Morocco was INCREDIBLE! The colors, the patterns, the architecture, the people, the food…we could go on and on. V and I had an amazing time, were SO inspired, and are already mentally plotting our next trip back. OH! And we can’t forget to mention the gorgeous pieces we’re bringing back – everything is being shipped to us as we speak. I believe our final count was about 17 rugs (our trip-mates can attest to the fact that we both literally jumped up and down yelling “OHMYGOD” each time we saw one we had to have), a healthy armful of beautiful blankets, a collection of vintage sterling silver hamsa hand pendant necklaces, and a few more things we couldn’t leave behind.
We booked our trip through Jo Brittles of La Boheme House of the Wishing Trees, as part of a 10-day Moroccan retreat with a small group of other rockstar women from the U.S. and Australia! Jo hosted the event in conjunction with Melanie Royals at Maison 28, which is the beautiful riad we stayed at in Marrakech!
We were lucky enough to have our itinerary more or less set for us before we arrived. It was pretty indulgent, allowing us to see a few different parts of Morocco and introducing us to some of the best food and shopping in Marrakech.
We’ve outlined the bulk of our itinerary below (hopefully I’m not forgetting anything!).
[Maison 28 + our room]
Arrived in Marrakech through RAK. Our transportation from the airport was arranged by Maison 28.
Maison 28 is located in the heart of the Medina (the old fortified city). The van ride through the winding Medina roads to our riad gave us our very first glimpse of one of the many sides of Marrakech. Because the van couldn’t fit down our alley, we were dropped a little ways away. We were met here by Jo, Zoubair (the riad house manager with the MOST patience) and a courteous man who wheeled all of our luggage in a buggy.
We were instantly enamored with how beautiful our riad was, but couldn’t “oooh” and “aaahhhh” for too long, as we did a quick change out of our airport clothes to get ready to meet some of our other group members for lunch at Le Jardin.
After lunch, the owner of Maison 28, Melanie, gave us an initial walking tour of part of the souks (the largest traditional market in Morocco). Our heads were already spinning, with our eyes being pulled in a million different directions. All of the color, all of the people, all of the narrow alleyways with scooter/mule/people traffic was overwhelming, but also extremely exciting.
The group made its way back to our riad (about a 10-minute walk from the Souks), and we took some time to unpack, settle into our room, and get ready for dinner.
By nighttime, the last of our group had arrived and we all walked to Le Foundouk – part of CNN’s 2016 “World’s Best Sky-High and Rooftop Restaurants”. V and I had our first Tagines (a common North African dish named after the clay pot it’s cooked in), we watched the sun go down, and heard our first call to prayer (it gives you goosebumps the first time you hear it!).
We woke up this morning pretty jet-lagged, running on adrenaline, and in major need of caffeine. Thankfully, we were greeted with breakfast and coffee provided by Melanie and her amazing team each morning. Breakfast mainly consisted of yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, and different pastries. It ended up being the perfect start to each day.
V and I were a little hesitant about what the coffee situation would be like in Morocco, but were pleasantly surprised. A few days into our trip we had our first Nous Nous – half espresso and half milk – and proceeded to order it after every lunch and dinner we had!
This day we took a guided walking tour of the Medina and its historical sites. I think someone tracked that we walked about 6 miles, going everywhere from the Bahia Palace (HOLY AMAZING!) to the Kasbah, and everywhere in between.
We had another tagine on another rooftop for lunch.
Our walking tour also took us through Jemaa El Fnaa, the central square, where snake charmers put on a show (and expect a few dirhams for any photos you take). This was cool to see once (even though V and I stayed far away from the snakes), but we seemed to avoid this area for the rest of the trip.
We ended the day with a henna party and dinner back at the riad. (I can still see faint traces of my henna on my fingers and I secretly wish it would stay forever.)
[Henna + Bahia Palace]
[The Kasbah + lunch]
Group breakfast at our Riad and a free morning to hit the souks! If we thought our heads were spinning on day 1, they were off our bodies and rolling around the Medina today. We ended up finding 10 INCREDIBLE vintage Moroccan rugs that we CANNOT WAIT for you to see.
We stopped for lunch at Nomad, a “trendy” restaurant in the Medina. We all sat on the upstairs terrace in the sun and enjoyed a super fresh meal and a load off our feet!
