As the founder of Travel Curator, Melanie Brandman travels the globe in search of the latest must-see-to-believe destinations. It’s a tough gig, but someone has to do it. Her latest adventures in wanderlust take her to magical Marrakech where the vibrant colors, exotic smells, and mystical land were intoxicating. Enjoy the curated highlights from Melanie’s Moroccan journey extracted from Jason Charles’s popular podcast Traveling Without Moving.

Ticking Marrakech off my bucket list… 

Marrakech Melanie Brandman

My most recent trip to Marrakech was last November for Thanksgiving. I’ve actually been going for about 15 years. The first time I went was for a landmark birthday and I fell completely in love. I rented a beautiful riad – a traditional Moroccan home with a stunning courtyard garden – in Marrakech for two weeks with 10 friends. It was a very special trip.

The easiest, most authentic way to get there…

There’s no direct flight to Marrakech from New York, so you need to go via Casablanca. Royal Air has the most direct route (7 hours) and they serve Moroccan food and mint tea so it’s a nice introduction. The flight from Casablanca to Marrakech is about 50 minutes and Marrakech airport is clean and modern. I’ve often missed my connecting flight and had to take a private car from Casablanca to Marrakech which is actually a beautiful three hour drive through the desert and past villages where Berbers – local nomadic farmers – are tending to their sheep, camels, and green pastures. 

Prepare to be mesmerized from your window seat…

Definitely request a window seat to see magical Marrakech from the air to get a sense of how diverse, flat, and arid the landscape is. You’ll see areas that look like an oasis butting up against the desert. And the beautiful Moorish architecture. I love its conformity and the pinky rose terracotta walls surrounding Medina, Marrakech’s oldest city. 

My love affair with La Mamounia…

la mamounia Marrakech Melanie Brandman
Image Courtesy of La Mamounia

I always stay at La Mamounia, it’s my favorite hotel in the world and one of the most famous. The original structure was built within the city’s medieval walls in the 12th century, gifted to Prince Al Mamoun for his wedding back in the 18th century, and became a hotel in 1923. I remember watching the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much starring James Stewart and Doris Day, who famously sang Que Sera Sera in one of La Mamounia’s suites, and longing to go here. Winston Churchill was also a regular who went all the time to paint in the hotel’s beautiful gardens. My second visit was 12 years ago when the hotel reopened after a landmark renovation by famous interior designer Jacques Garcia, who has worked on amazing hotels around the world like Hotel Costes in Paris. When you drive up to the hotel, the high imposing gates open up to reveal a beautiful driveway, the majestic doors of this incredible palace, and doormen dressed in traditional Berber outfits. The hotel is the embodiment of everything Marrakech, it’s sexy, intoxicating and the artistry is extraordinary. Every single tile has been handcrafted and laid by hand. The hotel doesn’t have a traditional check-in, instead, you take a seat in the magnificent lobby surrounded by the stunning tile work, plush fabrics, red velvets, and lanterns that are unmistakably Jacques Garcia signature, and are served plates of dates, as is custom in Morocco, along with almond milk and mint tea. The whole ritual of pouring mint tea in Marrakech is an art form.

Just arriving is a ritual…

Marrakech Melanie Brandman

The lobby leads out to 17 acres of lush gardens lined with 200, seven hundred-year-old olive trees. The hotel makes olive oil from the trees and I bring a bottle back with me every trip, it’s fantastic. There’s also 700 orange trees that supply the fresh orange juice every morning, 5,000 rose bushes, cactus, and palm trees. The first thing I always do is walk around the gardens, it’s so peaceful. I feel immediately calmed breathing in the scent of the orange trees and rose bushes and hearing the birds chirping and the call to prayer from the many mosques nearby. After I do a couple of laps, I cut through the center of the garden to another little riad that has beautiful pastries from French patisserie Pierre Herme who’s famous for his macaroons and ice cream. I walk over to the gorgeous pool with its beautiful pool house where breakfast is served every day and then head to my room where I find those delicious pastries and champagne laid out for me. I never want to leave the hotel, but there’s so much to explore.

Explore the main square…. 

