A Choosy Shopper’s Guide to Marrakesh

A Choosy Shopper’s Guide to Marrakesh
Illustration: WENJIA TANG

YOU’VE HEARD the stories of shopkeepers who’ll chase you down the street, of guides whose sole aim is to get you into their cousin’s carpet shop where you’ll need to haggle over every last dollar (or dirham) in a sweat-soaked nightmare. Who can blame you for eyeing a trip to Marrakesh with a little trepidation? But armed with a few insider tips, you can navigate the knotted souks of the Medina, the city’s oldest quarter, like a pro, while finding welcome respite in the newer, leafier neighborhood of Gueliz—an oasis of calm and fixed price tags.

1. Roam if you want to.

When storming the shops of the walled Medina quarter, resist random guides. Don’t allow some deceptively charming young man to talk you into letting him “show you around for free.” Invariably, he’ll insist on a tip. Either venture out on your own—you’ll never get dangerously lost and shopkeepers can help point you in the right direction—or sign up for a bespoke, small-group, guided walking tour. Try Tasting Marrakesh for a food crawl (tasting-marrakech.com), or Marrakesh Insiders if you’re into vintage motorbikes and sidecars (marrakechinsiders.com).

2. Make a deal, delicately.

Haggling is an art, but author and veteran haggler Tahir Shah maintains that there’s a surefire way to emerge a winner: “Don’t draw attention to the object you desperately want as you move through a shop. Be nonchalant,” said Mr. Shah. “Rather than wax lyrical about it, dismiss it for being the wrong size or shape for your needs. Ask the price almost as an afterthought. If it’s too high, thank the shopkeeper and amble slowly from his emporium and away down the street. Chances are, he’ll beg you to come back and the object will be yours for a fraction of the first asking price.”

3. Avoid rug burn.

The salesmen in the main carpet souk on the Rahba Kehdima are infamously pushy and the quality of their wares varies widely. Head instead to Ben Rahal in Gueliz for antique rugs (benrahalart.com) or Soufiane—whose delightful flagship store is at Dar el Bacha in the Medina—for contemporary pieces. Said Ismael Zarib of Soufiane, “We realized several years ago that demand was outstripping supply so we now employ around 1,800 women around the country to make new carpets.” (facebook.com/soufiane.zarib)

4. Hip hop.

When you’ve had your fill of Moroccan poufs and copper lanterns and all the other same-old, same-old wares, seek out one of the growing number of hip concept stores where the quality tends to be high and the prices are fixed. One of the pioneers, 33 Rue Majorelle—in the Gueliz neighborhood across from Majorelle Gardens—sells everything from flamboyant babouches to crocheted lanterns (33ruemajorelle.com). Tucked away in the Medina, Max & Jan stocks cultish, striped jumpsuits by Marrakshi Life and funky tableware (maxandjan.com), and not too far away, the newly opened Shtatto is home to high-level local designers and a rooftop cafe. Farther afield, it’s worth a trip out to the industrial quarter of Sidi Ghanem to visit LRNCE, whose handmade homewares double as art (lrnce.com, by appointment).

5. Cab cautiously.

Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki of the popular blog marocmama.com offered a few tips to make the ride a little easier: ”Before getting a taxi make sure you have small bills and coins so that you don’t face the ’I don’t have any change’ ploy. Always ask the driver to use the contour, or meter. If they insist it’s broken, wait for another taxi, or consider walking. Often times, it’s just as easy (or easier)—especially in the Medina area where cars are mostly off limits anyway.”

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