Sexy in the City
It's no wonder the fashion forward, fab four used the sultry Moroccan backdrop for their next cinematic adventure. SJP and her infamous, sexually savvy trio stepped out of their comfort and couture zone of New York and opted for camels over cabs and riads in place of lofts. Leaving behind what has often been called SITC’s fifth character, they have recast the urban apple with seductive Moroccan landscape. Like New York, Morocco is screen savvy and has long been a star in her own right.
The plot lines of SITC may be held tightly under wraps, but it is no secret that Morocco is once again ready for its cinematic close up. On screen or in person, this old world wonder is a timeless beauty worthy of a revisit or a first plunge in.
There’s nothing quite like the first time. Here’s a quick look in to my first seductive adventure in Morocco. It left me weak in the knee and begging for more.
As we stepped off the plane in Marrakech, the heat was so dense you could actually see it. Midday June in Marrakech, the weather is relentless, unapologetic and perfect. Welcoming our somewhat motley and travel weary crew was the ever-dapper Fabrizio Ruspoli, the Italian-French aristocrat and proprietor of our first Moroccan palace, La Maison Arabe.
I couldn’t imagine a better welcome to the country. Fabrizio and Juan scurried us through customs, bags and had us effortlessly whisked away to Fabrizio’s riad in the heart of Marrakech, just outside of the medina.
What is common in Morocco, similar to the French Quarter in New Orleans, you don’t show your wares. The big surprise comes once inside. This is even truer in Morocco. You would almost miss the subtle doors of this oasis. Yet once inside, like Alice, you fall in to a rich and sensuous Wonderland.
Maison Arabe (www.lamaisonarabe.com) was like no other place I had ever seen, yet just as I would imagine. Two French women initially owned the recently renovated riad in 1946. It is rich in history with its share of cinematic stars, aristocrats and tastemakers who have made their mark in the bar or lounge. If privy to a private moment with Fabrizio he will treat you to a tour divulging the decadent morsels of Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite corner in the bar or Princess Grace’s place.
The Right Touch
After a welcoming Moroccan tea, a definitive ritual, we slipped in to the basement spa for a traditional hammam. This practice dates back to the Arabs in the 7th century and to this day is referred to as “the silent doctor.” After a scrub, steam and a wrap I fell in to the deepest of sleeps during my massage. It definitely healed what ailed me as I left floating on air. If our schedule weren’t chock a block, I would have happily played queen for the day and simply relaxed in my expansive suite. It’s an evocative spot, pitch perfect for reflection or romance.
A Garden Party
We didn’t skip a beat with a carriage ride to Jardin Majorelle (www.jardinmajorelle.com), the garden property of French painter Jacques Majorelle. Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge acquired the property and restored it in 1980. True to YSL’s form this is not your average garden party as plants from five continents are present.
An Islamic art museum is on site housing the works of Majorelle alongside artifacts from Maghreb, Orient, Africa and Asia. If you like to take your art with you, the shop is filled with one off pieces of jewelry and clothing designed by YSL’S previous designer who mixes French couture with local Moroccan craft and culture. The end result is exquisite, head turning couture. I imagine it was a Pat Field’s favorite.
Fabrizio and Juan the consummate hosts walked us through the world famous Marrakech medina. As much as I’m a wanderer by nature, its best to stick to your crew or partner in this case as it is wonderfully overwhelming, yet easy to get lost.
The medina is a coffee table book waiting to happen. If you love life behind the lense, the median is your perfect canvas. Be prepared with small coins in your pocket as the locally captured faces come with a price. If you have a great zoom, even better as the best shots are caught in the act, off the cuff and don’t involve monetary entanglements. Expect to haggle in stalls, as you will be sized up before a price is released. Like many markets, respect and a fair price are given with a bit of dramatic haggling. Get your game face on.
The Whole World’s a Stage
Aside from spices, rugs and crafts, the real drama was caught outside the stalls in the open medina. It’s an old world market full of drama and theatrics from snake charmers to henna hand painters, men with monkeys and story tellers. Again, if captured on film, it all comes with a price. So, if someone hands you a monkey or puts one on your head as was done to me and takes your camera to take your picture, remember in order to get your own camera back, you must dole out the dollars. It all happens so fast. So be prepared.
The urban curtain closed with the final act, a sunset drink on the tip top of a hotel hugging the medina. Overlooking the Moroccan madness and its circus like stage will have you on your feet, cheering on this authentic performance.
It’s Getting Hot in Here
Local culinary classes were high on the schedule. After a welcome dinner in a Moroccan tent at The Country Club, Maison Arab’s off site locale for culinary lessons, dinner or pool parties, we returned in the daylight to try our hand with the local cuisine. They are internationally known for their cooking classes there. So carve out a day for a class conducted by a dada, a traditional Moroccan chef. In our morning class we prepared our own Msemen Moroccan, Chicken Tangine and Fruit Pastilla before enjoying the fruits of our labors by lunch.
The following day we again flexed our culinary muscles with a local Moroccan woman at Jnane Tamsna (www.jnanatamsna.com), a good half hour away from city center. They too have series of ongoing classes conducted in an outside kitchen in the garden. The property is dotted with small houses throughout the garden. Next class I take there should be a writing class as it was an evocative spot where words could come out and play. Our Pear Tar Tan was the winning dish paired with local Moroccan wines. It was a blissful day.
A Magical Mystery Tour
The 30’s styled Bar at Maison Arabe is a destination unto itself. The meticulous and impassioned Rashid, Maison Arabe’s head bartender infuses local culture, cuisine and an abundance of spices in to the handcrafted cocktails. If you want to forget the evening before, you can start anew each day Rashid presents a list of twelve new cocktails. Try the Morrocito, a Moroccan Mojito made with ginger and a local Moroccan liqueur. If you’re a cocktail geek that likes culture over ice, belly up to this bar.
