Welcome to Backpacker’s Boutique. Every Sunday, this spot will feature a new travel blogger. Some weeks it will be a really fun interview about packing, fashion, and fitness so you can snoop inside their bags & lives a little bit and other weeks it’ll be a detailed luxury guide to a city the featured blogger/expat knows very well.
For more on Morocco:
- Morocco Itinerary for 2 Weeks
- Shopping in Morocco
- Crazy and Delicious Foods to Try in Morocco
- How to Dress in Morocco in a Way That is Stylish AND Appropriate
A Luxury Guide to Marrakech
Tell us a little about yourself and tell us why you’re an expert on luxury travel in Marrakech.
Wherever I travel I seek luxury, but not necessarily in the obvious meaning of the word. I am more about finding authentic experiences, places that have a soul. There is little more luxurious than stargazing in the desert or finding a guesthouse where you feel immediately at home. My blog The Midnight Blue Elephant is a bit of a treasure chest for those places and experiences.
I was still living in Cape Town when I first visited Morocco a few years ago. While I wasn’t initially enticed by Marrakech, I loved the rest of the country. So when I moved back home to Germany and Morocco was just a short plane ride away I decided to go back. You could say Marrakech and I were love at second sight, but now we are head over heels. Something about this crazy, beautiful city has me always coming back for more. Marrakech is full of luxurious places and rich experiences, but they are sort of hidden behind shabby doors and unassuming corners in the medina. You have to go look for them, a bit like a treasure hunt and that’s what I love to do whenever I go there. Seems I have a knack for it – if I was treasure hunting for gold, I’d be very rich!
What makes Marrakech a perfect destination for travelers seeking a glamorous trip?
While Marrakech may not be a glamorous city on first sight – think farting mules and raggedy streets everywhere – it is an imperial city after all. The city is full of history and beautiful architecture, but it isn’t showy, something I really like. Palaces and mosques are quite literally clad in marble, but nothing feels too overwhelming or decadent. It also has a very sensual side, a smell of orange blossoms and roses to everything. Think Arabian Nights mixed with French laissez-faire, a mix that already enticed Yves Saint Laurent who I think is the best company you can seek when it comes to the ultimate luxury.
What 5-star hotel is the best in Marrakech?
I think there are few other cities with more 5-star hotels and riads than Marrakech so you will have a hard time going wrong with your choice. However, THE 5-star hotel is without a doubt the Royal Mansour.
The hotel combines ultra luxury with the very best traditional Moroccan craftsmanship. They have basically created a palace for you to live in. Here you don’t have a room, you stay in one of 53 riads which are all connected by hidden, underground corridors for the staff so you get the utmost privacy. Exclusive airport pick-up with no wait at immigration and a midnight swim in their glass domed pool has me shivering in anticipation – I am hoping to go in April.
What about boutique hotels in Marrakech, of them all, which would you send your friends or family to stay at?
Depending on their price range I would either send them to Chambres d’Amis or El Fenn. Chambres d’Amis is one of the most charming, cool riads in town. Quirky, cute rooms, plenty of tortoises to play with and some of the best homemade food. All that for amazing rates and three minutes away from the Jemaa el Fna.
If you want to splurge a little more I recommend El Fenn. Vanessa Branson, sister of Richard Branson, has created an art and design lovers’ paradise with plenty of Moroccan charm. Make sure to check out the awesome hotel shop and the little pool. Whenever I stay there I usually don’t even venture into the city anymore, it is that fabulous.
Are there any fun activities in Marrakech for the adventurous traveler?
Getting lost in the medina and seeing the snake charmers on the Jemaa el Fna is probably all the adventure you will need. However, if you want to get a bit more of an adrenalin kick you will need to get out of the city. Head towards the Atlas Mountains and half an hour outside of town you can go quad biking in the desert. The landscape here is quite bizarre but also absolutely stunning. You won’t be going over sand dunes, but ride over gravel roads and hills. Think moon landscape and you are the pilot of your own lunar rover!
Where are the best hang outs during the day in Marrakech?
The heart of the city is the Jemaa el Fna, the great square in the medina, and while it only really comes to life in the evening, it is worth a stroll during the day too. Watch the snake charmers and visit the tooth seller, grab a freshly squeezed orange juice and soak up the atmosphere in one of the many surrounding cafes. From here head into the souks, the main markets, and just get lost. There is no better place for window shopping once you get the knack of telling off the very pushy vendors. If you need a little break, head towards the Maison de la Photographie, one of Marrakech’s best galleries in the heart of the souks, a perfect place to relax a little.
