The Monocle Muse x MOROCCO
Morocco, and specifically Marrakech, have been on my wanderlist for some time now. It was a country that I was drawn to for a myriad of reasons not limited to the Middle Eastern culture, the food, the textiles, and the architecture. Admittedly, some of my motivation to visit Morocco was provoked by images I had seen on Pinterest and instagram -- well curated, beautiful, colorful images that depicted a modern day Agrabah. Morocco and its people definitely hold true to this beauty. In this post I've included everything I think you should know before you plan your very own epic trip to Morocco.
Despite what my instagram feed may boast, our band of travelers only spent about 6-7 days total in Morocco (four in Marrakech and about two in Fez). The first few days of any international adventure is always a bit of a culture shock. Maybe it was the donkeys roaming the streets like they were our fellow travelers. Or perhaps it was me mistakenly pouring Moroccan mint tea into my morning coffee thinking it was simple syrup (*heavy eye roll at myself*), but it was very evident that Toto, we were not in Manhattan anymore...
Since the first day or two was spent acclimatizing to our new surroundings, retrospectively, I would have definitely spent a few more days exploring this mesmerizing country (and snuck in another hammam bath). However, we definitely made the most of the little time we had there.
- WHERE TO STAY -
A recommendation made by many was to stay in a riad (essentially Moroccan AirBnb). These were undoubtedly some of the most spacious accommodations I've ever stayed in, and for the cost of what you would likely pay for a night at a cramped Hilton in Times Square. I'm talking about high ceilings, 4-6 bedrooms, a terrace and a swimming pool.... think MTV cribs, Morocco edition. The two listed below were our home away from home in Marrakech and Fez.
Also known as La Fleur de Marrakech, this riad was comfortable, clean, and located in a very accessible part of the Medina. Breakfast was offered every morning, and our experience was made even more special by the Riad's host, Rashid, who was this wonderful, warm (almost paternal) presence in the house - he made us feel right at home.
There is plenty of room in this four bedroom house for a large group, and lots of communal spaces to hang out including a large rooftop terrace where you can enjoy the sunset or enjoy one another's company. If you're traveling in a large group, I would highly recommend looking into this spot.
Also known as Dar El Asaad, I first read about this eclectic riad via The Discover. The high ceilings and the blend of modern Euro decor and Islamic-inspired architecture made the space feel both regal and yet comfortable. This gem was in the center of the Medina, but was not accessible by vehicle, so the riad provided an escort when we arrived. I will warn that the location can be slightly confusing at first, as the narrow paths leading to the riad look similar and are not well lit at night. I would recommend exploring this area during the daytime to get a good idea of how to navigate your way back to the riad (no google maps in this hood).
Breakfast was provided both days by the riad's host Rashid (clearly a common name) and his wife. If you stay here I highly recommend having dinner at the riad one night. It was quite possibly one of the best meals we had in Morocco - authentic and rich with flavor.
* S/O to the bag that survived the entire trip and made traveling so incredibly easy: the AWAY carry-on. My clumsy self loves the fact that there are four wheels for easy transport and the workaholic in me adores the portable charger.
Marrakech is buzzing with inspiration at every corner and is similar to New York in that it can be a bit of a sensory overload. For myself, no vacation away from NYC feels quite right without some time spent sans skyscrapers and immersed in the outdoors. The perfect escape was Scarabeo Camp - a glamping experience about 45min - 1 hour from Marrakech city center. We rode there by side car (so rad!!) and were greeted with an oasis of beautiful tents housing full beds, heaters, candles, robes (see below), and all the luxurious amenities you could need for a night in this man-made "desert". The aesthetic mirrored something I imagine you would see in Tulum: modern meets Moroccan; essentially a real life version of my home inspo board on Pinterest.
The options for activities were not limited to camelback riding, yoga and star gazing. I opted for a cup of tea and some much needed meditation. All meals were included and filled our bellies, while the rich conversation amongst some of the most lovely, creative, and brilliant individuals I know satisfied my soul.
We couldn't leave the desert without snapping a few fun photos in our bathrobes... I mean... what more can you expect with a pack of New York creatives in the midst of a desert dreamland?!
- WHERE TO EAT -
All I can say is...you'll be eating a whole lot of tagine, kebabs and more tagine. It is also criminal that I haven't been able to find anything that rivals authentic Moroccan mint tea in America, so drink as much as you can while you're there. While we didn't spend much time indulging in fine dining during our short stay, my two must-see spots in Marrakech are:
1. Le Salama
This was the perfect spot to pause from the chaos of shopping in the Souk. We headed up to the rooftop of Le Salama, a colonial-style restaurant located centrally in the Medina. I can't speak to the ambiance during the day, but the atmosphere at night was a scene out of a movie filled with belly dancers and live music where you can enjoy dinner, a cocktail or hookah to end a long day watching the sunset on the terrace.
