Some people like their birthdays to be quiet affairs – not me. So, jetting off to the enchanting city of Marrakech was a birthday wish come true.
At the heart of the ancient city is the buzzing Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site, surrounded by centuries-old city walls. It’s within these walls that our airport pick-up took us to IZZA, a cosy but opulent arrangement of seven interconnecting riads.
It was my first time in a riad – traditional Moroccan houses centred around a courtyard – that has become popular among travellers seeking an immersive but intimate experience. From the moment you step into IZZA, the sounds of the city are tuned out by the bubbling fountains in its tranquil courtyards.
This North African gem, which was eight years in the making, is an ode to designer Bill Willis, best-known for creating the fictional ‘Rick’s bar’ from the film Casablanca.
Bill spent four decades living in Marrakech and designed many iconic homes in the red city, including French designer Yves Saint Laurent’s, and is widely considered the founder of Moroccan-style interiors.
IZZA’s ‘Bill Willis Bar’ even features the same floor design as the one in the film, a level of detail I fully appreciate as a Casablanca fan.
No two rooms are alike at the stylish property, as each of the 14 are designed to reflect the famous personality associated with Morocco that they are named after.
There’s the massive Yves Saint Laurent room, which exudes style in every corner, complete with curated coffee table books to inspire you.
However, I stayed in the Jack Kerouac room, which is dubbed the ‘green room’ for the beautiful shades of jade green tiling on the floors and the bathroom walls – perfect for a single traveller.
One of my favourite rooms in the property was the library, with its eclectic collection of books that stick to the theme. Not to mention the fact they are bound to save you if you forget to pack a poolside read.
I spent most of my stay trying to stay cool by the property’s three pools, where I weathered the 40-degree afternoons.
Nothing makes my bougie Leo heart happier than being pampered and the staff at IZZA excel in making you feel like royalty with every interaction.
Starting with breakfast served on the terrace to lunch by the pool and the elaborate rooftop dinners, the meals at IZZA were exquisitely prepared from a menu designed around locally sourced, seasonal produce.
The octopus hotdog and watermelon salad became instant favourites of mine and the slow-cooked lamb from my birthday dinner had me profusely complimenting the chef.
We also got to taste traditional Moroccan dishes like seafood tagine, an aromatic stew slow-cooked in a conical clay pot, which I’ll now desperately try to seek out in London.
No visit to Morocco is complete without a traditional hammam and I had mine perfectly scheduled for the afternoon of my birthday.
As the steam enveloped me in a cocoon of warmth and the Kessala (women practicing the scrubs in the hammams) covered my skin with the Moroccan black soap, I couldn’t help but think that there was no better way to start another year in my late 20s.
After all, I was, quite literally, shedding my old skin.
Staying at IZZA is also a treat for your eyes as you’re essentially living in an art gallery. The property is home to more than 300 artworks, ranging from contemporary Moroccan works to NFTs on digital displays.
There’s something about being surrounded by a multi-million dollar art collection that screams sophisticated luxury – which every birthday girl (and boy) can appreciate.
To top it off, every corner makes for an Insta-worthy shot fit for that all-important birthday post.
Elsewhere, Marrakech had much to offer – with its boisterous bazaars, kittens in every corner, and the chance to stock up on the best concoctions of spices or tea.
I particularly enjoyed visiting the Jardin Majorelle, the most interesting botanical garden I’ve ever seen. The strikingly intense blue of the museum building, known as Majorelle blue, is now my favourite colour if anyone asks. You can even buy paint samples of it at the gift shop.
As the sun dipped below the horizon on my last night at IZZA, casting a warm, golden hue over the labyrinthine streets of Marrakech, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for being in such a beautiful place on my special day.
I had experienced getting lost in the streets of Marrakech, been driven on a tuk-tuk, found a knack for scoring a bargain in the souks and even had my first hammam.
It was also the first time I’d had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in three different languages – Arabic, French and English – thanks to IZZA’s staff.
Marrakech was never on my bucket list, but having spent just four days in the city, I can totally see myself coming back with a group of friends to relax in IZZA’s warm hospitality, taking in the art and exploring the city.
Staying in a lavish riad is the closest you can get to feeling like royalty. So for anyone with a case of main character syndrome – or those who simply relish their birthday – it’s the perfect place to celebrate yourself.
Anugraha stayed at IZZA, Marrakech, where rooms start from £137 per night including breakfast, a 45-minute massage in the in-house hammam and airport transfers.