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Shades of Morocco

Throughout the cities, beaches, deserts and mountains of this North African country, a visual feast awaits the curious traveler. It’s a place where traditional and modern moments are awash in an ocean of color. Extreme geography and diverse populations lend Morocco a Technicolor palette. Lush mountainscapes and cactus-studded deserts introduce fresh greens that contrast with the calm blue sea and azure stucco. Carpets saturated with ruby dyes from the Tanners’ Quarter in Fez layer across ochre floors in the casbahs. Every street delivers a deluge of color that embodies the character of the country—and offers a new way to discover it.

Blue
There’s nothing random about the blissful blue medina of Chefchaouen, known as the Blue City, built in the Middle Ages in the Rif Mountains in northwest Morocco. Evoking all the freshness of the nearby sea, this calm blue stain was once said to both attract merchants and repel insects.

Intense blue tones repeat themselves across the country. Visiting the Atlas Mountains a century ago, French painter Jacques Majorelle was so entranced by the blue of the sky that he spent years perfecting it for his masterpiece, Majorelle Garden: a villa just outside the old city walls of Marrakech.


The Majorelle Garden’s Berber Museum

The blue is found in the city of Essaouira on the Atlantic Coast, its buildings and walkways awash in blue and white, and on the water itself, being adopted by fishermen, who use it to paint their humble boats here and in places like Rabat and Taghazout—both cities that will see new Fairmont properties open in 2019. The color is also popular with designers of opulent interiors, like those responsible for the serene palette that welcomes you into Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech. Shades of blue also hold significance in art history, and artists like Moroccan painter André Elbaz have created works dedicated to the hue. His indigo painting El Jadida can be found in Rabat’s Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.


The blue-washed exterior of Chefchaouen’s old medina

Green
The brilliant greens of Morocco appear without warning: a forest of succulents off the shoulder of a desolate drive, a rendezvous of palms fanning out over an oasis as you cut across a corner of the Sahara Desert outside Ouarzazate to Tinghir. On the outskirts of Marrakech, plant-lovers will delight in the splendor of Africa’s largest cacti nursery, Cactus Thiemann. The more than 150 varieties here punctuate the desert like jade jewels in the sand.


Cactus Thiemann farm

Green is also found in the jewel-toned suede of the handbag you’ve been coveting at Tribal Chic in the Marrakech souk and in the mint tea you sip at Marrakech’s Restaurant Le Jardin. Or at Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech, take in the verdant shades from a hot-air balloon over the oasis-like golf course. Find it, too, in the cool, glossy-green ceramic tile designs around the country, from the roof of Fez’s University of Al Quaraouiyine to stunning doors in the medina of Asilah on the Atlantic coast, a perfect place to pause.

Green has a way of popping up at every corner and nook—and will insert itself front and center in your photos. It’s photogenic that way.


Mint tea at Restaurant Le Jardin in Marrakech; an artisan sifts henna powder in Fez’s henna souk

Red
When the Yves Saint Laurent Museum opened in Marrakech in 2017, the sprawling new building played up the natural tones of the Moroccan earth. The interlocking terracotta brick exterior recalls sunbaked roads, ripe pomegranates, clay tagines hot with stew and rock formations like those at Legzira Beach.


Moroccan rugs hanging in the Marrakech medina

Morocco’s trademark red is easy to pinpoint, infused as it is with shades of cinnamon, saffron and harissa, spices found in markets all across the country. It is the dominant tone used by rug-makers to create kilim rugs that hang on every available wall in the Marrakech souk. It is also a color associated with the fine leather exported to Europe as early as the late 16th century in the form of luxury book bindings. The rich shade was also chosen for the men’s changing room at Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech’s Golf Country Club.

Take a piece of it home in the form of a red-tinted glass light shade, a bundle of hand-dyed wool, or a glazed tagine from one of the ceramics markets in Rabat.


The men’s changing room at Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech’s Golf Country Club

Yellow
When stirred into a traditional rice pilaf, Morocco’s native saffron adopts a most satisfying yellow stain. And a generous smear of local honey brings out the flaxen hue of the wood-fired semolina bread, a hearty meal for pennies. Now imagine an entire region blanketed in those striking shades and you’ve got Erg Chebbi, the sand dunes unfurling outside Merzouga, near the Algerian border.


Semolina bread on sale in Rabat; stunning Moroccan craftsmanship at the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail in Meknès

This deep golden yellow packs the punch of an autumn sunset in coastal Taghazout, as the surfers pull down their wetsuits and crack open a cold drink. It radiates from the intricately patterned brass gates at Dar el-Makhzen, the palace of King Mohammed VI in Fez. An hour away in Meknès, another of Morocco’s imperial cities, you’ll spot it at the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, a symbol of Morocco’s cultural renaissance. Marvel at the workmanship—nothing but the finest for Meknès’s founding father—and wonder how such a hot color can be so completely cool.


Morocco’s Erg Chebbi sand dunes, part of the Sahara Desert

Pink
At dusk, just as other cities are fading to grey, Aït Benhaddou turns a vibrant flamingo pink. An ancient fortified city on the caravan route to the Sahara, it has served as a backdrop to spirited adventure movies such as Gladiator.


The mud brick city of Aït Benhaddou

This sunset pink is a phenomenon that is found across the country, from the medina in Marrakech, where wafts of barbecue smoke from makeshift restaurants in Jemaa el-Fnaa square obscure the pinkish ramparts, to the Tinmel Mosque deep in the Atlas Mountains.

If you could bottle that aura, it would smell of the sweet pink roses native to the Asif M’Goun River in Morocco’s fertile Vallée des Roses. To get there take a six-hour drive from Marrakech. May is the best time, when the annual Rose Festival lures merchants from the villages to sell scented rose oils and fete you with floral garlands


A woman gathers petals in the Vallée des Roses

 

By Ellen Himelfarb, Elio Iannacci, Kelly Stock and Doug Wallace

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