Look, there are many wonderful, non-materialistic things to see and do in Morocco–and you should do them. Hike in the Atlas Mountains to meet Berber tribes, surf along the hippie coast, check out the contemporary arts scene… But chances are at some point the country’s rich heritage of handicrafts and colorful bazaars will draw you in. There’s no way around it–the shopping in Morocco is exceptional.
Now in all honesty, I’ve spent only a limited amount of time in Morocco, and then only in Marrakech. Really just a handful of hours in the Médina souks, wandering through the wonderful chaos of Jemaa el-Fnaa, over a couple trips in the past few years (including my very last trip in February before COVID-19 brought travel to a screeching halt). But I have made the most of that minimal time–as my bank account will unhappily attest to. So here’s my quick guide to shopping in Marrakech.
Rugs Those plush white rugs crossed with black stripes–Beni Ourain rugs from the Atlas mountains–are possibly the hottest commodity when it comes to Moroccan souvenirs. You’ll have no trouble finding a wide variety, particularly if you make your way to the carpet souk in the Médina where it’s just shop after shop filled with piles of gorgeous throws. A true Berber rug will be 100% sheep wool, something you can easily check with a lighter–let the flame lick the edge of the carpet, if pure wool, the wool will curl away from the flame and it will not catch fire (easily). I was recommended a shop called La Porte d’Or that’s filled with all sorts of antiques and decor across two levels. Passing a wall of photos featuring A-list customers from Camilla Parker-Bowles to Tom Cruise, head down the steps to an Aladdin’s den of carpets–antique and modern–which will be flung out on the floor before you as you’re served cup after cup of sweet Moroccan tea. Once you’ve got your eyes on a favorite (in my case a 6×10-foot beast in ultra-thick grey shaggy grey pile with purple stripes, peeking out in the upper right of the above photo), haggle, haggle, haggle. In many cases, you should be able to settle on a price that’s about 50% of the starting price (a rule of haggling thumb I use not just for carpets, but many things in souks), but the sky is really the limit when it comes to the price of these.
Kaftans Long and flowing, a couple of these are just what you need for swanning around your riad–or just about any stylish poolside around the world. I found myself in Maison du Caftan, where racks of kaftans dyed gorgeous jewel tones and embellished with embroidery and tassels come in various lengths in soft weaves. Pair that kaftan with a bikini, a few rings and a big pair of sunglasses and you’re good to go.
Babouche shoes I wear these soft, pointed slippers everywhere and pair them with everything from jeans to minidresses. They’re incredibly comfortable and versatile and come in plain colors, with tassels, bright designs–you’ll find something you like. Much like rugs and kaftans, you’ll see babouche slippers for sale at just about every corner. The best are handmade in supple cow, goat or camel leather–and kidskin for the most luxe–and any of decent-quality leather you should easily fold in half. A good pair will generally run from about MAD 150 to 300, with cheaper and pricier options also out there. Last time I was in I picked up a couple hand-painted with beautiful designs at Riad Caftan.
Contemporary Moroccan fashion It’s got to be the boutique at El
Fenn, Vanessa Branson’s very cool boutique riad hotel, café and shop in the Médina. Here you’ll find modern takes on all sorts of modern Moroccan looks to wear or decorate your home with, by local and international designers. If drunk shopping is your thing (I won’t judge), grab a drink at the bar adjacent to the boutique–but an even better idea is to head to the riad’s rooftop after your retail therapy for a G&T while overlooking the surrounding old town, Koutoubia Mosque and Atlas mountains in the distance.
Concept shopping After strolling through Jardin Majorelle and getting some style inspo from the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, cross the street to 33 Rue Majorelle. A colorful, hip concept shop, you can pick up jewelry, robes, serving trays and all sorts by local designers to give your own home a taste of Marrakchi style. With items suitable for kids, friends and family, it’s a great spot to pick up quirky souvenir gifts.
Bites & sips Shopping is hungry business, so you’ll likely need a break for mezze or caffeine along the way. Café des Espices, situated–suitably–in the Médina’s spice souk, is a great quick stop for a pot of tea between browsing. I like sitting on the ground floor with the bustle of the bazaar laid out right in front of me, but the terrace is popular, too. Around the corner is Nomad, where on the ground floor you’ll find a little shop with kitchen goods (more great little gifts), and up to the rooftop, a busy, trendy café with views and mezze made with local ingredients–both excellent. Tip: If you want a terrace table, at any restaurant, to watch the sun set over the Médina (and you do), plan in advance and arrive a bit early because rooftops are swarmed as evening arrives.
Where to stay
Marrakech is a great place if you want to splash out. Luxurious, stylish hotels are plush and bursting with gorgeous handmade details. My first time in town I had the pleasure of staying at the incredible Royal Mansour, a stone’s throw from the Médina. Each “room” is a private, three-level riad, and every square inch of the place seems to be covered in intricate hand-crafted details and lush textiles. The rooftop features a fireplace and a small plunge pool, but spend some time exploring the rest of the hotel grounds, which includes a gorgeous garden and pool area, and dining by Michelin-awarded chef Yannick Alléno. The spa is a work of art in itself, a white, wrought-iron jewel box of a space that demands you to stop and take it all in.
A little outside of town, the new Oberoi Marrakech sits on old farmland, still covered in patches of lavender and olive trees (they even press their own olive oil, served at the restaurants). Fantastically peaceful, backed by the silhouette of the Atlas mountains, this hotel is also covered in eye-catching hand-made decor and artwork, its design pulling inspiration from both the town’s Medersa ben Youssef and Spain’s Alhambra. Palatial is a good word for it, which feels sprawling and cosseting, hidden behind fortress-like walls. There are a handful of rooms in the main building (and I can’t recommend the beautifully decorated Royal Suite enough), but most of the accommodation takes the form of standalone villas spread across the bucolic grounds, each with their own private pool.