Late Checkout: A Jam-Packed Two Days in Marrakesh

The allure of Marrakech has been alive in our culture since the ‘70s when socialites and the fashion elite flocked to the ancient city. But splashy new hotel and restaurant openings have made the destination more exciting than ever. (Credit: Vogue)

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Late Checkout is TQE’s travel vertical. Whether you’re seeking an Eat Pray Love moment of your own,  or a wholesome family sojourn, we hope you embark on an adventure requisite of a late checkout below.

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There is an image of the gorgeous actress Talitha Getty in a caftan and white boots on a rooftop in Marrakesh circa 1970 that likes to pop up on Pinterest. And while this widely known image might feel camp-y at this point, let it be your visual touchstone for the city. And though it’s become undoubtedly cosmopolitan in recent years, the bohemian glamour derived from its unique French and North African heritage is still the subtext of every coffee shop, tiled riad, spice market and souk stahl you will visit.

While there are many ways you can visit Marrakesh (wander around, highly guided, on a budget, full blown luxury), I preferred mixing it up to get a truly layered experience. Give yourself some time to meander through the museums, explore the shops in the outskirts, but hire a guide to take you through the souk and help you haggle. Similarly, spend a few nights in the bustle of the medina where stunning riads are quite affordable, and then splurge on a luxury hotel for some rest and relaxation. 

A dream room at Amenjena

To Stay

While everyone knows about the Medina, two or three nights at a design-driven riad (a family-style home built around a courtyard) feels like plenty. If you ask me, the move is to then splurge at a luxury property  just outside the busy square for some hammam and pool time to balance out the energy. There are an abundance of chic riads nestled in Marrakesh (see new trendy ones here and here) but I chose Riad L’Orangerie, a more established one with just seven rooms. Expect a wafting beautiful neroli scent and outstanding service that will make you feel like a VIP guest at a fabulous friend’s home. 

Cool art at the Oberoi.

Like riads, Marrakesh has no shortage of luxury properties (in fact, it’s known for some of the most over-the-top hotels, one actually owned by royalty). My two favorites were Amanjena – a minimalist dreamscape of terracottas and neutrals – and the Oberoi, a more formal, tiled wonder that sits atop the most incredible stretch of olive groves. Both serene, sprawling hotels are a perfect compliment to the bustle of the medina, and offer incredible spas for scrub-downs and soaks.

Golden light at the Oberoi.

To Do

Jardin Marjorelle, one of the city’s biggest attractions, is busy and tourist-y, but is not to be missed. While the matte, cobalt blue exterior is widely recognized, it’s the beautiful desert-driven gardens that are the draw (not to mention the incredible museum shop where you can find vintage etchings). Try to hit this spot up later in the day when the crowds aren’t so fierce. 

Cool cacti at Le Jardin Margorelle.

Just next door is the legendary Yves Saint Laurent museum (YSL was a major force in Morocco as he had a home there which added to its overall glam reputation in the ‘70s). Sublime photography might be just what you need after weaving in and out of the crowds at the gardens. 

Bahia Palace is located on the northern edge of the Mellah district of the Medina – and you’re coming here for a dose of gorgeousness. Think: heavy wood doors, an orange tree dotted courtyard, opulent tiles and mosaic floors – all the things you think of when you dream of Marrakesh. And the famous Bacha Coffee, a fantastical coffee shop and cafe (more on that later), is embedded in the courtyard. 

Tea but make it Berber.

If you can spare a day of your trip to make the trek to the Atlas Mountains, I highly recommend it. A mere two hours from the city are tranquil mountain-top towns that you will visit on foot, often alongside donkeys for assistance. There, you can have a tea ceremony with freshly charred bread and ghee, dates, walnuts, olives – all made with love by a local Berber family. My hosts even allowed us to wear their colorful tunics and cloth turbans while we learned their traditional dance (which is a little bit like “the hora!”) during tea preparations. Then you’ll move to a nearby family-run restaurant where you’ll have tagine and couscous from recipes that have been passed down for generations. It will be a day you won’t forget – promise.

