One of my favorite places to visit and always filled with adventures, Marrakech, Morocco is truly one of the best places in the world to shop. I like the range of shopping that can be found here. You have upscale luxury boutiques that see their share of Amex Black Cards, along with intimate local designers and craftsmen creating unique items for the luxury market. The souks offer an overwhelming variety of small shops and vendors selling everything from home decor items to crafts and artwork. Marrakech and its markets -- or "souks" -- have a shopping history going back thousands of years. Travelers in the African desert have long used the city as a trading post and stopover on caravan routes to Europe.
What to Buy
Persian-style rugs and carpets are readily available, but I like crafts and things for the home. Items made from brass and ceramics are usually very unique and make great accent pieces. Leather products are also popular; most of the leather is tanned and dyed right in the city, and the the brightly colored items are especially nice. Brass products including plates, vases, pitchers, and plaques are all handcrafted and very cool. Ceramics, including cookery and pottery, are also popular items; I always buy tajine pot sets as gifts, allowing my friends to make traditional Moroccan food at home.
For upscale crafts, furniture, and home items, Ministero Del Gusto (Derb Azouz 22, el Mouassine) is owned by fashion editors and interior designers and is probably the best place in Marrakech to find stylish (and expensive) items. On the other end of the scale is Mustapha Blaoui (142-144 Bab Doukkla), which is just an enormous warehouse of home furnishings and accessories.
The Medina and the Souks
The Medina is the ancient walled city, unchanged for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. There are no skyscrapers, no modern buildings, just streets and small alleys with beautiful ancient structures. Nothing is as it seems here -- the dirtiest facade and doorway may just hide a luxury riad or villa, some of which are now boutique hotels.
Within the Medina, the souks are the covered markets, rows and rows of store after store, many selling similar items. The yellow leather babouche slippers and the jellabas (traditional men's gowns) seem to be sold by almost every shop, along with brass items. Different areas of the souks specialize in specific products. One area is filled with spice shops, another with brass shops, another with butchers, and so on. Travelers can wander the souks alone, or a guide can be handy. A good guide can really make it a great experience, but a bad guide will just lead you to store after store where he has an arrangement to collect a commission on your purchases.
Always bargain, and always keep a smile during the process. It's a good rule of thumb to offer about 25 percent of the asking price and eventually agree to about 50 percent. My technique is to just walk away. If I see something I like, I decide what I want to pay. I make sure I have cash and offer what I want to pay. If the merchant says no, I immediately say thank you and begin to walk away. In most cases, the merchant will follow and try to stop you. Beware of fakes and frauds. Bargains can be found in the souks, but you will not find real antiquities, valuable gemstones, or antique carpets here.
Where to Stay
The Medina is the heart of the city, and I recommend staying in or next to it. There is a luxury development of hotels and resorts about 30 minutes from the city called the Palmerie, but I prefer to stay close to (or within) the action of the Medina. For the ultimate old-school Marrakech luxury experience, there is only one choice, La Mamounia. The hotel, built in 1922, represents a blend of history and modern first-class comfort. Sitting on the border of the Medina, La Mamounia is famous for hosting a variety of iconic celebrities, including Sir Winston Churchill, and offers over-the-top service and luxury. Room rates are from $525 per night, and the hotel's concierge staff can suggest shopping itineraries and arrange trusted guides.
Morocco is easily reached from the U.S., with frequent direct service by Royal Air Maroc and some very cheap flights from European capitals from budget carrier easyJet. I flew Lufthansa from LAX to Madrid, then took a Royal Air Maroc flight to Marrakech, via Casablanca. Royal Air Maroc flights from New York to Marrakech, via Casablanca, are about $1,200 for round-trip coach seats. EasyJet flights from London are as low as $75 each way.
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