I love Marrakech. So much in fact that I have written love letters to the city and have vowed to be there at least once a year to satisfy my cravings for this beautiful place. That wasn’t always the case. The first time I went I actually really hated it: it seemed loud, obnoxious and was just pushing all my buttons in the wrong way. But as it sometimes goes – with cities or guys who push our buttons or who pull our pigtails – we fall in love when we least expect it. That happened with me and Marrakech a few years ago and ever since my love for the red city has only grown.

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So when May in Hamburg was dreadful and freelance work life rather too free, I jumped on a last minute plane and treated myself to a Marrakech week and some ‘nicer’ temperatures (38° is nice enough even for me!). As I had previously discovered the old medina, the Kasbah and the cities palaces and parks, on this trip it was time to discover the more contemporary side of the city. And even within the old walls of Marrakech’s maze medina it became a successful endeavour. Here is my Travelettes Guide to modern Marrakech:

Where to shop

First things first, because I know what you came for – shopping. Of course, the heart of the city is the souks. While many don’t love anything more than haggle their way through 1,001 stalls to me it is usually too overwhelming. I don’t like to be hassled when I shop; at Victoria Secret’s – my epitome of hell – I am often deterred from buying anything because I feel pushed and well, the souks, are so much worse. And while I seem to have inherited a small talent for haggling from my mother and some have admiringly called me a Berber for my skills, I don’t love it. Queue in some other tourists who bargain over pennies which just makes me embarrassed on behalf of every foreigner there is and I rather go empty than shop in the souks.

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With that said, this time I set out to find my Moroccan fix of all things pretty elsewhere. Luckily numerous boutiques and concept stores have popped up over the last few years that are right up my alley. Expect to pay set prices and get peace and quiet in return at my favorites.

Chabi Chic – 1, Derb Arjan, Place des Epices and 33, rue Yves Saint Laurent

A beautiful curation of Moroccan cooking supplies by the Marrakech girls Vanessa Di Mino et Nadia Noël. It comes with its own telling hashtag: #lechabichicestchic and chic it is. Find beautiful ceramics and glasses, nicely packaged spices and teas and cute make your own mint tea sets.

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33 Rue Majorelle – 33, rue Yves Saint Laurent

Connected to Chabi Chic and just across the road from Jardin Majorelle it is a wonderful place to get lost in. Find cool kaftans and designer clothes, jewelry and soaps, and again some of the coolest pottery you can get in the city.

Terre d’eveil – 141 Rahba Lakdima, Place des Épices

Once you find the Place des Épices in the middle of the souks you would think that you need to look no further to discover all the Moroccan beauty secrets. But turn around the corner and look out for the sign of Terre d’eveil and you have found beauty heaven. Owner Rachid is a beautician and Ayurveda healer and here he crafts bespoke cosmetics. All ingredients are organic, all products not only hand- but also custom made to suit your skin. Don’t worry if you are in a hurry though – he always has some stock of his bestsellers: gassoul for the hair, jasmine scented argan oil and his bestselling facial oil tonic.

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Need more? Check out Terrace des Épices (15, souk Cherifia, Sidi Abdelaziz) for a courtyard full of cool little boutiques including Lalla for beautiful, funky bags and La Maison Bahira for stunning hammam towels and embroidered linens. After you have filled your bags and emptied your wallets you can chill at the roof top restaurant.

For a modern take on Moroccan clothes and beauty products head to Maktoub (128 Fontaine Mouassine). Don’t be deterred by the touristy stalls all around it – this is a real boutique with some gems to be found. If you are looking for some real serious shopping head to Sidi Ghanem, the industrial quarter outside of Marrakech where you can find design studio outlets. Don’t forget to book a container space in order to ship everything back home!

Where to sleep

Marrakech has a staggering amount of great accommodation options. In my opinion, you have to stay in the medina if it is your first visit as you will want to soak up the atmosphere day and night. The best option here is to find a riad, a traditional Moroccan house that is usually unassuming from the outside, but light and airy from the inside. With more than 800 in Marrakech alone, you are, again, not short of choice. I have tried and tested a few over the last couple of years and have acquired two favorites depending on my budget.

El Fenn – Derb Moullay Abdullah Ben Hezzian, Bab El Ksour

Without a doubt my favorite place to stay in Marrakech is El Fenn so I was very excited when they invited me to spend the night and to check out their newest addition, Little Sister. Owner Vanessa Branson, yes, sister of that Branson, is not only gallery owner and art collector, but also founder of the Marrakech Biennale. It shows at El Fenn that art and design is simply in her blood. Rooms are distinctly Moroccan, but are designed with an individual and contemporary take. Jewel toned walls, lots of green foliage and custom made Moroccan cushions set the tone in the courtyards. Contemporary Moroccan art can be found all around and is in fact still being commissioned – I walked in on an artist painting murals in the restaurant which is being refurbished right now.

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El Fenn only has one problem: it is so amazingly beautiful and tranquil that once you arrive, you may not want to leave again. With that said, I recommend you splurge on a night and take some time out from the craziness of the city – nothing wrong with spending an entire day by their little secluded pool, play with the tortoises that run (!) all over the courtyard and soak in your bathtub. Good thing that their hotel shop is also noteworthy so you can technically get all your shopping done here in case you don’t make it to the outside world again.

