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Holiday Inspiration

Marrakech Guide

By Susan Ward Davies

Where to Stay in Marrakech

The grande dame of Marrakech, the legendary La Mamounia is the place to see and be seen. The star-studded guest list reads like an Oscar ceremony roll call with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, Adrien Brody and Juliette Binoche all jetting in for the 2009 re-opening party. The makeover came courtesy of interiors maestro Jacques Garcia, also responsible for the uber-chic Hotel Costes in Paris and retains much of the hotel’s original art-deco glamour. For privacy, the A-list and visiting sheiks prefer the King’s new all-riad resort, the Royal Mansour with its stunning bar and spa, though Marrakech also specialises in smaller boutique hotels. Annie Lennox and Sacha Baron Cohen have swung by Vanessa Branson’s arty Riad El Fenn, while the show-stopping interiors at Dar Darma, also in the old city, are a magnet to visiting design-lovers.

Where to Eat in Marrakech

Kaftan queen, Marrakech resident British designer Liza Bruce likes nothing better than a spot of lunch at the Amanjena on the outskirts of town (Route De Ouarzazate, Km 12; +212 24403353). The relaxed poolside restaurant – not to be confused with the indoor restaurants – makes an excellent Niçoise salad amongst other international and Thai dishes. Café de La Poste (corner of El Mansour Eddahbi and Avenue Imam Malik; + 212 5 24433038), a large French-style brasserie on the site of the old post office in Gueliz is good for brunch or lunch. For a chic night of Moroccan food plus entertainment, head to Le Comptoir (Rue Ahmed Chaouqi; +212 524 43 77 02) – the restaurant recently featured in an episode of America’s Top Model, where the fire and belly dancing show is one of the best in town. If you’re pushing the boat out, La Mamounia’s Michelin-starred Le Francais serves sophisticated French fare with a twist, while the Royal Mansour’s Moroccan restaurant supervised by Yannick Alleno - the award-winning, triple Michelin-starred chef of Le Meurice in Paris - serves the most refined Moroccan food in town.

Where to Go Out in Marrakech

A night out in Marrakech is no longer all about belly dancing shows. These days Marrakech can give most European cities a run for their money when it comes to a sophisticated night on the tiles. A 20-minute taxi ride from central Marrakech, Bo-zin (Route de l'Ourika; +212 524 38 80 12) attracts a hip, wealthy crowd with its fusion food and Ibiza-esque – think Budda Bar meets KM5 – candle-lit cactus garden. Most people come for the bar with its low-slung furniture and excellent cocktails, and the flirty Euro crowd are often to be found dancing on the tables after 1am. Don’t miss the rooftop bar at the Bab Hotel (Angle bd Mansour Eddahbi; +212 524 43 52 50) for its delicious cocktails and cool party vibe. To rub shoulders with Marrakech locals head to the 50s Es Saadi Hotel’s Casino bar (Rue Ibrahim El Mazini; +212 524 44 88 11) - past the slot machines to the entrance at the back - for quirky bordello-style and live music. Also in the grounds of the Hotel Es Saadi, TeatrO packs in the crowds for late-night Saturday clubbing. If it’s day-long partying you’re after, pricey Nikki Beach (Circuit de la Palmeraie; +212 524 36 87 27) has a serious sound system and a sea of tanned torsos. The St Tropez of Marrakech.

Where to Shop in Marrakech

Haggling in the labyrinth of souks with their myriad of coloured slippers, hand-stitched leather bags, and woven shopping baskets is still de rigueur, though there are now plenty more sophisticated boutique shops that blend traditional styles with modern Western twists. Part art gallery, part furniture shop, the Ministero del Gusto (22 Deb Azouz; + 212 24 42 64 55) houses an eclectic mix of one-off furniture pieces, funky vintage clothes and unique art works. The shop - a surrealist riad tucked away behind an unmarked door in the medina - is itself a work of art, so it’s no surprise to learn that the owners (former magazine editor Alessandra Lippini and partner Fabrizio Bizzarri) also offer an interior design service (by appointment only). The tiny Beldi boutique at the entrance to the souks (9-11 Rue Mouassinee; +212 524 441) is a hit with both wealthy locals and visitors. Best dressed-list regular and party-organiser Gyunel Boateng is a fan of their ultra-chic delicate velvet kaftans and amazing embroidered bedspreads. Give your home a riad-style makeover by making a beeline for Mustapha Blaoui (142-4 Rue de Bab Doukkala; +212 524 38 52 40). Prices are reasonable and staff can organise shipping. Visiting interior designers love the pretty embroidered linens at Brigitte Perkins' appointment-only salon (Nr Djemaa el-Fna; +212 544 37 74 16). The French fashion designer operates her atelier in the Medina, producing exquisite embroidered pieces inspired by Berber fabrics. Michele Baconnier (6 rue de Vieux; +212 524 44 917) sells a pretty eclectic mix of Moroccan-style clothing and accessories with a contemporary twist.

What to Wear in Marrakech

A long silky kaftan or loose top and harem-style trousers will put you in the mood for lounging in your riad or shopping in the medina, while ensuring you are suitably covered (don’t forget Marrakech is a Muslim country). Leave heels at home and opt for jewelled sandals for evenings instead.

Beauty SOS – Where to Go for Pampering in Marrakech

Marrakech is awash with hammams – traditional bathhouses – with literally hundreds dotted through the city and locals making a weekly visit for a steam and exfoliating scrub. The cavernous, candlelit vaulted hammam at Ksar Char-Bagh in the Palmerai, a couple of miles from the centre, is particularly alluring. Make a day of it with lunch by the palm-fringed pool and a perfumed massage with Anne Semonin products. For the full princess treatment the spa at the Royal Mansour is jaw-droppingly beautiful – with its white lattice vestibule it's like walking into a giant snowflake. But if it’s a really authentic Marrakech experience you're after, ask your hotel to point you towards one of the many local hammams, where you can be steamed and lathered in traditional black soap, before having the best part of your tan removed with a rough kissa glove. And all for the princely sum of 10dm. Otherwise try the chic tourist-friendly Les Bains de Marrakech (2 Derb Sedra; +212-24-38-14-28), where you can experience this Moroccan speciality in more relaxing surroundings.

Planning a trip to Marrakech? For a beautiful boutique riad, browse ELLE escapes' collection of places to stay. Or check out the rest of our travel guides.

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