café de France on Jemaa El Fnna, is a good low-budget option as well as Marrakchi situated above.

If Moroccan food leaves you feeling stuffed like a pigeon pastille, then shell out for Thai food at the poser-friendly The Thai Restaurant, at the luxurious Amanjena resort in the Palmeraie.

Catering to the Atlas Blue budget-airline hordes is a new branch of Ibiza-based nightspot Pacha, home to the Jana and Crystal restaurants and a soon-to-be-opened swimming pool.

Riads, riads, riads – you could do a fabulous interiors tour of the city just by viewing the various renovated traditional guesthouses in Marrakech.

At the higher end of the scale, WGSN can highly recommend the Villa des Orangers just south of the bustling Jemaa El Fna square. A former judge’s house, this is a magical place to stay, with attentive and friendly staff. There are two swimming pools – one on the roof – and all of the 19 rooms and suites are individually decorated in a simple, stylish manner (the suites having their own access to the roof terrace and pool). There are various courtyards and rooms for relaxing in – ideal for choosing where to have breakfast in the morning.

Also high on our list is La Maison Arabe, a richly decorated guesthouse with two excellent restaurants and a small hammam. WGSN particularly liked the courtyard breakfasts. An added bonus is the swimming pool, complete with poolside tent, and gardens located a short ride out of the city – a complex that is also home to la Maison Arabe’s cookery school

On a far larger scale, we can’t write about Marrakech without mentioning the grand hotel La Mamounia, known for hosting the great and the good, from Winston Churchill through to Tom Cruise. Although it underwent a fairly unsympathetic refurb in the 80s, WGSN loves the traditional Moroccan courtyard and restaurant and the poolside buffet. If you’re into kitsch Oriental fantasy, ask to take a peek at some of the suites, especially the Moroccan one!

For a more budget-conscious stay, the nearby Hotel Central Palace is as good as it gets in this category. WGSN liked the lovely high roof terrace and riad-style décor – as well as the good location.

Also worth a mention are Riad 72, a four-room guest house with dramatic contemporary decor in a very quiet area; Riad Enija for it’s chic reputation, its location near to Jemaa El Fnaa and super-friendly owners; and Dar Tchaikana, again for its friendly owners and beautiful decor.

Opening times

Heard of the saying inshallah (God willing)? It certainly applies to opening times in Marrakech, which generally run from 9am-7pm.
Most close for lunch, from about midday until 3-4pm.
Many stores close erratically during Ramadan.
Many souk shops will close on Fridays, while those in Gueliz are closed on Sundays.
If visiting a specific boutique, call ahead.

Travel info

Marrakech Menara is the main international airport.
Your accommodation will often include transfers.
Taxis are available outside the airport and should cost at the most 60DHR into the Medina.
Distance from the airport to the Medina is about 10 minutes.
Always take a registered petit taxi or grand taxi and make sure the meter is on or you have arranged a price before setting off.
Journeys within and just around the Medina should cost no more that 20DHR.

Tips

  1. Bartering is expected at most places – start off by cutting the asking price in half.
  2. Money exchange takes place at the airport as Moroccan dirham is a controlled currency.
  3. Beware of the heavy-handed Customs on departure, who interrogate visitors about he amount of cash they have brought in and are taking out of the country.
  4. Credit cards are best used in hotels, cash every where else if possible.
  5. Guides are not always necessary!
  6. Ask your hotel or Riad for a supply of maps, which are essential.
  7. If visiting a specific boutique, call ahead as you might need to be guided to the store (they’re often hard to find, leaving you clutching a map and with only the cats for company in a random alleyway).

Addresses

Interiors:

Akkal
322 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 335938
akkal@iam.net.ma

Amira
344 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 336247
www.amirabougies.com

Al Asad
368 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 335809

Au Fil D’Or
10 Souk Semmarine
Medina
Tel: +212 (0)44 445919

Carré Meubles
266 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 336630

Cherkaoui
120-22 rue Mouassine
Medina
Tel: +212 (0)44 426817

Darkoum
5 rue de la Liberté
Guéliz
Tel: +212 (0)44 43 6739

De Bouche a Oreille
280 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 336655

El Badii antiques
54 boulevard Moulay Rachid
Guéliz
Tel: +212 (0)44 43 16 93

Fan Wa Nour
16 bis Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 336960

Fleur de Sel
433 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 335884

Founoun Marrakech
28 Souk des Teinturiers
Medina
Tel: +212 (0)44 426302

Khamsa
391 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel : +212 (0)44 339864

La Porte d’Orient
6 boulevard El Mansour Eddahbi
Guéliz
Tel: +212 (0)44 43 8967

L’Orientaliste
11, 15 rue de la Liberté
Gueliz

Magie D’Orient
111 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 336688

Maison Mediterranéenne
230 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 336000

