During the day, Marrakesh’s famous Djemaa El Fna square is filled with monkey trainers, snake charmers and stands selling the most delicious orange juice you’ve ever tried. At night, it hosts the best Berber storytellers in Morocco, magicians and countless steaming food stalls.
Flickr user Sylvia Wrigley took this emblematic photo of the historic market place. It captures restaurateurs selling “delicacies from a sheep’s head” and “cake” to locals and “couscous and skewered lamb” to tourists. You can practically smell the grilling through your screen.
In Morocco, the indigenous people are Berbers, and their traditional architecture uses rammed Earth and wood. Aside from in big cities, the Berber-style is plentiful across the country. While this rooted design may be popular, however, the country has never seen it done in a modern and luxurious way – until now.
At the end of March, Max Lawrence opened a brand new experiential hotel, Chez Max. Located 45 minutes outside of Marrakech, this all-inclusive catered villa is offered exclusively through Lawrence’s company, Lawrence of Morocco. The property takes principles of Berber building techniques and infuses them with dramatic effects and trendy accents. For example, while Berber rooms are customarily long, low and narrow, Chez Max features squared or curved rooms with high ceilings, giving them more space and light.
“Normal Berber properties are built around the Islamic principle that strangers and prying eyes cannot look in, but the problem is that this means you can’t look out, either,” explains Lawrence. “But Chez Max is able to flaunt that rule, and offers views for kilometers, over the local hamlets towards the hills, from inside and from its terraces.”
While this is the designer’s third Moroccan property, the style of hotel is one-of-a-kind in the country. Along with the tradition and luxury infusion, the property works to help guests feel completely at home. For example, the housekeeper, Saida, makes sure the rooms are tidy and also prepares delicious home-cooked cuisine. Additionally, there is no bill to pay on departure, as the designers do not want to intrude on the peaceful and relaxed feeling of the villa.
“There’s absolutely nothing else like this in Morocco,” says Lawrence. “Other Berber impersonations aren’t nearly as stylish or dramatic, nor are they situated in a such a quiet spot in the country, but within easy reach of Marrakech.”
Back in July, Gadling published an entertaining Q&A with the very lively Tamara Reynolds. Since then, the Forking Fantastic team has been swept up in a media whirl. Ms. Reynolds can be seen on several upcoming episodes of Unique Eats on the Cooking Channel and both Tamara and Zora were featured in the New York episode of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s American Road Trip.
The Brown & Hudson tour takes in Marrakech, the Ourika Valley, and Essaouira. The tour runs from May 28, 2011 through June 4, 2011. A three-night Fez add-on option is also available.
Hanging out with the Forking Fantastic ladies in Morocco doesn’t come cheap. Brown & Hudson has priced the tour at £3,495 ($5520) per person based on a 16-person tour and on a double occupancy basis. The single supplement is £685 ($1080).
iPod docking stations are so last year. Today, hotels are making a more concerted effort to upgrade their guest rooms and common areas with the newest technology that keeps guests connected, educated, and often times inspired, during their stay. While many hotels bring in iPads to keep their guests entertained, other hotels are getting super-sexy with some unique high-tech initiatives.
Check out the Royal Mansour in Marrakech. The property was created completely by Moroccan artisans and craftsman trained in the traditional arts of carving, silk weaving, and mosaics, but the hotel added cutting-edge technology throughout. For example, every guest room has a touch screen wall that enables guests to control lighting and temperature levels (tres chic!) and in case you tire of the personal butler service (although we can’t imagine why you would,) there is a ‘Do Not Disturb’ button on your wall for ultimate privacy.
Guest rooms at Pavillon des Lettres in Paris are perfect for the aspiring storyteller. Opening this autumn, Pavillon des Lettres is a small 26-room upscale hotel with a novel idea: guest rooms that are devoted to a letter of the alphabet that corresponds with a famous writer. (Think: H for Hugo or B for Balzac.) Passages from the writer’s books will appear above the bed and a hard copy of the book can be found on the nightstand. C’est magnifique! Closer to home, the quaint New England island of Nantucket is getting into the high-tech crazy. Nantucket Island Resorts offers Flip Video Camcorders for guests to use at each property, so you can record the sunsets, the hikes, the storms and the endless display of Nantucket baskets that parade around the island every summer. (Hint from this New Englander: Grab a seat at the White Elephant at sunset and capture the boats coming into the dock – it’s one of the best, and most unique, New England moments). You can enter a one-minute video clip in the Flip Out on Nantucket Sweepstakes for the chance to win a grand prize Nantucket vacation worth $15,000.
