When Amanresorts arrived in 2000 so, too, did a new international chic. For many the Mamounia hotel had always defined Moroccan style, but now with Aman’s pared-down minimalism, something new had been introduced. And it wasn’t going to stop. Right now, Marrakech is a luxury boomtown for a young, fast-paced crowd chasing the new aesthetic. There is still the ancient medina and its invigorating souk, the Atlas Mountains that loom over the surrounding palm-filled oases, but the city is being seen with modern eyes. "The set coming now is still attracted by the eclectic old Marrakech," says Romain Michel-Ménière, a Swiss-born interior designer based here. "But they also want something fresh, more contemporary—a twenty-first-century glamour." You feel this crackling through the old medieval walls at restaurants such as Ziwana Art, with its futuristic interior and lounge-style soundtrack, and hotels like the Murano Oriental Resort, with its pop colors and contemporary decor: a truly modern Moroccan vibe Marrakech can call its own.
New and luxurious
All around the city the trend is toward bigger, full-service resorts, with a chicdom of new properties on the horizon. French architect Pascal Desprez is behind the supermodern Naoura Barrière, opening next year. The sister hotel to Fouquet’s Barrière in Paris, it features 86 suites plus 30 private riads (a home with an internal garden), each with its own pool. It is the first large hotel within the medina, the city’s old town of rabbit-warren-like alleys. People are also buzzing about the soon-to-be-reopened icon of old Marrakech glamour: La Mamounia. The Art Deco hotel is being recast by interior designer Jacques Garcia, who also did the Hôtel Costes in Paris. Expect a brand-new spa and 25 additional suites. And high-profile companies such as the Mandarin Oriental, Rocco Forte, and the Four Seasons have all announced hotel projects that will be completed in the next two years.
Right now the resort-style property that truly embodies today’s Marrakech is the Murano Oriental Resort, 15 minutes from the medina in the surrounding palm grove known as La Palmeraie. Partner to the Murano Urban Resort in Paris, it has the same pop sensibility; this time blacks, whites, and reds flirt with dusty-pink pisé. The 37 rooms and suites are in five riads, three of which have private pools. Furnishings mix Perspex tables and column lamps with Moroccan arches, white stucco walls, and heavy wooden doors. The focal point is a red pool fringed by red-and-white Chesterfield-inspired loungers. The pool is also overlooked by a red-and-white-walled bar and restaurant serving a short menu of modern French dishes. What stands out is the slick, professional staff, including several managers imported from the Paris Murano. The service comes close to that provided by the French-trained staff at Ksar Char-Bagh. Though it’s not new, this is still our favorite Palmeraie address for providing an intimate but ever so au courant Moroccan resort–level experience and terrific gourmet meals.
With the big names inevitably comes higher standards. Riads are being converted into serious-minded boutique hotels, with lively attention paid to contemporary style and just-so detailing; chances are, the sheets will be Frette and dinner will include Oulidia oysters, shucked right at your table.
At Riad Meriem, New York–based interior designer Thomas Hays shows his orientalist leanings in the decor of his five-suite riad hotel with handcrafted Moroccan lamps and mirrors, antique Indian bronze basins in the bathrooms, and a palette unique to each room—deep shots of red and purple in the Red Suite, intense green in the Matisse. The connoisseurs among you will appreciate the rare textiles (such as 19th-century Indonesian silks and Uzbek ikats) mixed with contemporary paintings by American artist Laurence Rassin. There are numerous areas in which to relax, including a veranda overlooking the main courtyard, the Chimney Lounge, which has an open fireplace, and a roof terrace where you can enjoy Moroccan cuisine prepared by the riad’s private chef.
