A heady, dusty labyrinth of bustling bazaars, atmospheric souks and ornate architecture, the ”Red City' is the perfect place to explore the magic and mysteries of the Sahara Desert. However, if you find yourself longing for some greenery on your holidays to Morocco, Marrakech holds a vibrant secret: the Jardin Majorelle. Also known as the ”Villa Oasis', in recognition of the abundance of plants that are housed there, the Jardin Majorelle offers a slice of green tranquillity and peace in a noisy city that never seems to slow down.
The story of the gardensThe story behind the garden begins with the French artist Jacques Majorelle. Jacques first came to Morocco in 1917, stopping off in Casablanca before eventually winding up in Marrakech. A fan of Orientalist art, he fell in love with the architecture and culture of the city and six years later he bought himself two and a half acres of land next door to a palm grove. Immersing himself in Moroccan life, he built himself a house using Moorish architecture as his inspiration. Over time, he added a Cubist-style villa to his collection, built by the architect Paul Sinoir. Most of the buildings were painted in a particular shade of blue, which Jacques patented as ”Majorelle Blue'. Jacques was also a keen botanist and used his garden to indulge his passion for plants. As his reputation grew over the next 40 years, Jacques acquired more than 135 different species of plant from across five continents, including bamboo plants, rare cacti, delicate ferns, and even carob trees. These were all transported back to the Jardin Majorelle, which became their new home. Eventually, the gardens became expensive to run and maintain, so to help pay for the upkeep of this oasis, Jacques decided to open them to the public in 1947. However, after a costly divorce and a serious car accident, he was forced to sell off his share of the gardens and villa before his death in 1962.
A fresh chapterThe story doesn't end there, though. The gardens remained abandoned and untended. Fortunately, the French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent decided to take a holiday to Morocco in 1966 and with his partner, Pierre Bergé, they discovered the gardens and fell in love with them. In 1980, on hearing that the Jardin Majorelle was about to be bulldozed and replaced with a hotel, the pair decided to buy the gardens and restore them to their former glory. Working with a team of 20 gardeners and installing automatic irrigation systems, Laurent and Bergé were not only to reinstate Jacques vision, but take it to the next level. Between 1980 and 1999, they expanded on the artist's collection, adding over 160 further species of plants to the garden.
The Musée Berb èreYou don't have to be a flower fanatic to enjoy the garden. In addition to the stunning grounds, you can explore the museum that is housed in what was once Jacques Majorelle's studio. The Musée Berb ère shines a spotlight on the rich culture and artistic endeavours of the native Berbers, also known as the Amazigh. On top of the collection of leatherwork, metal sculptures, textiles and religious artefacts, you'll find a stunning collection of jewellery. Given that Yves Saint Laurent was one of the world's leading fashion designers, it's perhaps no surprise that the museum also houses some fine examples of Amazigh regional and national dress.
A fabulous display of floraIf you're a hardcore horticulturalist, you'll find some outstanding examples of rare and exotic plants to appreciate. While you could probably walk around the gardens in around three-quarters of an hour, it's far better to take your time. This really is a chance to stop and smell the roses on your Morocco holiday. The temperature is much milder than the hot, dusty streets, thanks to the bubbling streams and small ponds. Among the olive groves, spiky cacti and beautiful blooms you'll find benches tucked away in hidden clearings. Bring a book and switch off from city life in the shade of a swaying palm tree or the shadow of a looming fern. Head towards the centre of the gardens for the star of the show, a stunning fountain decorated in Majorelle Blue that's also home to a small colony of turtles. If you're in need of a little watering yourself, the garden has its own restaurants, serving light meals drinks and snacks. Just outside the blue walls that house the Jardin Majorelle you'll find some superb shops selling work by local artists, which will serve as a unique reminder of your Morocco holiday. The gardens close at 5.30pm in the off-peak months and 6pm in the months between June and September. If you can, be sure to wait until the last minute before leaving and watch the garden change colour as the sun slips behind the horizon.