Dazzling Marrakech

An insider guide to Morocco's city of artisans

Words: Lee Tulloch, Photography: Tony Amos
the medina
the medina
filigree lamps
the medina
medicinal herbs
bakery
the medina
Chez Lamine
dyed leather in the medina
Le Jardin Marjorelle
33 Rue Marjorelle
Dar Yacout
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Marrakech may be

the best place to shop in the world, if you’re looking for something handmade and exquisitely beautiful. The only way to navigate the dazzling array of souks, tiny boutiques, artisan workshops and designer showrooms is to plunge in.

It’s difficult to show restraint in this city of artisans. Inside the medina (the fortified old city), everything you come across is either exceptionally beautiful or exceptionally curious – the saffron yellow leather slippers and hooded robes worn by the local men; the myriad beautiful patterns in the tiles that cover just about every surface; the filigree metal lamps that light up the dark; even the gold-embroidered velvet covers that are placed over the clay pot tagines to keep the food warm.

The famous souks of the city conjure up images of sinister labyrinths full of over-priced knock-offs and persistent touters. Indeed, the stallholders have something of a reputation for being unpleasantly aggressive, but it’s rare these days. In recent years there has been a concerted government crack down on such behaviour. If you want to engage genuinely with sellers many are extremely hospitable.

What you will find overwhelming is the artistic beauty of what is on offer, from raffia shoes to enormous perforated lamps that reflect pinpoints like stars across the ceilings. In this city of around one million people, sixty percent of the working population is occupied as an artisan of some sort, so the standard of manufacture of lamps, leather goods, clothing, pottery and so on, is very high, and aesthetically pleasing. Check that an item is locally made – in many cases you can buy directly from the foundry or shoemaker.

There’s not much sense in having a plan. It’s wonderful to wander these streets without shopping in mind.

Historically the souks were divided by retail speciality, such as spices, carpets, metalwork and leather, but these days they blend into each other, so there’s not too much sense in having a plan. It’s wonderful to wander these streets without shopping in mind, marvelling at the hanks of vivid, dyed wool hanging in across the archways, the tiled mosques and mysterious doorways leading to private riads, or houses, and even the cosy hole-in-the-wall bakeries where the locals leave their bread to be baked in cavernous wood-fired ovens.

Stop at any herboriste selling spices and medicinal herbs and leave with packets of amber, essential oils, ras el hanout (a 35-spice mix) and cute little terracotta bowls of red pigment, which, when moistened, Moroccan women use on their lips and cheeks.

If you’re alone and not sure of prices, the rule of thumb is this – bargain, but if it seems inexpensive for what it is, don’t be overly concerned that it’s not the cheapest price going. You’ll get yourself in a shocking tangle if you move on looking for a better price. You’re bound to become distracted, forget where the stall was, and end up with nothing except a bad case of regret.

If you’re interested in fashion, linens and homewares with a more contemporary bent, you might enjoy visiting Sidi Ghanem, an industrial area outside the medina walls where a lot of designers have showrooms and warehouses. It’s hardly picturesque, but there are good bargains to be found directly from the manufacturer.

It helps to be accompanied by a guide or, in this case, a shopping expert like local interior designer Patrizia Bell-Banner who knows the secret places and can steer you away from rip-offs – but you shouldn’t be afraid of getting wonderfully lost.

SHOP

33 Rue Majorelle

When you’re visiting Le Jardin Majorelle, don’t miss this marvellous boutique directly across the road. It’s bursting with beautiful and intriguing clothes, footwear, jewellery and homewares from over sixty talented local designers. The two-level shop houses an art gallery and a great little café, Kaowa, on the ground floor. 34 Rue Yves Saint Laurent; 212 (0) 5 24 31 41 95

Oumamass Said

The number of shops selling filigree metal lamps in the souks can become completely overwhelming. We found everything we desired in this wonderful, glittering shop, that occupies several levels (go up to the roof for a great view of the medina) – and they ship internationally.6 Souk Lamdamia el Haddaddine, Medina; 212 (0) 5 24 44 54 78

El Liouami Ahmed

This little shoemaker sells the most intricate raffia shoes for men and women – exceptionally chic, and barely $20 AUD a pair. We regret not buying a Baker’s Dozen. 218, Riad Zitoune Jdid en Face du Provence, Medina; 212 (0) 6 62 77 83 47

Aya’s

When Sex and the City 2 was filming in Marrakech, Sarah Jessica Parker and co couldn’t get enough of the beautiful locally-made embroidered linen caftans and velvet coats from this charming shop in the Jewish quarter. Prices are a little more expensive than elsewhere but the quality is superb – and they will make to order.11 bis, Derb Jdid Bab Mellah; 212 (0) 5 24 38 34 28

M,H

Martine Hillen is a local leathergoods designer who makes gorgeous, stylish bags and carryalls in great colours from the butteriest leather imaginable. 369 La Manufacture Qi Sidi Ghanem. 