After a few liquid lovelies we went to the other side of the medina where Andrea Kolb, the proprietor of Ana Yela (www.anayela.com), met us. It was a rich mix of twist and turns until we finally found her riad. It looked like a random door, but once in, a whole other story was unveiled.
Andrea and her now husband, German businessman Bernd Kolb found this place in a state of disrepair. They have since restored it back to a state and a place unlike any other. Their inner sanctuary is extremely private with five romantic rooms. It’s pitch perfect for seduction.
We had a spirited dinner with live performers on the rooftop overlooking the medina. After a few wines, I was left basking in the moonlight where I waited for a magic carpet to fly by and take me home. It was that convincing.
The Best Things in Life are Free
After a day of sightseeing we were given one final spin in the medina. Our group was splintered and I was with two women looking for serious art in galleries. Not my vibe or my price range. I wanted to be the urban explorer. My art was in the medina. I kept asking our tour guide/babysitter which way in to the medina. He assured me it was very far and I would never find my way in or out.
My persistence finally paid off as he suddenly delivered to me the skinniest man I have ever seen. My burly friend simply said, “He will take you to the medina.” He was on a motorbike. By that I mean a skinny bicycle with a wee motor on it. The back “seat” that was assigned to me was the size of a letter envelope. I leapt on. Without a word between us, he took off. It happened so fast I completely forgot I had a camera, video, diet coke, purse and a huge floppy hat ready to take flight. I oddly managed to hold on to all of it, including his rib cage.
We were flying through the streets weaving in and out of traffic and skimming cars. I was laughing and screaming at the top of my lungs. His only English was, “You funny girl!”
It was such a rush until we entered the thin and curvaceous medina. Maintaining speed, he whipped down a contracted alleyway with donkey’s eyes whisking by, old people, carts, cars, kids, and the blur of blue. If only my video was on. It was the most vibrant montage of my life. I kept saying, “I’ll get off.” “This is fine.” “Stop!” He kept the conversation going, adding words like, “No.” To my surprise I was delivered in one giddy piece in to the heart of the medina. After the ride of my life, I went to get my money out and he said, “Funny girl”, then took off.
After a regal sleep at the Amanjena (www.amanresorts.com), Brad and Angie’s Moroccan home away from home, we were heading to the Atlas Mountains for an eco retreat at Terres d’Amanar (www.terresdamanar.com). It has long been a spot for adventure travelers and a favorite place where corporate types put their execs to the test. We had a slow build in, with a local cooking class. Our cook did not speak English. So, a seemingly westernized Berber girl translated.
After a long hike in the stunning Atlas Mountain and a leisurely wander through their village we came back to the best tangine of the trip, made with our hands. Our salsa was insanely delicious and wildly addictive. Many napped after that, as we were the first to stay in the eco chic villas. They wanted to check out our digs.
I opted for more adventure and hit the longest zip line in all of Africa. After a shaky ropewalk across a deep canyon, we did the zip route two times over, as I simply could not get enough. My adventure girl was out and ready for play. Dinner under the stars and a cozy campfire in the fields was all the tuck in I needed.
The college aged Berber girl joined us for dinner and fascinated us with her gumption as both education and work for women is still frowned upon in her culture. She was an amazing and articulate young woman. I could have listened to her all night. It may take a village, but in this case, it only took a single girl to change her village.
Here’s Looking at You Kid
Casablanca is unlike any other city in Morocco, the Tel Aviv of Morocco. Locally it is compared to the seductive South of France or sexy Barcelona. You get it as soon as you arrive on the waterfront. A bevy of lavishly dressed, beautiful people is having long lunches on the water.
Morocco is a Muslim country, but they have a thriving wine culture. The tax on imported wine makes international labels cost prohibitive. This keeps local businesses in the flow and Moroccan wines flowing at every table.
We had but a night in the seaside city of Casablanca. So, we hit the famous Hassan mosque by day, the icon of Casablanca and Rick’s Café (www.rickscafe.ma), iconic in its own right by night. The close of the evening was in our rooftop bar at The Kenzi Tower Hotel (www.kenzi-hotels.com/hotels/casablanca/tower-hotel.html). A young East African girl knocked it out of the water with her bluesy singing. There were a number of men in groups, no women alone or in groups, only accompanied by men, which were few. My girl had the men on their feet singing with passion “I Will Survive.” It was a moment.
Rock the Kasbah
Fez, even more untouched than Marrakech immediately felt good for the soul. Our view overlooking the medina from Palais Jamais (www.sofitel.com) was surreal. Unlike Marrakech, pictures were not frowned upon, nor did they come with a price. I could have easily spent a week just capturing the faces of Fez. Aside from the locals, the tannery, where the animal skins are treated is a vibrant painting, a hypnotic spot.
I am assuming Sex in the City rocked the sexual core of the locals as all activity, gay or straight is frowned upon. In my ten days there, I had not seen any same sex affection or any form of affection, except on the waterfront in Casablanca, steps away from one of the world’s most famous mosque.
Discretion is advised in this conservative Muslim country. Regardless, every one feels welcome, as the people are incredibly warm, gentle and funny.
The call to prayer happens several times a day in Morocco, the first being first thing in the morning before sunrise. Maybe like a car alarm you eventually block it out. Or perhaps like church bells, you don’t notice over time. But if visiting, it is soul sating. It stopped me in my tracks every time.
Our final morning we had a very early departure. I didn’t set an alarm. I just left my patio door open. The first call to prayer was just after 4:00 a.m. The call was a great way to start the day and the perfect end to my trip.
For more information on Morocco: www.visitmorocco.com