The Hedonist: Marrakech
What to see and where to be seen
Saturday 01 May 2010
Call me greedy, but I generally like to split my trips to Marrakech between the medina – great for shopping in the souks, getting completely lost and absorbing the exotic milieu of the city – and the Palmeraie, a palm-filled if somewhat barren area that has some of the most divine accommodation in the city.
For my most recent long weekend, I checked first into Anayela (00 212 524 386 969; anayela.com), a meticulously designed medina riad that opened two years ago. Anayela takes its name from a billet-doux discovered in the house during renovation, and the romantic theme holds sway throughout; a sense of fairy-tale fantasy permeates a tranquil inner courtyard (with elegant pillars and turquoise plunge pool), the large, sumptuous rooms and the "magic carpet" area perched atop the roof terrace. Eating breakfast or dinner here as you gaze over the medina rooftops is unforgettable.
Tempting as it is, you can't eat in your riad every night – there are just too many other places to try. On the second evening, I strolled to Le Tanjia (00 212 524 383 836; letanjia-marrakech.blogspot.com ) in the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter at the other end of the medina. The route from Anayela was long, labyrinthine and thoroughly stimulating; the narrow, dusty streets were ablaze with Lebanese pop music, mysterious veiled women, donkeys and carts and fragrant food stalls. Tourists dodged mopeds and consulted unfathomable maps.
The contrast upon entering Le Tanjia's serene, dimly lit embrace was profound and pleasing. The venue, opened in 2007, provides a welcome alternative to the city's extravagant "feast" restaurants (for example, Le Tobsil or Dar Yacout), where you are force-fed delicious Moroccan food until you keel over – and are then presented, non-ironically, with an immense plate of desserts.
At Tanjia the tajines and salads, meat skewers and seafood dishes are just as tasty ... and à la carte. The service is attentive, the wine list respectable and the interior (traditional, up-market décor, flickering candles and intimate dining booths) makes it an ideal spot for a cosy tête-à-tête.
Speaking of cosy, just around the corner, tucked away in a corner of the Place des Ferblantiers, is Kozybar (00 212 524 380 324). One of the first non-hotel bars to have emerged in the medina, this elegantly refurbished riad is a favourite among expats and locals. You can sit at the small, well-stocked bar downstairs, grab a booth on the second floor, or (and this is recommended on a warm night) grab a tasty cocktail and enjoy the views from the breezy roof terrace.
I was delighted to learn that a new lounge has opened at one of my favourite medina restaurants, Le Foundouk (00 212 524 378 190; foundouk.com ). The venue's charming owner-designers Thierry and Frédéric have created an extra room on the ground floor that has a refined but approachable members' club feel. The bar menu boasts splendid cocktails and an enviable range of digestifs; best of all are the fabulous desserts.
Saturday: time to sample the bright lights of Gueliz/ Hivernage in the New City. First stop? Dinner at L'Avenue (00 212 524 458 901), a new spot that mixes trendy, upmarket décor with superb French-Moroccan cuisine. After dinner, a short taxi ride brought me to another new place; the Lotus Club (00 212 524 421 736), a glass-walled cube of hipdom that offers excellent cocktails and has a DJ spinning club music. Definitely a place to see and be seen.
You can more or less stumble from there into the arms of grand old dame Le Comptoir Darna (00 212 524 437 702; comptoirdarna.com), which still pulls in the crowds 10 years after opening, with its plush interior (check out the sweeping staircase), exotic belly dancers and buzzing bar scene. Want something bigger and louder? No problem: right around the corner, within the Es Saadi hotel, is Theatro (00 212 524 448 811; theatromarrakech.com ), a refurbished theatre where you can continue mingling with the city's beautiful people.
After all that late-night hedonism it was time to head to the Palmaraie for a decent drying out; to be precise, I made for the stately Les Deux Tours (00 212 524 329 525; les-deuxtours.com ). Designed by the architect Charles Boccara, one of the most influential proponents of Moroccan chic, Les Deux Tours is one of the original Marrakech "addresses".
It has faltered slightly in recent years, but is currently experiencing a revival thanks to a fantastic new manager, some subtle refurbishment, and a shiny new restaurant – Salammbô – headed by the Michelin-starred chef David Frémondière. Its grounds, a mix of orange trees and bougainvillea, frogs croaking in ponds and terraces and pools, are unbelievably relaxing. The rooms are a similarly tasteful mix of mod-cons – TV, mini-bar, tea/coffee area – and rustic touches like the slightly worn doors and domed tadelakt bathrooms.
Before arriving there I'd had plans to drive into town the next day for a hammam (steam bath), perhaps at the new Sublima Spa in Gueliz (00 212 524 431 443; sublima-spa.com ). But once I was ensconced in the frondescent embrace of Les Deuz Tours and its fantastic spa, it was difficult to do anything but enjoy the atmosphere and wait for someone to drag me away to the airport.
A Hedonist's Guide to... (Hg2) is a series of luxury city guides for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.com
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