Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda know the importance of a girly getaway, a chance to escape from your husband, work, kids or just life. In Sex And The City 2 the best friends take off to Abu Dhabi but in reality Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristen Davis, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon flew to Marrakech in Morocco to film the magical scenes for the movie.
You know you have arrived in the enchanting city of Marrakech once you get close to the Djeema El Fna Square, the centre of all the action in the Pink Moroccan city. The smells of spices, the flute chants, the fresh orange juice stalls, the witch doctors and the food stands if you arrive at night… You know you are in for something special.
So what could four well-heeled New Yorkers, or indeed Londoners, do in Marrakech? Well first of all, swap those heels for some comfortable and colourful flats to explore the souks. Days could be spent exploring the maze of narrow lanes full of artisans selling their wares. Bags, jewellery, shoes, kaftans, beauty products, spices and remedies, colourful materials, paintings, ceramics, furniture, what more could a girls want? Watch out for the Souks Semarine and Mouassine, these two “streets”and surrounding alleyways are particularly good for stocking up on anything stylish.
But Marrakech is not just about shopping. There are many sites to take including the stunning architecture of El Badi Palace, the very ornate Bahia Palace and the Saadian Tombs in the Mellah which house the tombs of Alaouite princes from the 18th century.
The Majorelle Gardens, privately owned by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, are definitely worth a detour. Located just outside the Medina, on the Avenue Yacoub Ben Mansour, they were created by Jacques and Louis Majorelle. The gardens are small but despite being busy are still a welcome oasis from the hustle and bustle and heat from the Medina. The striking famous blue colour make for a stunning environment and is offset with soft yellows and terracotta pots. There is an abundance of plants and flowers, pools with floating water lilies and swimming golden carps whilst the birds sing. Jacques Majorelle’s former studio houses the small Museum of Islamic Art, which displays a range of traditional arts and crafts.
Another great escape from the heat of the Souk is the atmospheric Medersa Ben Youssef, an old Koranic school on Place Ben Youssef. Built in the 14th century, it is now open to the public. The central courtyard, decorated with colourful “zellij” (ceramic tiles) is dominated by a large pool and surrounded by ornate windows. Upstairs, visitors can visit the student chambers.
Time for a day out of Marrakech or an overnight somewhere else? Head to the Atlas mountains and the Toubkal to go hiking. The views from the Toubkal mountain are really impressive and have lunch or stay overnight at the Kasbah du Toubkal an ideally located mountain retreat, offering a wide range of accommodation from dormitories to luxury suites and boasting superb views over the valley.
Shops not to be missed
Beldi – 9 – 11 Soukiat Laksour, Bab Fteuh – For its stylish tailoring, mixing local fabrics and flair with Western style fashion.
Kulchi – 1 rue des Ksours, Bab Laksour – For its very pretty accessories, the bags are particularly nice and the jewellery is also lovely.
KifKif – 8 rue des Ksours, Bab Laksour – For its quality jewellery. The prices are high, but what you see here is not anywhere else in the Souks
Lhsini Abderrazak – Souk des Teinturiers 26 – I have bought two bags from this shop and will happily go back and buy more. Prices are very good, the service is friendly and the bags have a lot of character.
Ensemble Artisanal – Avenue Mohammed V – A state sponsored crafts market, it is the home to some of the best artisans in Marrakech. Prices are fixed but what you find here is quality crafts. Look out for the leather bag shop in a corner, top of stairs on the left hand side of the building, the bags are as good as designer bags for a fraction of the price. You will also find a good herbalist, traditional jewellery and the inevitable babouches. The visit is worth it, at least to have an idea of the prices.
Eating and Drinking
Light food and drinks:
Cafe des Epices – 5 Rahba Kedima (+212 (0) 24 39 17 70). By the Souk des Epices, this is a great place to come and chill once the haggling is becoming too much. This cafe has a terrace on the top floor with good views and serves excellent mint tea and Moroccan cakes as well as very satisfying and tasty sandwiches.
Kosybar – 47 place des Ferblantiers (+212 (0) 24 38 03 24). On a quiet square just south of the Medina, Kosybar is as much a night time spot as a place to come and chill during the day. The terrace is particularly nice. Funky Kosybar serves cold drinks, beer and wine and serves tapas style dishes and sushi as well as more traditional fare.
Grand Cafe de la Poste – Corner Boulevard Mansour Eddahbbi and Avenue Imam Malik (+212 (0) 24 43 30 88) In Gueliz, the new city and is a great witness to colonial times. It is a sophisticated brasserie with a charming terrace, great for lunch or a refreshing drink during the day.
