Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Souk and Find in Marrakesh

Marrakesh has long been one of North Africa’s hippest destinations, but finding its cool hotels and cosmopolitan restaurants can be daunting for the uninitiated.
The maze of dusty streets hides fantastic riads (traditional courtyard houses – much like the havelis in India), boutiques and atmospheric nooks in which you can simply watch the world go by, but in such a rapidly evolving city, you do need an inside track on the latest places in town. Even regulars find interesting new places to eat, sleep and shop on each trip. From cool new cafes to unusual little shops, Marrakesh is packed with the unexpected and the exotic.
Many visitors never make it beyond the Medina, the walled heart of the city, but the new town of Gueliz just outside Medina shows a very different face of Marrakesh. Farther afield, the Palmeraie, a former wasteland that now houses beautiful private villas and chic boutique hotels is fast becoming the best place in the city to eat.


Riad Ariha, Derb Ahmed el Borj, Sidi Ben Slimane (+212 24 37 58 50)

Beautifully decorated but budget priced, Riad Ariba has 5 light and airy ensuite rooms, which are minimally furnished in a tasteful style. There is a large roof terrace with a Bedouin tent as well as a private hammam and wireless internet access. Its tucked away in the north of Medina, but once you get your bearings, its only a 10 minute walk to the central square – the Djema el Fina.

A Double bed and breakfast costs approximately US$ 75.

Ryad Dyor, 1 Derbjdida, Sidi Ben Slimane (+212 24 37 59 80)

A stunning, elegant fusion of modern and Moorish style, just around the corner from Riad Ariha. The spacious rooms combine traditional styles – tadelakt (traditional polished plasterwork) bathrooms, latticed windows and beautiful lanterns – with modern fixtures and fittings. One of its peaceful courtyards has a plunge pool, and a large roof terrace has vast sofas for lounging over breakfast or tea.

A Double Bed and Breakfast starts at US$ 150 approximately

Riad Farnatchi, Derb el Farnatchi, Rue Souk el Fassis, Qua’at Ben Ahid (+212 24 38 49 10)

This well established luxury property in one of the oldest parts of Medina, recently added 3 suites – each with open fires, beautiful bathrooms and private roof terraces. Everything is top notch, from the supremely comfortable beds to the elegant interiors. But what sets it apart from other 5 star hotels in the city is the friendly and incredibly efficient service. Nothing is too much trouble, whether you want a balloon trip over the desert or a roof top dinner a deux.

Double B & B starts from US$ 350 approx


While the Medina is packed with good places to eat, the most vibrant new venues are outside the heart of the city. Here, you’ll find breezy, light-filled cafes perfect for people watching, and stylish restaurants that bring together the best of Moroccan and European cuisine.

Bo & Zin, Douar Lahna, Route de l’Ourika (+212 24 38 80 12)

Bo & Zin, a 15 minute drive outside the Medina, is great when you have got tired of the Tagines and Couscous that dominate many of the city’s restaurants. The menu has an international feel. The uber cool, lantern lit interior is lively enough for big groups, but there are cosy corners for romantic dinners and tables with views over the stunning gardens. A must is the melting chocolate fondant with pistachio icecream. A 2 course dinner for two with wine costs approx US$ 100.

Cafe du Livre, 44 Rue Tarik Ben Ziad (+212 24 43 21 49)

Tucked away on a backstreet of Gueliz, the new town, Cafe du Livre is a bookshop / bar / restaurant and one of the most calming spaces in town. There's really nothing else like this in Marrakesh - a modern but welcoming space where you can have delicious home-made soups or salads at lunch time, or cakes at teatime while browsing through new and second-hand books. Lunch costs approximately US$ 15 per person.

Grand Cafe de la Poste, 127 Avenue Mohammed V (+212 24 43 30 38)

As the name suggests, this is a roomy bistro serving French classics such as Croque-Monsieur, Salade Nicoise and fabulous omelettes. Despite its location on the bustling Ave Mohammed V, its a fashionable place to go to for lunch but has a lot more atmosphere at night when the colonial interiors and the terrac, furnished with cane furniture and huge plants are beautifully lit. Dinner for 2 - two courses with wine - is about US$ 80.


L'art du Bain, 13 Souk el Lbadine (+212 68 44 59 42)

If you want something to take home other than the predictable wooden snakes, lanterns,leather slippers, etc., look in this tiny shop tucked away in a courtyard inside the souks. The main focus is on hand made soap, from the traditional Moroccan savon noir, which is used in hammams, to fragrant natural soaps made with rose, orange blossom, sandalwood, amber and musk. They also have terracotta accesories and pretty soap dishes.

Ksar Char Bagh, Palmeraie de Marrakesh (+212 24 32 92 44)

Ksar Char Bagh, a palace outside the Palmeraie, just outside the city, is the most stunning hotel in Marrakesh and its shop is packed with fabulous hand-made furniture, exquisite lamps, toiletries and clothes. Everything here is chosen with impeccable taste - although, of course, it comes at a price!

Alrazal, 55 rue Sourya, Gueliz (+212 24 43 78 84)

The souks are crammed with stalls selling kaftans in all shapes and sizes, but for something more original head to ALrazal.