Luxurious Finds Beyond the Desert
Marrakech is a culture shock in the most wonderful way. You could spend weeks here exploring narrow alleyways, discovering placid riad courtyards, and wandering past hidden market stalls full of rainbow-hued 'babouches' (slippers) fresh from busy leather workshops. On the flip side, nature is within reach. When you’re craving an intermission from city adventures, it’s a surprisingly short trip to remote desert dunes and the cool rocky slopes of the Atlas Mountains, where Berber communities will greet you with fresh mint tea and a grin.
The electric cobalt of Jardin Majorelle, a studio and garden designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle and later inhabited by Yves Saint-Laurent, is so striking it spawned its own hue: Majorelle blue. The cacti-covered courtyard and adjoining institutions – the Berber and YSL Museums – are atop virtually every visitor’s must-see list, so snag tickets from your hotel in advance. Frustrated with crowds ruining your perfect shot? In a post all about how to beat the line at Majorelle Gardens, blogger Lizzy Fay insists that Hotel La Maison Arabe’s lookalike rooftop makes a great Majorelle substitute for Insta-ready portraits.
When you’ve had enough hustle and bustle, get out of town and into the high Atlas Mountains – a 2,500km range running through Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. A one-day guided tour will take you to the picturesque, tiered village of Imlil on camelback, where you’ll sip tea with a local family and learn about the process of creating argan oil.
The numerous unremarkable doors of Marrakech conceal some of the world’s most decorative and beautifully designed abodes. The hard part is picking just one for the duration of your stay. Personally, we like Riad Due for its library of coffee table tomes on Moroccan design and lush courtyard with cooling plunge pool, or Riad Jardin Secret for its artist’s studio and shaded pink-washed rooftop. But you’ll be missing out if you don’t set aside a night or two to sleep in the desert under the glowy arc of the Milky Way. A 40-minute drive from Marrakech, Agafay Desert Luxury Camp is a middle-of-nowhere glamping establishment offering the comforts of a hotel (robes, plush bedding, botanical toiletries, and an en suite bathroom). Spend the day exploring dunes or relaxing by the outdoor pool – your own desert oasis. After the sun sinks, turning the sandy mountains deep terracotta, the staff will fix you a romantic dinner by candlelight.
Riad-turned-restaurant, Limoni Marrakech, takes its name from the lemon trees that shade its courtyard. The menu at this lovely lunch spot is primarily Italian, mixed with some lighter Moroccan dishes for good measure. Play it safe and delicious with velvety ricotta ravioli sprinkled with parmesan, lemon zest, and mint, or pick the adventurous option: Limoni’s famed camel burger with orange-spiced onions and zingy ginger sauce.
When it comes to evening ambiance, Le Tanjia’s gilded candlesticks, pierced brass chandeliers, and plump throw pillows can’t be beaten. Watch the belly dancing show while enjoying the restaurant’s signature dish, tanjia – seasoned meat, placed in a clay pot, and left to slow-cook in the furnace of a local hammam.
The Last Call
After a day spent getting lost in the maze of the medina, a hammam is just the thing to soothe the senses. If you’re not familiar with the Moroccan spa tradition, here’s the gist: a hammam is a public steam bath where communities congregate to gossip while getting a deep clean, normally culminating in an intense exfoliation. On one end of the spectrum are the locals’ go-to hammams like Hammam Dar el-Bacha, where the unofficiated can hire an attendant to scrub and wash them in a very public setting (avoid if you’re not super comfortable being nude around strangers). On the other end are ultra opulent spa-like hammams like the one at Royal Mansour, which offers a more private experience inspired by the thousand-year-old beauty rituals of Morrocan women.