Stylish Places To Stay, Eat & Shop In Europe & North Africa

Like the West Coast of America, the central western coast of Europe and North Africa has a relaxed vibe, balmy weather and design hot-spots to match


The terrace at El Fenn hotel in Marrakech. Photo / Emma-Jane Hetherington

Photographer Emma-Jane Hetherington, her architect husband Tim Dorrington (Dorrington Atcheson Architects) and their two pre-teen children took an epic five-week trip up the western coast of North Africa and Europe, including Morocco, Spain, Portugal and France, during an unseasonably warm autumn.

EJ has written Viva an itinerary for design-loving travellers that covers the highlights of their trip.

MADRID, SPAIN

WHERE TO STAY
The Only You Boutique Hotel is housed in a 19th century former palace in central Cheuca. The foyer in the central void feels like a garden courtyard. Black and white floor tiles vie with blue and white wall tiles, timber wall panelling abounds, as do moulded ceilings and tall timber shutters, lush fabrics and materials. The numerous public spaces are stunning, from the Azul lounge, painted in deepest blue, with cosy chesterfield and fireplace, to the inviting El Padrino bar.

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Once a bookshop, this space still features shelves of books to while away the time. The Attic suite, accessed via its own spiral stair, boasts a spacious bedroom/sitting room with floor-to-ceiling shelving and a wooden screen separating the bedroom from the dressing room and ensuite. Gold-studded navy fabric adorns the bedhead and an amazing geometric patterned carpet completes the look.

From left: Javier S Medina; Only You Boutique Hotel in Madrid. Photo / Supplied

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Decked out like a traditional Spanish taverna with a nod to the industrial, Celso y Manolo is a cute local restaurant serving up great food in the spirit of the traditional Madrileno tavern. With a low-key decor of neutral tones, including marble bar, terrazzo floors, black pendant lights and an aubergine-hued ceiling, this space delivered in understated style as much as it did with its food.

La Pasteleria was a quirky surprise. The venue for the 40th birthday party that was the impetus for our trip, this bar in the grungy barrio Malasana doubles as a fetish bar when not hired for special occasions. (The scantily clad mannequin by the entry should have been a giveaway.) Small and intimate, the space housed a collection of eclectic vintage furnishings against traditional Spanish tiles. Exposed brick walls, gilt striped wallpaper, navy velvet curtains and more aubergine shades complete the eccentric decor. The Raj-inspired rattan chair and Betty Boop figure by the entry are worth a mention too.

WHERE TO SHOP
Wilde Sunglasses, a hole-in-the-wall boutique also in Cheuca are specialists in vintage sunglasses and the local brand (established in Barcelona), now boasts their own collection of vintage-inspired eyewear.

Javier S. Medina, Artesano is an eponymous artisan label creating beautiful homewares including mirrors and “eco” trophies — animal “heads”, including rhino, reindeer and the ubiquitous Spanish bull, woven from grasses. His work is self-taught and handmade, using only natural materials.

Parroquia Santa Monica in Madrid. Photo / Supplied

WHERE TO VISIT
In a country where Catholicism has dominated for centuries, the Parroquia Santa Monica, designed by Vicens + Ramos, is a stunning step away from traditional church design. The dramatic Corten steel exterior is striking against its suburban location. Its predominantly white interior is broken by voids, allowing light to penetrate and the apse is stripped bare of ornamentation and faceted in white and gold leaf. The overall feeling is peaceful, as the light plays over the simple interior.

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO

WHERE TO STAY
Our choice of accommodation was the Riad Dar Alfarah in the Medina. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house built around an open courtyard that provides a welcome respite from the craziness and heat of the Medina. Ours, like many, had a plunge pool in the courtyard and a roof deck with sun loungers and planting. The mostly white interior offset by traditional tiles, archways, lattice work and lush planting was a delight. Though definitely not high-end (you can blow a lot of money on a luxury riad) it was still a very comfortable haven.

