FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Moroccan Renaissance

by Allie Moore

May 1, 2017
May 2017

THE NORTH AFRICAN NATION of Morocco remains devoted to tradition amid a sea of international conferences and an evolving entrepreneurial spirit. From the scurry of souks in Marrakech to the camel-lined deserts of the North Sahara, Morocco is not a typical travel target for those seeking innovation and modernity. Instead, many visitors to Morocco long to escape the frenzy of the present day in which technology, alcohol consumption and excess have become the vices du jour.

Morocco’s third-largest city, Marrakech, is also one of the country’s most visited thanks in part to its slow and subtle adaptation to the Western world. The bewitching locale is peppered with amenities and the comforts of progress, where visitors can enjoy the juxtaposition of the thriving city with the ancient world. At the same time, Marrakech rests at the forefront of global issues such as climate change, technology and transportation, attracting industry leaders from all over the world.

In fall 2016 Marrakech hosted COP22, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where action was the focus as the plans from the Paris Climate Agreement — developed a year prior — were revisited. Participants at the Marrakech talks pushed agendas forward, hinging on investing in clean energy and technology by some of the world’s largest corporations.

At the conclusion of the conference, 200 countries conceived the Marrakech Action Proclamation that even further underscores the need for alternative sources of energy, with the goal of enacting swift changes by 2018, ahead of the original deadline of 2020.

Morocco is the only African nation (and non-European nation) to grace the top 10 list of Germanwatch’s Climate Change Performance Index. A few internal initiatives for a cleaner environment include the eventual introduction of electric cars as well as Africa’s first bike-sharing program, which rolled out in conjunction with the climate conference last November.

Sustainable energy is not the only energy-focused item on Morocco’s agenda. In October Marrakech will host GeoAfrica 2017, a conference centered on geosynthetics and sustainable development throughout Africa. Attendees of the conference plan to discuss using energy-efficient methods to construct and enhance the continent’s infrastructure and will focus on the use of geosynthetics with regard to waste management, agricultural endeavors and environmental protection.

Handmade shoes for sale in the Médina

Handmade shoes for sale in the Médina © PETER WOLLINGA | DREAMSTIME.COM

Marrakech’s attention to its own infrastructure and development is evident, from the teeming Médina souks to the royal heads of state. In December King Mohammed VI instituted a rehabilitation project to restore the city’s main tourist attraction: the ancient Médina, a centuries-old sprawling outdoor marketplace where visitors and locals shop, bargain and ogle handmade merchandise. The comprehensive project will focus on not only reviving various debilitated elements but also maintaining the Médina’s historic heritage, the character of which visitors travel thousands of miles to experience.

The end results of the project will not only appeal to the senses of visitors but also attend to the daily needs of the artisans who work throughout the Médina’s corridors. Carpenters, coppersmiths, weavers and other craftspeople rely on their stalls as sources of income and economic contribution.

King Mohammed VI’s plans contribute to his goal of making Marrakech a “City of Permanent Renaissance,” one that improves the living and working conditions of Marrakech’s own and, in turn, invites international visitors to revel in its authentic spirit.

As Morocco moves into the present, negotiations have begun between the nation and China Railway to construct a high-speed rail to connect Marrakech with the coastal city of Agadir, a journey of approximately 162 miles. Morocco’s rail system, ONCF, signed agreements with China Railway to engineer and design the rail network that, by 2018, could potentially spread to other locations throughout Morocco.

Blue sky over the airport in Marrakech

Blue sky over the airport in Marrakech © IRABEL8 | DREAMSTIME.COM

Marrakech’s Menara Airport endured a recent makeover of its own with the introduction of a 600,000-square-foot terminal that will increase aircraft slots by 12 and welcome an annual capacity of 9 million passengers, up from the recent year’s 3 million visitors.

In March Air France introduced thrice-weekly routes (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday) from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport to Marrakech, and 16 trips per week will be available from Paris’ Orly Airport, enhancing access from the French capital to the Francophone nation.

On the artistic side, Marrakech proves a photographer’s dream, a stunning landscape of color, angles and action all ripe for capture by the lens and the imagination. For centuries artists have traveled to the Moroccan city for inspiration — among them famed French designer Yves Saint Laurent, who frequently stayed in a villa in Marrakech. A museum dedicated to the French fashion designer, scheduled to open in September, will lure lovers of his innovative vision to the stunningly sensual Jardin Majorelle (Majorelle Garden), where his ashes were scattered after his death in 2008. Situated among the botanical gardens just outside the city center, the 43,000-square-foot Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech will house 5,000 articles of the fashion icon’s haute couture clothing; 15,000 accessories; and antiquated sketches.

In the same fashionable vein, English designer Jasper Conran has also chosen to make his mark in the Moroccan city. After designing ensembles for the likes of Princess Diana, Conran transformed a 19th-century riad into a luxury hotel. Five suites comprise L’Hôtel Marrakech and surround a central courtyard with a private pool, fruit trees and a fountain.