Riad Noir d’Ivoire, close to the Bab Doukkala (one of the medina’s main gates), is the creation of Brit Jill Fechtmann and Frenchman Jean Michel Jobit. The four suites and two double rooms are decorated with Moroccan objets, early-20th-century French ceramics, and bespoke fabrics by Marion Verdier. The library-style sitting room with plush sofas comes into its own in winter; in summer there’s a roof terrace with shaded banquettes. In addition to a 24-hour hammam beldi (traditional), there’s an in-house masseuse and beautician, an indoor pool with an underwater music system, and a courtyard restaurant serving such rotating cuisines as Moroccan, Indian, and Indonesian: details that make this place stand out among the new wave of riads. This year the owner also added three more suites with private terraces.
If the raison d’être of a riad is seclusion from the city’s bustle, you can go one stage further, renting a private house on an exclusive basis for a group of friends or family. High-end rentals now exist that can properly compete with houses on the other side of the Med.
Riad Tarabel, located close to the Palais Dar El Bacha, has been the grand projet of Parisian designer Léonard Degoy since he acquired the property a year ago. Degoy and his wife, Rose, did the interiors, while Michel-Ménière, also behind the beldi-style riad Dar al Sultan, advised on the renovation. The accommodation includes a master suite, two double rooms, and three salons—well suited to a cultured party of six. Antique French chairs, paintings from the château of Degoy’s grandmother, and a freestanding rolltop bath in one of the doubles give the place a distinctly European look. The palette is all soft grays, taupes, and creams. The inner courtyard is open to the elements, but central heating has been installed throughout. There is a hammam on the ground floor. Staffing, including a chef, is dependent on what and how many you want.
On the road toward the rural village of Ouarzazate, a 25-minute drive from the medina, is the four-year-old Atlas House, designed by Belgian architect Quentin Wilbaux. This villa is set amid a five-acre olive grove with views of the Atlas Mountains from many of its terraces. The interior is a nod to the local vernacular, with its tadelakt, zellige, and bejmat tiles, but there’s a contemporary twist via Serge Mouille lights and pieces by Knoll. Atlas can comfortably sleep ten guests in its two master suites and two guest rooms (all with private bathrooms). Plus, it has a hammam, a large living room, and a heated outdoor pool.
Located deep in the Palmeraie district, Palais Dar Ambre is among the city’s finest contemporary restaurants. French chefs Xavier Mathieu and Eric Boiron developed a six-course Découverte Gastronomique menu ($135 per person), which includes escalope de foie gras and authentique risotto servi comme un capuccino. They also offer a Moroccan dégustation menu ($80 per person) with couscous royal au boeuf et aux légumes and pastilla au lait. Whichever menu you choose, request a table on the terrace overlooking the pool. Rte. de Fez; 212-24/328-491; darambre.com
From $850 to $1,280. Djnan Abiad; 212-24/329-244; ksarcharbagh.com
Av. Bab Jdid; 800-745-8883; mamounia.com
Murano Oriental Resort
From $365 to $1,700. Douar Abiad; 212-24/327-000; muranoresort.com
From $340 to $410. 97 Derb el Cadi; 212-24/387-731; riadmeriem.com
Riad Noir d’Ivoire
From $250 to $600. 31 Derb Jdid; 212-24/380-975; noir-d-ivoire.com
Riad Tarabel and the Atlas House can be booked through Cédric Reversade (price upon request; cedricreversade.com). Youssef Benamour, a former banker and founder of Villas of Morocco (villasofmorocco.com), is a good local agent. Another source is Habibi Homes (habibihomes.com), set up by Dutch expat Sandra Zwollo and American Caitlin Dowe-Sandes.
Medina à la Carte
Some of the city’s most exciting restaurants are nestled within the ancient walls of the medina. At Le Tanjia, the cuisine has a Moroccan core—tagines, pastilla, briouates—and the rooms are lined with Moorish arches of moucharaby latticework (1dinner, $50; 14 Derb Jdid-Hay Essalam; 212-24/383-836; le-tanjia.com). Set in a restored palace, Palais Soleïman has five set menus with dishes such as tagine de veau aux herbes de l’Atlas (dinner, $140; Dar Layadi, Route de Fez; 212-24/378-962; palais-soleiman.com). Ziwana Art Restaurant is full of secret spaces (four salons, a music room, a fumoir). Book a table by the pool and try the portefeuille de saumon au caviar de couscous Ziwana (dinner, $225; 5–6 Derb el Maada; 212-24/380-800; ziwana.com).
