El Bahia: A Culinary Journey Through Moroccos Imperial Cities

El Bahia: A Culinary Journey Through Moroccos Imperial Cities

Rediscovering the Charm of Marrakech

The first time I visited Marrakech, I have to admit, I wasn’t quite taken by the city’s charms. Arriving at my hotel in the heart of the bustling medina, the old fortified town center, was a bit of a shock to the system, especially after experiencing the easy pace of life up in the glorious Atlas Mountains. The labyrinthine narrow streets were lined with hawkers, pulling and grabbing, their relentless requests to visit their shops tumbling out one after the other. I fell into every trap imaginable – from being guided the long way around for a few dirhams to being pestered for a higher tip, to being fooled into overpaying for silver earrings in the souks. By the end of that trip, I had vowed never to set foot in Marrakech again.

However, two years later, there I was, happily gulping down a freshly squeezed orange juice on the main Djemaa el-Fna square. The sun beat down overhead, the breeze taking the edge off the heat, and the din of music, the clip of horse-drawn carriages, and the laughter of children running around provided the perfect backdrop. As I meandered through the sleepy souks, the hawkers and vendors stayed surprisingly quiet, almost as if under a spell, knowing that I was close to returning to their beloved city.

Discovering the Hidden Gems of Marrakech

After exploring the main sights, including the Bahia Palace, Saadian Tombs, and the Medersa Ben Youssef Quranic school, I found myself drawn to a smaller, stall-free medina within the medina, bordered by the high, freshly painted terracotta walls of the Royal Palace. It was here that I stumbled upon my hotel, the Riad Goloboy – a hip, contemporary riad, painted in the iconic electric blue that Yves Saint Laurent used at the nearby Majorelle Gardens.

As described in the Forbes article, the Riad Goloboy is a quiet hideaway with a wonderfully laid-back atmosphere, just a short walk from the bustling medina. The highlight of the riad, apart from the delicious all-organic local cuisine, is the rooftop terrace, boasting 360-degree views of the Koutoubia mosque, the majestic snow-capped Atlas Mountains, and the grand olive gardens of the neighboring palace hotel, La Mamounia.

Indulging in Moroccan Opulence

For those seeking a more high-end sanctuary to unwind in between sightseeing, Marrakech has plenty of options, from the large five-star chain hotels to the hundreds of riads within the medina. My personal favorites lie just around the corner from the Royal Palace, like the small boutique five-star Villa des Orangers, with its rooftop pool and smart, updated Moroccan interiors, and the Jardins de la Koutoubia, a larger boutique option with a modern yet local-style decor and a large outdoor pool as the centerpiece.

But if you really want to experience Moroccan opulence at its finest, the two rival palace hotels, the traditional La Mamounia and the sumptuous Royal Mansour, are undoubtedly the places to be seen. As described in the Forbes article, the Royal Mansour, with its tumble of courtyards and water features, offers large, opulent individual riads that provide all the privacy guests might desire. Each delectable dish at the hotel’s French Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alleno’s La Grande Table Marocaine restaurant is served on the finest china and polished silver platters by pristinely dressed, white-gloved staff, helping to immerse you in the truly opulent surroundings.

Exploring Marrakech’s Natural Wonders

While the opulent palace hotels and riads offer a luxurious respite, no visit to Marrakech would be complete without exploring the city’s natural wonders. One of the must-visit destinations is the Jardin Majorelle, the bewitching botanical haven restored by none other than Yves Saint Laurent himself. As described in the Forbes article, the garden is planted with over 300 plant species from five continents and offers a wonderful break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

After strolling through the oversized bamboo forest and the wonderfully shaped cacti, I visited the Berber Museum in the Majorelle blue building, which provided an easy introduction to Marrakech’s Berber roots. The highlight for me was the mysterious octagonal mirrored chamber, lit only by a wave of twinkling lights mimicking the desert night sky above.

Indulging in Moroccan Relaxation

No trip to Marrakech would be complete without a visit to the renowned Four Seasons spa, located just around the corner from the Royal Palace. As mentioned in the Forbes article, the spa is light, bright, and emanates an instantly infectious, relaxing ambiance. I indulged in the two-hour signature Hammam Ritual, which began with a traditional Moroccan steam bath to open my pores, followed by an exfoliating scrub to get rid of dead skin. Next, my entire body was wrapped in a detoxifying seaweed ghassoul mask by the expert spa therapist. After being steamed and scrubbed, I was led to a sumptuous massage room for an hour-long deep body massage that left me feeling utterly rejuvenated.

Connecting with Moroccan Culture

While Marrakech’s opulent hotels, luxurious spas, and stunning natural landscapes are certainly alluring, the true heart of the city lies in its vibrant culture and heritage. That’s why, during my trip, I made sure to venture beyond the tourist traps and immerse myself in the local way of life.

One of the highlights was a visit to the Djemaa el-Fna, the main square and cultural heart of Marrakech, where locals flock to be entertained by snake charmers, storytellers, acrobats, and more. As the sun set, I wandered through the lively food stalls, taking in the sights, sounds, and, of course, the tantalizing aromas of Moroccan cuisine.

The Smithsonian Journeys article also highlighted the importance of exploring Marrakech’s historic sites, such as the beautiful El Bahia Palace and the Saadian Tombs, as well as venturing into the bustling souks to witness the timeless trades of local artisans. These immersive cultural experiences truly helped me to connect with the heart and soul of this vibrant city.

Discovering Morocco’s Imperial Cities

Of course, Marrakech is just one of Morocco’s fascinating imperial cities. As the Collette Vacations article suggests, exploring the imperial cities of Meknes, Fez, and Rabat is also a must-do for any visitor to Morocco.

Meknes, with its original fortifications and the stunning Royal Stables, is a testament to the country’s rich history. Meanwhile, the ancient city of Fez is a true feast for the senses, with its legendary souks, magnificent mosques, and artisans plying their timeless trades. And in Rabat, the capital city, visitors can discover the Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world and a stunning tribute to traditional Moorish architecture.

By immersing myself in the diverse cultural and historical tapestry of Morocco’s imperial cities, I gained a deeper appreciation for the country’s unique heritage and the enduring impact of its rich culinary traditions. And of course, no visit to Morocco would be complete without a stop at El Bahia, the Moroccan restaurant in New York City that has been transporting diners to the heart of these imperial cities through its authentic flavors and warm hospitality.


My journey through Morocco’s imperial cities has been a true revelation. From the opulent grandeur of Marrakech’s palace hotels to the captivating natural beauty of the Jardin Majorelle, and the immersive cultural experiences of the Djemaa el-Fna and the historic souks, I’ve been completely captivated by the country’s rich tapestry of traditions and flavors.

And as I reflect on my time in Morocco, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to connect with this vibrant and fascinating destination. It’s a place that has truly left an indelible mark on my heart and soul, and I know that I’ll be returning to explore its wonders time and time again.

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