4 HOURS IN... MAR­RAKECH

There is so much to see in this medieval Moroc­can city, it pays to know where to go if you are ex­plor­ing with lim­ited time

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENTS - WORDS MARISA CAN­NON

There is much to see in this medieval Moroc­can city

Bahia Palace

Start your jour­ney at one of the city’s crown­ing ar­chi­tec­tural glo­ries – a spec­tac­u­lar 19th-cen­tury palace once home to the wives and con­cu­bines of the Grand Vizier to the sul­tan. Span­ning nearly 20 acres, the 150room riad is a maze of in­ter­con­nected harems, adorned with vi­brant mo­saics and cedar wood arch­ways em­bel­lished with Qu­ranic verses and Ber­ber de­signs. In the court­yards, ferns, ba­nana plants and or­ange trees flour­ish, while slen­der path­ways lead vis­i­tors into the high-ceilinged halls. Mar­rakech is one of those cities where it’s worth in­vest­ing in a city guide who knows the key at­trac­tions well if you’ve got lim­ited time to ex­plore (Aber­crom­bie & Kent UK of­fers city break pack­ages in­clud­ing a guide from £430 ($563) for three nights; aber­crom­biekent.co.uk)

The souks

Head north and you’ll stum­ble into a labyrinth of ter­ra­cotta-col­ored al­ley­ways in­laid with hap­haz­ardly as­sem­bled mar­ket stalls. This is where you’ll find some of the best shop­ping in North Africa. The stall own­ers tout ev­ery­thing from leather bags and jew­elry to scarves and slip­pers, plus Moroc­can-in­spired it­er­a­tions of the lat­est fash­ion from your lo­cal mall. Na­tive to Morocco, ar­gan oil is also sold in bulk here, though much of what you’ll see won’t be good qual­ity – head in­stead to As­souss Ar­gane on Rue Mouas­sine, which sells qual­i­tyreg­u­lated creams, serums and oils for use on the skin and hair. In the souk, hag­gling is sport, and shop­keep­ers know how much their pieces fetch else­where. Play­ful ban­ter can go a long way, but never pay more than 50 per­cent of the ask­ing price.

Le Jardin Se­cret

Af­ter an hour’s bar­ter­ing you’ll feel like you need a cool drink. Head to Café Sahrij at Le Jardin Se­cret for a pick-me-up in this oa­sis of lush green­ery, wa­ter fea­tures and pavil­ions spread across a com­plex dat­ing back 400 years. Built by the 16th-cen­tury Sul­tan Moulay ‘Abd-Al­lah, the gar­dens fell into dis­re­pair in the early 20th cen­tury, re­open­ing in 2016 af­ter a decade of restora­tion. To­day, they thrive with trop­i­cal fo­liage, cacti and flow­er­ing plants along­side gur­gling foun­tains orig­i­nally used for bathing be­fore prayer. Or­der a pot of mint tea and the tarte du jour from Le Jardin’s out­door café and en­joy the sun on your face away from the chaotic me­d­ina out­side. There’s a Dhs 50 ($5) en­trance fee to en­ter the gar­den. le­jardinse­cret­mar­rakech.com

Les Bains de Mar­rakech

No trip to Mar­rakech is com­plete with­out a visit to a ham­mam. A com­mon tra­di­tion in the Is­lamic world, the Moroc­can rit­ual uses a clay known lo­cally as ghas­soul, taken from the At­las moun­tains and com­bined with nat­u­ral oils to soften the skin be­fore be­ing scrubbed off with a rough mitt. There are a num­ber of these spas dot­ted across the Me­d­ina (walled part of the old town), but they vary in qual­ity. If you’re af­ter guar­an­teed lux­ury and fault­less ser­vice, head to Les Bains de Mar­rakech, a 20-min­ute­walk south of Le Jardin, where you can un­wind in a soak­ing tub strewn with rose petals be­fore your treat­ment. If you’ve just got an hour, opt for the 45-minute ham­mam ($24), which you can com­bine with an al­gae wrap for the same price. les­bains­de­mar­rakech.com

Musée Yves Saint Lau­rent

Launched last year, this trib­ute to the pi­o­neer­ing French de­signer has raised Mar­rakech’s cultural pro­file. Yves Saint Lau­rent fell in love with the city af­ter his first visit in 1966, and shortly af­ter bought a hol­i­day home where he would spend a month each year work­ing on his haute cou­ture col­lec­tions. He cred­ited the city with much of his sar­to­rial in­spi­ra­tion for decades to fol­low. De­signed by Stu­dio KO, the mu­seum chron­i­cles Saint Lau­rent’s life from his early days as cre­ative di­rec­tor of Chris­tian Dior to his re­tire­ment show in 2002, fea­tur­ing a dis­play of 50 defin­ing gar­ments along­side sketches, pho­tog­ra­phy and video that give in­sight to his life and ca­reer. Don’t miss the spec­tac­u­lar por­traits of Cather­ine Deneuve. museeyslmar­rakech.com

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