Tuesday, December 9, 2014

36 hours in Marrakesh..NYTIMES2007 !


EVERY generation, Westerners find new reasons to go gaga for Marrakesh. For Edith Wharton and Winston Churchill, the draw was medieval Islamic architecture and rugged mountainous landscapes. For the globetrotting hippies of the woozy “Marrakesh Express” days, the appeal lay in “charming cobras” and “blowing smoke rings,” to quote Crosby, Stills and Nash. These days, with Marrakesh emerging as the center of North Africa’s style and night life, everyone from Julia Roberts to Naomi Campbell has threaded through its labyrinthine old lanes in search of celebrity chefs, opulent spas and designer boutiques. Indeed, for many of Europe’s jet set playgrounds — Ibiza discos, Riviera beach clubs, Paris hotels — a Marrakesh outpost is now de rigueur.

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Marrakesh, Morocco
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FRIDAY
4 p.m.
1) OLD MEDINA
For full immersion into Marrakesh’s sights, sounds and smells, dive into the twisted passages of the Medina, the city’s old quarter. Head up Rue Souk Semarine, and you’ll pass veiled women, clambering mule carts, and narrow passages with stalls selling all manner of hand-spun textiles, inlaid mirrors, brass lanterns, wooden chests, fragrant leather goods, ceramic vases and enough carpets to pad the Alaskan wilderness. Haggling is essential. So is your poker face: feign indifference, affect a cool exterior and occasionally exaggerate outrage at counteroffers. Finish at the Ben Youssef Medersa, a 16th-century Koran school adorned with dazzling mosaics, intricate cedar panels and religious verses carved in white plaster. (No phone or Web site, and the location can be tricky to find, but it is right next to the Musée de Marrakech on Place Ben Youssef. Admission is 40 dirhams, or about $5 at 7.95 dirhams to the dollar.)
8 p.m.
2) PALACE FOR YOUR PALATE
Whether you’re proposing to your partner, celebrating an anniversary or pleading forgiveness for an affair — or if you’re just plain starved — everything is romantically presented and expertly cooked in the sumptuously Moorish interiors of Le Tobsil (22 Derb Moulay Abdallah Ben Hezzian; 212-24-44-40-52). The menu, which changes daily, typically includes cold Moroccan tapaslike salads, savory-sweet tagines and couscous with stewed meats and vegetables. A fruit-heavy dessert and glass of sweet mint tea provide the coda. Dinner for two is fixed at 1,200 dirhams, and includes wine. Reservations essential.
10 p.m.
3) MARKET LEADER
North Africa’s most famous market, Djemaa el Fna square, explodes to life after dark. Lorded over by the illuminated minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, oceans of revelers come out to dine at sizzling food stalls and soak up the carnivalesque atmosphere conjured by monkey handlers, cobra charmers, drummers, acrobats, musicians, soapbox preachers and folk-medicine hawkers. If you can handle more dessert, visit the spice-cake dealers (40 dirhams a slice) and wash it down with a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice (a mere 3 dirhams) from one of the myriad fruit carts.
SATURDAY
10:30 a.m.
4) PUBLIC HAREM
The sprawling 19th-century Bahia Palace (Rue Riad Zitoun el Jedid, Medina; 212-44-389-564) solves a design quandary that few architects today confront: How to build a house for a grand vizier’s 4 wives and 24 jealous concubines? The answer seems to be very stylishly and carefully, judging from the masterfully tiled, chiseled and carved details of the opulent palace. Admission is 10 dirhams to tour its intricate layout of rooms, gardens, courtyards and pavilions. Now a museum, the palace still periodically receives V.I.P.’s, including the hip-hop sultan Sean Combs, who flew in his entourage for a 2002 birthday bash.
Noon
5) LUNCH AMONG THE RUINS
Next to the former Jewish quarter and overlooking the time-worn walls of 16th-century El Badi Palace, the terrace of KosyBar (47 Place des Ferblantiers, Medina; 212-24-38-03-24) is a chic perch for a noontime bite. Settle into the deep couches, absorb the jazz-soul soundtrack and contemplate the menu of sushi, sashimi and various Euro-Oriental fusion dishes. Chilled carrot soup with ginger and cumin (50 dirhams) cuts the heat like a North African answer to gazpacho, while goat cheese ravioli (80 dirhams) adds Continental flair.
1:30 p.m.
6) MERCHANDISE MAZE
Riding a Moorish-Moroccan wave, young designers are modernizing Old World styles with contemporary Western touches. You’ll find many of their boutiques hidden in the Medina. Start at Original Design (231 Rue Riad Zitoun, Jedid; 212-24-38-22-76), where Ibtissam Ait Daoud sells her sleek ceramics — flying saucer ashtrays (120 dirhams), cylindrical vases (150) and volcano-shaped pitchers (120) — in tangerine, aubergine and silver hues. Owned by a French-Moroccan couple, Warda la Mouche (127 Rue Kennaria; 212-67-34-73-74) deals in prêt-à-porter, like psychedelic caftans (780), silver babouche slippers (40) and sailors’ blouses with Arabesque embroidery (320). Finally, for funky interpretations of North African housewares and fashion accessories, hit KifKif (8 Rue el Ksour, Bab-Laksour; 212-61-08-20-41; www.kifkifbystef.com).
