A stay at IZZA hotel, Marrakech
Just seconds from the crowds and crush which is everyday life in Marrakech, lies one of the city’s newest hotels, IZZA. A recent arrival to the Morocco hotel scene, opening just a few months ago, IZZA is an oasis of calm with a rooftop restaurant, indoor pool and rather uniquely, millions of pounds of artwork on its walls.
This ultra-chic 14-bedroom boutique hotel, tucked down a tiny alleyway within the ancient walls of the medina, the 1,000-year old heart of the bustling city, was created from uniting seven traditional riads together. This means it has a delightfully traditional Moroccan vibe of interconnecting courtyards, hidden stairways, balconies and terraces. Best of all, at the top of the building is a vast rooftop space containing secluded sun loungers at one end and at the other, a beautiful al fresco terrace.
Having breakfast, lunch and dinner in the warm open air under the dappled shades cast by the pink bougainvillea is a highlight of a stay at IZZA, and it’s hard not just to stay there all day, being looked after by the efficient and friendly staff.
But a trip to Marrakech wouldn’t be complete without diving into the maelstrom of the medina’s many marketplaces (souks), where you can find anything from slippers to ironmongery. Thankfully, with IZZA just a short walk from the heart of the souks, you know that this oasis of tranquility is just minutes away for you to recharge your energy before returning to the fray.
Arriving at IZZA
The famous Moroccan hospitality is present from the start of a stay at IZZA, with guests welcomed with a glass of orange blossom milk and delicious, succulent dates stuffed with almonds – just a hint of the quality of the food to come.
While the dates were mini artworks in themselves, the standout feature of the welcome lobby, and indeed throughout the hotel itself, was the artwork looking down at us from the whitewashed stone walls.
Art at IZZA
These are no ordinary artworks, as the saying goes, but just part of a £5 million collection. We drank our milk under the watchful eyes of Moroccan men and women in traditional dress, photographed in stunning outsize portraits by Leila Alaoui, who was killed in a 2016 terrorist attack while on assignment for the UN in Burkina Faso, aged just 33. Alaoui travelled around Morocco capturing the land’s cultural diversity, and the solomn stares of the people who images she captured are both moving and thought-provoking.
These portraits are just part of IZZA’s collection which comprises more than 300 artworks and one of the world’s largest collections of NFTs, including ultra-modern generative AI data paintings which move and swirl as you pass. The owner of IZZA, entrepreneur Neil Hutchinson, who made his fortune in online successes including Uswitch, also owns the former house of Marrakech design legend Bill Willis, located 20km outside the city, and has been keen to continue the connection with art and the local area in IZZA.
The hotel plans to host regular artistic and literary events, inviting local artists and authors as well as those from further afield, and the Willis legacy makes for a vibrant and creative atmosphere.
Willis, who died in 2009, was an incredibly influential designer who was responsible for almost single handedly reviving and reinterpreting high end Moroccan architecture and traditional crafts such as zellij and tadelakt that were, forty years ago, on the verge of extinction. Willis’s design flair and maverick lifestyle meant other notable names of the age come to seek him out: Mick Jagger, Grace Jones and Yves Saint Laurent to name but a few, and the bedrooms at IZZA are named these and other associates, including Jack Kerouac, Cecil Beaton and Allan Ginsberg.
I was staying in Leila – after French-Moroccan photographer and video artist Leila Alaoui – and the room, once I’d found it, through a beautiful succession of courtyards and staircases, was a soothing haven of luxury furnishings, separate lounge and a vast stand-alone bath.
I instantly felt at home – you don’t have to lock your door at IZZA which means you can pretend that you’re actually staying at a friend’s house – and indeed the owners describe IZZA as a ‘House of Friends.’
I’m not sure any of my friends would be as attentive as the house-keeping staff though – folding my clothes and winding all my phone and laptops cables up in tight loops every day to be unwound every night – and no two rooms are the same at IZZA: some had beds on a mezzanine level while others were vast, with original designer furniture.