Maison Tyres
11 Znikt Rahba
Medina

Metiers D’Hier
532 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 335829

Moha
73 Laksour Sabet Grapua
Mouassine
Tel: +212 (0)44 443781

Mustapaha Blaoui
144 Arset Bab Doukkala
Medina
Tel: +212 (0)44 385240

Peu d’Ane
297 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel: +212 (0)44 3365 50

Riad Tamsna
23 derb Zanka Daika
off Riad Zitoun Jidd
Tel: +212 (0)44 385272

Apparel and accessories:

Amazonite
94 Boulevard Mansour Eddahbu
Guéliz
Tel: +212 (0)44 9926

Atika
35 rue de la Liberté
Guéliz
Tel: +212 (0)44 436409

Beldi
9-11 Soukiat Laksour
Bab Fteuh, Medina
Tel: +212 (0)44 441076

Bridgette Perkins
Appointment only
Tel: +212 (0)44 377416

Chez Brahim
82 Souk Semmarine 9or 101 Rahba Lakdima)
Medina
Tel: +212 (0)44 440110

Comptoir Boutique
Avenue Echouda
Hivernage
Tel: +212 (0)44 437702

FB Design
Appointment only
Tel: +212 (0)44 378078

Galerie Birkemeyer
169 rue Mohammed El Bekal
Guéliz
Tel: +212 (0)44 442995

Intensite Nomade
139 avenue Mohammed V
Guéliz
Tel: +212 (0)44 43 1333

La Kasba d’Aline
525 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Fax : +212 (0)44 349849
www.lakasbahdaline.com

Nouala
Appointment only
Tel: +212 (0)44 385415

Tazidriss
13 rue de la Mauritanie
Guéliz
Tel: +212 (0)44 44 3404

Tazi Freres
77 Daffa Warbaa
Semmarine, Medina
Tel : +212 (0)44 440965

Vincini
525 Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
Tel : +212 (0)44 336107

Inspirational places

Jardin Majorelle and the Musée D’Art Islamique
Open: daily 8am-5pm in winter, 8am-7pm in summer
www.jardinmajorelle.com

Where to eat and drink

Dar Yacout
79 rue Ahmed Soussi
Arset Ihiri
Tel : +212 (0)44 382929

Comptoir
avenue Echouada
Tel : +212 (0)44 43 7702

Tobsil
22 Derb Abdellah Ben Hessaien
Bab Ksour
Tel : +212 (0)44 444052

Foundouk
55 rue du Souk des Fassi
Kat Bennahid
Tel : +212 (0)44 378190

Riad Tamsna
23 Derb Zanka Daika
off Riad Zitoun El Jedid
Tel: +212 (0)44 385272

Chez Chegrouni
Jemma El Fnaa

Marrakchi
52 rue des Banques
Jmaa El Fnaa
Tel : +212 (0)44 443377

The Thai Restaurant
Amajena
Route de Ouarzazate
Tel : +212 (0)44 403353

Pascha
Boulevard Mohamed V!
Zone Hoteliere de L’Aguedal
Tel : +212 (0)44 388400

Where to stay

Villa des Orangers
6 rue Sidi Mimoune
Tel : +212 (0)44 383638
Email: message@villadesorangers.com
www.villadesorangers.com
Rates start at €263 per night, including airport transfer, breakfast, light lunch, non-alcoholic open bar, laundry and taxes.

La Maison Arabe
1 Derb Assehbe Bab Doukkala
Tel: +212 (0)44 387010
Email: maisonarabe@iam.net.ma
www.lamaisonarabe.com
Rates start at around €150 per night in low season, including breakfast.

La Mamounia
Avenue Babjdid
Tel: +212 (0)44 38 86 00
Email: resa@mamounia.com
www.mamounia.com
Rates start at around 2300DH per night in low season.

Hotel Central Palace
59 Derb Sidi Bouloukat
Tel: +212 (0)44 440235
Email: hotelcentralpalace@hotmail.com
Doubles with bathroom 2000DH

Riad 72
72 Derb Arset Aouzal
off rue Bab Doukkala
Tel: +212 (0)44 387629
Email: Riad.72@wanadoo.net.ma
www.riad72.com

Riad Enija
9 Derb Mesfioui
off rue Rahba Lakdima
Tel: +212 (0)44 44 09 26
Email: riadenija@iam.net.ma
www.riadenija.com

Dar Tchaikana
25 Derb El Ferrane
Kaat Benahid
Tel: =212 (0)44 385150
Email: info@tchaikana.com
www.tchaikana.com

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