Marrakech Like A Local

A Beauty Business Entrepreneur Shares Her Formula For A Perfect Holiday In Marrakech
San Francisco-native Katharine L’Heureux founded the sustainable Kahina Giving Beauty product line after an inspiring trip to Marrakech in 2007.
Katharine L'Heureux
Founder And CEO, Kahina Giving Beauty

Katharine L’Heureux’s story is one of how life can take a turn—and take you on an unexpected journey. Originally from San Francisco, where she spent her childhood weekends and summers at her family’s vineyard in Napa Valley, L’Heureux began her career in the editorial department of book publisher Doubleday & Co. in New York City, before returning west to do public relations for a variety of illustrious clients. But it was on a vacation to Marrakech in 2007 that she discovered something that would become her passion and her next chapter: argan oil, and supporting the Berber women who produce it.

Discovering Argan Oil

When L'Heureux arrived in Marrakech in 2007, she was charmed. “My first impressions were that it was chaotic, crazy, and wonderful,” she says. “I adore the architecture, the shopping, the food—but most of all, I love running around and getting lost in the souks, then relishing the peace and quiet of some tucked-away spot.” On that first trip, L’Heureux was also introduced to argan oil at a neighborhood apothecary. “I was delighted with the results of it on my own skin, and also intrigued by the story of its production by Berber women.” Seeing a need in the market for simple skincare based on high-quality and ethically-sourced natural ingredients, L'Heureux set out to create Kahina Giving Beauty, a range of beauty products made from Moroccan argan oil.

Kahina Giving Beauty celebrates native ingredients that have been used for centuries in Moroccan beauty rituals.
Traditional Beauty

Extracted from the seed of the argan tree fruit, which only grows in an endangered forest in the southwest of Morocco, the so-called “liquid gold” has many health benefits for the skin, hair, and overall wellness. As L’Heureux learned more about the oil-making process, she discovered that it’s mainly done by Berber women who live in the villages of the forest. “The work of harvesting and cracking nuts provides these women with one of the few sources of economic and social independence available to them,” she notes. In addition to the oil, Kahina products celebrate native ingredients that have been used for centuries in Moroccan beauty rituals, including prickly pear seed oil, blue tansy, rose water, and rhassoul clay. “We incorporate them into formulas using modern technology for a version of traditional beauty that appeals to today’s customer,” she notes.

Kahina Giving Beauty donates one-percent of their revenue to educational programs that improve the lives of employees and their families.
Sustainable Skincare

“Kahina was born out of a passion for Morocco, a need for sustainably-produced skincare, and a desire to help impoverished Berber women in rural Morocco who do the hard work of producing the argan oil at the heart of our products,” L’Heureux explains. On the latter front, the company works with all-women co-ops to ensure the workers are paid fair wages, and aims to highlight and honor these women by using their signatures and graphic marks on their packaging and by telling their individual stories whenever possible. Kahina also donates one-percent of their revenue to educational programs that improve the lives of these families. “While many companies have a component of philanthropy, giving back is truly embedded in our DNA,” the founder notes. “That is why our company name includes ‘Giving Beauty.’”

Local Recommendations

Explore Marrakech With Beauty Entrepreneur, Katherine L’Heureux

“Marrakech is a sophisticated, world-class city that has also managed to maintain its character as a medieval Arab fortress,” says L’Heureux. “It is home to amazing crafts that are still being made using traditional methods, food, and hospitality that rival any other, and a thriving art scene.”

Here are some of her favorite spots that reveal the magic of Marrakech.

Moroccan History & Culture

There are many beautiful examples of Islamic architecture to be found in Marrakech’s palaces and mosques, but you can also experience its history in places that are less-traveled by tourists,” L’Heureux reveals. At Maison de la Photographie (46 Rue Souk Ahal Fassi, Kaat Ben Nahid; +212-5-2438-5721), find a collection of over 4,500 photographs taken between 1870 and 1950, capturing the incredible diversity of the country through pictures. “It is a journey back in time to Morocco’s past and provides a glimpse at the country’s indigenous Berber culture, which still exists, almost unchanged, in some parts of Morocco.” Set in a restored riad, the Musée Boucharouite (107 Derb al Cadi; +212-5-2438-3887) showcases the detailed art of Moroccan rugs and tells the stories behind their creation. “I loved the colors and forms of these rugs, some of which were made by Berber women from their recycled scraps of clothing.” For a look at how a Glaoui Pasha known as “the Lord of the Atlas” used to lived, stop by the sumptuously-decorated Dar el Bacha Confluence Museum (65-69 Riad Laarous, Route Dar El Bacha; +212-6-7258-0705), a 19th-century Islamic palace resplendent with carved cedar wood, painted ceilings, and zellige tilework. “It was renovated in 2017 but hasn’t yet been discovered by the crowds,” notes L’Heureux.

The Dar el Bacha Confluence Museum sits within a 19th-century Islamic palace resplendent with carved cedar wood, painted ceilings, and zellige tilework.

