What a Carrie on: Marrakesh just got hotter

A new Sex and the City film makes Morroco an even more popular destination


Star turn: the gazebo at the Nikki Beach Club which features in the SATC2 trailer

Star turn: the gazebo at the Nikki Beach Club which features in the SATC2 trailer

It's no surprise to hear that Sarah Jessica Parker and her co-stars were spotted running riot with their wallets in Marrakesh recently while filming scenes for Sex and the City2. This most exotic of Moroccan cities is one of the great shopping meccas of the world, as well as a great place to dine, to steam in a hammam, to enjoy the local entertainment or to just generally hang out.

Now one can add a new diversion - following in the elegant footsteps of the Blahnik'd four around the hotspots. Ironically, to enjoy Marrakesh to the max, you really need comfortable shoes and, of course, lodgings which match your comfort zone.

This could rule out, as it did for the stars of SATC2, bedding down anywhere in the Medina, the bustling old town with the astonishing Djma el Fnaa at its heart. 

This vast square is packed to the gills with henna-painters, story-tellers, musicians and snake-charmers, not to mention date-sellers and orange-juice vendors. As night advances they are joined, from dusk till midnight, by several dozen mobile restaurateurs who turn the place into a giant alfresco restaurant whose wares include lots of good salads and bread.

It's a thrilling scene, and until recently one that tourists were reluctant to turn their backs on when the lights went out. For the past decade, riads - the tradtitional townhouses built around cool, tranquil courtyards - have been all the rage, offering a tranquil home-from-home with all mod cons within the Medina itself.

But now contemporary boutique hotels, such as the stylish Bab and, indeed, modern riads, have reached the New Town, which has the sleepy, languid charm of a retro South of France - and the best shops.

Gentler souls may prefer a perch here - or in the Palmeraie date oasis 15 minutes out of town - to dodging, on a daily basis, the noise, dust and donkey-carts of the Medina.

Winston Churchill and other legendary figures of the early 20th century got around the Old Town vs New Town conundrum by lodging at La Mamounia, a New Town hotel on the edge of the Medina. 

One of the world's great hotels, it recently reopened after a multi-million-pound refurbishment and Sarah Jessica was one of the first guests in.

She stayed in one of the hotel's own riads, closeted within its magnificent private gardens, which are always worth a stroll.

Then take tea and Moroccan pastries in the elegant lobby lounge which retains a sense of the art deco which formerly pervaded the whole hotel. 

Rooms are now traditionally Moroccan in style - for which read heavy with dark wood - and eye-wateringly expensive. But booking through tour operators makes them just about affordable for a special treat. Conversely, for riads, visitors are best to book direct and make their own low-cost flight arragements.

Kim Cattrall and Kristin Davies chose to stay at Amanjena, the celebs' choice of the past decade. You'll see its pink sandstone domes in the movie, but this resort is generally a very private place of pink pavilions surrouned by great bodies of green water - mostly ornamental, given the profusion of private pools scattered around. 

In-room goodies include burnooses - full-length Moroccan hoodies under which guests like to hide when taking dinner in the grounds. Another pricey option, Amanjena is also shlep from both the Old Town souks and New Town boutiques - though they have a brilliant shopping list and take guests wherever they wish by air-conditioned limo.

This shopping list - actually a list of great shops - may be how the Sex and the City stars wound up at Place Vendome, the luscious, Jewish-owned leather shop in the New Town. The couple who own this also own the charming boutique L'Orientaliste, just down the street - and also on the Amanjena list. 

It sells lovely native perfumes made from orange blossom and other heady scents as well as made-to-order blousons crafted from the same buttersoft-leather as Place Vendome's enviably soft handbags. After hot-footing it there from their luxe billet, the girls went up the road to Birkemeyer, the the most famous leather emporium in Marrakesh, known for its Hermes-inspired knotted suede shawls and killer leather jackets.

Carpets and lanterns are both associated more closely with the souks which feature in the film, but very fine versions of the art of both the weaver and the metal-worker are on display in the New Town, and the trade-off for the higher charge is superior workmanship and divine, original design. Penelope Cruz, a SATC2 guest star, longed to view the fabulous brasswork of Yahya, a Brit who went native and switched from running London nightclubs to designing fabulously intricate lanterns and other objects designed to throw thrilling shadows.  

Like Harrods and Neiman-Marcus, Cruz was turned away as Yahya closed his showroom (and his order books) in order to concentrate on bespoke orders from individuals. But now an expanded gallery is open and definitely worth a visit for the deep-pocketed.

Those who want to eat as well as shop in the New Town will find good French food with rather bad French live music at Villa Rosa, and okay Moroccan food with exuberant belly-dancers at Le Comptoir, one of Marrakesh's buzziest institutions.

Be warned, though - if you book a table for much earlier than 9.30pm, you may be through with dinner before the show begins. 

Hot spots in the Old Town include Le Foundouk, where Kim Cattrall was spotted sipping a pina colada or three. It has good vibes but indifferent food. Carrie & co. would have done better at Dar Moha, where a Swiss-trained, Moroccan chef serves excellent fusion cuisine around the swimming pool in Pierre Balmaiin's old home. 

Yacout, home of a former honorary British ambassador, is the place for a blow-out Moroccan feast in the most opulent of surroundings, with rose-filled fountains and haunting Gnaoui music setting the scene.

With exotic fare, enviable souvenirs and veritable palaces to sleep in, about the only obvious tourist attraction that Marrakesh lacks is a beach. Now even that has been brought to town by Nikki Beach, the Miami outfit which is colonising the coolest inland pockets of the world with a beach club experience.

Here, among the desert date trees of the Palmeraie, are blue water, swim-up bars and the fabulous draped gazebo featured in the SATC2 trailer. Reservations are essential to circumvent the door policy in place to keep out the riff-raff - though hen parties are always welcome.

It's worth mentioning one lovely place too public for movie stars to visit, but not to be missed by ordinary mortals. The Majorelle gardens were an artist's vision, maintained until his death, by Yves St Laurent. With their tranquil pathways and greenery punctuated by vibrant cobalt, lemon-yellow and lavender-blue planters,  they are a visual joy not to be missed.

Always best enjoyed without the crowds, the gardens are good to explore late in the afternoon, when, with luck, the garden will be near-deserted. Outside, horse-driven caleches stand ready to take tourists for a gentle trot around the rose-bush lined, terracotta city walls, whose glow deepens from umber to scarlet as the sun gently sets. A ride like this ends a perfect day in a near perfect tourist city, which movie stars with privacy issues could never enjoy anywhere near much as ordinary visitors who have no need to hide themselves away.

Getting there

Kuoni (01306 747008. www.kuoni.co.uk) offers four nights b&b at La Mamounia including flights and transfers from £1,185 per person (based on two sharing). Ryanair (www.ryanair.com); easyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Atlas Blue (www.royalairmaroc.com) offer low-cost departures from Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh and Nottingham as well as London (Luton and Gatwick). More information at www.marrakech.travel; 020 7437 0073

Jewish Marrakesh

Jews have been in Marrakesh since the destruction of the Second Temple, and there are several old synagogues and a Jewish cemetery within the “mellah” established in the Medina in the 16th century.  A small modern community thrives in the New Town, which has three or four synagogues and a kosher restaurant, Le Viennois, within the Pullman le Mansour Eddhabi Hotel on the Avenue de France.

    Last updated: 1:50pm, July 19 2010