CHECKING IN WITH HANANE EL MRABET-EL HADI

Director of Communications, Jardin Majorelle, Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech

Where are you from, and how long have you worked at Jardin Majorelle?
I was born and grew up in Châteauroux, France, and I have dual citizenship (French and Moroccan). I have worked at Jardin Majorelle since September 2016.

How has tourism to the city changed in the past 10 years? What has been the catalyst for change?
Tourism in Morocco managed to resist the amalgamations linked to the war in Syria, the emergence of the Islamic State, the assassination of Hervé Gourdel in Algeria, the proliferation of the Ebola virus and the Bardo attack in Tunisia. Morocco is the most stable country politically and socially in the region. We have faith in the local authorities to perpetuate a climate of stability and peace. The influence of the international context on tourism and the Moroccan economy remains considerable.

What effect will the new Musée Yves Saint Laurent have on Marrakech’s tourism sector?
The Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech is located in the Rue Yves Saint Laurent, next door to the Jardin Majorelle, which receives more than 700,000 visitors each year. It will be a real crossroads of multicultural exchanges for art professionals as well as amateurs, fashion lovers, artists of all kinds and Moroccan and international visitors.

What can you tell us about the museum that may interest our readers?
This new building with a total area of 43,000 square feet is more than just a museum. Designed by Studio KO, it includes a permanent exhibition space of 4,300 square feet devoted to the work of Yves Saint Laurent in a scenography by Christophe Martin; a temporary exhibition hall of 1,600 square feet; an auditorium with 130 seats; a coffee shop; and a library of 5,000 books whose general line contains a historical background on modern Morocco before and after its independence.

Things to Do in Marrakech

Nicknamed the Red City, Marrakech earned this unofficial designation due to its brick-hued buildings constructed using tabia, a red mud found in the region. The undisputed main attraction of Marrakech is the ancient Médina, a labyrinth of paths and alleyways where merchants make and peddle their handcrafted goods, from area rugs to silver to traditional décor. Theoretically, a shopper could outfit an entire home with a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sunset at Jemaa el-Fna Square

Sunset at Jemaa el-Fna Square © ZLIKOVEC | DREAMSTIME.COM

In the artsy entertainment district of Jemaa el-Fna, no money or effort is required to capture some of the finest shows on Earth. From snake charmers during the day to dancing troupes and magicians as the sun sets, the square is alive and animated at almost any hour of the day.

Any visitor to Marrakech should not miss out on an authentic hammam experience. Dating back to ancient times, this bath ritual involves a mud scrub that removes any and all dry skin followed by an oil massage and aromatherapy. Hammams are separated by gender and often can be recomm ended by hotel concierges or locals.

Marrakech Info to Go

Menara Airport, approximately four miles from the center of the city, serves Marrakech. From the airport take a petit taxi to the city, but be sure to negotiate the fare before you agree to ride: Fares to Marrakech should not cost more than 70 dirham (about $7) during the day or 100 dirham (about $10) at night. Alternatively, take a 20-minute bus ride on Bus 11 (3.50 dirham/about 35 cents) or Bus 19 that runs every 20 minutes (30 dirham/about $3). From Marrakech’s main train station take city buses 3, 8 or 10 to the center for 3 dirham (about 30 cents).

Marrakech: Just the Facts

Time zone: GMT
Phone code: Country code: 212 City code: 44
Currency: Moroccan dirham
Key industries: Automotive parts, phosphate mining and processing, aerospace, food processing, leather goods, textiles, construction, energy, tourism

COMING AND GOING
U.S. citizens must have a valid passport that does not expire until six months after the entry date. Visas are not required for stays up to 90 days.

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
Arabic, French

Where to Stay in Marrakech

LA MAMOUNIA With views of the Atlas Mountains, this hotel-palace coalesces the comfort of a Moroccan home with royal luxuries. Moroccan aesthetic abounds from the interior courtyards to the full-service spa. Avenue Bab Jdid $$$$$

MÖVENPICK HOTEL MANSOUR EDDAHBI Inspired by the visions of the Saadian sultan with the same name, this hotel exudes power and leadership, with a direct connection to the Palais des Congrès convention center. Avenue Mohammed VI, Hivernage $$$

RIAD KNIZA MARRAKECH This 18th-century riad houses 11 guestrooms and a traditional hammam where you can scrub away life’s worries. Sample mint tea, a Moroccan tradition, on the sunlit terrace. 34 Derb l’Hotel, Bab Doukala $$$

Restaurants in Marrakech

BÔ-ZIN Morocco meets the Orient at this sexy haunt. Live music rings through the palm trees as diners share Thai-style croquettes, couscous and briouates (puff pastries of cheese and spinach). Douar Lahna, Route de l’Ourika 3,5 Km $$$

LE MARRAKCHI Come for the simply authentic Moroccan menu and romantic ambience, stay for the stunning views and nightly belly dancing show. Bonus: Alcohol is served. 52 Rue des Banques $$$$

THE RED HOUSE RESTAURANT Elegance reigns in the restaurant within The Red House guest palace. Pastillas (Moroccan meat pies) stuffed with pigeon and almonds are served alongside harira (classic Moroccan soup). Avenue El Yarmouk & Rue Abdelaziz El Malzouzi $$$

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