Their new family member, Little Sister, comes with the same aesthetic, but is a more traditional riad with only 5 rooms located three minutes away – perfect location for a girlfriends only weekend getaway.

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Chambres d’Amis – Derb Dabachi, Derb Moulay Abdelkader 46/47

My go-to riad when I come to town. This place cannot be better described than with the word cute. The Belgium owner Ank has created a beautiful little oasis a few minutes walk from Jemaa El Fna that charms with whimsical design features like neon buddhas and fairy lights. And while it is hard to find unfriendly service anywhere in Marrakech her staff is simply the best as are the home-cooked meals they offer.

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What to eat

Truth to be told I am not the biggest fan of Moroccan food. I don’t appreciate the art of couscous that takes two hours to prepare and overcooked vegetables. But as I love everything else about Morocco I try every single time to find some great Moroccan food. Last time I came across Marrakech Food Tours who showed me some awesome street food place while this time my highlight was definitely the meal I had at La Mamounia. To satisfy a more budget conscious wallet and a critical foodie stomach here are my favorites for the fast, the fancy and the hungry.

Jemaa El Fna

Some people advise you to avoid eating at the Jemaa El Fna food stalls, but as it goes with any street food I’d advise you to go for it. Follow the usual rule of street food eating: look for locals, avoid the laminated English menus and look for stalls that offer one specialty. While I wasn’t brave enough to try the snails, others swear by them. Instead went for fish ‘n chips as well as some of the best merguez at stall number 31.

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Nomad – 1, Derb Aarjan

While this is not a place where you will see many locals, Nomad offers some great modern Moroccan dishes and is a good place for some people and medina-life watching. Soak in Marrakech from above, have some popcorn nibbles and a fresh salad and don’t skip on their live changing amlou and verbena ice cream.

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Cafe Clock – 224 Derb Chtouka

The new kid on the block and already a favorite with locals and visitors alike. Come for one of their awesome milkshakes or a juicy camel burger with a side of entertainment for example on Thursday nights when the story tellers of Marrakech practice their skills – also in English. If you are keen to ask all the questions you ever had about Morocco and its customs, book ‘Kech Download for a crash course on Moroccan culture with a Marrakshi staff member.

Al Fassia – 55, boulevard Zerktouni

Nobody believed in the ladies from Al Fassia when they opened their first restaurant. While women are welcome in the home kitchen, surely running a restaurant was men’s business? Over 30 years and two locations later they are still going strong. Come for their signature shoulder of lamb and some of the best authentic Moroccan in town.

Jardin – 32, Souk Sidi Abdelaziz

Feel like Alice in Wonderland and duck through a tiny black door to get into Jardin. The name says it all and you will find a lush garden restaurant in the middle of the dusty souks. Perfect spot for a cool lunch and a little turtle love.

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What to see

While Marrakech is steeped in history that is well worth exploring, it also has a vibrant, contemporary art scene. After you have paid homage to Jardin Majorelle, La Maison de la Photographie, and the Saadian Tombs check out these funky galleries and exhibits…

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Le 18 – 18, derb el ferrane

Laila Hida and Hicham Bouzid have created yet another hidden gem behind an unassuming medina door: Le 18. Is it a gallery, a guest house or an event space? And who cares to settle if you can be an all in one creative space? See their current exhibits or pop in for a glass of tea anytime to celebrate that you have found your way through the souks.

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The Marrakech Museum for Photography and Visual Arts – Palais El Badii

Connect history, zoology and modern art at the MMP+ inside the grounds of the Palais el Badii. Walk through the ruins of this impressive palace from 1593, a nesting ground for storks, to get to some of the finest Moroccan contemporary art. Changing exhibits with video installations, paintings, and conceptual pieces are on show.

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Riad Yima – 52 Derb Aajane Rahba Lakdima

Close to Nomad and Chabi Chic I’d recommend keeping some money for a visit at close-by Yima. Not only are works of British Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj on show, but serious pop art – kitsch – awesomeness for sale: lanterns, caftans and babouche slippers made out of recycled materials.

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Serious art lovers should visit David Bloch Gallery (8 bis rue des Vieux Marrakchis) and Matisse Art Gallery (61 Rue de Yougoslavie, N° 43 Passage Ghandouri). If you are keen to get your own creative juices flowing check out Fellah Hotel’s artist in residence program.

Girl Power

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I’m often asked how to travel in Marrakech as a woman. While opinions may vary, most locals will agree with me that while it is really safe, a few precautions should be taken. Marrakech is a moderate Islamic city, which means there is no set dress code for women to adhere to. However, keeping shoulders and knees covered at all times is much appreciated and will gain you respect with the locals. I personally cringe when I see tourists in tiny shorts and tank tops – please don’t be that person! Generally, vendors and street artists will expect payment for pictures and get quite cross if they see a clandestine camera. In general Marrakshi are friendly and helpful, but keep big smiles to a minimum when interacting with men and rather ask women for directions. And of course, should you still get lost, just remember that in Marrakech all ways lead to Jemaa El Fna eventually.

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 All photos by Annika Ziehen.

This post was written by Annika Ziehen who was a Travelette until 2019. Originally from Germany, Annika has lived in New York and Cape Town and now travels the world full time. She considers herself a very hungry mermaid and writes about her adventures, scuba diving and food on her blog The Midnight Blue Elephant. You can also find her on Instagram here!