The International Playgirl’s Guide To Marrakech
This was my third trip to the truly magical city of Marrakech, and it was completely different from my previous visits. My other experiences had been fleeting, to say the best: two days here, three days there, and tacked onto the end of longer trips. Trust me, I am not complaining about those holidays, because they were incredible, but two weeks in Marrakech is something else entirely.
Beautiful things begin to happen when you stick around. You become an expert at navigating the labyrinthine medina, for one. You’re able to laugh and throw the energy back at store owners, who are eternally hustling on the street. And you start to make the funniest little friendships, friendships that surely could not develop anywhere else.
By the time Veronica and I left Marrakech on Tuesday morning, we were kissing once-strangers on both cheeks and promising to be back next year. From Oussama, who invited us to pool parties and always got us the best tables at our favourite restaurants, to Hassan, who took photos of us on his rugs, we made new friends everywhere. One shop owner we loved gave me two brooches in secret — one for me and one for Veronica — and told me not to show her until we got back to the hotel.
And that doesn’t even begin to cover the truly deep and eternal friendships we made with the incredible women who attended our Radical Self Love Retreat. (But that’s a story for another time…)
How to get there
Veronica and I flew on Royal Air Maroc, which I had never heard of before this trip, and then made the mistake of googling. Of course, people don’t tend to leave reviews when their experiences are positive, so I was assaulted with tales of baggage lost forever, terrible mismanagement, etc. But I’d like to offer my voice as a beacon of hope. We had great flights — they actually held our plane for us in Casablanca when we arrived at the airport at the time the plane was supposed to leave (it’s a long story), the food was good, there were enough seats for us to spread out, and all our luggage arrived in one piece.
We flew JFK to Casablanca (about 6 hours and 45 minutes), then had an hour layover before flying on to Marrakech (1 hour). Our tickets were about $900 return. This is definitely the most economical — and most direct — way to get there! We’ll absolutely fly with them again.
What to wear
This is probably not a surprise to anyone who has been following me for a while, but my favourite things to wear in Marrakech are kaftans. You can get simple (but beautiful and vibrant) everyday cotton ones for $5-8 apiece (see above). Our friend Amanda saw the exact same kaftan she paid $270 for in the USA going for $7 in the market! You can also pick up more extravagant ones ranging from about $40 and up. I bought a gorgeous lavender chiffon kaftan with golden sequins this time and it is so Elizabeth Taylor it hurts.
I also like to wear head wraps — they are infinitely practical on bad hair days and I love the drama of them too! I get my best ones from HeadWearGallery on Etsy. They even come pre-tied! #lazygirlchic
But if kaftans aren’t your bag — and truthfully, they don’t work on everyone — it’s hard to go wrong with a fitted tee and a maxi skirt. I got some good mileage out of Mara Hoffman maxi dresses, patterned kimonos thrown over plain black dresses, pink crushed velvet pants (meow!), and a pair of holographic sandals. You will be walking a lot, so make sure your shoes can go the distance. Pack a bag that zips closed, because the chaos of the souk means that pickpockets are working overtime. Bring your most fabulous sunglasses, too — it’s bright!
As far as what not to bring? Leave your fancy handbag and your heels at home. You won’t need them, and therefore you are simply wasting valuable space in your suitcase that could otherwise be stuffed with blankets and treasures! Go for practicality. Marrakech is dusty and a bit wild, so leave your precious things at home and dress in a way that lets you dive into things without fear!
Want to really go for it? Professional shoppers (aka me) will pack a smaller suitcase inside a larger, empty one to get the most mileage. And trust me, even people who “don’t like to shop” will have a bulging bag on the way home…
Where to eat
My absolute favourite restaurants — Cafe Des Epices, NO|MAD, and Le Jardin — are all owned by the same people, and are incredible. I love the bessara soup and greek salad (with extra feta and avocado added) at Cafe Des Epices; the house salad, cheese plate, vegetable pastilla, and date cake (outstanding!) at NO|MAD; and the cheese quiche and orange blossom creme brulee at Le Jardin.
I love ducking in to Beats Burger for an easy lunch: their sliders and fries are delicious, and every vegetarian I’ve taken loves their veggie burger.
Cafe Arabe, opposite Le Jardin Secret, is a goodie too.
And if your sweet tooth is crying out for a little attention, there’s an unreal ice-cream parlour along the edge of the big square… I recommend the praline and Snickers flavours!
The best day
Last week, Veronica and I had a couple of days off between retreats, and we decided that the best way to chill out was to have a full-on spa day.
We headed to La Mamounia, where you can buy a day pass to the spa for $50 US. This lets you splash around in their pool all day, as well as giving access to their fitness centre, jacuzzi, and sauna. For an additional $100, they’ll throw in a lunch at their Italian restaurant, and either a hammam treatment or an hour-long massage. You can add extra spa services as you wish. My argan oil massage was sublime, and after my manicure, they sent me home with an entire bottle of nail polish!
Even if you’re not a spa person, sitting on the terrace outside at La Mamounia is a truly delightful experience. Check it out if you have enough time.
Shopping secrets of the souk
I don’t even know where to begin. There is so much to see and buy. From eye-shaped mirrors to rainbow lanterns, tassel-covered blankets and huge chunks of amethyst, coloured glass tea sets to magical little pouches, it is an absolutely sumptuous shopper’s paradise. It’s hard to go wrong, really. Just walk around and take it all in. You will see things you never even conceived could exist.
On this trip, I discovered a new area. As part of our retreat, we took all our participants to Hammam De La Rose for a scrub and massage, which they said was absolutely sublime. The walk there is full of twists and turns, but the area surrounding this hammam is somewhat akin to the Rodeo Drive of Marrakech! Well, at least, that’s what Veronica and I called it. The haggling is less aggressive, the items are gorgeous, and the prices are somehow not as expensive. It’s sick. If you’re not sure how to get there, ask someone to take you to Hammam De La Rose!
The best shopping scores occur when you form relationships with the vendors. Keep going back to them, and take your friends. Your loyalty will be massively rewarded. And learn to enjoy haggling! It’s a national sport over there, and they will be disappointed if you accept their first price. To give you an example of how this can work, the best thing I purchased — a hot pink and silver sequinned wedding blanket — started at $900 US, and ended up at $450. Yes baby, that is half price, and it’s incredible. It would have cost at least $5000 USD in New York.
That having been said, don’t expect insane or unreasonable bargains. You’re not going to pick up an amazing quality rug for $100. The vendors have to work for their money just like we do, and they also recognise the value of their goods!
I couldn’t resist throwing this photo into the mix… ‘Cause I love all these women with my whole heart. Bless them!
By the way, Veronica and I will be heading back to Marrakech next year for another adventure (and another retreat), so if you want to be the first to hear about it, be sure to add your name below!