Love at first sight tends to strike you when you least expect it. That’s definitely what happened at the end of the year when my husband planned a trip to Marrakesh with the family. I’ll admit that in the beginning, I went along with everything to make him happy. He loves visiting cities, but not at the right time (in Marrakesh in December, temperatures can dip as low as 4 degrees at night and rise to 24 in the afternoon sun).
I was, admittedly, curious to discover the city, but I was also hesitant. Sadly, six days before our departure, two Scandinavian hikers were found murdered in the Atlas Mountains. My girls passed on the news in a group text. We explained to them that if that was the case, then we could never go to New York, and that conversation ended quickly enough. In another vein, a friend of mine was telling me about the “Moroccan turista” which sound, quite frankly, worse than the one in Mexico. Well then! I went to pick all the necessary medication for the sake of everyone’s health. Another friend told me that women get whistled at or even harassed in the street, so we had to cover the shoulders and wear things that “covered the knees at a minimum.” We fought about everything in our suitcases from the start. Granted our curiosity was peaked as much as our excitement…Even if Marrakesh is one of the most sought after getaways in the world, were my daughters going to appreciate the change of scenery? On top of that, one of them suffers from nutritional allergies (all the nuts and soy products). As a mother, would I be able to stay on top of things during our first trip to North Africa?
The answer is yes, yes, and yes! Yes for the food — actually, no problem. The restaurant staff were attentive to specific demands. And the rest? Well, let me reassure you that no one was struck with turista, no one was street harassed. Actually, quite the opposite: Moroccans are very nice and polite. In fact, I fell in love, and fast.
The airport is an architectural marvel and everything that came after it wouldn’t fall short of amazing me. From left to right, from top to bottom, wherever your gaze goes, some beautiful art is sure to follow. There is just as much of it present in nature with the orange trees, palm trees and flowers as there is in everything manmade. Morocco’s beauty stirs something deep within. It’s like there is lacework everywhere: on walls, wood and carpets…There is always something that catches the eye, even when you’re aren’t expecting it. I just wanted to pinch myself. I never felt like scrolling through Instagram because what I had in front of me was much more inspiring. I didn’t want to miss a second and I really, I mean really, unplugged…
Culturally, Morocco has its roots in Africa, but it’s branched out in Europe. Today, I know that I would need 10 trips to fully discover the country. There are certainly some musts that I totally missed. Not a problem, because I’ll definitely come back. For our first trip of the entire family + the man with Kaia, Iohann’s eldest, her boyfriend Parham and our daughters Stella and Mila, we also chose not to schedule every part of our trip. We didn’t visit the desert, be it on camelback or hot-air balloon. I know, I know that we absolutely have to do it, but we decided to thoroughly explore the old city, the Medina.
The olde part of town has a circumference of 19 km, is walled up, complete with 11 doors and a souk (a market filled with small shops and stalls) is breathtaking. Think spices, perfumed oils, carpets, decorative objects and colourful babouches. I felt like bringing everything back home to redecorate the house, but I controlled myself.
There is nothing short of traditional in Marrakesh. Isabelle Topolina’s boutique at 134 Dar El Bacha is a clear example of this. This French woman fell in love with Marrakesh (just like Yves Saint Laurent did way back when) and revisits it with style and ancient fabrics to fashion accessories and clothing that are supercool.
Still in the Medina, there are restaurants like the spice cafe, where we discover the red city in all its splendour by finding a secret garden, where time seems to stop while you’re admiring the greenery and sipping some tea.
Marrakesh’s power lies in the ability to walk from one area like the vibrant Medina, and then 20 minutes later, find yourself somewhere extremely calm like La Palmeraie. Le Palais Aziza, where we stayed, is a peaceful oasis where fawns hang out near the pool with you.
I was completely disoriented and that ended up being a plus for me. All that remains is for me to print out photos, close my eyes to relive the smell of the orange flowers — to bring me back there and inspire me. Since I got back, my love for the Midnight Marrakesh candles from my friend Ruby Brown has been renewed. Not until this trip have I associated the scent with a memory that holds a special place in my heart and in my home.