Marrakech might not be the first place you think of for a wellness escape, but its spa heritage and luxurious accommodations have made it synonymous with high-class pampering for the rich and famous over the last century. Located in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the city is home to the ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site Jemaa el-Fnaa and has been a hub for commerce and trade for hundreds of years. Perfect for a long weekend or short stopover, Marrakech has plenty to offer the luxury wellness traveller for an urban break with a dose of healthy living. Read on for Compare Retreats luxury wellness guide to Marrakech.
A trip to Marrakech wouldn’t be complete without a stay in one of their traditional riads. Built around an interior garden or courtyard, Riads offer seclusion and privacy in the heart of the city: Riad Farnatchi is an award-winning small hotel inside the Medina with less than ten rooms, while El Fenn is a boutique Riad created by Vanessa Branson (sister to Richard Branson) and has quickly become one of the most Instagrammable locations in the city. The stunning design isn’t the only reason to stay at El Fenn though, which also offers a comprehensive spa programme, a lap pool, private yoga and Pilates classes on the rooftop, and can arrange for day passes at the nearby local gym.
For a taste of old-world luxury, La Mamounia has an international reputation for luxury style and service and was a favourite with Winston Churchill, so much so that there’s now a suite named after him. For a truly decadent spa resort experience fit for royalty, check in to Royal Mansour which was designed by King Mohammed VI. The five-hectare estate offers guests their choice of 53 ‘private riads’, nestled among sprawling gardens. Its expansive pools, fitness and gym facilities are sure to keep even the most fitness-focused traveller on their toes.
When dining in Marrakech, look up — all of the best eats are on the rooftops. Nomad is a relaxed rooftop cafe offering an array of Andalusian-inspired light bites and healthy eats, including extensive vegetarian and vegan options. Cafe des Epices keeps its menu simple, with salads, sandwiches and the classic Moroccan tagine, again with plenty of options for vegetarians. They also have a large tea and fresh-pressed juice menu, so it’s perfect for a light refreshment.
If you need some respite from shopping in the medina, head to Le Jardin: their extensive menu is perfect for lunch or dinner, and the mezze platters are ideal for sharing to sample a little bit of everything. Note, that’s not to be confused with Le Jardin in the Royal Mansour, whose hay-baked vegetables and mint tea are the perfect lunch-time treat.
Boutique Riad El Fenn transforms its rooftop from a laid-back brunch cafe to an elegant restaurant for dinner serving Moroccan and European dishes, so if you’re staying there you may be tempted not to leave.
Le Trou Au Mur is Riad Farnatchi’s restaurant and it’s delicious for lunch and dinner: they offer a different ‘tagine of the day’ at lunchtimes, and their food is loaded with Morocco’s famous spices and herbs.
While Morocco isn’t a dry country, drinking is generally not allowed in public, so it’s the perfect place to actually stick to your ‘dry January’ resolutions or spend a few days detoxing after a heavy week of socialising. Alcohol is served at the hotels, resorts, and restaurants which are off the street (aka, on the roof); however, we recommend skipping on the booze in favour of Morocco’s famous and delicious mint tea: taken with or without sugar, it’s refreshing in the heat, and perfect morning or night. Le Jardin is an ideal city-centre tea stop, while afternoon tea at La Mamounia or Royal Mansour is the perfect way to while away the afternoon.
You won’t need to work in ‘fitness’ activities per se to your Marrakech trip, as you’ll get more than your 10,000 steps from just exploring the city’s extensive souks, sites and museums (Saint Laurent Museum and the Museum of Marrakech, to mention the two that should be top of your list), in addition to your choice of gorgeous gardens. La Mamounia and Royal Mansour are famous for their shaded groves, but the Le Jardin Majorelle gardens are an attraction in themselves: the former home of painter Jacques Majorelle, it was renovated by Yves Saint Laurent and the Museum of Islamic Art is now housed in the grounds. For first time visitors to the city, ancient sites like the Ben Yousef Madrasa, Koutoubia Mosque, the Bahia Palace, Saadian Tombs and city walls are itinerary essentials. If you’re returning and looking for something a little different, don’t miss Selman Marrakech, the horse show.
If you are looking for something a little more wellness-orientated, adventurous travellers can do a guided hike in the Atlas mountains and even extend their stay in Morocco at Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot to sleep under the stars at Scarebo Camp. For something a little less time consuming, El Fenn organises personalised jogging or cycling tours around the city, and day hikes in the Atlas Mountains.
