Travel

Medina

Establishment neighborhood
The Spa at El Fenn
Derb Moulay Abdullah Ben Hezzian, Medina
Just off one of the busiest streets in Marrakech and hidden behind an ornate wooden door is one of the city’s most gorgeous hotels and hammams. The spa is bursting with bright, saturated colors, not to mention all sorts of fantastic treatments. The facials, all of which incorporate locally produced argan oil, are amazing. We love the Complete Works facial, in which traditional Moroccan ingredients known for their healing properties (honey, rose, prickly pear) are whipped into a soothing mask.
El Fenn
Derb Moullay Abdullah Ben Hezzian, Bab el Ksour, Medina
Owned by Richard Branson's sister, Vanessa, El Fenn is a bright spot in a city that's already wildly colorful. Years ago, Vanessa and partner William Howell were walking through Marakkech looking for a home to buy when they came across a once stately riad that was desperately in need of a resuscitation. The pair restored it to its former glory, and transformed it into a gorgeously appointed, 28-room hotel. While it's within striking distance of most of Morocco's biggest hits (see our Marrakech guide, here), Branson and Howell round out the stay with a trove of other experiences. You can shop the markets with the chef and cook in the hotel's kitchens, take a bellydancing class, or camel ride in the Ourika valley. Historically, they've held writer's retreats and photography workshops, too.
La Mamounia
Avenue Bab Jdid, Medina
I stayed at the revamped historic La Mamounia Hotel, located in the heart of the imperial city. The Jacques Garcia designed interiors are splendid to say the least, and the hotel’s gardens are out of this world, almost from a fairy tale. The hotel has four restaurants supplying cuisine from around the world—L’Italien, Le Francais, Le Marocain, and Le Pavillion de la Piscine—and five bars to choose from—Le Bar Marocain, Le Bar Italien, Le Bar Churchill, Le Bar de la Piscine, and Le Menzeh “Glacier & Patissier.” The food and drinks here are elegant and delicious, and with all the choices, it’s easy to stay in the hotel for an entire weekend of relaxation. Speaking of which, I couldn’t resist a daily Hammam treatment at the hotel’s spa. Get this: 15 minutes in a steam room, a full-body lather in Black Soap, an exfoliating rub down, a Ghassoul (Moroccan clay) body masque, and then a warm shower... Ridiculously lavish!
The Souk
Medina
In Marrakesh there is a sprawling Souk or traditional Moroccan marketplace, where myriad goods are sold in small stalls and stands that line labyrinthine hallways. Fruits, vegetables, rugs, lamps, furniture, spices and handcrafts are all sold here and have been for centuries. I loved the colorful pharmacies chock full of jars of herbs for all kinds of maladies, argon oil, and kohl for traditional eye-makeup. A great deal of haggling takes place at the souks, so brace yourself for bargaining. Laetitia Trouillet, our wonderful shopping guide, took us around to a few great boutiques and guided us through the souk, which can be overwhelming without the right person. If you’re ever shopping in Marrakech, she’s the person to call. Below are a few shops and restaurants she recommends along with the spots I visited on my trip.
Dar Marjana
15 Derb Sidi Ali Tair, Bab Doukkala, Medina
I had the pleasure of dining at this restaurant which means “rare pearl” and indeed it is, found in the district that used to make up the Pasha’s palace. The restaurant is in a restored mansion and every night you’ll find the best traditional Moroccan dishes fit for a king (in fact, King Mohammed VI is known to visit here from time to time). It sounds exotic, but I promise the pigeon pie is a must! The added bonus to meals here is that belly dancers serenade your table, which my friends got beyond into. I’d almost like to upload the footage on YouTube—it’s that good—but for now I’ll leave to the imagination.
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