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Tantalize the Senses in this 36-Hour Trip Through Marrakech

Tantalize the Senses in this 36-Hour Trip Through Marrakech

Photo by Alan Keohane

A whirlwind family trip through Marrakech, as seen through new eyes.

There is the Marrakech as I see it when I’m traveling alone, and then there is Marrakech as I see it when traveling with my family: my young son, my wife and myself.

As a travel photographer I get to explore the world, but all the while, in the back of my head, I’m always wondering if this would be a great place to bring my family someday. I’ve been to Marrakech more times than I can count, and I’m always inspired by the visual beauty.

As a typically solo traveler, safety is not of much concern to me. My cameras are insured, and when I leave the hotel each day I’ve got nothing more than $30 and one credit card on me. However, my antenna goes up when I’m traveling with family. I want to give them a new experience, a new culture and a way to see how others live without scaring or endangering them. So Marrakech through new eyes means eyes wide open.

Photo by Alan Keohane

I have had an obsession with Moroccan tile since first seeing it in the south of France in my early 20s. The mecca for Moroccan tile is La Mamounia Hotel. The hotel and gardens date to the 12th century and were, at that time, homes to princes and other Moroccan royalty until the property was turned into a hotel in 1923. It’s a favorite spot for me and where we booked our stay for our 36 hours in Marrakech.

Photo by Troy House

We arrived at Marrakech Menara Airport, which newly opened in 2016. It’s a huge improvement over the old one, and can now hand nine million travelers per year.

We were met at the door by men in long traditional palace jackets and hats and driven to the hotel in a Range Rover. We couldn’t check in fast enough to get to our room, a suite overlooking the garden.

Photo by Alan Keohane

We enjoyed brunch made with local ingredients and then the beautiful pool beckoned my son like a siren. He was ready to move to Morocco within the first three hours of being there.

Photo by Troy House

After a swim and a quick nap, it was time to venture out and leave the peaceful compound for the chaos and life that is Marrakech.

The Medina (old town), surrounded by its famous pink walls, holds in it the essence of what has been the heart of Marrakech for hundreds of years. We were in the middle of souks (markets) and food vendors in an insane maze the goes on for what seems like forever. We saw spices, rugs, fruits, lighting, leatherwoods, essential oils and, well, it might be easier to list what isn’t sold in the souks than share what was.

What’s overwhelming to people on their first trip to Marrakech is the sensory overload—the reason I go. All five senses are constantly barraged: smells can go from great to terrible in five feet; color in deep hues and patterns are seen everywhere. You hear so many noises from the men haggling in Arabic to motor scooters buzzing from every direction on the streets, sidewalks and through market stalls. People are touching you to try to get your attention. You are tasting samples of fruits you don’t know, from the food vendors trying to seduce you into purchasing their food.

Photo by Troy House

After a few hours in the souks, my street-smart New Yorkers were a little overwhelmed by the chaos and assault on their senses. So, we left to enjoy a late dinner at Nomad in the heart of the Medina. We wound down 17 different small streets until we saw a small sign pointing up. You actually climb to the top of the buildings to find a small rooftop restaurant overlooking old Marrakech. On the way up, make sure to stop at the Chabi Chic shop located on the first floor, which has amazing modern takes on traditional Moroccan home goods.

After being seated we feasted on Nomad Couscous, lamb shanks, sardine tarts and a local version of gazpacho. We ended the evening with saffron date cake and Moroccan tea.

The next day we were back at it, visiting the souks. The best shopping is 33 Rue Majorelle. Think of it as one of the first concept stores in the vain of Colette in Marrakech or Dover Street Market but with a completely Moroccan vibe. There are six separate stores and a cafe under one roof, all across the street from Musée Yves Saint Laurent and the Jardin Majorelle.

Photo by Troy House

The Jardin Majorelle was started in 1923 by French artist Jacques Majorelle but fell into ruins in the ‘80s. It was purchased and restored in the ‘80s by Yves Saint Laurent and his husband, Pierre Berge. They reopened the gardens to the public then built the Musée Yves Saint Laurent next door, which opened in 2017, highlighting YSLs career.

Designed by the architects Studio KO , it is amazing to see such a modern Moroccan building bridging the old world with YSL’s contemporary French fashion. Highlights of his amazing sketches, when fashion was actually drawn and painted, and highlights of pieces from each of period as the head of YSL, are on display.

Photo by Alan Keohane

On the last night, we had another swim at one of the most amazing swimming pools, and then ate at Le Marocain inside La Mamounia. Each table is a small private lounge, and you feel like royalty dining here.

To top off the night, we had a drink at Le Bar Churchill, where Winston Churchill used to drink. And while our drinks were amazing, it was the mocktail that my offspring ordered with cardamom, mint lime and blackberries that stole the show. And, alas, we were on our way back to the airport and the trip was deemed a success. Marrakech won them over and we enjoyed a stimulating and safe trip. My son and wife were already discussing a long return.

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