From colonial to cool in Gueliz

Mandy Sinclair
Alamy Stock Photo

In a scattering of art deco buildings in Marrakech’s ville nouvelle put up during the French Protectorate from 1912 to 1956, contemporary designers and gallery owners are moving in. A villa turned concept shop complete with a garden for a coffee break sells modern Moroccan designs. Up the street, a gallery with an international focus occupies a sprawling deco edifice.

It’s not what you’d imagine when thinking of Marrakech — a city synonymous with souks, snake-charmers, mint tea and camel treks through the desert. After all, when the French arrived in the 1900s, General Hubert Lyautey planned to develop Marrakech as a destination for travellers seeking a taste of the “exotic”. Wandering through Gueliz today, remnants of old theatres that once hosted the likes of Jimi Hendrix and art deco hotels built during the 1930s are still visible.

Minutes from the medina where the local population resided, Gueliz was originally built for the city’s foreign inhabitants — complete with a church and chapel. Following Moroccan independence in 1956, however, locals began to move in. Today a new generation of creatives is helping to put Gueliz on the map for different reasons.

Art and glamour

Avenue Mohamed V is the neighbourhood’s main drag. Here you’ll find Galerie 127, Harti Gardens and the office of architects Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty, known for their designs of the nearby Grand Café de la Poste and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum.

On the corner of Rue de la Liberté and Rue de Yougoslavie, Hicham Daoudi, who founded the Marrakech Art Fair, has turned a former mining-company building into the Comptoir des Mines Galerie with exhibitions of modern Moroccan and international artists including works by Mariam Abouzid Souali and Mustapha Akrim. Across the street, the once glamorous Koutoubia Hotel stands vacant after a fire, but its Moorish deco façade remains.

Further along Rue de Yougoslavie is Kaftan Queen. Owned by Brit and former model Sarah Buchan, it’s the place to go for contemporary casual Moroccan clothing and accessories. The collection, made onsite, fuses Moroccan styles and skills with modern fabrics and shapes — think kaftans in subdued colours with embroidered belts and gandora gowns with beaded necklines for fancier occasions. It’s also a great place to pick up traditional babouche slippers embellished with colourful pompoms or semi-precious stones.

Interior designers Noémie Le Naour and Mathilde Lemoalle are behind SOME Slow Concept, an art deco villa given over to Moroccan-made goods blending ancestral artisanal skills with the latest design trends. In the kitchen, shelves are lined with preserves and spices; the lounge has furniture such as retro Acapulco chairs. There’s even a “basket bar” for signature wicker baskets: pick your size and style, then accessorise it with a leather handle and pompom. Upstairs, one room is filled with carpets, cushions and kilims.

All the edibles

There’s an extra treat in the SOME garden: cakes from Home-Made Coincidences. Owners Annabel Aiger and Sophia Bentaher travelled around 17 European countries learning to bake regional cakes including Romanian dovleac and Polish karpatka before settling down.

When hunger hits en route to the Majorelle Gardens, Le Petit Cornichon is a must. Owner Erwann Lance and chef Manaf El Bloul take an annual city break to European capitals to get inspiration for their seasonal lunch and dinner menus.

When cocktail hour hits, brothers Soufiane and Hamza Hadni shake up innovative drinks at trendy Baromètre. Local sourcing is the name of the game here: spices, fruits and even dried fruits infused in alcohol provide the basis for many of their cocktails, named after VIPs such as Winston Churchill and Jimi Hendrix. Order the Apothecary (vodka and gin with lemon, ginger, geranium honey and aromatic herbs) for a real shaking show.

Yet despite Gueliz’s newness there’s a feeling of nostalgia, taking coffee and pastries under the orange trees. As 1930s villas are replaced with multi-storey residences, it’s changing fast — yet Lyautey’s vision of the district as a place where East meets West lives on.

easyJet flies from Gatwick from £72 return. Riad Mazal in Gueliz has doubles from £76, B&B.