Why Everybody Is Finding Inspiration in Morocco (+ How to Go Yourself)
No matter how many times you visit, Morocco feels like a discovery. The country has been churning out some of the world’s most inventive designs and crafts for literally millennia (it’s been inhabited for at least 90,000 years), but it still manages to feel fresh. From the Rolling Stones’ visit to Marrakech in 1967 to contemporary fashion designers’ tours 50 years later, all those inspired by vivid colors and intricate patterns will find plenty to drool over throughout the country. Here’s how you can experience the stunningly inspiring designs of Morocco for yourself.
Wander the Medina
A design-minded trip to Morocco should start in Marrakech — specifically in the Marrakech medina. Find a local guide to take you around — the labyrinth of streets feels like it’s constantly changing, presenting a challenge to even the most well-traveled navigator.
My guide from Urban Adventures, Yousef, has been giving tours of the city for more than 10 years. In his daily ambles throughout the city, he has gotten to know the vendors — which pays dividends for those looking to get an authentic look at Moroccan crafts. Yousef was able to take us into the lesser-explored parts of the medina to the craftspeople and artisan studios. I bought sandals, jewelry, and intricate wooden boxes directly from those who created them — making for a more authentic (and cheaper!) shopping trip.
Some of the most memorable souvenirs to pick up in the medina are Moroccan beauty products. Look specifically for chunks of shampoo (just add water), globules of argan oil soap, and small clay trays of lipstick pigments. (You’ll quickly understand the Moroccan beauty obsession with moisture and color.)
But, no matter how tempting, don’t snatch up the first beautiful thing you see. Do some price research before committing to a purchase, and be prepared to barter. “Because of the pressure you have from the seller, you look at the product, and you love it and want to buy it,” cautions Khalid Lamlih, an Intrepid Travel guide. “That is a mistake. Your best move is to go away. Prices are different at each shop. Go and ask the price, then go and ask another price. And then ask another. Then go to the one who offers it for less with a big smile.” Being friendly and being knowledgeable about the price can help you negotiate more effectively.
Be warned: If you get lost in the medina, ask shop owners for directions. Those who offer directions unsolicited will expect a tip in exchange.
Pay Homage to the Greats
The Musee Yves Saint Laurent opened in late 2017 to celebrate the life of the famous fashion designer. Inside the museum, visitors can walk through a fashion show celebrating Saint Laurent’s most famous and important creations.
But the real reason to visit is the attached Jardin Majorelle. In 1980, Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought the Jardin Majorelle (a historic Cubist villa built in 1931), saving it from destruction. Today, it’s a paradise of Moroccan greenery and an ode to the intense, iconic hue Majorelle Blue.
See the Traditional Made Modern
A riad is a traditional Moroccan house, plain on the outside but featuring an elaborate courtyard at its center. Get a taste of Moroccan culture by booking a stay at one of these old-school establishments. Check out Le Riad Yasmine for one of the city’s most impressive tiled pools — and its perfectly matching decor.
The Bahia Palace was built in the late 19th century to house the Grand Vizier of the Sultan. The building is now open to the public, displaying a magnificent wealth of carved ceilings, tiled walls, and trickling fountains. A tour through the rooms will reveal much about Islamic culture through its architecture.
Overlook the City
Few views are more romantic than those from a rooftop in the medina. When your favorite Instagram influencer went to Marrakech, they likely had lunch at NOMAD. The trendy rooftop lunch spot is one of the most scenic spots in the city — not only for its views, but also for its fashionable clientele and well-designed interiors. (Who knew Moroccan fabrics and chevron went together so well?)
Go Farther Out
The streets of Marrakech can get crowded with tourists. If you’re looking for a way to connect with authentic Moroccan culture, consider taking a few days exploring the lesser-known parts of the country. (I opted for Intrepid Travel’s Morocco Atlas and Atlantic trip.)
There’s a reason Hollywood has filmed so many Westerns in Tafraoute. Rust-colored mountains evoke the rugged landscape of Arizona while silversmiths work shapes that stir up connections with Navajo motifs. Colorful shoes are a mainstay of the city’s artisans, so be sure to pick up a pair before heading home.
The city of Chefchaouen is famous for its blue walls. Although they may seem like they were designed as the perfect photo backdrop, the color is actually a practical development: In 1930, townswomen painted the walls blue with indigo pigments to repel mosquitos. In Marrakech, on the other hand, the red-colored walls are painted to preserve heat in the city.
For a touch of Morocco’s Spanish side, head south to the port city of Sidi Ifni. As the sun sets over the whitewashed art deco buildings, you’ll understand why Moroccans are inspired to imbue everything they do with color.
Have you been to Morocco before, or is it on your bucket list? Tag us in your must-see destinations @BritandCo.
(Photos via Cole Burston)