Where To Find Souvenirs From Morocco

“You obviously can’t go to Marrakech without getting lost in the maze of the medina’s souks,” says L’Heureux, “but there are places to shop beyond the frenzied tourist hubs.” She recommends heading to the Place des Epices market for spices and traditional beauty products. “You can do as the locals do and pick up your own rhassoul clay, black soap, and argan oil for a trip to the hammam.” Afterwards, enjoy a coffee or fresh juice on the terrace at Café des Epices (75 Derb Rahba Lakdima; +212-5-2439-1770) from which you can “take in the view of the colorful square filled with vendors selling snails, parakeets, turtles, iguanas and colorful woven baskets.” Next door to the café sits the Rug Market. If you can, time your visit so you are there for the afternoon call to prayer, when the Berbers arrive from the Atlas Mountains to pray and sell their wares to the shop owners. “Station yourself at a rug shop and watch the buyers haggle over price—it’s a great way to learn about rug quality.” Once you’ve decided on a style you like, go to Vintage Moroccan Carpets (29 Zaouiat Lahdar; +212-5-2438-1845) for an excellent selection of Moroccan rugs, without the stress of the rug market.” (Look for the red door next to the Ben Youssef Madrasa.) Other hidden-away medina favorites include the boutique of Norya Ayron (32 Souk el Jeld Abdelaziz; +212-6-6129-5990), who sells a beautiful collection of clothes based on traditional Moroccan abayas, and Topolina (134 Dar El Bacha; +212-6-7972-6026) owned by a French woman and her son who incorporate colorful fabrics into super-chic designs.

Head to Vintage Moroccan Carpets after you've decided on the style of rug you're after.

Marrakech Museums

Though known as the “modern” part of the city, the Gueliz neighborhood in fact dates back to the French colonial period, as evidenced by Gaelic influences like the grand avenues and French-Moroccan Art Deco buildings. Along with chic boutiques and buzzing restaurants, the quarter is also home to the Yves St. Laurent Museum and gardens—which are both standouts, but usually have long lines out front. For less-crowded attractions, L’Heureux suggests a stop at the Museum of African Contemporary Art, or MACAAL (Al Maaden, Sidi Youssef Ben Ali; +212-6-7692-4492). While “a little hard to find (it is oddly situated on the grounds of a golf resort), the effort is worth it, as the building is stunning. Exhibitions change regularly, but showcase artists from around the continent, and it’s got one of the very best gift shops stocked with unusual items from some of the featured artists.” Another hidden gem is MACMA, or the Musée d’Art et de Culture à Marrakech (61, Rue Yougoslavie, Passage Ghandouri; +212-5-2444-7379). Focusing on the works of both contemporary and historic Moroccan artists, the exhibitions span a variety of mediums, from painting to photography.

Exhibitions at MACAAL change regularly, but showcase artists from around the continent. Don't miss the gift shop. Photo courtesy of Guillaume Mollé.

Places To Eat In The Medina

Beyond the souks, the streets of the old walled city are dotted with charming restaurants and cafés that provide welcome sanctuary from the hustle and bustle (and the heat), and offer plenty of good people watching. “When I arrive in the medina, I typically like to go to Terrasse Des Epices (Sidi Abdel Aziz, 15 Souk Cherifia; +212-5-2437-5904) for a delicious chicken couscous and chilled Moroccan rosé,” says L’Heureux. “It’s got a perfect mix of locals and hip tourists, making for a vibrant scene, plus great views of the medina.” Another favorite for lunch is the quiet café of the Le Jardin Secret riad and museum (121 Rue Mouassine; +212-5-2439-0040), which features both an international and an Islamic garden; snag a seat in the shaded, green-tiled courtyard to enjoy delicious Moroccan salads and kefta. At sunset, head to the rooftop Café Arabe (184 Rue Mouassine; +212-5-2442-9728) for a drink and stunning views.

Le Jardin Secret offers welcome respite from the buzz of the medina. Photo courstesy of Le Jardin Secret Marrakech.

On The Trail For Argan Oil

Set about two and a half hours from Marrakech, along the Mediterranean coast, Essaouira is a popular day trip from the Pink City. For fans of argan oil, though, the journey there is just as fun as the destination. “As you approach the whitewashed village, you will start to see the low, scrubby argan trees that are characteristic of the region from Essaouira to the south,” says L’Heureux. “You might even see goats climbing the trees to eat the fruit that surrounds the argan kernel.” To learn more about the oil and pick up a few bottles as souvenirs, stop into some of the cooperatives located along the way. “While many of the ones found along the main road are just for show and set-up for tourists, real, functioning facilities include Cooperative Marjana (Douar Aït Sraidi Lahrarta 44000, Ounara, Essaouira; +212-6-6906-3627) and Cooperative Al Amal (Blvd. Mohamed V, Tamanar; +212-6-6221-7851),” L’Heureux notes. She also offers some buying tips: “The oil should not smell like sesame oil, or feel greasy on the skin, but it should have a mild scent. If it has no odor, it means it was probably overly-processed, which destroys the nutritional value of the oil. You can purchase cosmetic grade oil, which is light and mild, or culinary oil, which tends to be darker as the nuts have been toasted before extracting the oil.”

On the road to Essaouira, you might see goats climbing argan trees to eat the fruit that surrounds the kernels.