4 p.m.
7) WANT SUN? JOIN A CLUB
No ocean in Marrakesh? No matter. You can bronze up and cool off at the local branch of Nikki Beach (Circuit de la Palmeraie, Palmeraie; 212-24-36-87-27; www.nikkibeach.com), the decadent chain of swimming-pool clubs. Like its counterparts in Miami and St.-Tropez, the Marrakesh outpost serves up throbbing house music, white canopy beds and pricey bottles of bubbly to the gaggle of self-styled jet-setters, party people, moguls and wannabes. Don your D & G shades, have a glass of Champagne (180 dirhams) and prepare for an Arabian night. Admission 150 dirhams.
8 p.m.
8) MOROCCO, ALWAYS
You might not glimpse a white-jacketed Humphrey Bogart at the Grand Café de la Poste (Boulevard El Mansour Eddahbi and Rue Imam Malik, Gueliz; 212-24-43-30-38; www.grandcafedelaposte.com), but the brass rails, brown leather banquettes, potted palms and other French colonial details are pure “Casablanca.” Built in 1925 and renovated two years ago, the restaurant serves French fare with Moroccan touches, including foie gras with fig jam (190 dirhams) and calamari grilled in local argane oil (95 dirhams). For dessert, the banana milkshake with pistachio ice cream is ambrosia in a glass (70 dirhams). Cocktails in the sultry Moorish Art Deco upstairs lounge are the perfect digestif.
11 p.m.
9) 1,001 NIGHTCLUBS
Marrakesh’s abundant night life is eye-opening. At the chic restaurant-lounge-nightclub Jad Mahal (Fontaine de la Mamounia, Hivernage; 212-24-43-69-84), well-heeled Moroccans and Europeans clink cocktail glasses in an elegant setting that blends styles from India, Asia and the Middle East. Admission 100 to 200 dirhams for the nightclub area. End the night at Pacha (L’Aguedal Hotel Zone, Boulevard Mohammed VI; 212-24-38-84-00; www.pachamarrakech.com), a branch of the storied Ibiza club. Claiming to be Africa’s largest night spot, the space houses two restaurants, a swimming pool, a plush “chillout room” and an expansive dance club that has been graced by Paul Oakenfold, David Guetta and other hall-of-fame D.J.’s. Admission 150 to 450 dirhams.
SUNDAY
10 a.m.
10) DARE TO STEAM
Two days of spirited bargaining, culinary bloating and late-night carousing takes a toll. At Les Bains de Marrakech (2 Derb Sedra, Medina; 212-24-38-14-28; www.lesbainsdemarrakech.com), the venerable Islamic hammam has been injected with casbah-cool 21st-century design touches. For 450 dirhams, you’ll be steamed to melting, lathered in black Moroccan beldi soap, exfoliated with a rough kissa glove, massaged with oil by four hands, coated in local ghassoul clay, rinsed in hot water, stuffed into a fluffy robe and served a mint tea.
Noon
11) DESIGNER FLORA
Even if you don’t know a malvaceae from a punicaceae plant, the Majorelle Gardens (212-24-30-18-52; www.jardinmajorelle.com) are the city’s loveliest strolling grounds. The cafe serves a Moroccan breakfast (orange juice, yogurt, sweet crepes, honey and jam; 100 dirhams), and the Museum of Islamic Art offers wrought Persian astrolabes, Syrian copperwork and shimmering Moroccan textiles. All were collected by the gardens’ financial patrons, the fashion legends Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. They first fell in love with Marrakesh in the 1960s and are in many ways the forefathers of the current Marrakesh-mania.
VISITOR INFORMATION
Royal Air Maroc (www.royalairmaroc.com) offers flights from Kennedy Airport to Marrakesh with a change in Casablanca. Based on a recent online search, rates in late November started at around $950. (Research your flight carefully. Layovers in Casablanca can range from around one hour to more than 15 hours depending on the specific flight you book.) Moroccan taxis rarely use their meters. For a trip from Marrakesh Menara airport to the Medina, try to bargain down to 80 dirhams, $10 at $7.95 dirhams to the dollar. Between the Medina and the new district of Gueliz, around 15 to 20 dirhams is reasonable.
Annie Lennox, Sacha Baron Cohen and other V.I.P.’s have dropped in at the 18-room Riad El Fenn (2 Derb Moulay Abdallah Ben Hezzian; 212-24-44-12-10; www.riadelfenn.com) in the Medina. Owned by Vanessa Branson, sister of the Virgin mogul Richard Branson, the boutique hotel has five pools, a spa, a home cinema, and a bar and restaurant. Double rooms from 270 euros, $397, at $1.47 to the euro.
Just outside the bustling Medina, Hivernage Hotel and Spa ( Rue des Temples and Rue Echouhada; 212-24-42-41-00; www.hivernage-hotel.com) has a pool, a well-equipped spa and a restaurant operated by a St.-Tropez-based chef, Christophe Leroy. Doubles from 1,900 dirhams.
Farther afield, in the Bel Air-like Palmeraie district, the Palais Mehdi (Palmeraie; 212-24-30-75-77; www.palais-mehdi.com) is a sprawling, resort with a huge pool, and verdant grounds. Doubles from 250 euros.

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