Top of my hit list is to explore the main square, every Medina has one. In Marrakech, it’s Jemaa el-Fna Square, a 10-minute walk from the hotel. The square is a central meeting place for locals and where you’ll find stalls selling fresh juice and dried fruits. Behind it is the souk, the main market area which is a labyrinth of walkways and stalls selling slippers, carpet, spices, and everything under the sun. Always come to Marrakech with empty bags, shopping is a highlight and haggling is another art form. I love shopping for brass lanterns. I have an outdoor space in New York and we have a lot of hanging lanterns and Morrocan homewares, fabrics, and linens. I also found an incredible leather place. Try to get off the main alleyways and thoroughfares where it’s quieter to find lots of other little hidden gems.  A number of contemporary fashion, design, and homeware stores from the UK and Europe have popped up in the Souk. I always say that all roads lead back to the main square so you’ll never really get lost and most Moroccan’s speak English, French, and Arabic, so someone will always help you.

Marrakech has so many highlights…

I always suggest you use a guide when in Marrakech as there’s so much to see and you don’t want to miss out all this magical city has on offer. Near the souk, there are lots of riads that have been converted into beautiful boutique hotels. You come up to a tiny door and can’t imagine that behind it is a stunning, meticulously restored Morrocan home with a central courtyard, swimming pool, and gorgeous palm trees and water fountains everywhere. To truly experience the history, architecture, and museums, get a guide specific to that.

Desert dreaming…

desert tea Marrakech Melanie Brandman
Image Courtesy of Alcimat

I always take a day trip out of the city to the Atlas Mountains or into the desert, which is only an hour or so outside town. On this recent trip, the hotel treated me and my guests to a luxury tented experience in the desert. This wonderful company called Alcimat had set up a stunning tent with Berber carpets on the floor, cozy lounges, a long table outside with stunning views. The hotel had arranged for their chefs to cook for us and it was one of the most unforgettable days of any trip. I also recommend an organized trip to the Atlas Mountains. Kasbah du Toubkal, the highest point of the Atlas Mountains is popular. The Atlas mountains actually span Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and they separate the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines from the Sahara Desert. 

Then there’s the gardens…

Marrakech Melanie Brandman

Majorelle Gardens, a 20-minute drive from La Mamounia are beautiful public gardens designed back in 1923 by French artist Jacques Majorelle who filled them with cactus and painted the walls in a color he created called Majorelle Blue, the most beautiful, vibrant blue you’ll ever see. The gardens were restored by Yves Saint-Laurent in the 1980s. Yves loved Morocco and had a house right behind the gardens which if lucky, you can view by private invitation. Next to the gardens is the Yves Saint-Laurent Museum which has a wonderful curation of the designers’ collections.  There is also a Berber Museum within the Majorelle gardens that takes you through the history of these local tribes and their beautiful clothing, artifacts, and artists and jewelry. 

And the beautiful coastline…

About a 2.5-hour drive from Marrakech is the gorgeous walled city of Essaouira that sits on the Atlantic Ocean. The name means little picture in Arabic and it is as pretty as a picture, everything is blue and white and coastal and it has beautiful seafood restaurants for lunch, a wonderful Medina, and a quaint, laid back, creative vibe. The area has actually become a burgeoning hub for the music industry, there’s recording studios and they have a big music festival there that is also magical.

The Spice Trail… 

spice trail

The other reason I love Marrakech so much is the food and buying my saffron and other spices in the souk.  Many of the recipes are handed down from mother to daughter through the generations and a lot of the chefs are women. La Mamounia has an incredible Moroccan restaurant run by local women. Everything starts with a meze, around 20 small plates served on a big tray that has hummus, eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, brains, offal, and little savory pastries. Main course is usually a tagine, traditional fare of couscous served with chicken, lamb, or vegetables. They are very simple, but it’s the spices that make them incredible. And there’s always a sweet dish afterward, often Baklava and an array of other pastries.  And let’s not forget about the wines. There’s actually a big wine industry in Morocco and their wines are fantastic. One to note, if you are going to eat out in the souk there are lots of great restaurants but they don’t serve alcohol. 

Take me back….

When I think of Marrakech it instantly evokes a sense of zen. I close my eyes and picture the beautiful architecture, the bustling courtyards of the souk, the camels on every corner, the horse-drawn carriages, and the endless beeping of the tuk-tuks.  As crazy and touristy as that it sounds I feel at home. I can almost hear the music, smell the spices and feel the warmth and kindness of the people as I am transported back in time to a magical mystical land that truly you do need to see to believe. 

Listen to Traveling Without Moving with Melanie Brandman from JasonCharles.net