The D/A UK guide to Marrakesh
Morrocco's ancient city is bustling with energy and beautiful design around every corner. Whether you prefer the intensity of the medina or mooching around galleries in a trendy new neighbourhood, there is something for everyone
Where to stay: Dar K
Nestled within the labyrinth of the medina, Dar-k is a sanctuary from the frenetic energy of the souks just outside its doors. The riad has been restored with white-washed stucco walls and decorative arches around a serene, central courtyard – host to an impressive cactus garden and four mature orange trees in perfect symmetry. Suites are spare yet tasteful with antique furniture, Moroccan textiles and tadelakt shower rooms. A must: long, leisurely breakfasts on the rooftop overlooking the minarets and domes of the pink city below.
Where to eat: Sahbi Sahbi
There are three equally excellent things about this new restaurant in Marrakesh’s Gueliz district: it’s achingly cool interiors by Parisian powerhouse KO Studio; a tasting menu using traditional techniques, local meat and produce and a wine list packed with interesting Moroccan vintages; and last but not least, all staff – including the head chef – are women, which is highly unusual in Marrakesh and all the better for it. The imposing grill and oven sit in the centre of the room as a kind of culinary spectacle, which is well worth taking in.
Where to shop: Sidi Ghanem industrial zone
For contemporary Morroccan craft and design, head to the industrial neighbourhood of Sidi Ghanem – home to a spate of ateliers, eateries and galleries for people in the know. Stop into Marrakshi Life to watch weavers and spinners on looms creating textiles, jumpsuits and bright cotton caftans. Or duck into Jajjah, Hassan Hajjaj’s gallery and cafe, for photography highlighting up-and-coming talent, upcycled babouche slippers and Moroccan street food
Where to take in nature: Jardine Majorelle
Lovingly designed and tended to by French painter Jacque Majorelle starting in 1922, this must-see garden is a treasure trove of succulents, cactus and exotic plantings meticulously kept. After Majorelle’s death, Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, bought the garden in 1980 to save it from destruction. A short walk from the medina, visitors arrive in droves to walk the garden paths and catch a glimpse of the famous electric blue house situated on its grounds, which holds the Berber Museum and a boutique selling prints and objet d’art.
For modern architecture: Yves Saint Laurent Museum
For a double dose of YSL and Studio KO, head to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum – a short walk from the Jardine Majorelle. Come to gawp at the truly beautiful modernist building designed by the French architects, but stay for the retrospective showcasing classic pieces from the designer’s oeuvre including the pea coat, the Mondrian dress, and the safari jacket. The museum’s permanent collection is an homage to the creative prowess of YSL and explores the myriad ways Morocco inspired and influenced his work since first visiting in the 1960s.
Where to get coffee and dessert: Nomad
A disclaimer: this groovy, well-appointed cafe is perhaps not the most authentic Moroccan experience on offer, but it has a lot to say for itself including one of the best rooftop views around. Fortify yourself with a coffee and a Saffron date cake with salted caramel ice cream before launching headlong into an afternoon of haggling in the souks and a wander through the Jemaa el-Fna.
Where to support women: Al Kawtar Women’s Cooperative
Formed in 2012 with a mission to support women with disabilities, the cooperative provides a space for them to create, exhibit and sell handicrafts that have been made onsite. Located within the medina, the shop sells linens, baskets, clothing, jewellery and knitwear, among other things, with the aim of providing this group with a reliable source of income and independence.