WHERE TO EAT
El Fenn, owned by Vanessa Branson, (Richard’s sister) is a riad of the luxurious variety. We didn’t stay here but we did enjoy a delicious lunch on the rooftop terrace. Made up of seven courtyard houses, it is a stunning combination of super-luxe, traditional and natural materials. Green, shades of purple, red and ochre prevail. Three pools, an impressive art collection, several shady pavilions and an onsite boutique showcasing up-and-coming Moroccan brands, completes the offering.

READ: From Marrakech With Love: The Vivid Sights & Sounds Of Morocco

Nomad Restaurant is definitely worth making the effort to book ahead. Billed as a modern Moroccan eatery and including not one but two roof terraces, it’s the perfect spot for enjoying the setting sun. The decor is in pared-back neutrals, sand-coloured squabs and white tiled floors on the terraces with white walls and dark floor tiles inside. Rich Moroccan fabrics upholster the interior furniture and cushions in a subtle nod to the locale, with the area broken up into several discreet eating nooks. A pop of yellow at low level around the walls completes the look. Poke your head into Chabi Chic downstairs for beautiful locally designed homewares.

Riad Dar Alfarah in Morocco. Photo / Supplied

WHERE TO SHOP
Maison de la Photographie is a boutique art gallery featuring a stunning collection of vintage Moroccan photography dating from 1870. The images are beautiful and give a unique insight into the Moroccan way of life. Situated in a traditional riad, the white walls and tiles make a great backdrop for the predominantly black and white imagery. The mint tea on the roof terrace didn’t go amiss either.

Hanout Boutique was a serendipitous find. The clothes are locally designed and made and have a Moroccan bent to them. Though I was tempted to buy a caftan on this trip, I was glad I held off and purchased two amazing dresses here instead. They ship worldwide too, so I am not averse to future purchases.

WHERE TO VISIT
Marrakech is well known for the hedonistic days of the 60s and 70s when rock stars, models and actors partied hard there. Fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent is another icon who made Marrakech home, eventually buying the Villa Oasis and Majorelle Gardens with his partner Pierre Berge in 1980. The gardens are now a much-visited tourist attraction, a cool and shady reprieve from the intensity of the Moroccan heat. The Villa, painted in Majorelle blue, a colour so intense the sky pales in comparison, houses the Berber Museum and just a short walk down the road is the Yves Saint Laurent Museum. Designed by Studio KO this houses an impressive collection of YSL’s work but is also worthy of a visit for its design.

LISBON, PORTUGAL

WHERE TO STAY
The Independente Collective is not quite a hostel, and not quite a hotel. Set up by four travel-loving brothers, the idea was to create an atypical hostel environment with several private suites. This place is super-stylish, offering reasonably priced rooms, two restaurants, one on the roof with spectacular views, a bar and a number of stunning shared spaces. Aiming to appeal to both travellers and locals alike they have nailed this self-imposed brief. Originally a 19th century palace with stunning moulded ceilings and other detailing, large windows and Juliet balconies, it has been effortlessly decorated in an eclectic mix of retro and traditional styles.

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WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
The Park Rooftop is hyped as a great rooftop bar with stunning views over the city. Built on top of a seven-storey carpark, it wasn’t easy to find. We took the elevator to the top, then climbed another set of stairs to reach the terrace, which is casually decked out with wooden furniture, potted plants and tealight candles. It’s a little grungy and super-cool. The cocktail list was extensive, the beer was cold, the clientele young and stylish, and though we missed sunset the view was indeed spectacular.

Embaixada in Lisbon. Photos / Supplied

WHERE TO SHOP
A fab little vintage shop selling all sorts of trinkets, the Reuse 2nd Hand & Creative Shop had some amazing 70s Perspex lights we were very sad not to be able to squeeze into the suitcase, as well as myriad collectibles.
Not far from the Independente in Principe Real is Embaixada, a collection of concept stores also housed in a 19th century former palace. The boutiques are many and interesting but the real star here is the building itself. The exterior is painted white and boasts several domes and Moorish-curved windows. The theme continues indoors with a three-storey internal atrium in the style of a Moroccan riad. This houses a restaurant at the bottom, with the boutiques running around the outside in the former dining room, ballroom, and so on. Another stunning feature is the double staircase with extravagant nudes lining the stairs.