The souks are made up of 18 different markets, all dedicated to different products or trades, and all woven together by connecting alleyways. There is a carpet souk (where we spent much of our time), metalworking souk, spice souk, etc., that are filled with dozens (if not hundreds) of different shops. It’s really like nothing we’ve ever experienced before.
Dinner was at Limoni, an Italian restaurant in the Medina.
[One of our trip-mates, Layne, lookin' all cute]
[Nomad + carpet shopping + Limoni]
Today we took a day trip to Essaouira!
It takes about 3 hours to drive the straight shot to the coast, but we stopped at the Argan Oil Women’s Cooperative – where we were able to see the process of making argan oil from the kernel – on the way there.
We also took a less expected pit stop when we came across 2 tiny puppies wiggling around aimlessly on the side of the road. Naturally, we HAD to stop. It turns out Morocco isn’t the best place an animal lover can visit, between the throngs of either hungry and/or pregnant cats that hang out in the Medina, to the tired mules, and puppies that are left on the wayside.
We all took turns giving these babies some love, as a local man on a buggy pulled up and offered to supposedly take the puppies somewhere they would be safe. Fingers were crossed that they’d actually make it there, and maybe one or two tears were shed in the car as we proceeded on our way.
The mood became light again as we pulled into Essaouira. It’s beautiful, and seeing the Atlantic Ocean from Africa was pretty cool!
Lunch was fish at a restaurant right on the beach.
The next stop was just down the road to the Medina, where we did some more shopping in the much more laid back and easier to navigate souks. Here we found the amazing blankets we’ll be showing you soon!
Then, we rode camels! The photos speak for themselves. It was a super cool experience, although somewhat terrifying when they stand up and lay down while you’re on them. The owner of the camels was basically a “camel whisperer” and was able to guide them and instruct them to do different things with the wave of his hand.
Dirty and windblown, we showed up to dinner at Villa Maroc. Here you’ll find cozy rooms warmed by small fireplaces, where tables are nestled together and set up for service. It was beautifully decorated and the food was delicious. I had the Fish Pastilla, which was one of the best things I ate while in Morocco!
[Drive to Essaouira + puppy stop]
[Atlantic Ocean from Africa]
[Dinner at Villa Maroc]
Today we had a low-key morning and went to lunch at El Fenn, owned by Richard Branson’s sister, Vanessa. This was one of my favorite places. The hotel is made up of 28 individually decorated rooms, marble lined pools, lush lounge areas, a beautifully curated boutique, and a rooftop terrace. We ate on the roof and had another amazing preset meal served family style.
After lunch, we wandered around and took photos of all the amazing colors and décor before we left for our next stop, Le Jardin Secret.
We had a night on the town this day and went to dinner, with a side of belly dancing, at Dar Zellij. One of the belly dancers tried to pull V up, but she kindly wouldn’t move from her chair.
[Group pic by our trip-mate, Michelle Presley!]
[Le Jardin Secret]
We started the day with breakfast at Maison 28 and then headed outside of the historical old city into Gueliz. Different than the Medina, the new city was built by the French in the early 1900’s and consists of more modern cafes, high end shops, hotels, and bars.
A side note: Melanie at Maison 28 had hired drivers to take our group all over Marrakech and on our day trips. This was such a huge perk. Walking to and from the souks from our riad was definitely doable (once you knew the way – maps.me came in handy many times), but getting anywhere else requires transportation. I don’t have any advice about the taxi situation, but know that when we go back, we will look to hire a driving service again.
Our first stop in Gueliz was lunch at Catanzaro. This is a homey Italian restaurant with amazing pizza! It was a nice little break from tagines and cous cous!
Then we went to the Yves Saint Laurent museum! This was recommended by a few people before our trip and I’m so glad it was part of the itinerary. The dress exhibit was breathtaking and learning YSL’s story and connection with Morocco was super cool.
Perhaps even more stunning (depending on who you talk to!) than the YSL museum itself is the Jardin Majorelle next to it! Created by painter and gardener Jacques Majorelle and later restored by YSL and Pierre Berge, the two and half acre paradise features a collection of cacti, palm trees, weeping willows, jasmine, agaves, cypress, bougainvillea (HOLY bougainvillea! San Diego has got nothing on Marrakech!), and other exotic plants. The building you see painted in “Majorelle blue” below was Jacques studio, now a Berber museum.
