It’s so accessible and quick to get there. I’ve been a dozen times in the past 20 years. It’s got such a rich culture and it’s a visual feast on every turn round a corner. It’s a feast for the senses with the exotic smells of cooking spices, the leather tanneries, the calls to prayer heard across the rooftops and the warm, balmy weather. I’m drawn to the colours of the city, the deep terracotta of the buildings and the ornate mosaic tiling. It’s hard not to be seduced by Marrakesh. I always feel inspired there. In fact, I designed my most recent collection Pre-Fall 2015 after my last visit in May for Poppy Delevingne’s wedding.
Anything special I should pack?
The great thing about Marrakesh is it’s only three hours away, so easy for a short weekend break. I pack light – shorts, hat and sunglasses for poolside, then light cover-ups to dress respectfully to go into the Medina in the evening. I always take printed cashmere scarves. They’re the most versatile accessory.
What do you miss most when you’re away?
I drink a gallon of tea when I get back, proper northern builder’s tea, because the tea in Marrakesh is very sweet.
Where’s the best place to stay?
For the ultimate in luxury, it has to be the renowned La Mamounia ( 00 212 5243 88600; mamounia.com), an imposing Moorish hotel that dates back to 1923, so it’s got a great history. Five years ago it underwent an extensive modernisation programme, retaining its super high-end glamorous feel and the gardens are amazing. The last time I was there was for Poppy’s wedding, so it holds a lot of special memories. I’ve also had an epic night there at the Churchill Bar, with Marie Helvin and Bryan Ferry. Another high-end hotel but aesthetically it’s the polar opposite to La Mamounia is the Amanjena (5243 99000; amanresorts.com). It’s very minimal, with simple clean lines. It’s fantastic for relaxation and pampering. There’s nothing better than to unwind after a busy day haggling in the souks than having a hammam with a steam and a massage, before a cocktail next to the lantern-lit pool. The Beldi Country Club (5243 83950; beldicountryclub.com) is another luxurious hotel with a very relaxed, casual feel to it compared to the other two. But there’s also hundreds of riads in the Medina and it’s hard to go wrong with them. They’re all super-cute, curious little buildings, where I could happily while away an afternoon.
The Jamaa el Fna square (Fotolia/AP)
Where would you meet friends for drinks?
I always ask local friends because new places are popping up all the time. We just jump in the car and go, so before you visit, ask if any of your friends or connections know people there so you can get the latest info direct. Nights out can just turn into a party, whether you like it or not, where you end up dancing on the tables. For more relaxed drinks and dining, you can’t go wrong with Riad El Fenn (5244 41210; el-fenn.com), run by Vanessa Branson.
Where’s the best place for lunch?
Outside at the Jardin Majorelle (5243 13047; jardinmajorelle.com) is a beautiful setting after a walk around the unique, tropical gardens restored by Yves Saint Laurent. Or try Dar Cherifa (5244 26463; dar-cherifa.com), one of the oldest riads in Marrakesh, hidden away in a maze of alleyways, but with a very sleek look.
And for dinner?
The tasting menu at Gastro MK (5243 76173; maisonmk.com). It’s full-on, high-end luxury cuisine. Or go to Dar Rhizlane (5244 21303; dar-rhizlane.com) hungry, as the courses keep coming. It’s easy to settle into the environment of floating candles, rose petals and traditional Moroccan live music. The Dar Yacout (5243 82929; daryacout.com) is a romantic, candlelit venue with an indoor pool and twinkling lights.
The Koutoubia Mosque (Fotolia/AP)
Where would you send a first‑time visitor?
You must go to one of the many souks, but I would also make the most of the local knowledge of your hotel concierge because they might take you somewhere off the beaten track, where you can pick up really unique treasures and artisanal crafts. Don’t worry, it’s not like they’ll take you to somewhere dodgy.
What should I avoid?
Paying the first price offered for something you want to buy in the souks. I’m not a great haggler, but I know you ought to get the price dropped three times before you should seal the deal. Haggling is part of the culture, so always wait to agree to a price that you think is fair. If you’re travelling with a few people, get one of them to do it if you’re too uncomfortable. That’s what I do.
Public transport or taxi?
Taxis are fine, but if you’re going on foot, go out in pairs or a group. Don’t wander alone and always have your wits about you. There’s also the quaint horse carriages if you’re pottering around the Medina.
A spice souk in Marrakesh (Fotolia/AP)
Manbag or moneybelt?
Neither, being fashion-obsessive. I just keep my money in my jeans pocket. Why announce to the world what you’re carrying?
What should I bring home?
Handmade artisanal goods. I love the intricately hand-painted dishes and gold-flecked mint tea glasses, lanterns for the garden and woven rugs in bright colours, as they make the best picnic blankets.
Anywhere that isn’t your kind of town?
I’m drawn to places that are exotic with a magical, other-world feel to them, which is basically the opposite to where I live, London. I don’t want to experience the things I can in the UK. I want a warm climate, rich culture, different cuisine, so the more far-flung the place, the better.
The Matthew Williamson Afternoon Tea is being served at Balthazar, Covent Garden, London, until May 1.