Marrakesh is the third largest city of Morocco. The foothills of the snow-topped Atlas range on one side and the Sahara Desert a few hours away, lend the city a fascinating contrast in landscape. It is also called the Red City or the Ochre city because of the 12th century red sandstone buildings that continue to dot the cityscape.
It is difficult to describe the climate of Marrakesh; it has some traits of both, the desert and the Mediterranean. Winters are wet and summers dry and hot. Summer brings in high temperatures as well as throngs of tourists. The best time to visit is between September and May when the temperatures are moderate.
Marrakesh is not for the faint-hearted tourist. Noise and pollution combine with the rich history and culture to make an unforgettable concoction, one that must be imbibed to be believed. Medina, the historical city and Gueliz, the modern European district co-exist side-by-side giving the visitor a complete experience.
Old Wine, New Bottle
Winston Churchill spent his winters here, sitting in his balcony painting the gardens it overhung. Yves Saint Laurent called it his second home and a special bed had to be made to accommodate Charles de Gaulle. When a heritage includes names like these, it is no mean task to take on its refurbishment. So, when La Mamounia reopened in 2010 after being under the artistic hand of French designer Jacques Garcia for three years, the city waited with bated breath.
Almost every aspect of the original hotel had been changed for the better. Subdued lighting and dark-hued, luxurious fabrics like velvet, taffeta and silk create deep, shaded interiors and provide respite from the intensity of the Moroccan sun. Scented candles scattered across the premises emit both a glow and lingering fragrances.
Artworks ranging from paintings of the 1900s to contemporary black and white photographs adorn the walls, ceilings and niches of the hotel. More than thousand local artisans were used to ensure that the Moroccan touch was as authentic as possible.
The number of rooms has been reduced to make the existing rooms more palatial. Each room includes a patio or a terrace overlooking the hotel gardens. While there is no compromise on modern comfort, the antique 10-fin radiator in each room and black and white pictures of old Marrakech infuse a touch of old-world charm. Three secluded riads take up one part of the sprawling lawns of the hotel. Equipped with a courtyard and a private pool, these are perfect for a family or those looking for privacy.
Buried In The Past
In late seventeenth century, Moulay Ismail took over Marrakesh and destroyed the Badi Palace. The Saadian tombs in the adjacent burial ground were left intact and its entrances were sealed. They remained untouched for over two hundred years till they were discovered in 1917.
Delicate columns, carved arches, vaulted roof and tombs covered in intricate zellige transport the visitor to the era they were built in. The gardens also house more than hundred tombs, each one inlaid with colourful mosaic patterns.
Ali Baba’s Other Cave
You may not have clapped your hands twice and shouted out ‘Open Sesame’ at the door, but the treasures that lay beyond are not any less than those in Ali Baba’s cave. Ministero Del Gusto opened in an alley in Medina in 1998 and in the span of 15 years has put itself on Marrakech’s must visit list. Furniture and other artefacts for the home, vintage fashion and jewellery make up the eclectic catalogue of this store. But, Ministero Del Gusto exists far beyond its ware. The pool in the inner courtyard, the vibrant ochre walls and light peering through the opening in the roof altering the space as the sun moves from the east to the west, all come together to create an atmosphere that captivates.
Traditionally, a fondouk was the place where merchants on the Saharan trade route would stop for rest and refreshments. The restaurant Le Founduk is located deep into the maze that is the Medina. But once there, its interiors make up for the circuitous journey even before the first course is served.
European luxury and Moroccan design combine to create a hip setting in the heart of old Morocco. The three-storied building gives the diner different settings to choose from – a rooftop terrace, a plush lounge bar and cosy alcoves – each one caters to a different mood.
Text By Himali Kothari