We couldn’t do a post about high-tech hotels without mentioning one of the newest and techiest hotels to hit the New York scene: Andaz Wall Street and the newly opened Andaz 5th Avenue. Thanks to technology, guests skip the front-desk altogether and use mobile tablets to check in with the hotel’s floating ‘hosts’. Have a rough day? Enjoy a glass of wine while you check-in. In a hurry? Check-in from the elevator on the way to your room. Guests just swipe their credit cards and a room key is created on the spot. Genius!
Gadling readers: What new technology would you like to see in hotels?
Shoppers of all kinds will fall in love with the places that made this list of the top 20 cities for shopping. Whether you live nearby or are planning a trip, this list offers places ideal for anyone in need of some retail therapy.
New Orleans, Louisiana The French Quarter and Bourbon Street are only the starting point in the unique shopping destinations you’ll find in New Orleans. Stroll the French Market and pick up vibrant art from street vendors, or dash down a side street and discover one of the many galleries and specialty shops that sell one-of-a-kind items. This is also where you’ll find all manner of New Orleans themed clothing, voodoo dolls, postcards, and other tourist finds.
After exploring The Quarter, head to Magazine Street, where many of the city’s college students and young professionals flock. If treasures for the home are what you are looking for, then trek to Aux Belles Choses, a “shabby-chic” shop where the owners hand-pick each addition to their store. For the hottest fashions, try Buffalo Exchange and Funky Monkey, where hip fashionistas trade in their old clothes for new outfits and accessories. Be on the lookout for the latest trends and vintage frocks and accessories.Toronto, Canada
I love the the Distillery District, a pedestrian mall and historical district where a number of Toronto’s emerging artists and designers have shops. Tour the works of art at one of Thomas Landry Gallery’s two locations or browse rack after rack of denim masterpieces at Lileo. Peruse the collections of artists like Wendy Walgate, who create pieces with deep meaning out of familiar materials.
Established in 1975, Courage My Love is a Bohemian shopping mecca and is where Hollywood stylists and starlets flock to accessorize. It’s like looking through a friend’s closet, if the closet just happened to take up an entire store. If luxury is more your style, then make tracks to Zenobia, where a personal shopper will compile a perfect wardrobe for you. Your Zenobia representative will help you craft your style months in advance then have your pieces tailored in season.
The pomp and ceremony at Mitsukoshi is incredible. Founded in the 17th Century, this Japanese department store chain has the most outstanding customer service I have ever seen. Here you can find everything from traditional Japanese garb to gardening tools. Visit the main store in the Nihombashi District or one of the other buildings placed conveniently throughout the city. Another historical and traditional store is Kyukyodo, which sells stationary and writing supplies. Here, even sheets of paper can be works of art.
Boston is a city of American prestige and history. While you are here, take in the sights and enjoy the city’s luxuries. At Firestone and Parson, you can find fine exquisite antique estate jewelry and silver as as well as new baubles. Louis Boston is one of the world’s premier sellers of fine clothing. The staff is second to none, and they go the extra mile to get to know their customers. They will work with you to ensure your new wardrobe matches the current fashion climate and your own personal style. While you are in town, design a custom handbag at Lill Studio or, if you don’t have the time, browse their ready-made collection. This innovative store makes shopping an affair to remember.
For Western travelers, Morocco is an exotic and exciting shopping destination. This is why the winding streets around Marrakesh’s Djamaa El Fna Square, with its labyrinth of treasures, plus its hustlers and haggling shopkeepers, is a must see. For a dizzying array of local and international herbs and spices, visit Herboriste du Paradis.
Beijing is a flourishing shopping city set in the shadow of the iconic Great Wall. You can visit the traditional night market and pick up the usual tourist trinkets, but it’s the quiet cultural revolution taking place here that really gets me excited. China’s art scene is exploding, and I’ve found that it’s easier than ever to find works by contemporary Chinese artists. Formerly a state owned factory district, the 798 Art District is an amazing collection of designer boutiques and galleries, where you can find everything from pop art to chic designer clothing. It is breathtaking to see how the artists-in-residence have transformed and divided their space.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi is a land of luxury and excess for travelers. Enjoy the modern feel and energetic nightlife, but I would suggest visiting shops with a more local feel. Al Motahajiba sells traditional head scarves and Muslim dress, but you can also find glamorous party dresses and formal wear. Some of these dresses will leave you breathless (but so might the price tags). And, if you truly want to experience Middle Eastern luxury at its best, shop at The Paris Gallery, where you will find traditional perfumes and exclusive luxury products.
