Le Jardin Majorelle, rescued by Yves St. Laurent, is now overrun by tourists
During their first jaunt to Morocco in 1966, French-Algerian fashion designer Yves St. Laurent and his lover and business partner Pierre Bergé discovered Marrakesh’s Jardin Majorelle, a decrepit two-plus acre complex of plantings, cubist buildings and fountains created by early 20th-century French artist Jacques Majorelle in the tony Gueliz neighborhood.
“It was open to the public yet almost empty. We were seduced by this oasis where colors used by Matisse were mixed with those of nature,” Bergé wrote in 2010. The pair eventually bought the place in the Ocher City’s Gueliz neighborhood (also called the European district) in 1980, saving it from a wrecking ball and restoring its distinctive blue-and-yellow-painted structures and spiky, striking cactus collection. They kept the garden open to the public and lived part of the year in a villa next door.
The garden — also rich in watery pools and jumbo succulents in bright pots — still bewitches with its far-from-the-dusty-medina vibe. Except that the smallish gem is now the most visited attraction in all of Morocco, luring 850,000 tourists a year. Lines to buy tickets can snake for an hour or more in the often-sweltering weather. Once you’re inside, the scene usually leans far from serene. Travelers clad in cobalt dresses or lemon-hued hats (the better to match the surroundings) swarm the blocky buildings and pack the palm-shaded paths, snapping selfies. The snug, on-site Berber Museum provides some crowd relief with exhibits of colorful costumes and angular jewelry from the Moroccan tribe that inspired both Majorelle and YSL.
Location: Rue Yves St. Laurent, Marrakesh, Morocco , jardinmajorelle.com
You’ll find true tranquility in the recently renovated, five-acre Jardin Secret
For a slice of the serenity that Saint Laurent and Bergé experienced, Le Jardin Secret lives up to its name, despite a location in Marrakesh’s buzzing Mouassine district. A few steps from the riot of donkey carts, zooming mopeds and carpet, basket and spice vendors of the souks, the recently re-created and restored 400-year-old riad (a house with an interior courtyard) provides five acres of tranquil walled gardens.
Based on a traditional Islamic paradise garden, the park’s first section centers on a burbling fountain. You can park yourself with a sun hat and good book on a shapely metal bench amid sunken beds fragrant with orange trees, rosemary hedges and other native plants. A doorway in one corner leads to an adjacent “exotic” garden where birds flit among lusher, more creative plantings from hot climes: bushy green Australian bottle trees and jacarandas awash in purple blooms come spring.
Fountains and irrigation troughs original to the complex cool it all down and add to the let-it-flow atmosphere. A small tower with panoramas of the medina, a museum with rotating art exhibits, and a shaded outdoor cafe with veggie panini and fruity mocktails up the appeal. But best of all: The crowds are light, and you can pretend you’re the king or queen of the castle without a blogger photobombing your snapshots.
If you’re willing to go further afield — it’s a 45-minute ride from Marrakesh on a free shuttle — visit the Anima Garden, which opened in 2016 in the bucolic Ourika Valley. Backdropped by the surprisingly tall Atlas Mountains, kooky Viennese artist André Heller’s nearly five-acre compound bursts with bright, Instagram-ready sculptures like a wacky, tile-covered, life-size dromedary and a Keith Haring coffin cover.
Locations: Le Jardin Secret, 121 Rue Mouassine, Marrakesh, Morocco, lejardinsecretmarrakech.com/en/
Anima Garden, Douar Sbiti Ourika, Marrakesh, Morocco, anima-garden.com
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