WHERE TO VISIT
Approaching Lisbon from the South and crossing the Tagus (Tejo) River we drove over the impressive 25 de Abril Bridge, not dissimilar to San Francisco’s Golden Gate. With Cristo Rei, the Christ Statue of Lisbon, making its appearance on your right as you approach the bridge, it makes for a dramatic entrance to the city.

Galante Vanilla is an interior design firm with its studio and showroom in a crazy 80s extravaganza of a building, though the exterior facade gives no hint of the riot going on inside. Marble, smoked glass, and brass detailing compete with traditional wall murals depicting the sailing ships of Portugal’s exploring heyday.

Completing the look is exposed stone, including original parts of the city wall on display behind glass, crazy sculptures and extravagant floor tiles. Located on the eighth floor, Galante boasts all the usual design suspects including Vitra — they were the first in Portugal to gain distribution rights.

The space is Scandinavian in feel, pale timber floors, white walls and large windows flooding the space with light, providing the perfect backdrop to the design pieces on show.

PARIS, FRANCE

WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Molitor made the list mainly for its uniqueness factor. Originally a 1930s pool complex designed in the manner of an Art Deco ocean liner, the complex closed in 1989 to make way for a housing project. Molitor reopened in 2014 as a hotel and upmarket health club, including the two original swimming pools.

There is a cute little coffee shop selling ridiculously overpriced espressos. You can sit by the pool sipping coffee, watching people swimming lengths and enjoying the colour scheme of mustard yellow accents and the blue of the changing room doors against classic white.

Apparently the bikini was launched here in 1946, perhaps helping cement the avant garde reputation of the original complex.

Hotel Molitor in Paris. Photo / Supplied

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Eating is a very serious pastime in France and we were determined to eat well in Paris, however the choices are endless and somewhat overwhelming. La Palette is very much in the classic Parisian brasserie style, all tarnished mirrors, wood panelling, frosted glass, padded booth seats and the ever-present cane “brasserie” chairs. We sat outside eating croque monsieurs, while the very friendly waiter entertained us.

Croco du Marais was another great find. Packed with punters, this place had a botanical vibe, with plant-patterned wallpaper taking centre stage, black and white tiled floors and cane lampshades completing the look. Upstairs the vibe was more luxe bohemian, with macrame hangings and cane woven mirrors and chairs.

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WHERE TO SHOP
The Merci Concept Store in the Marais popped up a lot on my Instagram feed so I thought it was a good one to check out. Fashion, shoes, bags and accessories, plus interiors, stationery, gifts and a culinary section and associated restaurant, The Cantine, were spread over three levels. I poked my head of out the window and was pleasantly surprised to see a kitchen garden planted in the basement courtyard. The Tearoom and Library out front overflow with second-hand books. Very easy to empty your wallet.

The Paris flea market, Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, more commonly known as Les Puces (The Fleas) is legendary. Best to visit at the weekend. The market is split into several districts, each specialising in a genre of vintage collectibles. Admittedly its all very pricey — I spotted a Dior saddle bag first edition that was probably more expensive than when it originally went to market — but it’s a great way to spend a sunny afternoon in Paris.

Villa Savoye in Paris. Photo / Supplied

WHERE TO VISIT
On the way into Paris we detoured to the satellite suburb of Poissy to visit Le Corbusier’s legendary Villa Savoye. It’s hard to believe this stunner dates to 1931 as it really does feel modern. Only the bathroom and kitchen areas date it. The colour palette was a surprise. Predominantly white, there’s also pink, blue, grey and brown, used for feature walls and doors. Low horizontal windows and cutouts let the surrounding trees and sky in, adding green and more blue to the palette, and the green of the exterior feature wall pops against the white. The doorhandles, door trims, light switches and lights were another revelation, each detailed to perfection.

Back in Paris proper we also undertook a Le Corbusier walking tour which included a number of his works including the Villa La Roche, the Ozenfant House and the Swiss Pavilion. In particular, the Villa La Roche stood out for the use of colour, a salmon pink, buttery yellow, brown and mid blue, which even appears as steel joinery in some parts of the house. Long planes of windows brought in the outdoors and, combined with the use of skylights, filled the house with light.

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