Earlier this year I flew to Marrakech in order to climb to the summit of Mount Toubkal with a couple of friends. After the quietness of the Atlas mountains, returning to the bustling city of Marrakech – and especially to the disorientating streets of its medina – felt rather overwhelming. So we decided to search for some moments of peace and solitude at one of the most colourful gardens in Marrakech – Jardin Majorelle.
We may not have found peace or solitude (the gardens attract over 700,000 visitors a year!), but we did find a multitude of interesting cacti specimens (yay, cacti!), and a beautiful, colourful, lush oasis that was a constant source of inspiration for painter Jacques Majorelle and fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent.
Photo by Veronica Reverse on Unsplash
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The history behind the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech
Jardin Majorelle was created by French Orientalist artist, Jacques Majorelle over a period of almost forty years. In 1923 he purchased a plot of land near a palm grove and as he became more established as an artist he continued to develop this plot of land, building a Moorish-style house for he and his wife to live in and a Berber-style building which he named the Borj.
He also painted the buildings in his very own rich blue colour that he trademarked as bleu Majorelle and carefully cultivated 135 plant species from five continents, transforming the property into a enchanting landscape garden.
Photos: by Fabian Møller on Unsplash and by Jerome Clarysse on Pixabay
However, the garden was a very expensive passion for Majorelle and not one he could sustain once he and his wife split in 1956. When he was subsequently involved in a serious car accident, he was forced to sell off his share of the villa he’d commissioned architect Paul Sinoir to design and build in 1931, along with the beautiful gardens that he’d loved so dearly.
Fortunately though, four years after the death of Jacques Majorelle in 1962, French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and long-term business partner Pierre Bergé visited Jardin Majorelle and instantly fell in love with it. So, when they heard of the plans to bulldoze the entire place and turn it into a hotel complex, they made the decision to purchase Jardin Majorelle and restore it.
They were careful to stay true to Majorelle’s vision, concentrating on enhancing the garden’s features rather than changing them. They also introduced an additional 165 plant species, installed an automatic irrigation system and employed a team of 20 gardeners to help maintain the grounds.
When Yves Saint-Laurent died in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the rose garden at Jardin Majorelle, and two years after his death the road on which the gardens are located was renamed the ‘Rue Yves Saint Laurent’ in his honour.
Majorelle Gardens today
Since 2010 Jardin Majorelle has been owned by French not-for-profit organisation, the Foundation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, and since 2011 has been managed by the Foundation Jardin Majorelle – a non-profit organisation here in Marrakech. Until his death in 2017, Pierre Bergé was director of this Foundation.
Visiting Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech | What to Expect
First of all I’d advise getting to the gardens as early as possible in order to avoid the crowds.
Due to the fact that we’d been awake since 3 a.m on the final day of our trek, and hiked for massive 10 hours, we really needed our sleep that night and setting an alarm the next morning was the last thing we wanted to do. Instead we all had a very leisurely breakfast at Zeitoun Cafe (which was delicious by the way and I can 100% recommend) and Jayne and I (Rob didn’t fancy the walk) headed over to the gardens at around 11 a.m. By this time the crowds were out in full force, and unfortunately not everyone was polite when it came to getting their desired shot.
At first the crowds and the rude individuals we encountered among them frustrated the hell out of us, and I for one was rapidly losing the patience to persevere with my exploration.
In retrospect, however, I’m quite glad I decided to stick around in the end. As is the way with most popular tourist attractions, the crowds at Jardin Majorelle tend to arrive in waves and if you wait around long enough they do indeed disperse – sometimes almost completely.
Aside from photographing all the cacti, I loved the rich, vibrant blues and yellows of the building exteriors (which immediately took me right back to the streets of Trujillo, Peru), the abundance of water, the tall palms and bamboo , the Moorish-style archways and intricately-detailed window grates (which reminded me of Granada’s Albayzín), and the opulence and beauty of the goods for sale in the Yves Saint-Laurent shop and bookstore.
Top tip: don’t forget to look up at the ceiling in the bookstore; it’s incredible!
Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech | Final Thoughts
I really had no idea what to expect from Jardin Majorelle prior to visiting. The primary reason I’d made the trip to Marrakech in the first place was to hike to the summit of Mount Toubkal, so I hadn’t really considered what I’d like to do in the city in the limited time I had available to me after making that climb. In all honesty I wasn’t sure my legs would actually work at all after the hike, so I didn’t really want to build a packed itinerary of activities I’d more than likely be unable to do.
As it turned out I was kind of right about my legs. When I awoke the morning after our three-day hike, I could feel every muscle in my thighs, it hurt to bend down and I couldn’t walk downstairs without yelping every time I took a step. However, what I hadn’t accounted for was my inability to sit still even in spite of this. So, although walking normally, on flat surfaces, was marginally difficult and moderately uncomfortable, I sure as hell wasn’t going to stop doing it!
Jardin Majorelle ended up being the place we chose to visit on our only day in Marrakech simply because it was somewhere in the city that neither Jayne nor I had visited beforehand.
And whilst it’s not somewhere I’d recommend visiting if you’re short on time (especially if you’re a budding photographer attempting to get a crowd-free shot), if you have the best part of a morning of afternoon to dedicate to exploring the place then I would absolutely recommend that you do so.
Wander slowly, ensuring that you take the time to appreciate the aesthetics of your surroundings, and try to focus on your own journey through the gardens rather than the path that everyone else is taking. Jayne and I regularly went our own separate ways so that each of us could investigate a particular feature of the gardens that had piqued our own curiosity, or to grab a shot that the other one wasn’t overly bothered about capturing. And this approach really enhanced my enjoyment of the place.
Because, if you can see past the tourists with their selfie sticks and the perfectly made-up Instagram girls with their entourage of friends willing to play photographer, Jardin Majorelle really is quite lovely.
Visiting Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech | Practical Info
Jardin Majorelle is open every day of the year. Opening hours as follows:
- 1 October to 30 April | 08:00-17:00 hours
- 1 May to 30 September | 08:00-18:00 hours
- The month of Ramadan | 09:00-16:30 hours
Entry is 70 dirhams / £5.52 / $7.15 (correct November 2019)
You can find a map illustrating its exact location below. It’s quite a nice walk from the city’s medina and will take you approximately 25 minutes.
Getting to Marrakech
We booked our return flights from Manchester to Marrakech via Skyscanner – a site I use religiously for researching and booking flights. I paid £85 for mine, but my friends Jayne and Rob got theirs slightly cheaper, due to travelling out on a different date.
Where to stay in Marrakech
We stayed in this lovely Airbnb in Marrakech before and after our trek. For the three of us it cost just £77.02 / $99.60 for two nights (that’s only £12.84 per person, per night – cheap as chips!) If you’ve not yet registered with Airbnb, you can get £25 of your first stay by following this link.
Ordinarily booking.com is my go-to site for booking accommodation, but on this occasion we couldn’t find anything remotely comparable cost-wise for the three of us. However, if you’re a couple or a solo traveller I’d definitely advise checking accommodation here too.
If you’re in Marrakech for a few days and you fancy checking out some more of what the city has to offer, you’ll find a few ideas below. Alternatively, if you’re heading elsewhere in Morocco, you can check out my posts on Fes (whose medina is believed to be the world’s largest car-free urban area) and Chefchaouen – Morocco’s blue town that’s located at the foot of the Rif mountains.
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