Chez Zoe

Many of Marrakech’s hotels and riads buy their embroidered linens from this little factory, owned by Frenchwoman Caroline Hamile. You can visit the showroom and order hooded towelling robes, sheets and other linens, hand-decorated with blanket stitch or any insignia to suit. There’s a ten-day turnaround but they ship.  Great value.  510 Sidi Ghanem; 

Amira

Marrakech is a city lit by candles at night and this upscale local candle-maker sells candles in a great range of colours and sizes – and fragrances. They’re so hip, John Malkovich designed a range of candles for the brand. Z.I Sidi Ghanem; 

INDULGE

Les Bains de Marrakech

Everyone will have his or her favourite hammam but I found this renowned bathhouse, which has recently been beautifully redecorated, a mind-blowing experience. I opted for a steam in a private white marble room, followed by a vigorous scrub and massage. Over the course of three hours, I was coddled into blessed-out oblivion. There are sticky pastries and mint tea after every step in the treatment and a lovely relaxation room where one reclines on gold leather chaises under an atrium filled with birds. Inexpensive. 2 Derb Sedra, Kasbah

EAT

Dar Yacout

The King’s favourite restaurant is set in a beautiful old riad tucked away in a narrow lane. In summer dine in the courtyard; in winter by an open fire. Undoubtedly one of the most romantic restaurants in the world. Superb cuisine, music and service and, at less than $100 AUD a head for several courses, wine and entertainment, something of a bargain. You need to go once. 79 rue Sidi Ahmed Soussi, Medina; 212 (0) 5 24 38 29 29

Chez Lamine

At the other end of the culinary scale is this phenomenally cheap restaurant in the new town. Meats are on display outside in a refrigerated cabinet: you order your cut by weight. The tanjia, or mutton stew, is recommended, but grabbing a quick lunch, we dined on delicious lamb cutlets and kefta, washed down with gallons of mint tea, for less than $10 AUD for two. Rue Ibn Aicha, Guéliz; 212 (0) 5 24 43 11 64

Un Déjeuner a Marrekech

Lively little café in a narrow four-level house has a fabulous rooftop terrace with views over the medina. It’s a perfect watering hole when you need a respite from combing the souk for treasures. 2, 4 Place Douar Graoua, Medina; 212 (0) 5 24 37 83 87

Le Djellabar

This former marriage hall has been reinvented as a sexy bar and restaurant, serving cocktails with names like Moroccan Love Potion alongside modern takes on traditional dishes. The creator of Paris’s iconic Buddha Bar is behind it, so you know the soundtrack is cool. Rue Imam Abou Hanifa, Hivernage; 212 (0) 5 24 42 12 42

DON’T MISS

Jardin Majorelle

In the early 20th Century, painter Jacques Majorelle created a beautiful garden, full of dramatic, curious plants, in this upscale neighbourhood in the city. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé acquired it in 1980  and it has since been restored, the buildings painted cobalt blue and yellow. A museum of Berber culture was opened on the property in 2011. The garden may be overrun with tourists at certain times of the day, but despite the crowds, one can still find quiet paths. There’s an atmospheric courtyard café for lunch. Open daily. Rue Yves Saint Laurent; www.jardinmajorelle.com

 

 

 


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  1. Lee, you make it sound so deliciously irresistible. Love the shopping tips. Carol

  2. by Carol*Your Name on August 9th, 2014 at 8:04 pm
  3. Would appreciate information on your next trip to Marrakech. Thank you. David.

  4. by David Groundwater on March 18th, 2015 at 12:30 pm
  5. Thank you for your enquiry, David. We’re preparing a 13-day trip to Morocco in early-mid March 2016. We’re just finalising the itinerary and we’ll let you know once the details are in place. If any readers care to know more, please email mrs@mrandmrsamos.com and we’ll send you the itinerary when we have it.

  6. by Lee Tulloch on March 20th, 2015 at 4:17 pm

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