If you need some greenery, I recommend a stroll through Jardin Majorelle, also called the Yves Saint Laurent garden. Here you will find an impressive cacti collection and the most amazing Berber museum amongst splashes of blue and yellow. A paradise for Instagram, fashion and nature fans alike. From here head to Cafe de la Poste for a colonial style lunch with a glass of local wine.
If you have a big date night, what are the most delicious restaurants in Marrakech and what are their best dishes?
For a glamorous date in Marrakech, I would eat at the Le Marocain at the La Mamounia (another great option for a 5-star hotel in case the Royal Mansour is booked out). I ate there once during my stay and it was honestly the best meal I’ve had in Morocco. They offer traditional Moroccan cuisine with a contemporary twist. Think lamb meatballs filled with foie gras or pastilla with lobster. The restaurant is also located deep within the Mamounia gardens, which are insanely beautiful. Perfect for a romantic sunset stroll before dinner and moonlight lit digestive walk after.
Let’s talk desserts- what place makes the best in Marrakech?
Honestly, most Moroccan sweets and desserts are not that exciting to me. I usually prefer fresh fruit instead of their very sugary pastries. However, the restaurant Nomad offers not only amazing views over the souks and cool tunes but also amazing homemade vervain and argan oil ice cream.
Tell us all the hot shopping spots; who’s carrying the trendy local designers in Marrakech?
I prefer Marrakech more for interior shopping than for clothing. Best place for that are of course the souks. If you feel overwhelmed by the choices and the not so shy vendors, I recommend hiring a shopping guide. He will take you to places according to your interests, help you with negotiations, and keep the vendors at bay.
If you rather want set prices and some calm (though calm is relative in Marrakech) I recommend the stores at Terrace des Épices for labels like Lalla and La Maison Bahira as well as the boutiques Chabi Chic and 33 Majorelle, the ultimate concept store.
What are a couple of the best salons and spas in Marrakech?
I think Marrakech’s true spa culture is best experienced with a traditional hammam. Here you will be engulfed in warm steam and water, soak in black olive soap and then be scrubbed with a peeling glove until your skin glows. Hammams in Morocco are washing ritual and community hall in one where locals come to get clean and to chat.
Public hammams are everywhere and while far from luxurious, they are an experience not to be missed. Talk about an adventure! Just know that you will survive and that you will come out cleaner than you have ever been before.
I usually just ask the staff at my accommodation for a recommendation. Make sure to tell them you want a public hammam – insert incredulous look on their faces – yes, not the fancy tourist one. In case you are not brave enough (yet) to brave the real hammam experience go to Le Bains Bleu for a more luxurious tourist version.
Time for a great sunset view in Marrakech… where would you go?
Again, Jemaa el Fna! Head to the iconic Cafe de France or any other of the surrounding rooftop bars. I am using the term bar loosely as you won’t get alcoholic drinks at most of them. However, the views over the roofs of Marrakech and the square coming to life at dawn is spectacular. Go here for Maghrib, the sunset prayer, for a concert of prayer calls from all surrounding mosques and you are in for a treat. A truly haunting and beautiful experience while the city is drenched in gold.
Now that the sun’s gone down, fill us on the best places to go for some evening drinks or a great pre-gaming spot.
Many places in the medina will not offer alcohol. If you don’t mind, I recommend staying close to the square for its vibrant atmosphere in the evening or Cafe Clock that offers music and cultural events every day.
For a truly great cocktail, I’d go to La Mamounia’s Churchill bar that has an amazing cocktail menu. However, my favorite is to simply get a bottle of local wine or beer at a grocery store and drink it on top of the roof. Really any roof. With views like this, I don’t care much whether I’m drinking champagne or water – would you?
Annika is a Hamburg, New York, Cape Town hybrid, having called all three cities her home at some point. When she can sneak away from her daytime job as photo producer in Hamburg, she is on the road with her laptop. Her best is to travel throughout Africa and Asia to eat all the local food and play with street kittens. How she managed not to become an old cat lady yet she doesn’t know herself! The first thing she likes to check out at any new place is the underwater world, chances are you will find her cuddling with a shark (in lieu of kittens underwater) in no time. Her friend has declared her a funny Germany, so she writes funny stories about her adventures on The Midnight Blue Elephant, posts inspirational kitten travel pictures on Instagram and Twitter.