The true charm of Marrakech lies inside the medina: a place of endless souks, historical palaces and the famous Djema el Fna square. But Marrakech is also one of Morocco’s most modern cities, home to a yearly international film festival, as well as an arts festival. So if you want to have a more complete picture of the city, I’d urge you to stroll around in the Ville Nouvelle, the modern part of Marrakech. Wide boulevards are home to numerous cafés and ice cream parlours, as well as international brands like McDonalds and H&M. In the back streets, you can find a Moroccan patisserie next to a wine bar. It’s a place where tradition meets modern life.
Stroll the parks
Marrakech is not all about narrow and dusty streets. In between the salmon-coloured buildings and wide avenues of the Ville Nouvelle, you’ll find a few nice parks that offer you a chance to get away from the busy traffic.
Take Cyberpark for instance, right outside the medina walls, where young Marackchis, mobile in hand, check out the latest news in cyberspace. There’s free wifi in the park, hence its less than glamorous name. But don’t forget to look up from your phone, these well maintained peaceful gardens make Cyberpark one of the nicest open-air cyber spaces in the country!
The charm of Jardin El Harti is less obvious. The swings on the children’s playground, overlooked by two big dinosaurs, could do with some restoration. I visited the place in autumn, when the roses were nearly out of bloom and the place felt quite forsaken. Nevertheless it’s a nice enough place where Moroccan families come to escape some of the busiest central boulevards.
By now it’s time for THE garden in Marrakech and the only place where you’ll see bus loads of tourists in the Ville Nouvelle: the Jardin Majorelle! The garden was created by a French artist (Majorelle) and made famous by Yves Saint Laurent, who bought the place in 1980. Colour-blocking is the word here: the Majorelle-blue contrasts perfectly with the green of the plants and the red of the pavements. It’s all very pretty and beautifully laid out, but it just doesn’t do it for me. I’ll take an ordinary city park, full of locals, any day!
Visit the art galleries
The art scene of Marrakech comes together in the neighbourhood of Gueliz. Tracking down the galleries isn’t always easy though. Even if the boulevards are wide and open, street names seem to be pretty much non-existent…
The first place I manage to track down is the David Bloch Gallery, where the temporary exhibition was by a Parisian graffiti artist, called Mist. You’d expect to find exhibitions like these in galleries in London or New York! I was truly surprised to find one here in Marrakech! A proof that Marrakech is so much more than its medina! (Address: 8 Rue des Vieux Marrakchis)
The BCK Art Gallery hosted an exhibition called “POP Morocco. From Star Wars to Marilyn Monroe, it’s only small step for the three French artists that were represented here. (Address: Rue Ibn Aicha)
It’s time to visit one last art gallery. The Galerie Matisse is a mix of modern art and more traditional Moroccan landscapes, mostly by Moroccan artists. It’s a small affair, occupying only the ground floor and apparently doubling up as the meeting place for the galerie guard’s friends and family. (Address: 61 Rue de Yougoslavie, Passage Ghandouri)
Check out the cool bars
Do you need another proof of how up-to-date and open-minded the Ville Nouvelle is? Then check out some of the cool cafés in the Guéliz neighbourhood. In Café Kechmara, one of the city’s most modern bars, you can appreciate modern art whilst listening to lounge music, sipping a glass of wine or a cocktail. It’s a place where the “beau monde” of Marrakech comes together, albeit in a casual atmosphere. (address: 3, Rue de la Liberté)
When in Marrakech, visit the medina over and over again, but do hop by the Ville Nouvelle as well. Both are very different worlds, but together they show you the diversity of this extraordinary city!
What city have you been to that seemed like a perfect mix between tradition and modern life?