Morocco: A splendid movie set
Wake up to luxurious design at Le Grand Savoy, a hotel in Marrakesh’s city center. Then, hop into a horse-drawn carriage to visit the nearly 1,000-year-old medina or Marrakech old city.
The most important part of Marrakesh’s medina quarter is Jamaa el-Fna Square, the first square to be taken under protection by UNESCO to preserve its native life and culture. Bustling from the morning hours and never slowing down all day, it is a fairytale venue. To be sure, the medina has its own unique design wonders– seen in its palaces, madrasas, and sky-high minarets, making it no surprise that the city has been a fixture on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for the past 30 years.
These marvels are best appreciated in the company of a knowledgeable guide who can reveal both its highlights and secrets. Hidden within the old city’s high fortification walls are the traditional markets, named “souks” in local language. These are an incomparable artisanal experience in and of themselves.
Picture a winding labyrinth overflowing with Moroccan antiques and crafts - from ornate lanterns, embroidered caftans, plush carpets and so much more. There’s a method to the madness, though, as the souks are divided into areas of specialty, including metalwork, slippers, carpets, spices and so on.
When you have had your fill of the colorful medina, head to Marrakesh’s newer district for a visit of the enchanting Majorelle Garden. Created by French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) and later purchased by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008), this is truly a designer garden.
The unforgettable color palette alone makes the trip to this jewel of a botanical garden well worth it! A stone’s throw from the Jardin Majorelle, this 4,000-square-meter building was conceived as a real cultural center. It features a permanent exhibition space showcasing 40 years of creative work at the Yves Saint Laurent. Couture house, a space for temporary exhibitions, photography gallery, auditorium, research library, bookshop and terrace cafe. Also Yves’ descriptions about Morocco are very interesting: “I realized that the range of colors here I use was that of the zelliges, zouacs, djellabas, caftans and much more.
The boldness seen since then in my work. I owe to this country, to its forceful harmonies, to its audacious combinations, to the fervor of its creativity. This culture became mine, but it wasn’t satisfied with absorbing it; I transformed and adapted it.”
No trip to Marrakech would be complete without visiting a Marrakech Art Museum, arguably, the most stunning local mansion in the world, located at the city center. Like something out of a fairytale, this superb museum has a lacy white atrium. The museum has floor-to-ceiling local paintings and features soaring arches and indulgent treatments. The museum itself is a masterpiece of Moroccan artistry that took years and hundreds of artisans to build. Wind up your visit with dinner at La Paillote.
One of the most notable things about Morocco’s iconic cuisine is that it looks as divine as it tastes. It is located in an elegant courtyard house in the direction of Amizmiz. After the dinner, drinking mint tea is virtually a ritual in Morocco. Prepared by boiling water in authentic pots and pouring it over fresh mint leaves in tall, thin tea glasses, mint tea is the country’s best known hospitality drink.
After you’ve left Marrakesh, an extravaganza of culture and design, your shopping bags will surely be stuffed with treasures, your belly sated with delicious meals, your mind brimming with memories and your heart filled with the magic of this captivating city. Marrakesh never fails to weave its spell on everyone who come its way. But be forewarned - your first visit won’t be your last!
Like French Riviera
Another in Moroccan pearl is Casablanca. Well, how many cities have inspired the script and been the protagonist of a film about love? Casablanca in Spanish, Dar Al-Beida in Arabic, this white city is definitely a destination to add to your list of must-see places.
Casablanca is a cosmopolitan port where visitors wander, surrounded by an appealing blend of tradition and modernism. As hectic as the town is, a stroll in La Corniche, which is the main board walk waterfront, with its private beaches and trendy restaurants, will you give the peace of mind that you were looking for.
La Corniche looks like the real French Riviera with an authentic African and especially Moroccan feel. A short walk from the city center takes you to Hassan II Mosque.
Completed in 1993, the mosque is among the largest ones on the continent, with one of the world’s tallest minarets to boot. Thanks to its location and the laser atop the minaret that beams toward Mecca, it’s become one of Morocco’s most striking buildings. The airy plaza in front of the mosque will be dotted with families, the children treating it as a playground, tearing up and down on their scooters.
The mosque is an imposing sight but also a welcoming one and the only one that receives guests through daily ticketed tours, held in several languages. Casablanca is virtually a city frozen in the time of that cult film (directed by Michael Curtiz, 1942), a city of countless untold stories. Something is always leaving or being left behind in its spaces.