While the medina still bustles with local artisans, braying donkeys, and bartering Marrakechis, you can now uncover some glorious gem-size boutiques packed with one-of-a-kind clothing and jewelry, as well as decor that’s easy to take home. To help you find a specific address in the medieval alleys, call designer and shopping consultant Laetitia Trouillet. French-born, English-speaking, and now living in Marrakech, she charges $350 for a full day (10 a.m.– 6 p.m.). Her honed bargaining skills alone are worth the fee.
French designer Stéphanie Bénetière’s store, Kif Kif by Stef, is notable for the range of breezy cotton tunics, children’s clothes, and silver jewelry. Right across the street is Kulchi, a must-visit for its T-shirts with pop designs by Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj, as well as for the tunics and caftans made with vintage seventies fabrics.
Sidi Ghanem, the city’s zone industrielle, a ten-minute cab ride from the medina, is a hotbed of young Marrakechi design talent. At Akkal Belgian ceramist Charlotte Barkowski sells tableware—for example, teapots and mini tagines in a range of colors from pale gray to blood red—and pieces by such designers as Andrée Collin. We especially like Collin’s gorgeous Ipsus purses (from $185), crafted using wide strips of buttery-soft goat suede dyed in shades of red, green, deep pink, and purple.
In Guéliz, the Art Deco ville nouvelle created by the French protectorate, Scènes de Lin carries sumptuous cottons and linens imported from Europe, which are then embroidered in Casablanca and Marrakech. Custom orders, such as a 70-inch-square tablecloth ($185), can be completed in 24 hours. Designer Michèle Baconnier is known for her contemporary take on babouches that she fashions from suede or, say, leather with a shiny finish and appliqué. Baconnier also stocks great canvas bags decorated with shells and metallic buttons (from $115).
It’s a bit out of the way, but Farhana Design is worth the 25-minute drive from the city center. Owner Farah Chaoui customizes maillechort lamps and tableware (teapots, from $70) by painting them in bright, metallic tones, along with a range of tea glasses.
Many of the city’s most respected artisans open their showrooms to clients by appointment. Fadila El Gadi crafts long, lean tunics and jackets in silk and taffeta (from $400), sleeveless silk tops (from $200), and fabric and leather totes (from $250), all edged or decorated with her signature embroidery. For one-off pieces or custom orders, visit her Marrakech studio; her exquisite ready-to-wear collection is also sold in the boutiques at Riad Noir d’Ivoire and Ksar Char-Bagh. Florence Teillet’s textiles (from $50 a yard) appear in the city’s chicest riads, such as Ryad Dyor. Her style leans toward subtle stripes in muted but colorful palettes, and her fabric is perfect for cushion covers and drapes. U.S.-born designer Julie Klear and her Moroccan husband, Moulay Essakalli, run Zid Zid Kids out of their quirky riad in the Daoudiate district. Schedule a time to stop by and see their array of funky children’s textiles and furniture.
Akkal 322 Z.I. Sidi Ghanem, Rte. de Safi; 212-24/335-938; akkal.net
Fadila El Gadi By appointment; 212-61/436-870; fadilaelgadi.com
Farhana Design 1 Rte. de l’Ourika Km 7, Douar Gouassem no. 3; 212-62/512-460; farhanadesign.com
Florence Teillet By appointment; 212-61/225-905
Kif Kif by Stef 18 Rue des Ksours; 212-61/082-041; kifkifbystef.com
Kulchi 1 Rue des Ksours; 212-62/649-783
Laetitia Trouillet 212-74/217-228; email@example.com
Michele Baconnier 6 Rue du Vieux Marrakchi; 212-24/449-178; michele-baconnier.fr
Scenes de Lin 70 Rue de la Liberté; 212-24/436-108
Zid Zid Kids By appointment; 212-63/477-292; zidzid.com