Marrakech is a city of doors, most of them firmly closed to outsiders. There, especially in the historic medina, or walled city, homes are strictly to be enjoyed by family and friends, so most travelers to the fabled Red City—where the mazelike souks are being sensitively renovated under the watchful eye of King Mohammed VI—barely skim the surface. The AD Access tour program that has been developed by Architectural Digest and Indagare, the luxury travel firm known for curated tours, is all about deep dives, though, so for our recent Marrakech trips—which took place last fall and this spring—AD’s editors reached out to our contacts there to build a week of special visits that would surprise as well as illuminate.
A signal highlight was a private luncheon on the terrace of Villa Oasis, the former home of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, still furnished as it was when they lived there, right down to the notepaper engraved with the house’s name in brilliant emerald green. At the adjacent Musée Yves Saint Laurent, a member of the AD100 architecture firm Studio KO led us through the building’s public areas and private spaces and explained the genesis of the commission and the meanings behind its materials and details. We also had the rare opportunity to spend an hour or so at Saint Laurent and Berge’s very first home in Marrakech, Dar el Hanch, or House of the Snake, a private residence where a large serpent that the fashion designer painted on a dining room wall is a witness to the couple’s early infatuation with the city.
Other homes that have been opened to AD Access include the house that Vogue famously photographed in the 1960s when Talitha and Paul Getty were its residents as well as the luxurious gardens of the late Marella Agnelli, which were designed by AD100 landscape architect Madison Cox. Chilean artist Claudio Bravo was a longtime Marrakech resident, and though he died several years ago, his elegant riad—featured in AD in 2015—remains in private hands. From paintbrushes to a staggering collection of Islamic glass vessels, many of Bravo’s belongings are in situ, preserved by the current owner, and many of the ADxIndagare guests pronounced it the most beautiful, most livable of all the houses we were able to experience at our leisure, tea glasses in hand as Iceberg roses bloomed around the central pool.
Another day found us in the Palmeraie, the immense oasis of palm trees outside of Marrakech, for a candlelit dinner at Jnane Tamsna, the exotic complex of villas and gardens that is also the residence of our hostess, designer Meryanne Loum-Martin. Some of the exquisite Moroccan cuisine that was served in Jnane Tamsna’s garden that evening happened to be featured at a cooking class a few days later at the quietly luxurious La Maison Arabe, one of the oldest hotels in the medina.
Curated shopping excursions were on the itinerary, too, but it was the off-the-beaten-path experiences that the AD Access group appreciated most—and that includes the hosts. Though I had lived in Marrakech, I had never seen Dar el Bacha, a palace that contains some of the most extravagant tilework and wood carvings in the entire country as well as an extraordinary collection of artifacts assembled by philanthropist Patti Birch, a former Metropolitan Museum of Art curator. The extraordinarily moody medina mansion that has been renovated by the cosmetics guru Serge Lutens was new to me as well, a warren of narrow staircases and dim high-ceilinged rooms that contain an exceptional array of French Colonial art and furniture. Marrakech has many secrets but thanks to AD Access, some are being revealed for the very first time.