Maithili Parekh, deputy director, Sotheby’s, has a pact with her best friend: to travel to a novel destination sans spouses every year. This year, Marrakesh—given its eclectic mix of Europe, the East and Africa—was their pick. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What were the highlights of your late summer trip?
Visiting my friends Priti Paul and her husband Jaouad Kadiri at their stunning home in Marrakesh for a traditional Moroccan meal and a walk into the Jardin Majorelle—the incredible botanical gardens of designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge. Our stay at the gorgeous Sir Richard Branson-owned hotel Kasbah Tamadot in the midst of the Atlas mountains was definitely a high point, so was haggling in the souks of the hippy-esque town of Essaouira.
Two worlds: (left) The souk at the heart of Marrakesh. THINKSTOCK; and Parekh at designer Yves Saint Laurent’s botanical gardens.
What was the itinerary?
We flew from London to Marrakesh and back on EasyJet, a 2-hour flight which was very convenient. Our trip began in Marrakesh where we spent three days, followed by two days in the seaside town of Essaouira and then another two days in Asni, a little village in the Atlas mountains.
Tell us about the places you stayed in.
We love little, cosy, boutique hotels! Much of our time in planning our trips goes into finding the right place to stay and being the gourmands we are, we also call and reserve dinner tables at coveted culinary spots ahead of time.
In Marrakesh, we stayed at the charming Riad el Fenn, a traditional 19th century house with an inner courtyard and garden tucked away in the quiet alleys, but only minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the souks and the main square of Djma el Fna. Riad el Fenn, which means “Riad of the art”, houses incredible works by contemporary artists such as Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Bridget Riley, Francis Upritchard, which made for an interesting juxtaposition to the older architecture of the Riad. I highly recommend the restaurants Dar Moha and Le Fondouk. Essaouira is a small, sleepy seaside town with quaint alleyways, skilful artisans, tucked-away restaurants and a vast port. We had booked a Chateau & Relais property, L’Heure Bleue, which is a stunning boutique hotel, with an indulgent hamam, or traditional bath, and a terrace overlooking the medina and the ocean.
In our final leg at Asni, about an hour outside of Marrakesh, we picked Kasbah Tamadot, which is an old fort converted into a hotel by Sir Richard Branson. A magical walled complex with peaceful courtyards, intriguing staircases, landscaped gardens and breathtaking views, one of the highlights of staying here is the mule ride (or trek for the more adventurous and physically fit) into the mountains.
What did you enjoy most about the cuisine?
The fact that it was a wonderful blend of Africa, European, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines—our favourites remain the freshly made tagines and couscous.
How was the weather when you visited? What would you advise one to pack for the trip?
Very pleasant during the day, maybe a light sweater in the evenings. Depending on time of year, I’d recommend casual cotton in the day and a touch of glamour for the evenings.
Would you describe Marrakesh as a chic or adventurous vacation?
Our holiday was a mix of both—a little adventure, some chic but mostly a carefree week of unwinding while experiencing a new country and culture.
What would you go back for? And if you did, what would you do differently?
I’d go back in a heartbeat, perhaps this time include Fez and Casablanca too, if we had more time.