Mumbai is a bustling, busy, and sometimes dirty city. My favorite shopping destination was Mangadalas Market, where there are plenty of bargains on everything from textiles to clothing, both modern and traditional. This is a great place to find accent pieces (and fabrics to make your own) for your home. Women should definitely check out Naina’s, where you can order customized saris. And, Cottage Industries Emporium has an unbelievable selection of crafts made by skilled Indian artisans.
Tahiti, French Polynesia
For me, Tahiti is THE place to buy pearls. You can find the natural marvels in every shape, color, and size. At Te Tevake Creations, carved mother of pearl and natural pearls are used in exquisite jewelry combinations. Robert Wan offers pearl jewelry in distinctive designs. If you’re looking for more traditional arts and crafts to prove you were here, try the market Le Marche.
Istanbul is full of fascinating bazaars and traditional retailers. I loved navigating the stalls at The Grand Bazaar, even though I only got to experience a handful of the loud, bustling marketplace. It has more than 4,000 shops and was established in the 15th Century. The Spice Bazaar is much smaller, but the selection of edible treasures in the form of spices, teas, and more is dizzying. And, at Melda Silverware, the traditional silver is simply stunning.
Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, Hawaii
I stumbled upon the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, while searching for a place to buy sandals and I ended up spending hours there. Besides having almost 300 popular stores, the indoor/outdoor setup of the Ala Moana Center provides the ideal environment for both enjoying the Hawaiian heat and cooling off.
Chinatown in Seattle, Washington
Having visited the Chinatown districts of many cities, it’s safe to say that Seattle’s International District beats them all. Besides the shopping, it offers numerous art galleries, restaurants and bars. The Venus Karaoke bar is a must for experiencing karaoke the traditional Asian way, in a private room without strangers watching as you belt out a tune.
Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix, Arizona
As I strolled around the Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was walking in a stunning desert park. It’s a place where you can easily spend an entire day. After visiting the shops, I enjoyed an outdoor dinner as I watched the sun set. After the meal I relaxed and painted pottery at the As You Wish Pottery Painting Place, and played video games at Dave & Buster’s while waiting for it to be finished.
Georgetown Flea Market in Washington, DC The Georgetown Flea Market is perfect for bargain hunters searching for vintage items. Perusing the market is half the fun, rummaging through the antique pieces wondering what you will find. I was lucky enough to come across 3 vintage 1950′s dresses, all for a discounted price significantly lower than anyplace else I have purchased them in the past.
Greenwich Village, New York City
The Greenwich Village shopping experience is unlike any other and is what landed it on this list of the 20 best cities for shopping. Every trip made to Strand Bookstore results in a rare find, and I still love the bright pink fishnets purchased at Ricky’s. The best find of all time? An authentic vintage Chinese wedding gown for the low price of $100, found amongst other unique items at Stella Dallas.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania offers diverse shopping. I scored an Amish rocking chair then enjoyed a family-style Pennsylvania-Dutch home cooked meal. The city’s multiple outlet centers prompt return trips every year, and is especially beneficial for school shopping. Extensive sales often bring the prices down to less than $10 an item, and on my last trip to the Lancaster outlets, I left with 12 items for less than $100.
The shopping in Siena, Italy provides a noteworthy alternative to the shops found in Rome or Milan. In addition to the many boutiques, Siena offers a variety of weekend markets. I purchased handmade bowls at a tremendous discount as well as several homemade bottles of olive oil that incidentally were selling for $10 more in Rome.
Piccadilly Circus in London, England
A major intersection in London, at first glance Piccadilly Circus doesn’t seem to have much to offer for shopping. However once the weekend comes, Piccadilly springs to life. The weekend market is the perfect place to purchase small trinkets and inexpensive souvenirs. I was able to score postcards, small purse and handmade paper, all on a student budget.
South Congress Street in Austin, Texas
South Congress Street in Austin, Texas, better known as “SoCo,” epitomizes the Austin experience. With a motto of “Keep Austin Weird”, the city boasts several unique and odd places to shop. Staying at the famous Austin Motel on SoCo allowed me to feel like a local, drinking coffee at the trendy Austin Java while taking in the shopping on a daily basis. I came home with loads of fun accessories, one-of-a-kind clothing items and handmade soaps all made by local Austin folks.
The Grove in Los Angeles, California
If you enjoy shopping at a traditional mall, you will love the last of the 20 best cities for shopping, The Grove in L.A. Instead of housing the shops in one building, The Grove spreads the stores across an outdoor pavilion riddled with water fountains. The atmosphere is ideal for taking in the beautiful Los Angeles weather, and I was able to meet several local people who recommended night spots.