Find a dash of inspiration at Morocco’s new El Fenn boutique situated inside Vanessa Branson’s charming 28-room hotel.
Awash with a vibrant glow, Marrakesh, Morocco, has long been muse and home to some of the world’s most creative minds. Think Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, whose Jardin Majorelle, a 12-acre botanical compound, holds court in the heart of the city. There’s Marisa Berenson’s colorful oasis, Paloma Picasso’s pared-down pad in the city’s Palmeraie area and Serge Lutens’ home just a few minutes away.
Channon and Bianca Roe, the husband-and-wife team behind Ojai’s lifestyle shop In The Field, were recently drawn to the North African oasis for a buying trip. In addition to one-of-a-kind market discoveries (all of which can now be found at their boutique), the couple returned inspired and refreshed.
Home base was El Fenn. The private estate was all but in ruins when it was brought back to life in 2004 by art curator Vanessa Branson (sister of Richard Branson) and partner Howell James. Each of the 28 rooms features art from Vanessa’s personal collection and is individually decorated in rich, colorful Moroccan fashion.
From there, day trips were made to Jardin Majorelle to experience the brooks, ponds, garden paths and exotic plants. They also toured the historical site of Ben Youssef Madrasa, which was built as a theological college around the 15th century—famous for its distinctive architecture, exquisite carvings and stuccowork and painted tiles.
Morocco is known for its cuisine, and it’s easy to be partial to Nomad, located in the spice quarter, with its fusion fare and rooftop views. Here, they also found simple, yet modern, locally made ceramic dishes, tagines and platters that In The Field imported and is now carrying. Across from Jardin Majorelle is a food, art and retail gallery, Kaowa, that serves fresh juice and vegetarian food. And for a taste of both European and Moroccan fare, the duo also favored Le Jardin, set in a romantic, hidden jungle courtyard in the heart of the medina.
And, of course, there’s shopping. Bianca jokes, “Rugs in Morocco are like seagulls on a beach! But it’s like finding a pearl when you find that perfect rug.” Each quarter has its specialty: fabric, leather, metal goods and, of course, the rug quarter. Opened last month, El Fenn now has a lifestyle store named after the hotel, co-curated by one of fashion’s greats, Women Management founder Paul Rowland, and hotel general manager and interior designer Willem Smit, who both live in Marrakesh. El Fenn’s store, which will double as a 35-person sit-down restaurant and bar with street access, stocks individual designers as well as vintage clothing and accessories, handmade luxury leather goods, jewelry, blankets and cushions from the Atlas Mountains, all in keeping with the property and its tony aesthetic.
Off the beaten track, the Roes explored outside of the medina, too, where many crafts are manufactured. A favorite was Akbar Delights, a specialty store that makes embroidered kaftans and resort-wear for women.
After a long day treasure hunting, the ultimate romantic relaxation is the spa at the Royal Mansour hotel, which has long been touted as the best traditional hammam in the city. Obtaining a day pass to the Beldi Country Club’s pool and spa is also a welcome treat. The Roes will be soon be importing Beldi’s glassware, from the club’s own souk, one of the few places where glass is handblown and made the old-fashioned way.
“A truly captivating experience,” Bianca says of their Marrakesh trip. “The ancient city, the muezzin’s call to prayer, the colors! It was like a dream.” el-fenn.com; inthefieldojai.com. • AMELIA FLEETWOOD
Edited by JENNY MURRAY.