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Visit a Designer’s Oasis in the Heart of Marrakech

posted on: Sep 19, 2019

Visit a Designer’s Oasis in the Heart of Marrakech
A fusion of the Moroccan traditions and contemporary flair that inspired Yves Saint Laurent, Majorelle Garden features pools, fountains, and plants from around the world.
A 12-acre oasis in the middle of contemporary MarrakechMajorelle Garden has given the world its own vibrant and distinctive color: Majorelle blue. The intense cobalt accents the buildings, fountains, and edges of the garden. Its French creator, Jacques Majorelle, was an illustrator and artist, but this elegant refuge he fashioned in the desert is his true masterpiece. Meticulously restored by its later owners, French designer Yves Saint Laurent and partner Pierre Bergé, it honors Moorish traditions in an intriguing tropical setting.

In Marrakech, a city backed by the arid Atlas Mountains, water is a sacred luxury. Every Moroccan village centers on a fountain for ablutions before Islamic prayer. Majorelle’s marble pools and channels reflect that tradition, along with an astonishing variety of greenery: banana trees, bougainvillea, bamboo, coconut palms, cacti, and water lilies. Birdsong provides a natural soundtrack, as bulbuls, gray wagtails, warblers, blackbirds, and turtledoves all call the garden home. The dense foliage deflects both sun and outside noise, inviting you to linger along the site’s raised pathways, admire its precise geometries, and marvel at a botanical collection transplanted from across the globe. (Find the best things to do in Marrakech.)

Though much influenced by art nouveau, Majorelle painted many images of the local Berbers over his 40 years in the city; he built his home and studio in their traditional style. The high adobe tower flanking the garden evokes the character of the nearby casbahs, mountain fortresses that were home to fiercely independent Berbers who call themselves Amazigh, or free people. (Discover the ultimate sonic journey in Morocco.)

In October 2017, the Musee Yves Saint Laurent opened as a tribute to the designer’s legacy and his connection to the city of Marrakech. Majorelle’s former villa also houses a Berber Museum of artifacts, costumes, and jewels that illuminate the ancient North African culture. Hundreds of objects illustrate the variance of traditional Berber societies from the Rif to the Sahara, including elegant silver jewelry representing a 9,000-year-old heritage in dazzling designs. Created by itinerant silversmiths, often women, they are worn not only as a display of wealth but also as a shield for the wearer’s health. Saint Laurent and Bergé, who collected the museum’s offerings, also acquired an array of tribal finery that reflects their interest in international couture. (Here are striking photos of cultural fashions you have to see.)

North Africa’s history of colonization extended from the ancient Romans to the 20th century French. A monument to Saint Laurent, who died in 2008, is a reminder of both: A Roman column taken from the designer’s Tangier home that now commands a peaceful corner of the garden, alongside a pair of marble benches.

Plan your trip

Majorelle Garden is open daily year-round. Both the garden and the museum are wheelchair accessible. The complex includes a gallery of Yves Saint Laurent’s artwork and an elegant gift shop. An outdoor restaurant, Café Bousafsaf, serves breakfast, brunch, and lunch in a peaceful setting.

When to go

The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are preferable for visiting Marrakech, as midsummer temperatures in the Red City routinely reach 100°F (38°C). Visit during early mornings or late afternoons to avoid the heaviest crowds.

Where to eat

A short distance from Majorelle Garden on Angle Boulevard el Mansour Eddahbi in the Gueliz District, the upscale Le Grand Café de la Post offers patrons rattan chairs, lazy ceiling fans, and a wrought-iron staircase that evoke the city’s colonial era. Serving Parisian dishes, traditional Moroccan tagines, and French and Moroccan wines, the eatery has a sheltered balcony that allows for the best people-watching in this cosmopolitan town.

Where to stay

The exquisite La Maison Arabe in the Marrakech medina evokes an elegant riad, an Islamic home built around the traditional courtyard. It was opened in 1946, a decade before Morocco’s independence from France. The hotel’s vaulted arched doorways, smooth tadelakt (lime-plastered) walls, and cedar ceilings spotlight Moroccan craftsmanship. The contemporary spa includes a traditional hammam, or steam bath, and the hotel’s cooking school specializes in Moroccan cuisine. (Find the perfect soak in Marrakech.)