Marrakech is undoubtedly one of the most bucket list-worthy destinations to check-off — it’s an otherworldly, vibrant city that evokes mystery with a romantic charm and a picture-perfect moment at every turn. You’ll want to get lost in the labyrinths of souks, clustered within the ancient walled metropolis lined with artisans humbly at work, herbalists bottling their next batch of natural oils, lively musicians strumming their guembri, humming snake charmers, and bicycles weaving through the streets to deliver mint tea to local shop owners. The “Red City” has also earned its stripes as a globally recognized fashion destination, stealing the heart of icons like Yves Saint Laurent and most recently, serving as the backdrop for Dior’s extravagant Cruise 2020 runway show.
You could easily spend weeks exploring every nook of Morocco, and the country is likely to lure you back for a second (or third) visit. And, numbers show that tourism is nothing short of booming. According to American Express, this North African oasis is showing 89% year-on-year growth based on its member booking data. However if you’re eager to check Morocco off your list, we’re confident you can tackle the hit list of its fourth largest city, Marrakech in just a quick weekend, though you’ll quickly be tempted to explore beyond.
Check-in early morning to your private villa at the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech, a slice of paradise that you’ll feel guilty leaving when you head out for the day. Once you’re settled, put on your walking shoes and shuttle over to the Bahia Palace. You’ll want to spend about an hour discovering this 20-acre historical site from the late 1800s — a maze of courtyards and spacious salons decked in colorful tiles, wood carvings and stained-glass windows commissioned by Grand Vizier Ba Ahmed ben Moussa. As you walk through, you’ll notice the palace is filled with sweet aromas from orange blossom trees and shrubs of jasmine. From there, head to Le Jardin Secret, or the Riad Loukriss, a 16th-century palace garden in the center of the Medina recently restored by British landscape artist, Tom Stuart-Smith. The gardens are geometrically designed, flanked with olive trees and cacti.
When you’ve seen enough, exit and begin making your way through the winding souks. Pioneering your own route through the Medina might seem appealing, but to make the right purchases over a short weekend trip, you’ll want to optimize your time and navigate between the best shops efficiently. The true artisans, or the “last ones standing” as my tour guide earnestly shared, reveal the families who have passed their craft onto the next generations in the same humble storefront, the men who rise early to bid in the leather auction and those you’ll find weaving and carving by hand and foot. And for the style seekers, you’ll find hidden couturiers where the likes of Giorgio Armani have sourced their garments and inspiration. That said, quality souvenirs you’ll want to save your dirham cash for are quality slippers, bottles of argan oil and rose-infused lotions from Herboristerie Bab Agnaou, caftans or perhaps a cashmere wrap, personalized woven bags for friends and family back home, and maybe an eccentric find like hand-carved BBQ skewers. Plus, the ultimate benefit of having a local guide on-hand is to help negotiate pricing. Plan to spend a few hours in the Medina especially if you’re looking to score a rug, which is sure to be one of the most exhilarating shopping experiences of your life. We recommend you settle in at Galerie Talsint where a team of rug experts will help you make an educated purchase.
Head back to the hotel to drop off your purchases and change for dinner at La Mamounia, Marrakech’s legendary hotel frequented by celebrities and glitterati from around the world. While the luxury property has multiple dining options, go for the local Riad concept at Le Marocain where you can dine al fresco in discreet alcoves.
Dedicate your first half of the day to delve into the world of legendary fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent who owed much of his career inspiration to the Marrakech. Le Jardin Majorelle and Musée Yves Saint Laurent are side-by-side and can be explored in about three hours total. Le Jardin Majorelle has become an iconic destination and one of the most visited sights in Morocco for its “Majorelle” Blue botanical gardens and mystic villa designed by the French architect, Paul Sinoir. Arrive early to avoid the large crowds and fully enjoy the serenity that the grounds elicit. After you’ve taken your leisurely stroll through the gardens, head next door to the museum dedicated to the life and career of Saint Laurent which offers a digestible yet visually compelling experience for both fashion mavens and spontaneous travelers alike.
For lunch, reserve a table on the roof terrace of El Fenn, one of the most Instagrammed hotels and favored by the likes of Madonna, for sunshine and arguably the best view in the city: hessian canopies, wicker lanterns, striped cushions with punches of color, plunge pools, and views of the Koutoubia mosque and the Atlas mountains. Then, head back to the hotel for an afternoon spa session to experience an authentic “Hammam” – an Arabian body ritual at the heart of Moroccan culture where you’re rinsed, fully scrubbed and exfoliated from head-to-toe with black soap, shampooed and massaged. Do note, this treatment is not for the modest, but you’ll leave feeling completely purified and revived.
To cap off the day on a lively note, book a late dinner at Comptoir Darna, a nightlife destination festooned with exotic décor, belly dancing, live music and a fusion menu of Moroccan and global cuisine.
Sleep in and treat yourself to a late breakfast in your villa and take a dip in your private pool before packing up.
For those less confident in building out a detailed travel itinerary especially over a tight weekend timeframe, American Express Travel provides their card members with around-the-clock access to more than 5,000 consultants in more than 130 countries around the world, ensuring that every last element is tailored to the traveler’s individual passions. Plus, booking a hotel stay from American Express’ Fine Hotels & Resorts portfolio has perks like early check-in, room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, spa credit, and guaranteed late check-out.