Marrakech is many things –– exotic, chaotic, dusty –– but rarely tranquil. The narrow streets of the medina, or old city, teem with humanity, as locals and tourists jockey for space with two- and four-wheeled vehicles powered by gas, diesel and donkey. A visit here is exactly what I imagined and yet it made want to seek out any touches of green I could find amid the unforgiving stone and dirt alleys.
I located several such spots, starting with the spectacular La Mamounia. This grande dame property’s stately olive grove dates to the 18th century, while the hotel opened in 1923 as Marrakech’s first hostelry. A meticulous three-year, nearly $180 million renovation has added a myriad of traditional tile and other handcrafted design details to what had been a generic luxury hotel.
The cost of entry is dear –– rooms start at about $500 a night –– but you can enjoy the public areas and sumptuous grounds for the price of the buffet lunch around the pool, or as it’s more elegantly described, Le Pavillon de la Piscine.
Nearby is the public Lalla Hasna Park, which is as democratic as La Mamounia is exclusive. This swath of green offers a sweeping view of the Koutoubia Mosque, which dominates the medina’s skyline and whose regular call to prayer offers a sacred-secular call-and-response with the relentless drone of bargaining in the souks.
But Morocco’s most unusual outdoor space proved to be the “secret” Majorelle Garden. Situated just outside the walls of the medina in an inauspicious plot next to a Lady Fitness center, the compact site is well worth seeking out.
Sprung from the imagination of French painter Louis Majorelle in 1947 and nurtured by another visionary –– iconic fashion designer Yves St. Laurent –– the garden transports you to a fanciful place.
Here, spiky cacti, sweeping palms and mini forests of bamboo vie for space along with flowering blooms in shades of pink, purple and canteloupe.
The greenery contrasts with the buildings, pots and other elements trimmed out in electric blue, lemon yellow and deep orange. It’s startling and somewhat theatrical, but then so is much of colorful, cacophonous Marrakech.