Last but not least, it would be impossible to visit Marrakech without visiting the legendary Jemaa el-Fnaa, rumoured to be the busiest market square in Africa. From here, you can explore the surrounding souks are where you’ll find the trinkets and wares that have made Marrakech the trading hub it is.
The home of hammams and Argan oil, Marrakech is the place to really unwind in style. For luxurious relaxation, look no further than Royal Mansour’s stunning spa. The all-white spa is an oasis of light, set across three floors and completed with saunas, steam rooms, relaxation pods and a state-of-the-art hammam. Using products from marocMaroc, Sisley and Chanel, treatments range from facials to massages, but make sure you select a package that includes the hammam experience—it’s a Moroccan tradition, after all.
The spa at Mandarin Oriental Marrakech is another haven of five-star service, which fuses together its Eastern heritage with Moroccan traditions. The spa is relatively small, with three private treatment rooms and two spa suites, but with its cathedral and Andalusian mosque-inspired design it feels more grand than cosy. The hotel also has an indoor pool, fitness centre, and yoga studio for wellness travellers to relax in.
Looking to spruce up before dinner? Royal Mansour’s salon offers a range of hair styling and cutting services, while their spa offers Pedi:Mani:Cure treatments by Bastien Gonzalez. The beauty salon at the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech can help you freshen up for any occasion, while La Sultana in the historic Medina has a beauty centre and hairdresser in addition to its two traditional hammams and water facilities for a good old-fashioned pampering session after a serious shopathon.
Marrakech is a veritable shopper’s paradise, with unique crafts, homewares and fabrics. Stock up on Beni Ourain carpets at Al Matjar where the prices are fair and the carpets beautiful, look out for the gorgeous Tamgrout green pottery, load up on Kaftans and babouche slippers, the ultimate wellness resort wear, and pick up lanterns and traditional Moroccan wedding blankets for your home.
You can wander through the medina and try your hand at bartering (the usual rule is to never pay over half of what the salesperson initially asks). Alternatively, if you prefer not to barter, which can be stressful and time-consuming, head straight to Mustapha Blaoui for beautiful items that are slightly higher in price than what you might be able to negotiate in the market.
- For carpets: Said at Al Matjar Au Fil D’ (No. 26 Souk, mobile +212661852421); Akbar Delights for rugs and babouche slippers; Aux Merveilles de Marrakech
- For clothing: Norya Ayron for ethically made kaftans; Souk Cherifia, a boutique for young local designers; El Fenn boutique; Warda la Mouche for boho attire; Topolina clothing and shoe store; Karim Bouriad for handmade clothing; Al Kawtar Women’s Cooperative, a social project supporting women with disabilities to create artisanal homeware and clothing
- For accessories: Magasin Berbere and Chez Faouzi for jewellery (41 Souk Labbadine); Atika shoes (34 Rue de la Libert); Ahmed Ait Taleb for leather slippers and sandals (236 Souk El Kebire, Medina); Talal Cuir for shoes and handbags; Original Marrakech for handmade woven bags.
- For homeware: SissiMorocco interior design store; Scenes de Lin for furniture and interiors; Yahya Lighting; Max and Jan Concept Store; Mustapha Blaoui furniture store; 33 Rue Majorelle, a modern concept store; Chabi Chic for pottery, Tamgrout and small rugs; Valerie Barkowski for soft furnishings and handicrafts; Soufiane Zarib for furniture and soft furnishings; Popham Design for traditional concrete Moroccan tiles.
The Marrakech Marathon each January is a great event for avid runners to sign up to—and would certainly warrant some super luxurious relaxation afterwards. If you’re already a veteran marathon runner, you might be more interested in Marathon des Sables, which has been called the ‘toughest race on Earth’—aka, a six-day race across 250 kilometres of the Sahara Desert. For something a little more fun, Oasis Festival in September is a three-day electronic music festival which also includes surfing, yoga and swimming.
While there’s no need to avoid visiting Marrakech over Ramadan (typically May/June), it’s certainly good to be aware of when it is happening and how that might affect opening hours. Muslims celebrating the festival will be fasting during daylight hours, and many restaurants may not be open due to this. Keep it in mind when planning your trip, and if you are there, be respectful.
Marrakech has been climbing in popularity as a tourist destination for years, and shows no signs of slowing down: the Government have been proactively encouraging tourism with an aim of 20 million tourists by 2020. After a record 12-million tourists visited Morocco in 2018, it’s certainly edging closer to that target, so this year is the ideal time to get in before it becomes over-crowded. It’s also the perfect place to start a longer transformational wellness trip in Morocco—hiking and yoga in the Atlas Mountains, surfing in Essouria, or trekking in the desert.
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