City Guide Marrakech

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A Place Named Desire

Issue 01/2013


Text Ilona Marx Photos Adriaan Louw Illustration Roman Klonek

Marrakech is a place of longing that elicits passion, especially amongst the avant-garde. In the face of globalisation and mass production the desire for handcrafted, authentic products keeps on growing. Admittedly a romantic notion, because even in the famous souks, the covered markets of Marrakech, not everything is authentic: there's plenty of tourist trash too. So you do have to have a bit of a rummage to find the treasures this place has to offer: genuine antique hand-embroidered leatherwork, legendary precious rugs, pretty wrought-iron lanterns and babouches, the traditionally handmade leather slippers.

Whether in terms of colours, materials, textiles, fashion or interior design – traditional North African artisanal work melds with western influences everywhere you turn. It's pure inspiration for the newly awakened bohème, who, following in the footsteps of the hippy movement, are rediscovering Marrakech for themselves. Whereas in the 60s and 70s the red city's charm was characterised by excessive parties and lavishly furnished orient hotels, contrasting starkly with the simplicity of the life of the local inhabitants, nowadays Marrakech symbolises, above all, one thing: the ultimate in exoticism with the shortest flight time.

Like Yves Saint Laurent, who bought the famous Jardin Majorelle, saving it from falling into disrepair, more and more westerners come here and buy old townhouses, so-called riads, and renovate them – a dedication that the comparably liberal government of the Kingdom of Morocco encourages. And there's no doubt that tourists in general have already woken up and smelt the coffee too.

Nevertheless, within the city walls time seems to have stood still, especially in the northern part of the medina: market sellers nodding off over their dusty wares, tradesmen working away in their tiny open workshops as they have done for generations, donkey carts, traditionally clothed men and women – you really feel like you are time travelling in Marrakech, an experience which will really take your breath away. The frenetic hustle and bustle of street life in the old part of town, and the contrast of the New Town district of Guéliz, where fashion boutiques, elegant restaurants and galleries that wouldn't look out of place in any European metropolis jostle for attention. Add to that the bedlam of the noisy lively traffic, juxtaposed with the quiet tranquillity of the inner courtyards of the riads, and the play of opposites is complete.

Haggling market sellers and the kindness of the locals are two sides of the same coin: J'N'C editor-in-chief Ilona Marx and photographer ­Adriaan Louw from Cape Town were astounded by the contrasting scenes that unfolded before their eyes – and basked in the effusive Moroccan hospitality as well as enjoying the delicious local cuisine.

Many thanks to Sonja Ludwig from the Moroccan Tourist Board, to Royal Air Maroc and to Andrea Kolb for her generous assistance.



La Mamounia The classic luxury hotel dating back to 1922. Favourite address of de Gaulle, Churchill and Roosevelt.

Jardin Majorelle Don't miss this wonderful oasis and birthplace of the famous 'bleu Majorelle'.

Fenyadi The interior design specialist, but located in the industrial district.

Dar Cherifa Great literature café but slightly hidden. Worth searching for! T +212 44 426463

Café Arabe Large restaurant-bar in the medina. Huge sofas on the rooftop terrace entice you to stay for one more drink.

Grand Café de la Poste Popular meeting point in the New Town, which is reviving the bygone colonial era.

Palais Namaskar A hotel palace, just like from 1001 Nights.

Dar Zellij One of the best restaurants in the city. You can even dine under orange trees in the courtyard of the 17th century house.

Lalla Beautiful bags by fashionista Laetitia Trouillet.



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