Welcome to Design Detours, a series where creative people whose tastes we trust share their well-curated, design-minded travel itineraries.
Bryan Mason and Jeanine Hays, the husband-wife duo behind AphroChic—a media and interior design brand born from their 2007 blog celebrating Black design and style—and authors of AphroChic: Celebrating the Legacy of the Black Family Home (released in November), traveled across the Atlantic from their Brooklyn home to the ancient city of Marrakech for a friend’s wedding a few years ago. “The wedding was held in the desert about a two-hour ride from the medina [a non-European quarter in many Northern African cities],” says Hays. For a couple of aesthetes, tacking on a few extra days in the Moroccan city known for its traditional crafts like pottery, woven textiles, mosaics, leatherwork, and metalwork was an easy decision.
“There are few places in the world as intriguing and historical as Marrakech, even a brief visit will stay with you for a lifetime,” says Mason. His advice? “Give yourself some time to walk around the outside of the city. Let yourself touch the walls and feel the history. Marrakech is a trip with so much to offer, you’ll thank yourself for taking it.” Here, Mason and Hays share how the design lovers made the most out of just a few days in Marrakech—and the traditional drink visitors should never say “no” to.
Day 1: Settle in at a traditional Moroccan riad
“We stayed in a few different places during our time in the city and each one was wonderful—a big part of choosing a space is deciding how close you want to be to the action of the medina. For those who like a little distance, there’s no better option than Peacock Pavilions, a yoga retreat run by author, designer, and international rights activist Maryam Montague located a pleasant 30-minute ride from the medina. Peacock Pavilions has large rooms and open communal areas next to a large pool, and there’s also an on-site shop with an array of wood-bead necklaces, hand-dyed textiles, and silver hammam bowls. The amazing interior decor was curated by Maryam herself. There are gorgeous outdoor breakfast tables and our room had an amazing mural with patterned horse silhouettes running across a starry midnight sky.
Closer to the center of the medina—the oldest part of Marrakech and undoubtedly the tourist center—there are a number of riads and hotels offering different approaches to the Marrakech experience. For those wanting a more authentic taste of Moroccan hospitality, riads are definitely the way to go. We stayed at two during our visit: Riad Le Rihani and Riad Kitula. Both were fantastic places to relax and disconnect while also close to the excitement and energy of the markets. Le Rihani was the smaller and cozier of the two, with narrow stairways that lead from its central courtyard to two additional levels of inward-facing rooms; ours was moody and full of aged leather furnishings.
The rooms at Kitula were somewhat larger—the furnishings less antique, but still incredibly comfortable and warm. Hanging flowers at the riad’s entrance attract dozens of birds to feed and nest at the same time every night. The courtyard has a small platform that’s used as a stage where performers dance to traditional Moroccan music in front of a plush seating area. There’s a long, narrow pool bisected by a short footbridge where we let our feet dangle into the water. The courtyard was a perfect place for long conversations stretching deep into the night, which is exactly what we used it for.”
Day 2: Wander the medina’s winding streets packed with artisan stands
“To explore the medina and walk its narrow streets is to straddle the line between past and present. Cobbled paths and narrow stone walls with ornate, ancient-looking doors direct you past sellers peddling brilliantly colored spices, as well as open-air butchers and stands boasting curios from handmade slippers to pieces of ancient and modern art. Mopeds weave in and out of the tight clusters of pedestrian traffic alongside carts pulled by donkeys hauling everything from construction materials to market goods. Cats rule the streets here, lounging wherever they please. Expect to find them perched atop cushions, curled up near product stalls, or napping on the backs of stationary mopeds.
The medina has two lives: During the day, the souks (markets), restaurants, and plazas belong to the tourists who spend hours exploring, eating, and shopping. At night, those same spaces are reclaimed by the residents of Marrakech who come out to shop, gather, and party. Music and food are everywhere; spending an evening in the open marketplace is a great way to get a sense of the local culture on its own terms. It’s easy to get lost here, especially once you’ve started down one of the souks’ paths. While this is an experience you should (and likely will) have at least once, it’s important to know that cell service can be spotty, making GPS directions somewhat unreliable—for that reason, it’s smart to double down with an old-fashioned map for the moments when your phone doesn’t quite know where you are.We mostly shopped at the souks in the center of the medina. Some of our favorite things we bought include a bronze Ife head sculpture from Nigeria and magenta-and-gold silk slippers that we’d promised to bring back for our niece.”
Day 3: Treat your tastebuds to traditional Moroccan tagine and tea
“The medina is also the place to be when you’re looking for something to eat. We spent a lot of our visit at Nomad, a favorite among visitors thanks to its diverse menu of starters and entrees. We loved the chicken dish with confit pears, cashews, and aubergines and the braised lamb. Inside, the restaurant has black floors and white walls with tables arranged around built-in seating along the perimeter. The real attraction however, was the outdoor balcony, which offered a beautiful view of the city. Located conveniently across the plaza is Café des Éspices, which has an equally wide assortment of entrees including various tagines [a North African dish named after the earthenware pot it’s cooked in] and a minced-beef Marrakech Burger.
One piece of advice: Order things that are cooked well, because raw dishes washed in the local water can be hard on visiting tummies. Also, wherever you go, make sure to have tea. A hot drink on a hot day might sound counterintuitive, but you won’t regret accepting it anytime it’s offered. Even without sugar, Moroccan tea is delicious, but with it, it’s absolutely incredible. Tea is everywhere in Marrakech, as it’s part of the culture. Every riad, restaurant, or hotel you visit will offer tea. Always say yes.”
Day 4: Marvel over local art and design at colorful museums and gardens
“For fashion lovers, Marrakech holds a special treat. The Musée Yves Saint Laurent is a tribute to the famed French designer and the inspiration that he drew from the city, featuring a core collection derived from a rotating selection of the designer’s most famous works and a variety of temporary exhibitions. Afterward, take an hour or two to stroll through the nearby Jardin Majorelle, the vibrant gardens created by French artist Jacques Majorelle, which were later purchased and restored by Saint Laurent in the 1980s. The gardens are extensive and brightly colored with beautiful water features and tiled areas that complement the deep shade of blue pervading the built structures within.
The Musée de Marrakech offers a variety of modern art exhibits in an environment that showcases incredible Moroccan architecture. (It’s also very close to the Almoravid Koubba, an ancient bathhouse that’s the only remaining example of Almoravid architecture.) The museum itself is built around a stunning tiled main hall dominated by a massive chandelier hanging from its center. Branching from the main hall are a number of passageways as narrow and winding as the alleys of the souks. We found rooms full of historic artifacts like ornate doors, pierced metal lanterns, and ancient swords, and others dedicated to painted works by contemporary artists.”
Top photos courtesy of Bryan Mason and Jeanine Hays.
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