Me and my new trekking partner

To Shop

There is shopping, and then there is shopping. And the latter applies to Marrakesh, as it is known for the treasures that await; tagroot pottery, mother-of-pearl inlay boxes, brass lanterns, woven rugs, sumptuous caftans, and argan oil galore (the list goes on). Be sure to hire a guide for the souk (one who can help you avoid getting swindled, and can haggle in Arabic), and be sure to bring plenty of cash. Chez Bel Haj is the spot for the chicest caftans (they are pricey but stunning), Magasin Berber is a fab multi-generational jewelry store with chunky jade necklaces, and Topolina, is a charming little boutique toward the entrance of the souk. 

Lanterns galore at the souk.

33 Rue Majorelle has been described as the “Colette of Marrakesh,” in reference to the beloved, now-defunct Paris design emporium. And while it is smaller in scale, it offers terracotta candles in the hippest packaging, silk floral bombers, sumptuous leather handbags, and vintage photographs jazzed up with matte sequins (one of which I purchased). Editor score: mixed metallic threaded bracelets that looked waaaay more expensive than their $13 USD price tag.

The chicest caftans at Chez Bel Haj

Minutes away from Jardin Majorelle is Moro, a chic concept store. While you can do everything here from eat to sleep to shop (it’s actually home to a boutique hotel and small restaurant), the boutique is why you stopped by. The owner’s skincare brand, The Moroccans, is beloved by locals and their fragrance stock list is worth a visit.

Medina finds that made the trek home.

And further afoot is a newish shopping zone - designated “The Soho of Marrakesh” (also known as “the Industrial area” to locals) – home to LRNCE, a Moroccan designer known for fashion-y leather sandals, Marrakshi Life, for modern renditions of traditional silhouettes, Some, a concept store in a mid-century villa, and Beni rugs, where you can witness weaving while sipping on an espresso. 

To Eat and Sip

Dates and walnuts for days. 

While it’s hard to justify eating at a hotel when there are so many stand-outs in the city, Rivayat, the Indian restaurant in the Oberoi, was hands down a highlight for me. Mentored by a Michelin starred chef, the food is outrageously good, even if the cuisine isn’t your thing.  With antique Indian art housed in an ornate tiled room, you’ll feel as if you are in another world. And then when tandoori prawns, paneer and lentil chips arrive…

It’s been said that if you visit one restaurant in Marakkesh it should be Dar Yacout. The majestic setting alone could be enough to make a case, but it’s the traditional dishes like Royal couscous and Lemon and Olive Chicken that will make you want to linger. Grab a seat in the garden for an other-worldly experience. 

Plus61 feels like it can kind-of-be-anywhere but once you order the locally sourced, seasonally driven dishes, you’ll know exactly where you are. Here, you’ll take a break from tagine and go for things like pea potato dumplings and chicken schnitzel and you won’t be mad at it. 

Wes Anderson vibes at Bacha Coffee.

Bacha Coffee, known for its Wes Anderson-esque fanciful design, has coffee from around the world (the counter girls will even show you on a Wes Anderson-esque map!) I chose de-caf, strictly based on its chic camel hued packaging. The mini sized boxes make perfect gifts. Insider intel: we were told there will be a NYC Bacha in the near future, for those who want a closer location.

Pretty tandori prawns and lentil chops at Rivayat.

And, last but not least, what I packed:

Toteme Wool Blend Sweater: Chilly nights call for a versatile sweater that can be worn again and again whether over a dress or slung around shoulders. 

UBeauty Resurfacing Compound and Moisturizer: Your skin will get zapped of moisture during the day (blame it on its North African coordinates) but this skincare combo exfoliates and replenishes to help maintain balance.

Stella McCartney for Adidas sneakers: These Stella designed sneakers are cool enough for dresses and sturdy enough for hiking to the mountains.

Baggu Travel Cloud Bag: Be sure to bring an extra tote for the treasures you will want to bring home. This one can smush nicely into your suitcase on the way there. 

Crown Affair Hair Oil: A few drops of this non-greasy oil is all you need for an on-the-go air dry session. 

Master and Dynamic Headphones: A long-haul flight calls for lambskin earphones that can cancel noise and allow for necessary movie binges.

Bonjout Le Balm: is the in-flight move for staying hydrated while cruising over clouds. Be sure to wipe makeup off before patting it into parched skin.

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