2. Comptoir Darna
If you're looking for the ideal turn-up scene, look no further. For someone who loves to draw parallels, Comptoir Darna is essentially the Moroccan version of TAO restaurants/clubs in America. This restaurant-meets-nightclub is the place to be for tourists to mingle. Expect groove-worthy live Moroccan music, and if you're lucky, maybe a beautiful table-top dancer. Following a delicious Moroccan-fusion meal, dance off that tagine at the club upstairs with international DJs blending their beats with the live sounds of Moroccan instruments - the energy is nothing short of electric.
- WHERE TO PLAY -
For the fashion fiends, this stop is a MUST. From exhibiting Yves Saint Laurent's exquisite collections and couture gowns to outlining his personal history, this space is an ode to why his legacy continues to reign beyond his years. YSL spent much time in Morocco and acquired the beautiful Jardin Majorelle in the early 80s. The YSL Musee project includes an exhibition space, bookstore and cafe, and was built in close proximity to the garden. We sadly didn't have the opportunity to visit the garden, but it was highly recommended, so add to the list!
"Fashion fades, style is eternal" - Yves Saint Laurent
Rich with history and art, the Marrakech museum was one of the many buildings tiled with colorful mosaic patterns that left you in complete awe. The exhibits displayed art, images, textiles and weapons that told a story of the rich history of the Berber people of Morocco.
The museum is located in close proximity to the Ben Youssef Madrasa, which was under construction while we were visiting, but was also highly recommended for its photogenic backdrops.
the HAMMAM BATH
Before embarking on the trip we were told that we could not leave Morocco without experiencing a traditional Hammam bath -- we weren't told too much more.
The lovely couple we were staying with in Fez suggested a bath house in the Medina. She said it was "authentic". Hesitantly I showed her what I imagined this may look like; my idea of a bath house -- AIRE in New York. "Nice" she said and gave little signal as to what to expect.
Arguably, the parts of any trip that are usually the most memorable are those that can be rather shocking, the experiences that you don't typically get back home, and the ones that are shared with good friends. It's safe to say that this was all of that, and undoubtedly a highlight of the trip. At the risk of keeping you all in complete suspense, there is little that can be fully described in detail about it, and I can't speak for the men, but ladies -- this is something to try if you find yourself in Morocco. It's a pretty legendary experience (albeit slightly invasive) that I guarantee you are not getting at AIRE bath house in Tribeca.
MASTERING THE SOUKS
Being a complete fiend for Moroccan/Middle Eastern-inspired home decor, the markets (better known as the Souks) were my playground. It can become a bit claustrophobic with the motorcyclists and hundreds of locals and tourists, but to get that leather pouf you've been eyeing in Anthropologie's home decor section for a fraction of the cost, well, it may just be worth it (priorities, darling). Something to keep in mind -- there is no hiding that we are tourists so you may as well have "sucker" scrawled across your forehead. You need to bargain for your coveted goods. For someone as competitive as myself, it almost became half the fun of shopping. From my experience, begin with half of the initial asking price and tango your way to a fair price. From the mirrors, to the lamps, to the rugs there was not enough space in my suitcase to fit all the goodness that I wanted to bring back to New York. I suppose that just means I will need to find my way back ...
Currency: The Moroccan dirham (MAD) is the main form of currency, although Euros are also widely accepted. 1 USD = approx 9 MAD. Most vendors accepted cash only so I would recommend exchanging as much as possible in the US. If you run out of cash while there (very possible with all those pretty rugs;)) ATMs with US bank accessibility were available, but with international fees included (not so pretty).
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING TO MOROCCO:
1. Most people speak Arabic or French. We were lucky in that we had friends on the trip that could communicate in French, but otherwise the language barrier was much more intense than expected. I would brush up on the basics of either language before you head there or bring a translation guide.
2. Ladies -- when it comes to planning your wardrobe, for the most part when you're amongst locals it's important to be respectful of the culture that is for the most part conservative. For areas such as that Medina, I would strongly recommend covering your midriff, shoulders, back and below the knees. It's not a requirement, but will make you feel far more comfortable.
3. I would highly advise against following anyone when asking for directions. While they are all very eager to help, they may not all have the best intentions and most will expect payment in return or may take you on a longer path, and the streets can be confusing and difficult to navigate.
4. While Morocco is a safe and predominantly a tourist haven, as a woman I felt much more comfortable that we were traveling in a big group and had multiple male escorts *as much as this pains me to say*. I know many women that have travelled alone and been completely fine, but there is an added security traveling with men in this country, more so than I've experienced in other places.
There were a few common words we learned during our trip. One of those words was "shukraan" - the arabic word for thank you. I could not be more thankful to those who shared this wonderful journey with me -- there was always a sense of familiarity even whilst being in a foreign land simply by being surrounded by the ones I love, which was incredibly special.
Morocco - I am beyond grateful for the stories of the people we happened upon, the opportunity for self discovery, the life lessons, the fresh inspiration and the memories that will surely last a lifetime. I hope to find my way back very soon.
Photography by: Kim Geronimo (@thestreetsensei), Ali Reza Malik (@yeahokayali), Saunak Shah (@saunakspace), Jackie Barr (@jackiembarr), Iqra Shahbaz (@milesfrom) and myself.