Meandering through the souks of Marrakech's infamous, buzzing Medina (the "old city"), can make you feel as though you've traveled back in time. To your left are mismatched tins piled high with fresh gem-colored spices; to the right are racks teeming with colorful babouches (Moroccan slippers). Linger too long, and you might get bumped by the donkey, lumbering his way down the area's narrow stone streets.
Next, you might hop a taxi to the northwest part of town, Le Guéliz, for an entirely different perspective on this heady and magical corner of the world. Here, you'll see young Marrakechis dining al fresco at Parisian-style cafés, plugging in their laptops at restaurants, and toting loads of bags from the latest boutiques, which have sprouted up over the years. Whichever path you choose to explore and shop, make sure to bring a French dictionary, your best bargaining tools, and, perhaps an extra suitcase for packing up all your Marrakech discoveries for the return home home.
Built by the French during the colonial period, the new city—or Villa Nouvelle—reflects its heritage. Wide boulevards are lined with office buildings and sidewalk cafés, and an influx of cool new restaurants and boutiques has the area looking more and more like its European counterparts. Hence, this area offers an abundance of shops that run the gamut from traditional to the on-the-edge.
• Alrazal, 55, rue Sourya, +21 (2) 4324 7884
Without much fanfare, Moroccan designer Ghizlane Sahli-Sarnefors opened Azarel on a side street off of the busy Rue de la Liberte about a year ago. She has devoted the entire second floor of her shop to displaying her latest collection of women's clothing (downstairs are carefully selected children's items). Her assortment ranges from classic kaftans and jelabas (read: a full-length Moroccan hoodie) to boldly colored dresses, and satin trench coats. A bubble-hemmed fuchsia number with a feathered collar is on trend in both shade and style, as is a graphic print brown tunic, trimmed in orange and navy. Don't leave without checking out the intricately designed children's frocks&emdash;you'll wish they came in your size.
Shopkeeper Michele Baconnier has combed the world for stylish finds so you don't have to. Suede babouches made locally share space with silk tunics from India and Suzani textiles from Uzbekistan. Cashmere scarves and embroidered flats will easily make the transition home, but consider investing in one of her famous Moroccan poufs—John Derian did…he sells them from his East Village shop.
• 212 Marrakech, 2 Rue Oum Rabia , +21 (2) 4442 3774
The latest addition to Le Guéliz's boutique boom may initially appear a little too "grown-up." Upon closer inspection though, the silk tunics with Fez-style embroidery and tassel necklaces are worthy of a place in your suitcase. Though slightly pricier than its local counterparts, the quality and cut of these traditional designs are worth the visit.
Shopping the souks requires patience, perseverance, and above all, some friendly pushing. The stalls are brimming with eager salespeople who are all absolutely certain they have what you're looking for. Chaotic doesn't begin to describe it, but to escape the mayhem of the Medina, check into a few nearby stores where you can browse without distraction.
• Kulchi, 1 Rue Ksour, off Rue Sidi El Yamani, +21 (2) 4442 9177
Owner Florence Taranne's petite boutique is an oasis of calm, not to mention metropolitan chic. Her international inventory spans from East African textiles to screen-printed T-shirts by Moroccan pop artist Hassan Hajjaj (which are also worn by the wait staff at the restaurant Momo in London, where the artist lives). Vintage Moroccan fabrics are re-envisioned as beach-perfect caftans, while Taranne's in-house label strikes just the right boho balance with tie-dyed blouses and whimsical dresses.
Across the street from Kulchi sits Kif Kif, another French-run gem. Don't be deterred by the name (also the local term for hashish), Stephanie Bénetière's shop sells everything from hand-made suede totes to locally produced argon oil.
• Aya's, 11 Bis, Derb Jdid Bab Mellah, +21 (2) 4438 3428
Famous for its well-tailored tunics, this tiny shop is also known for two very famous visitors: Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks. Aya herself will proudly show you her photo souvenirs as you browse her impressive selection of male friendly caftans (a rarity in the more upscale shops). Her assortment of Indian pashminas is worth a look even if they aren't local. For more Moroccan fare, her selection of jewelry stands out from the standard looking pieces that are abundant on every corner.
Located in the heart of the Medina, the Café has become a must for those looking to refresh and kick back for a spell. Be sure to take in a tea on the terrace.
• Zohour, 34, Rue de Liberte, +21 (2) 2443 1328
Stop by this French-inspired bakery for a different kind of afternoon delight: a gazelle horn, the traditional crescent-shaped Moroccan pastry filled with decadent almond paste.
Hidden away from the streets of Le Gueliz, this French-run café-bookstore combo has all the makings for a sweet afternoon escape. Browse their selection of international magazines and cozy up to the fire, or plug in your laptop and order up a snack from their petite menu.
Enlist the shopping expertise of Laetitia Trouillet for the day and you won't go home empty handed. The French handbag designer knows the shops of Marrakech inside and out, and she'll even take you to the industrial quarter for some wholesale wares. She'll arrange for a car, do all the bargaining for you, and then deliver the goods back to your riad (or guest house).
Moustapha's knowledge of the city has earned him a mention in numerous guides to Marrakech. Make sure he takes you to Le Jardin Majorelle, the gardens owned by Yves Saint Laurent, and the Musée de Marrakech.
Café des Espices photograph %a9Frank Schmitt
Souks and shops collide in this Moroccan city.