1. Where to Stay
Wander among twenty acres of gardens at La Mamounia (from $664), which just completed a $160 million renovation in September 2009. All rooms boast traditional Moroccan stucco carvings and hand-laid mosaics, but ask for one of 36 “deluxe” rooms for views of the twelfth-century Koutoubia mosque.
Lounge on high-end silks and yellow leather couches at Marrabahia, an eight-room complex designed by former Parisian fabric maven Laure Felisa (from $148). Have complimentary fresh-baked croissants and coffee on the rooftop café before a swim in the secluded courtyard pool. Or bring fifteen friends and rent the entire space for $1,150 a night.
Picnic in the olive groves at Peacock Pavilions (from $125), designed and owned by an American expat couple. Request the Atlas Pavilion, where each of the two rooms has its own fireplace and private 400-square-foot roof terrace.
2. Where to Eat
Squeeze among dozens of food stalls in Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech’s main square. The best are those swarmed with Moroccan customers, like Hassan 31, where the air is smoky from garlicky grilled lamb sausage, or Stall 23, where harira, a spicy lentil stew, boils in a 50 gallon pot ($1.50 to $5).
Sample the French-inflected cuisine of chef Sébastien Bontour, a Parisian transplant who moved to Morocco in 2001, seduced by the local spices. He turns out dishes like cumin-scented lentils and locally raised duck ($22 to $34) from the elegant La Cour des Lions restaurant atop the Es Saadi Palace.
Order the house specialty—pigeon—at Al Fassia Guéliz. The squab is seasoned, diced, and folded into a savory, layered pie that’s stuffed with nuts and topped with cinnamon-dusted phyllo dough ($10).
3. What to Do
Choose from four scented oils—Verbena, Jasmine, Orange Blossom, or Musk—at Hôtel & Ryads Naoura Barrière’s U-Spa, where the fragrance determines your massage style (relaxing, deep tissue, or energizing). The rooms are strewn with rose petals, and your hour-long massage concludes with a gentle Shiatsu-like battering with bamboo sticks ($90).
Book the hour-long hammam treatment at La Mamounia’s 27,000-square-foot spa. Relax on the marble counter as the spa attendant diligently scrubs away dead skin using a loofah laden with traditional black soap; the color comes from ground olives ($100). After being alternately buffed and doused by a shower, your delicate skin is slathered in a rich rosewater and orange lotion.
Bathe with the neighbors at Hammam el Basha (Rue Fatima Zohra), a block-long public bath capped with a steam-filled dome. Loinclothed tayibas (assistants) stretch, scrub, and thoroughly soap patrons with a professionalism that mitigates the total lack of privacy ($1 to $5). Men are welcome from 4 a.m. to noon, then from 7:30 to 11 p.m., while women visit from noon to 7:30 p.m.
Reap techniques from the Far East at Ithaque, a modern Utopian farm with the only sanctioned school of Wat Po Massage — the traditional Thai style of stretching and massage — outside of Thailand. ($50 to $150).
4. Insider’s Tip
Haggling is the official sport of the souk, where prices are never fixed. A few words of Moroccan Arabic—as opposed to Egyptian—can ward off gouging: Start with Salamu Alaykum (Hello) and La bess? (What’s up?) If you’re interested in an item, ask casually about the price. Start at 30 percent off the asking price, then negotiate your way up. An expert move: Walk out. If the seller comes after you or beckons you back in, it means he’s accepted your price. You shouldn’t pay more than $8 for Moroccan slippers, $10 for a scarf, and $500 for a carpet.
5. Oddball Day
Spend the morning making local specialties like pastillas, tajines, and vegetable couscous alongside other students at Le Maison Arabe, a cooking school run by dadas, traditional Moroccan chefs. After a midday meal, stroll among orange blossoms, roses, rare cacti, and bamboo at Le Jardin Majorelle, the exotic gardens owned by Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Then wind your way back past the pungent tanneries of the souk to the closet-size Serge Lutens fragrance boutique, where you can sniff scents with notes of dried figs and cloves inspired by the Maghreb. Next, grab a five-minute taxi to Chez Ali on the outskirts of the city, where you can watch a show of horse tricks by black-clad Bedouins, veiled dancers, and a glowing fireworks display. Finally, end the night with a traditional tajine of monkfish and prawns and a Casablanca beer at the Grand Café de la Poste, a velour-and-leather-clad brasserie founded in 1925.
Best Restaurants Maroc is like the OpenTable of the Maghreb.
Yacout.info keeps locals up-to-date on Moroccan happenings, from news of the king to interviews with Moroccan writers.
Chappaqua-born photographer Maryam Montague’s blog My Marrakech shows the vibrant food and sights of the city.