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The Ten-Point Escape Plan: Marrakech

A growing European influence is putting a new gloss on Morocco’s favorite city.

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Designer caftans, couscous sushi, nightclubs with Parisian D.J.’s, and, of course, great shopping: Marrakech’s particular mix of vibrant North African cool and Euro-influenced chic (plus the warm, sunny days and cool nights) never gets boring, even for regulars. But a new crop of intimate, luxe hotels, tranquil galleries, and great restaurantsas well as a world-class nightlife sceneare polishing the city’s appeal without dousing its charisma.

1 Royal Air Maroc flies nonstop from JFK to Casablanca; a 25-minute flight from there will have you in Marrakech by 9:30 the next morning. (Round-trips start at about $850; check royalairmaroc.com for last-minute deals.)

2 Skip the flashy hotels and instead stay in a restored riad in the ancient medina. Vanessa (sister of Richard) Branson’s posh new Riad el Fenn has a jungly marble patio, rooms with leather floors, and Bridget Riley paintings on the pastel plaster walls (from $375; riadelfenn.com). The elegant little Riad Hayati offers great style for less: a dream location on a tranquil cul-de-sac alongside the Bahia Palace, plus seductive suites with beautiful bathrooms, for just $170 (riadhayati.com).

3 Save time by hiring a guide for souk shopping: Hit Beldi (Souikat Laksour) for caftans, scarves, and pillow cases; Jamade (Riad Zitoun Jdid) for unusual pottery, stylish Berber jewelry, and embossed leather bags; and Aya’s (Bab Mellah) for children’s clothing. Go just after lunch for the best deals and smallest crowds.

4 The gallery Dar Cherifa not only shows off Moroccan and European artists but also occupies a meticulously restored sixteenth-century townhouse. Have a mint tea in the column-filled courtyard.

5 At Casa Lalla, just fourteen people at a time are permitted to sample two-star Michelin chef Richard Neat’s extraordinary menus, which might include rolled cold crab couscous sushi or quail tagine. For innovative twists on traditional cuisine, book a poolside table at Dar Moha, in Pierre Balmain’s former palazzo.

6 With last year’s debut of Pacha, Marrakech now rivals Ibiza as a serious nightlife center. Also big with the club crowd: Théâtro, a megadecibel dance palace, and the sleek White Room, featuring the latest in Arabic techno. And sooner or later, every club hopper ends up at Comptoir, a legendary nightspot with belly-dancing numbers that evoke thirties Hollywood.

7 Spend half a day in Guéliz, the French-built Art Deco quarter that’s having a minigrowth spurt fueled by cushy day spas (Les Secrets de Marrakech) and antiques and home-décor shops that skew more European (La Porte d’Orient, L’Orientaliste, Scènes de Lin). For lunch, take a break from the ubiquitous couscous with simple but delicious pastas at Lolo Quoi or French-bistro fare at Kechmara.

8 Beach bums can day-trip to coastal Essaouira, or lounge at the new Nikki Beach outpost set in a huge palm forest northeast of the city. It’s got an open-air restaurant and a glorious, free-form pool surrounded by generous, comfortable teak chaises and giant mattresses.

9 Don’t miss the spectacular Majorelle Garden, designed in the twenties by French artist Jacques Majorelle and preserved by Yves Saint Laurent (whose legendary Marrakech compound isn’t visible from the street, so don’t even try). Go around 2 p.m. to avoid tourist buses.

10 On your last night, flag down a horse- drawn calèche for a corny-but-romantic ride around the floodlit gardens and old walls. Wind up in the Mellah (old Jewish quarter) for a nightcap at Kosybar; you’ll remember the knockout view of the twelfth-century Koutoubia mosque long after your souvenirs have lost their luster.


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