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Travel Obsessions: Morocco

Published August 6th, 2014

Morocco has serious fashion cachet. I don’t mean in an embroidered- kaftan-and-crafted-leather-slipper way, although those sartorial souvenirs are awesome, I’m talking designers of the calibre of Yves Saint Laurent, who had a villa in the North African country, and countless couture houses like Marni, Armani and Dior, style arbiters like kaftan queen Camilla,  and boho-loving celebs who regularly style-bite Morocco for fashion inspo. Even Paul Marciano of Guess? fame was born in the Arab-Berber enclave.

 

Moroccan slippers or the Berber babouche

 

And then there’s the interiors. Intricate tilework, traditional patterns and a colour palette of ochre reds and burnt oranges inspired by North African sunsets, accents of gold, silver and bronze for the shifting desert sands and impossibly bold blues and jewel tones fuel Moroccan interior design blogs and homewares chains the world over. Woven rugs, carved wooden frames and even glass door handles conjure up spice-laden souks, dusty streets and sumptuous fabrics. Morocco even inspired the gypset travel/lifestyle genre.

 

The ancient city of Fès by night.

 

Ever since heiress Talitha Getty, the original gypset inspiration and a ‘60s style icon, set foot in Marrakech and teamed traditional flowing garb with stacked Middle Eastern jewellery and a carefree barefoot demeanour, everyone from hippies to artists and students have visited Morocco for a taste of the exotic.

 

 

You’ll find it in the quiet grace of the kasbahs (fortified palaces), in the medieval medinas (old city quarters),  surveying lush desert oasis  gardens and sampling fragrant and complex dishes like tagines and simple pleasures like steeped mint tea. One thing’s for sure; Morocco will beguile and bewitch you too.

 

Moroccan mint tea in Marrakech.

 

Travel snapshot:

Best time to visit: It’s pretty much hot and sunny all year round in Morocco. With intense summer heat (think 40-plus degrees Celsius in hotspots like Marrakech and Fès that border the desert) and biting cold winter nights in the south and High Atlas mountains, the shoulder months of spring and autumn offer the ideal conditions to get around in comfort. From mid-March to May, the gardens are lush and inviting in spring and the summer haze and heat has eased into pleasant autumnal weather by September.

 

 

Know: Forgo the big-name chain hotel and non-descript hostel for a stay in a riad, a traditional home that’s  been converted into a fully staffed hotel or guesthouse. Closed from the outside, the inner sanctum reveals the charm of a riad with alleyways leading to a narrow house and a tree-lined courtyard with a fountain as the centrepiece. Prices range from AU$51 a night through to 4-star luxury.

 

The blue city of Chefchaouen's medina.

 

Places to go:

Marrakech – An ancient trade and hospitality hub, Marrakech has lost none of its rakish charm. The gypset mecca has must-see gardens (Jardin Majorelle where YSL’s ashes were scattered), a bustling souk and luxe shopping strips and impressive architecture.

Casablanca – Famous for that line in that film, modern-day Casablanca is Morocco’s biggest city with an old-meets-new vibe. The port city has one of the largest mosques in the world, Hassan II Mosque, with a view of the Atlantic Ocean sea bed  from its glass floor.

The ancient city of Fès is the country’s third largest and draws a sizeable audience to see the ‘real’ Morocco, where the past is revealed in the medina area of Fès El-Bali – a labyrinthine section of souks, Arabesque architecture and mosques that seems to exist as it has for centuries.

The Saharan Desert outpost of Ouarzazate is a film industry fave with many an action flick based here. Take a buggy trip to the Draa River Valley (Morocco’s longest river) for a landscape of, literally, biblical proportions and hidden oases.

Atlas Mountains – Escape the heat of Marrakech for traditional Berber villages, juniper groves and views to the Mediterranean and the desert. The Atlas mountain range makes for amazing trekking and Instagram-worthy pics in summer, and world-class skiing from November to July on snow-capped peaks.

 

Rare plants and bold accents in Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech.

 

 

Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.