As I stepped out of Marrakech’s beautiful airport terminal, I felt pangs of excitement. I’d always wanted to visit this famous Moroccan city. The name itself conjures exotic images of age-old alleys, crowded squares with camels, snake-charmers and carpet sellers, and colourful souks. Those images were soon very real. As I strolled through the Medina or Old Town, I was overwhelmed by the heavy scent of spices (and exhaust fumes) in the air, horse-driven carts, vendors selling all sorts of food, spices and handicraft, and a maze of alleys through atmospheric neighbourhoods with ancient-looking homes and colourful doors. My first day in Marrakech left my head spinning and my senses in knots. Exotic – absolutely. Chic – not really, aside from the riad (house) I stayed at which was spacious and serene.
Shopping, spas and restaurants in Marrakech
In the following days, I began to discover another side of Marrakech; a more tranquil, luxurious side tucked away behind the rustic façades and walls of the Medina, hidden from prying eyes. I found beautiful cafés on rooftops with panoramic views of the Medina and the chaotic streetlife below; lounges behind colourful chiffon curtains where guests sit on plush velvet cushions amidst palms and soothing fountains; restaurants with top-notch service and ditto food; and gorgeous hammams where you could get a thorough spa treatment. I gradually discovered all sorts of possibilities for a luxurious getaway in Marrakech, and to top it off, they didn’t cost an arm and a leg, well, aside from alcoholic drinks, which are heavily taxed by the government.
Marrakech is a shopper’s haven, especially if you’re interested in leather goods, art, home decorations and antiques. Take your time exploring the souks and the alleys of the Medina. You’ll discover a plethora of shops selling all sorts of antiques, spices, carpets, lamps, brass-framed mirrors, fabrics and leather clothing, shoes and bags. Oh yes, and don’t forget to bargain!
Once you’re done exploring (and shopping in) the Medina and its souks, spoil yourself with a spa treatment – the whole spa concept was probably invented here (though Bali may disagree). There’s a wide variety to choose from: authentic hammams to elaborate spa complexes. I really enjoyed Hammam Ziani, an atmospheric hammam near the Bahia Palace, with separate sections for men and women. If you’re looking to truly indulge yourself, I can recommend the award-winning Heritage Spa. They offer a large variety of treatments in a beautiful riad. Other absolutely gorgeous spas in Marrakech I can recommend are La Mamounia and Royal Mansour (its wrought-iron atrium is stunning!). Reservations are advisable.
In the evening, head to Red Sun, a plush restaurant/lounge that serves Asian-fusion cuisine and delicious cocktails in a romantic setting. For great, reasonably-priced Moroccan food with a view, you could try Casa Saada, near the Saadian tombs. Go right to the roof terrace and enjoy the views over Marrakech (and the nearby storks’ nests) and order fresh orange juice and a lamb or chicken tagine.
Where to stay in Marrakech
There are many hotels in Marrakech including luxurious accommodation options. You could opt for a five-star hotel but why should you when you can indulge yourself in a traditional riad. The riad I stayed at, Riad Le Coq Berbere, is a good example; located in a quiet area in the Medina yet close to all the major sights, the riad had a little plunge pool, beautifully decorated rooms and bathroom, and a fabulous rooftop deck.
After several days of strolling around Marrakech and exploring its many nooks and corners, I began to discover numerous reasons that make this city a real bargain for those looking for a luxurious getaway. It may not have the wide array of affordable luxury options that some European cities offer, but if you’re looking for something exotic and chic but affordable, I would recommend Marrakech.