Alameda Flea Market devotees know that LA’s House of Cindy simply can’t be missed. Cindy herself is known for selecting the most beautiful textiles for her pillows, throws, and much more, often traveling to Morocco to handpick her gorgeous goods. As a seasoned shopper of Morocco’s ‘souks’ (markets), she’s gotten to know the country well, made friends with locals, and graciously agreed to share tips for shopping the markets of Morocco like a total pro. Plus, discover her ultimate insider’s travel guide to Marrakesh. Prepare to pack your bags!
Hitting the Souks
What to Expect
Shopping the souks of Morocco is a magical journey into another time. The souks of Marrakesh and Fez are a feast for the senses: they have high walls and a labyrinth of meandering pathways, most only wide enough for foot traffic or a donkey cart loaded with carpets for transport. When you enter the souk for the first time you are guaranteed to get lost – and that is part of the fun. Everything imaginable can be found: lighting, carpets, caftans, pottery, leather goods, textiles, metal goods, home décor, books, herbs, jewelry.
The Deal with Bargaining
Souk shopping can be likened to a sport, and bargaining is a must. If you have an idea of what you are shopping for, do your price research online before you go into the souk. That way you know the value of the items you are purchasing, and you can decide what you are prepared to pay (and stick to it!). This will help in your negotiations and being overcharged for an item. More than once I walked away from a sale to get the price I wanted to pay. Take nothing personally, be present, listen to your intuition and follow its lead.
Getting the Best Goods
Shopping in the souks of Morocco is very different than shopping in American flea markets. The craftspeople of Morocco make most of the traditional items available in the souks, and the items are mostly new. In markets of Morocco, like in the US, it is always ‘buyer beware.’ Check the quality of the merchandise: look for holes, damages and any repairs that are required. Be sure to ask the seller if there is anything wrong with the item. Most sellers are honest and will tell you when asked.
Insider’s Guide to Marrakesh
This a cook’s paradise with several locations in Marrakesh. They produce the most amazing traditional ceramic dishes, serving items, and Moroccan teas and spices.
33 Rue Majorelle
Located near Jardin Marjorelle, this is the best contemporary store in Marrakesh. Featuring a wide variety of goods from local designers and makers, you can find the latest caftans, jewelry, handbags, lighting, and home decor. They carry my favorite brand of Aragon Oil; a must buy and the cornerstone of a Moroccan beauty regimen.
Souk Cherifia is small courtyard souk with an interesting selection of high quality shops. The second floor is my favorite with clothing, cosmetics, a home store, and jewelry shop full of local designer treasures.
The ultimate Moroccan cement tile company, Popham Design is headquartered just outside of Marrakesh. A design lover’s dream, the showroom is open by appointment daily. If you are working on a design project that requires tile this is not to be missed. You will be awe struck by the beauty of the color combinations and patterns.
For first-time travelers to Marrakesh I adore El Fenn. It has the perfect amount of Moroccan hipness and luxury combined. With its artisan design elements such as Tadelakt, a lime plaster finish applied to the walls, Zillige tiles cover the stairs and floors in magical patterns, El Fenn is a decor lover’s fantasy. Plus, they have three pools, an in-house Hammam, super comfortable beds, a roof top restaurant to dine with the rising sun, and the most helpful staff.
For a short stay, I recommend the casual, easy going Yasmine. Whimsically decorated in Moroccan Bohemian style with boucherrouite rugs and textile pillows, they offer delicious food and a cute plunge pool in the center of the riad for an afternoon dip. Morning breakfast on the roof top is delicious and meant to be savored. Have your driver drop you right at the front door of the riad.
If you are longing for the romance of an off the grid Nomadic experience and a night under the stars, glamping in these luxury tents is your place. A 45-minute taxi ride from Marrakesh, this is a wonderful way to escape the hustle and bustle and settle into a tranquil state of mind and stargaze by the fire.
A secluded desert hideaway, the luxury private lodges at Le Pause are located just outside Marrakesh in the Agafay Desert. Designed as an oasis of privacy and intimacy, each lodge is spacious and elegantly designed and illuminated by candles and lanterns. Day tripping here is also an option, so consider going out to have lunch, wander through the olive groves, and indulge in some sun bathing and swimming.
Cindy’s Pro Packing Tips:
When I travel to Morocco I try to pack as little as possible as there is so much to buy and suitcase space is limited. Morocco is a Muslim country and I like to respect the traditions and dress in caftans or loose-fitting clothing and to be fully covered. Bring good walking shoes and anything you feel would add comfort, like a great hat or favorite cashmere scarf, and always pack a bathing suit. Check the weather before you go as it can get quite hot and cold depending on the time of the year.
This is a cafe where the local artists and musicians hang out and they serve delicious juices and food with music and art exhibitions in the evenings.
Known far and wide for its starry roof top dinners of modern Moroccan Cuisine, this restaurant is located near the spice square and the perfect place to watch the setting sun after a day of shopping the Souks.
True to its name, you can expect to be dining surrounded by the green luxury of this natural plant and palm oasis, which is located in the middle of the Medina and surrounded by the Souks. This is the perfect place to enjoy a long relaxing lunch of delicious French Moroccan Cuisine before heading back into the Souks.
Palais Jad Mahal
Think of a 1001 Arabian Nights come to life and you will be at Palais Jad Mahal. Human statues greet you at the front entrance of this restaurant, bar, and supper club with flaming trays of candelabra perched on their heads. This is the beginning of a fabulous evening of belly dancing, exotic floor show, delicious food, and drinks. It’s guaranteed to be an unforgettable evening.
SEE & DO
Marrakesh is known as the City of Gardens and this one, the garden and riad of Yves Saint Laurent, is a must-see oasis. Located in the center of the gardens is the famous Majorelle Blue villa and cactus garden, the Galerie Love featuring Saint Laurent’s paintings, and the Berber Museum and cafe. I suggest an early morning arrival (the cafe opens at 8:00am for breakfast) to savor the serene beauty before the tour buses arrive a 10:00 am.
Royal Mansour Spa
If you only have time for one Hammam experience on you trip, this is the one. Located at the Royal Mansour, the hotel itself is the creation of the King of Morocco, designed to delight the senses and built by the finest craftsmen in Morocco to showcase their mastery. If you only have a short amount of time, I also suggest pre-dinner cocktails at the Royal Mansour before a night on the town.
If time allows, a camel trek in the land of Kasbahs and Nomads is an incredible experience and a true adventure. It’s easy to book a three-night tour from your hotel in Marrakesh. On your journey you will cross the High Atlas Mountains and head south to the impressive Erg Chebbi Dunes. A night spent in the dunes under the milky way after a camel ride to your Nomad tent will expand your sense of beauty in every way.
Click here to shop House of Cindy’s global bohemian finds, including some of her treasures from Morocco.
All photos courtesy of House of Cindy.