Highlights of the Mediterranean: Marrakech, Morocco
I am excited to post my second "Highlights of the Mediterranean" recurring feature, where I share fellow bloggers highlights while traveling. This month we are going to Marrakech, Morocco with the lovely Yvonne King! She was born and raised a California girl but made the move to Portland, Oregon to start a new home with her family. In her pre-motherhood days, she was a buyer for Metropark and Forever, 21. For her husband's 30th birthday they went to Ibiza & Barcelona and have been traveling ever since to locations like Japan, Panama, Morocco and Paris. She blogs about home renovations, fashion and all the fun things that fall in between, check out her fun blog at Dress This Nest.
From Yvonne...The highlight of our trip was the FOOD. We are a pretty big food family, my husband and I both cook and geek out on new restaurants in our food haven town of Portland. We even named our son after my husband's favorite chef! But the food in Morocco certainly changed our lives (and blew our minds). We picked up a Moroccan cookbook as soon as we got home and we've been cooking Moroccan-style food ever since.
Dining is also fairly inexpensive in comparison to eating in the States, so we were able to eat at fairly high-end restaurants every night of our trip without breaking the bank. We also took a cooking class our first day there, which included a tour of the local market and I HIGHLY recommend it. I have heard stories of tourist being taken advantage of or pressured into purchases in Marrakech (just like Sex and the City 2) so having a guide take us through the market the first time allowed us to find some trust-worthy vendors as well as to feel confident in the market for future visits (we returned to the market several times on our trip).
When in Marrakech...
We stayed at this place first, which is very close into town and is run by a lovely British couple. The service here was EXCELLENT. The wife is very connected in town and if you tell her what you are looking for, she will send you to the best vendors in town. I think she used to be an interior designer or something in the design industry, because the place is beautiful and she has fantastic connections with the rug/decor people in town. They also booked all our dinner reservations and gave us advice on what to do ahead of time (with my husband via e-mail). One night it was raining and we were totally pooped and just wanted to stay in, but didn't have any dinner. We asked the guy at the front desk if there was anywhere close-by and he ran out in the rain and picked us up some dinner! I have never had better service in my life!
Our second hotel was definitely off the beaten path. We got a great deal on our room through Gilt Groupe's travel site Jetsetter. The hotel was formerly a mansion, that the owner turned into a hotel. The grounds are covered with an amazing sculpture and art collection. The staff is incredibly professional. Breakfast is included with the room, but we also dined at the hotel for lunch and dinner. The food is very authentic Moroccan and was some of the best we had on our trip. The wait staff in the dining room were impeccably trained, I felt like I was eating dinner at the White House.
I would recommend all these places and ranked them in order, with my favorites first.
Azar is a Lebanese restaurant (that also has belly dancers) but is definitely more modern in the design and plating. It feels like you are in a fancy restaurant in Los Angeles and there is actually an elevator (that happens to be wall-covered in silk flowers) that goes down into a nightclub. This place was VERY hip, but what I remember most was the food being fantastic, ESPECIALLY the dessert.
Les Jardins de Bala
Another high-end restaurant we went to was Les Jardins de Bala. This is an Indian restaurant. I LOVE Indian food and being from the Bay Area, I have had my share of delicious authentic Indian. Les Jardins de Bala did not disappoint and I have never been to an Indian restaurant that was so fancy. The cocktails were delicious and the service was excellent.
I feel like this place is a must-visit if you are going to Morocco. We went for lunch. It is on the "new" side of town and is run by ALL women (this is a big deal for the culture there). It is VERY traditional (and flawless) Moroccan food. We had a sampler plate of about a dozen salads (Moroccan salads don't have lettuce, they are more like veggie side dishes) and each one was delicious in it's own way. They also have fantastic Moroccan mint tea and a very traditional setting.
This was the first restaurant we went to and it is very authentic Moroccan. It is a little tough to find, but our hotel (Dar Charkia) arranged for someone from the restaurant to meet us at our hotel, then we walked there with the guide. So cool, for our first night in own! The food was on the high-end side and the meal was complete with live belly dancers. The interiors are also very lush and there is a view of the fountain on the patio. We had a great time.
This place is actually a road (hotel) in the Atlas Mountains. I'm not sure how my husband found out about this place, but it was a WONDERFUL place to have lunch during out Atlas Mountains Tour. Our driver dropped us off her after our hike. It has beautiful views of the mountains and we were the only ones there when we went. The staff made us a lovely traditional lunch and after we ate, we walked gorgeous the grounds.
THINGS TO DO
As I mentioned earlier, my favorite thing that we did was this cooking class. It started with a tour of the market, where we shopped for all our ingredients (including getting a fresh chicken... and by fresh I mean, they slaughtered it, feathered it and handed it to us). Then we took all of our groceries back to a traditional kitchen were we paired up and cooked different dishes together. Finally, we all sat down together and had a lovely lunch with some new friends.
Jardin de Majorelle
This garden was Yves Saint Laurent's and has since been turned into a museum for the public. Being a fan of fashion, this was a must-see for me, but there are plenty of reasons to visit it just for it's beauty. This is also a great place to take kids and there is a wonderful little cafe there, perfect for grabbing a casual lunch.
Atlas Mountains Tour
We took one excursion trip up into the Atlas mountains and I am so glad we did. My husband booked a driver/guide to drive us out there. This is where the Berber people live and it really is like taking a step into time. We got to see an actually water-powered stone grinding mill and go into a home of a Berber family to see how they live. Then our guide dropped us off for a quick hike and then we went to lunch at Kasbah Angor (see above). If we went back, I would love to stay out in the Atlas Mountains for a few days and I would probably book a room at Kasbah Angor.
If there is one thing I will say about Moroccan people, they know a thing or two about R&R. We all are familiar now with the beauty benefits of Moroccan oil (or Argan oil), but they REALLY know how to do spa right. We went to Villa Savinio for a spa treatment. We each received a salt scrub with a mud treatment and thoroughly enjoyed our experience. It was relaxing and a beautiful day and I would love to go back.
This place will blow your mind, if you are looking for Moroccan home decor. I would say this is a must-visit even if you don't plan on buying anything to take home, just because it is so incredible. It is huge and room after room will impress you with some of the most beautiful things you have ever seen. This store is pretty famous and if you google the name, you will see tons of photos of it. The owner of Dar Charkia sent us here as well and it is fairly well known as being used by major magazines when doing Moroccan themed interior design sets.
Aux Merveilles de Marrakech
I didn't plan on buying a rug while in Morocco, but I fell in love with the Moroccan wedding blankets in our hotel at Dar Charkia and didn't want to leave without one. Seeing that we were on our honeymoon, it seemed like a fitting souvenir. We bought ours from Aux Merveilles de Marrakech and I would recommend it to any of my friends. The service was fantastic and I didn't feel pressured at all. He is a friend of the hotel owner at Dar Charkia, so we let him know she sent us. Even if you don't stay at Dar Charkia, I would tell him they sent you so that you also get the star treatment!