Djeema el Fna Square – The centre of all the action in the Medina. As night time comes, the many food stalls slowly set up on the famous square. The sight and the experience are unforgettable, the little white lanterns lighting up each stalls and the smoke hovering above the square, mixed with the sounds of flute and laughter as everyone gather for another convivial night and the smells of delicious food, this is Marrakech at its best. Grilled meat, couscous, tagines, soups, pastillas, pastries, there is something for everyone. Locals and tourists alike flock to the square and hop from stall to stall until they are satisfied. Prices are ridiculously low and the food is good. My recommendation on finding the right stall to eat at is to look at the number of locals sitting and eating, this is always a good indication of who is particularly good or not.
Tobsil – 22 Derb Abdellah Ben Hessaien, Bab Ksour (+212 (0) 24 44 40 52). One of Marrakech’s best restaurant. Diners are lead through a maze of alleyways to the restaurant, located in a traditional and stylish mansion, There is no a la carte menu at Tobsil but a all inclusive feast is served. The experience starts with a welcoming aperitif and juicy olives and follows with a flow of traditional mezze, chicken couscous and lamb tagine before finishing with dessert and mint tea and Moroccan pastries. Everything is succulent and an appetite is recommended!
Dar Moha – 81 rue Dar El Bacha (212 (0) 24 38 64 00). Ideal for a special occasion or for a romantic meal. Dar Moha’s attraction, aside from the excellent cooking – is the peaceful terrace with its pool covered in flower petals. Owner Moha Fedal is Morocco’s most celebrated chef, having learned his trade in Switzerland, his food is more of the Moroccan fusion, serving traditional dished with a twist. The restaurant only offers set menus and lunchtime’s is particularly good value if money is a bit tight.
Late at night:
Narwama – 30 rue de la Koutoubia. Marrakech’s first Thai restaurant with a great bar reminding visitors of the famous Parisian Buddha Bar. Chill out music, great cocktails and an truly amazing decor are the reasons why Narwama is a must in the Pink City.
Comptoir – Avenue Echouada, Hivernage (+212 (0) 24 43 77 02). An institution for any night time owl in Marrakech. A magnet for hip locals and fashionistas, Comptoir is famous for its belly dancers and its constant party atmosphere.
Theatro – Hotel Es Saadi, Avenue El Qadissia, Hivernage (+212 (0) 24 44 88 11). The best night club in town for those wanting to party with the hip Moroccan crowd. Once a theatre, the venue is superb with plush sofas, cushions and has a thunderous sound system blasting tunes.
Where to stay
La Mamounia – Avenue Bab Jdid (+212 524 388 600). The mythical hotel reopened its doors in 2009 after a complete refurbishment with the help of famous interior designer Jacques Garcia. With extensive manicured gardens, luxurious rooms, suites and riads, a state of the art spa and a plethora of excellent bars and restaurants, La Mamounia is THE hotel to stay for a truly stylish break a la Carrie Bradshaw. For those with a more restricted budget, dress up and go for tea so you can visit the gardens, a worthwhile visit.
Amanjena Marrakech – Route de Ouarzazate 12 Km (212 5 24 399 000). The filming location of Sex And The City 2 and home to the four girls during the filming, the Amanjena (meaning peaceful paradise) is a stunning property just outside the city. Traditional Moroccan architecture in a private lush haven, discreet and second to none service, excellent restaurants, stunning views of the Atlas, a state of the art spa and five star excursions in and out of Marrakech, this is the ultimate über stylish place to stay in the area.
Mid – range:
Riad Kaiss – 65 Derb Jdid, off Riad Zitoun El Kedim (+212 (0) 24 44 01 41). Small exquisite riad with only 8 rooms. This is quite a traditional riad, rich in colours with private terrasses and intricate rooms, traditional painted furniture and four poster beds. Copious breakfasts are served in rooms or outside and private dinners can also be arranged.
Maison MK – 14 Derb Sebaai, Bab Ksour (+212 (0) 524 37 61 73). A contemporary luxury riad in the heart of the medina, Stylish decor and attention to detail, this is the ideal location for anyone wanting to make the most of the shopping and the atmosphere of the souks. Jamie Oliver recently filmed the Marrakech part of this latest series at Maison MK.
Nejma Lounge – 45 Derb Sidi M’hamed El Haj, Bab Doukkala. Black and white tiles, and 6 rooms boasting rich pinks purples and chocolate colours, this Riad is definitely different to its numerous competitors. The rooms are a bit small but excellent value for money. Nejma Lounge serves great drinks and snacks and has a small plunge pool too.
Sherazade – 3 Derb Djama, off Riad Zitoun El Kedim (+212 (0) 24 42 93 05). One of the most popular budget hotels in town. A very well run hotel with a whole range of services for guests from meals to day trips out of the city.
BY CHARLOTTE WILMOTS
[picture credits: Charlotte Wilmots; kornilia koukoutsi]