My sister and I spent a long weekend in Morocco recently and my goodness it was fun. It could easily have been a bore, I had just returned from Delhi and so a traditional Moroccan trip of spending endless hours in souks and around henna painters was not the fix I was going for. What did we do instead? Nikki Beach, YSL gardens, a live Arabic music night club, a day trip and made new local friends that’s what….
My sister found the most delightful and stylish independent hotel, Riad Lila that was off the historic old square. A gorgeously decorated secret retreat, a riad is hidden and discreet architecture where the only face to the world is a door. Once you enter, a stunning courtyard with an open skylight and three floors of balconies await.
Beautiful Moroccan mosaics and hand painted motifs adorned the floors and walls and opulent silk and rustic wool curtains hung heavily creating a grand setting. Mint tea was brought out immediately by the lovely Hannah who manages Riad Lila with her sister. Riad Lila has French owners who pop in from Paris occasionally.
The rooms are gorgeous, service is very friendly and breakfast is delicious. The only negative is the location, Riad Lila is down a couple of narrow alleys and through an unlit tunnel. Taxis can’t get even close so we were guided by a local, we thought we might get mugged as we entered the quiet, dark tunnel but that didn’t happen and we sighed with relief even as my sister continued stuffing her cash down her bra. He demanded £20 for walking us down few metres but Hannah said to ignore him. Excessive, no?
Nikki Beach Marrakech
But then real excess is Nikki Beach. A bar chain operating in Super Cool locations around the world we spent a day eating, drinking and lounging poolside in chic but identikit surroundings. It was wonderful to strip down and glam up but we could have been anywhere in the world. There was nothing Moroccan about it but I guess that’s the point of these places. I needed this chillaxing day after my gruelling recent schedule and it really got my sis and I in the holiday mood. The charges are high at Nikki Beach as they have to keep their pretentions up but the staff and fellow loungers are all well mannered and in good spirits.
Entrance to Jardin Majorelle
Of course one can’t help but wander around the souks as we were living amongst them, however, our main goal on day 2 was to visit Jardin Majorelle a.k.a the YSL gardens. Style extreme even form the entrance doorway the garden was heavenly. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought the garden in the 1980s in order to prevent it from being destroyed by plans to turn the land into a hotel complex. It was so loved by Yves Saint Laurent that upon his death his ashes were brought to rest here.
After browsing the impeccably beautiful landscaping and foliage we sat down for lunch and tea in the cafe set in a gorgeous little square framed in balconies and orange trees.
We had made acquaintance with a visual artist, based in Marrakech, the evening before through a mutual friend. She is a professor currently completing her PhD and also has a studio in Montreal. She struggled with her English as my sister and I scraped our French together nevertheless we discovered we shared the same wicked sense of humour and boundless energy to party… cue the evening plans to go bar hopping… it was Sunday evening!
The party starts late in Marrakech a it so often does in hot climates. As we popped into a few places at midnight there were few fellow revellers to keep us company. We decided to make our way to the third and final resting spot of the evening: Awtar Gold.
There was a fab Moroccan live singer and band, smooth and crooning catchy Arabic tracks that we couldn’t understand. Watching others smoke sheesha and bop along was enjoyable. Conscious that we had a bus to catch the next morning for our day trip I turned to my sis and declared: unless someone HOT walks in we’re leaving after this glass of champagne. Cue HOT Lebanese singer!! Effortlessly handsome with a velveteen voice to sink a thousand hearts (even my frozen one) we stayed until 3.30am which I’m glad about as the club only really filled up after 1.
What about the bus in the morning we discussed as we crawled home at 4am? We shrugged our shoulders, we’re on holiday! If we miss it big deal. The lovely Hannah welcomed us with a smile even at 4am she is so sweet she could never have thought (and neither could we) that we would be up and ready and the first ones out of the riad a few hours later at 7:45am to get our 8:30am bus to Essaouira.
Essaouira is a gorgeous historic walled city hugging the Atlantic coast and it is 3 hours away from Marrakech with coaches leaving throughout the day. There is a ticket system that could only function in a developing country: you can only buy a single ticket from each station so even though it is possible to make a day trip of Essaouira there is no guarantee of a return bus ticket until you reach there. Yikes.
Essouira is a tourist attraction but the vast majority is a regular working city to its residents. It therefore has a tranquility and calmness that is welcome. The beach was simply amazing. Sand as soft as silk velvet, clean and stretching for miles with a warm welcoming sea, what more could we ask for?
Lunch was in a hidden treasure called Dar Loubane. So tranquil with delicious food all reasonably priced, as was the wine.
24, rue de Rif, Essaouira, email@example.com
And we had tea in a cute French place near by overlooking a square.
It was the most perfect day walking around, visiting art galleries and so on. The bus arrived back in Marrakech just before 10pm. We had planned to go out in the evening but die hard as we are, we collapsed into our big comfy bed after washing the sand off our feet.