The communal areas were also uniquely designed, with the three inter-connecting courtyards providing ample space for you to find your own zone.
I loved working in the central courtyard with its indoor trees, trickling water fountain and café-style seating, where you could people-watch and be served drinks from ‘Bills’ – the tiled cocktail bar festooned with Bill Willis’ memorabilia.
Next door is IZZA’a Instagrammable 10-metre indoor pool, which was a little too warm for swimming in but great for lounging in. There is also a coffee bar and just nearby, a couple of treatment rooms where you can enjoy, as I did, a traditional Hammam experience, complete with a vigorous exfoliating scrub and tonnes of hot water poured all over you.
For true sunworshippers, though, the roof was the only place to be, with sun loungers and a plunge pool.
Food at IZZA
The rooftop was also where the restaurant was located and the food at IZZA was a real highlight of the trip.
From the sumptuous breakfasts of harissa eggs, or the deliciously spicy loubia bean stew, to the fresh, zingy lunchtime treats of smoked aubergine batbout, crab and leek croquettes and spiced lamb burgers and the evening treats of rabbit ravioli, slow-cooked lamb, and whole grilled seabass, IZZA’s restaurant didn’t put a foot wrong. Its wine and cocktails were top-class too, meaning a few days here could be seriously indulgent.
Exploring Marrakech’s medina
Tempting though it was to remain in the cool embrace of the hotel, occasionally popping up to the roof for a blast of scalding sunshine before retreating to the pool or a comfortable balcony sofa with a book, it would have been a crime to not have ventured out into the souk itself, with all its smells, sights and sounds.
Within a minute of leaving the sanctuary of IZZA, we were being assailed from all angles by the vibrant energy of the Medina, from near misses between bikes and motorbikes to the crush of pedestrians through the souk’s tiny winding alleyways.
There was food everywhere, from freshly-baked bread to live chickens, huge lamb carcasses hanging in shop windows, vast baskets of every spice under the sun and fresh fruit which filled the air with their scent.
There is an order to the medina under all the chaos, created as it is from many different open air markets or souks, all of which have different goods to sell. So you might find yourself in the leather souk, the carpentry souk, the blacksmiths souk or the perfume souk.
Many visitors will be tempted to buy carpets, slippers (babouches), jewellery and handbags: our group found itself in the spice area and I allowed myself to be seduced into buying ‘Morocco’s botox’ (aka prickly pear).
After all the walking and shopping, it was a nice change to visit the Ben Yousseff Medersa, the historic Islamic school located in the heart of Marrakech. Built in the 14th century, this madrasa was once the largest Islamic school in North Africa and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was fascinating to wander into the tiny rooms once lived in by the students and admire the architecture and intricate artwork of this historic site.
With no more energy left for sight-seeing or retail therapy, it was a delight to retreat to the cooling terrace at IZZA.
During our stay at IZZA, we got to explore some other memorable locations, with a particular highlight being the opulence of nearby Dar Acout, which is open solely for dinner and serves traditional Moroccan food under the night sky, with live music adding to the atmosphere
Overall, the joy of Morocco – apart from its amazing sounds, sights and smells – is that you can fly from the UK and in just three short hours, find yourself in somewhere completely different. With the world seeming to get smaller every year, and with travel experiences being replicated around the world, it is wonderful to be able to transport yourself to somewhere so in contrast to every day life back home. That, and being able to thoroughly relax and indulge yourself when you’re there!
Hotel info and how to book
IZZA is located on Sidi Ahmed Soussi in the north of the Medina, Marrakech, Morocco.
T: +212 (0)6 61 95 62 46
E: [email protected]
IZZA’s 14 rooms are named after the ’60s and ’70s creative freedom seekers and connections of renowned socialite and interior designer, Bill Willis.
Prices range from €160 (approx. £140) to €800 (approx. £695) per room per night, including daily breakfast, airport transfer on arrival, and a 45-minute massage in IZZA’s spa and hammam treatment room.
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