In 1966, French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent travelled to Marrakesh with his business partner Pierre Bergé and was so taken with the place that he bought a house there. Always inspired by the colours of the Moroccan zelliges, djellabas and caftans for his own designs, Saint Laurent felt a connection with this vibrant city. So it was no surprise that last year the Yves Saint Laurent Museum opened in Marrakesh, dedicated to his oeuvre, with a striking geometric red-brick facade housing a permanent exhibition space, research library, bookstore and café. It’s an ideal addition to, and yet another reason to visit, this thriving cultural and historical city.
A three-and-a-half-hour flight from London – and in the same time zone – Marrakesh is genuinely exotic and exciting, with enough bustle, history and culture to satisfy any explorer’s itch. And while the city has an abundance of five-star hotels, a villa holiday is a great way to pretend, for a while, that you too have bought a house here. And basing yourself at Ezzahra, a private estate in the Palmeraie district of Marrakesh, is a great way to temper your wanderlust with some good old-fashioned R&R.
Ezzahra is the long-term project of Brian Callaghan, a Brit who decided to buy land and build the ultimate villa home for his family. The current configuration comprises three luxury villas spread out in 20,000 square metres of landscaped gardens, dotted with olive trees, date palms and orange, lemon and pomegranate trees. With the pink plastered walls typical of the region, each villa’s decor is a contemporary take on a traditional riad – spacious, cool and full of Moroccan fabrics, souk finds and hand-picked pieces from around the world. Intricate metalwork lights hang from the ceilings, bathrooms are tiled in vibrant colours, and there are comfortable daybeds and open fires. The art collection is by significant local artists. The whole place feels like the private retreat of a 1930s Arabist, except with two pools, padel tennis court, spa, hammam, gym and cinema room. You could be excused for staying put for the duration of your stay, but the beauty of the place lies in what is also on its doorstep.
A visit to the city’s world famous medina within the fortified walls of the medieval city is a must. This is where you will find the souk, a sprawling labyrinthine market selling teapots, rugs, backgammon boards, leather goods, wooden spoons and traditional clothing.
Close to the YSL Museum is the Jardin Marjorelle. Saved from development by Saint Laurent and Bergé, who purchased the garden in 1980, this oasis of botanical calm is named after French painter Jacques Marjorelle who cultivated it.
A short drive from Marrakesh, you can further satisfy your thirst for nature in the Atlas Mountains. Ezzahra can arrange a guided walk through this striking landscape, with lunch in the gardens of the Kasbah Bab Ourika an essential treat. With 360-degree views and Moroccan and European dishes by chef Michael Arthur, it is the ideal way to conclude your hike before heading back to relax poolside.
The Villa Ezzahra is £17,400 for 14 guests for three nights, including exclusive use of all facilities, meals, non-alcoholic drinks, laundry, treatments and airport transfer. A chauffeured vehicle is included daily; ezzahra-morocco.com