Intoxicating Marrakech

Mr Taha Bouqdib and his son Adam, 11, in the Marrakech city centre.
Mr Taha Bouqdib and his son Adam, 11, in the Marrakech city centre. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF TAHA BOUQDIB

Who: Taha Bouqdib, 45, president, CEO and co- founder of TWG Tea. The Singapore permanent resident is a Frenchman of Moroccan origin and has more than 20 years of experience in the luxury tea industry.

Favourite city: Marrakech, Morocco

Why: It is a colourful, intoxicating old city filled with endless adventures, charming souks, hidden palaces and where fashion and the arts come together. While this fourth largest city in the country serves as a major economic centre, it has also preserved much of its heritage.

I've never lived in Marrakech, but I've visited the city countless times and its splendour never fails to inspire me each time I'm there.

Best places to stay
Set amid 8ha of gardens is Hotel Es Saadi (Rue Ibrahim El Mazini, Hivernage, Marrakech, tel: +212-524-33-74-00), which boasts the perfect blend of Moroccan heritage and refinement.

The rooms are immaculately maintained and have a touch of nostalgic luxury, adding charisma to this classic luxury accommodation. Room rates start at $200 a night and the top-floor suites have a view of the breathtaking Atlas Mountains.

To immerse yourself in local culture and experience the day-to-day life of a Moroccan, I would suggest renting a room in a family-run riad - a traditional Moroccan house built around a courtyard - where you will get to try local dishes and your friendly host may give you a tour of hidden streets.

Dar Hanane (9 Derb Lalla Azzouna, Marrakech Medina, tel: +212-524-37-77-37) is a riad tucked away in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of the Medina, just minutes away from the bustling souks of Jemaa el Fna.

Restored by a renowned architect, rooms start at $153 a night and the interiors possess a charming tranquillity that will transport you to another world. The chefs there also conduct cooking classes for guests and the rooftop views of the mountains are superb.

Favourite places to dine
Indulge in Le Pavillon's sumptuous Sunday brunch at La Mamounia Hotel (Avenue Bab Jdid - 40 040 Marrakech, tel: +212-524-38-86-00), which costs $170 a person inclusive of champagne.

This is possibly one of the best brunches I have ever had, with endless displays of the most gorgeous dishes. Do try the Moroccan desserts, especially the Gazelle Horns filled with rich almond paste. The hotel's magnificent garden, where brunch is served, is also one of the reasons I frequent this hotel.

La Mamounia is patronised by big stars and famous directors, who spend their leisure time there during film and art festivals. Guests may just find themselves sipping champagne next to Hollywood celebrities.

If you are a wine lover, you must try Moroccan wine at Royal Mansour Hotel's La Table (Rue Abou Abbas El Sebti 40 000, tel: +212-529-80-80-80). Prices start at $23 for a glass.

For a five-star Moroccan dinner experience, try Dar Moha (81, rue Dar El Bacha, 4000 Marrakech, Medina, tel: +212-524-38-64-00/524-38-62-64), a restaurant that takes local gastronomy to new highs.

Opt for its dinner degustation menu ($75 a person), which comes with its famous pigeon pastilla, an assortment of tajines (slow-cooked stews) and a fragrant, orange blossom-infused dessert.

Must-eat dishes
You must try the local stew, commonly known as Tangia Marrakchia, a slow-cooked Marrakesh dish traditionally prepared in a claypot called a tangia. This is available at most restaurants.

Another dish to try is the Marrakesh version of couscous, which is combined with dried fruits, nuts and an earthy blend of Moroccan spices. Some families prepare seasoned meats, fish, vegetables or a Moroccan tagine to accompany this delicious dish.

Favourite place to shop
The souks at the Old Medina. A perfect amalgam of colour, energy and vibrancy, this is where I take my time to discover archaic treasures and to immerse in local culture. This is also where my tea inspiration flows.

Must-see sights
The Majorelle Garden (Rue Yves Saint Laurent, 40090 Marrakech, Maroc, tel: +212-661-75-90-58), which was owned by the late Algerian-born French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, is a destination not to be missed.

This beautiful garden is open to the public and entry is free.

You must also go to the bustling souks of Jemaa el Fna, the main square of Marrakech.

There, you will find almost anything and everything - from leather bags and brass accessories to snake charmers, magicians and traditional medicine.

I would also recommend travellers visit the Royal Mansour Hotel, which is located within Marrakech's old city. It's a truly mesmerising hotel.

Souvenirs to bring home
Authentic leather goods, hand-crafted bags, shoes and accessories.

If you are looking for collectible art pieces, the work of famous local artist Mehdi Qotbi (www.mehdiqotbi.com) is a good investment. Contact him and he will be happy to host you at his private gallery.

I also try to bring back some traditional Moroccan almond cookies every time I make a trip there. Almonds feature prominently in Moroccan sweets. They make great tea-time treats.

Best place to people-watch
This would have to be at the heart of the city, Gueliz, where there is a concentration of upmarket shops, restaurants and pavement cafes.

Most memorable experience
My visit to the extraordinary Moroccan fusion cuisine restaurant Le Comptoir (Avenue Echouhada, tel: +212-524-43-77-02). I attended one of my most unforgettable parties in Marrakech here.

In Le Comptoir, diners get to watch belly dancing and enjoy great music.

Best day trip
The coastal town of Essaouira, which has been called the Malibu of Morocco.

Just a few hours away from Marrakech, this town charms me with its fascinating history and mediaeval architecture.

Advice for travellers
Keep a curious and adventurous heart when in Marrakech. You never know what kind of treasure you would chance upon.