This evening our group dined on the terrace of our riad with lots of wine and a big spread of bread, cheeses, and olives from a grocery store!
[V and I obviously very happy, ha! Pic by Michelle Presley]
[Dinner on the roof of our riad]
Today was Atlas Mountains day! We drove about 1.5 hours south to the town of Imlil, a Berber village in the high mountains. We were dropped off in town and trekked up (some of us rode mules!) to the Kasbah Du Toubkal, an unmistakable hotel with a stunning view of Mount Toubkal – the second highest mountain peak in Africa.
We had a delicious lunch there and shopped for carpets on our way back down. We found one incredible vintage piece, made by a Berber woman years ago, that we couldn’t leave without. We also found a collection of traditional faces, hand carved from stone, that came home with us too!
Believe it or not, we ordered in burgers this night from Beats Burger in the Medina.
[Imlil + trek up to Kasbah Du Toubkal + shopping on the way back down]
We started the day with another quiet breakfast at our riad and then headed to the Beldi Country Club for what was probably the most indulgent day of our trip.
The grounds of this place were in full bloom with roses in every color and bougainvillea draping almost every entranceway.
Here we received the ultimate hamman experience. There are public hammams (bathhouses) all over Marrakech, where both genders go often to be scrubbed from head to toe with a black soap that takes off all of your dead skin.
At the Beldi hamman, we disrobed and were taken to a marble steam room, essentially, where we cooked for a while to sweat out our toxins. The wonderful Moroccan women then came in and threw warm water on us (unexpected at first) and proceeded to scrub each of us down. More warm water was thrown, our hair was washed, and we left squeaky clean. Really though, the experience was uncomfortable at first, but totally worth it! We each received an hour full body massage afterwards and then were fed rosé, lunch, nous nous, and dessert. (I told you it was an indulgent day).
Meanwhile, Zoubair was preparing us a traditional Tanjia back at Maison 28. He started preparing it in the morning, then took it to a local Farnatchi (place where they tend the fires that heat the local hammans) where it cooked all day in ashes. It was delicious!
[Beldi Country Club]
Today we had a free day, which involved some hardcore shopping in the souks. We found another 6 stunning rugs and rug poufs that are to die for. We’re SO excited to get these listed online and have them available in the shop!
We stopped in at Nomad again for lunch and had Beats Burgers again for dinner!
[Breakfast at our riad]
The day started with another leisurely breakfast and coffee, then we headed into the souks for our last time (sigh) so everyone could pick up slippers (these are the best souvenir)!
Then we got down to business on our last-minute shopping. V and I had bought ourselves beautiful sterling silver vintage hamsa hand pendants earlier in the trip, and thought it would be so special to bring home a collection as well. We searched high and low for 10 uniquely beautiful vintage pieces and found the perfect ones! These are so meaningful to us because the hamsa hand is a sign of protection and such a big part of Moroccan history and culture. V and I wear ours constantly and are excited to be able to offer a selection to you too! Stay tuned!
We ended the day with a BLAST of a farewell party! A group of men came to perform traditional African song and dance and had our entire group dancing with them and swinging around their tassel hats. Lots of buffet style food and drink, and many, many laughs.
Departure day. *tear*
[Miss these women so much! Pic by Michelle Presley!]
So, like I said, we can't wait to go back! The next time around, there will be things we do differently. It's all a learning experience, right? If you're thinking about planning a trip to Marrakech and venturing out from there, we'd recommend these things:
- Spend 2 days in Essaouira if you really want time to shop, take in the sights, and camel ride (would definitely recommend).
- Spend 2 days in the Atlas Mountains, even if it's just to take in the beauty and fresh air.
- Unless you really want to, don't eat out every meal. One of the best nights we had was eating tapas on our riad rooftop. If you can access a grocery store, stock up on olives, bread, hard cheeses, and wine, so you can eat in a few meals and take in the sunset!
- If you're into design and beautiful things, El Fenn, Beldi Country Club, the YSL museum and the Majorelle Garden are all a must-see!
- Also, to get yourself oriented, we think the guided walking tour on your first full day is a big plus!
If you have any specific questions about our trip, feel free to leave a comment or reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
B & V.