Goth Tulum! Valladolid folk art museum, sugar skulls, Mexican graveyard with Loco Gringo Tours.

Valladolid cemetery

Happy Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead! To celebrate, let’s explore the spooky side of Tulum, Mexico. (I was there earlier this year with Yukiro, and have been saving this special post until now.)

Yukiro and I enjoyed relaxing at Karisma El Dorado resort, but we didn’t want to leave the country without seeing a sugar skull or two.

We put our trust in concierge / tour company Loco Gringo, and they truly delivered. Our local guide Paulina arranged a perfect day that included a visit to a colorful Mexican cemetery, and folk museum with hundreds of Day of the Dead skeletons! 

mexican gravestones, tombs

Wherever in the world I travel, I seem to end up in a graveyard. It’s no surprise that my Goth friends and I are interested in how different cultures honor their dead.

mexico graveyard

In the ancient city of Valladolid, the tombstones are painted in bright, colorful hues. Many people think of cemeteries as fearful or depressing places. However, in Mexico, death is represented by smiling and dancing skeletons.

mexican tombstones

Every year from Oct 31 to Nov 2, Mexico celebrates Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) with skull facepaint, music and raucous parades. It’s believed that the deceased come back to visit during this time of the year.

On this special day, families tend to the graves of their loved ones. They leave offerings of bright sugar skulls, flowers, and the favorite food and drink of the departed.

goth graveyard fashion

Outfit details: yes, that’s my Scottish Fold cat peeking out from under my leather jacket!

My top is a gift from illustrator Lili Chin. She makes custom pet portraits that can be printed onto shirts and other products. If you’re interested in a custom drawing of your cat or dog drawing, check out her site.

tulum cemetery

This is not your typical orderly graveyard, with plots in a row. Each resting place is festively decorated in ways that celebrate the deceased’s personality and life.

mexico burial rituals

No two headstones were alike. Despite being a home for the dead, Valladolid cemetery felt like it was bursting with life.

vampire burial

According to local legend, a vampire is buried in this giant grey mausoleum

goth in cemetery

These bright coffins seemed to be inviting us to join the party. The decorative elements were a mix of Christianity and Mexican folk traditions.

mayan carving, sacrifice

We even spotted a sacrificial tribute to the ancient Mayans, who once ruled over this area (Tulum and Riviera Maya).

(Loco Gringo also took us to see the famous pyramids Chichen Itza and Ek Balam — read about it in this post!)

offbeat weird mexico cancun

Dancing with the dead. I wonder who lies beneath the hot pink grave…

colorful graves mexico city

Our guide Paulina answered all our questions about these traditions. I can’t think of a single Riviera Maya tour that will take you to the graveyard… but Loco Gringo is extraordinary, and tailored the day exactly to our interests.

gravekeeper ghost stories

Paulina introduced us to the “old graves-keeper” (who didn’t seem that old), and translated Spanish for us. He told us an eerie ghost story about the time he dug a grave, and felt someone grabbing onto his arm… eek!

mexican graves

Without Loco Gringo‘s expertise, we would never have visited this magnificent cemetery.

Valladolid folk art museum

We climbed back into the van, and our driver took us a short distance to Casa de los Venados: Valladolid’s folk art museum. 

The name translates to “house of deer,” hence the blue man mascot with the animal on his poncho.

mayan statues, carvings art

Loco Gringo suggested that I visit Casa de los Venados, since it has the largest private collection of Mexican folk art in the world.

We stepped into a home that had multiple rooms and courtyards filled with fascinating works.

mexican folk art collection

The hacienda’s owners, John and Dorianne Venator, began their collection decades ago. Today, their home has over 3000 pieces of art, and is open for the public to appreciate.

la catrina, day of dead

The curators have a fine eye for works that reflect the history and humor of Mexico.

To our delight, there was an extensive collection of spooky art. Devils, skulls and monsters — oh my!

devil spirits mexico scary toy

We had fun turning the dial of this toy, and watching the parade of demons, skeletons and coffins march into the mouth of Hell.

mexican nun on currency pesos

We saw many interpretations of sugar skulls (I got nail art from Glam Nail Studio to match).

Who is the nun holding a head? We learned she is Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun and poet who is the face of the 200 peso note. (Perhaps she inspired The Conjuring 2 movie?)

frida kahlo mosaic mural

The folk art spanned all mediums and sizes, from the ancient Mayans to modern-day artists.

In one of the many mini-courtyards, I found a tile mural of Frida Kahlo, with a black monkey on her shoulder.

frida kahlo decorated room

Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists, and a personal favorite of mine.

An entire room is dedicated to the female painter. How many Fridas can you count in this image?

devil skeleton mexican art

Yukiro and I had never seen so many Day of the Dead representations in a single museum.

We smiled at the Calavera Catrinas, or Dapper Skeletons. First depicted by Jose Posada in 1919, these elegant skull-people are always dressed aristocratically.

dia de los muertos musicians

In Mexican folklore, the dead are joyful during Dia de los Muertos. I wouldn’t mind rejoicing with these smiling musicians skeletons.

devil sculptures

Even the devils like to have fun. They’re represented as cheerful, naughty creatures, rather than as beings to be feared.

Casa de los Venados

Casa de los Venados’ owners did a wonderful job in re-vamping the original house. They added a fabulous outdoor area, with a glass bridge spanning several pools of water.

day of dead ceiling painting

Look up, and you’ll see these happy Mexican skeletons waving at you! I thought the undead pet was a cat, but it’s actually a dog wearing a bandanna.

Casa de los Venados Valladolid

I didn’t know much about Mexican folk art before visiting this museum. It was fantastic to see so many high quality works under a single roof.

tulum swimming pool

Cheers to this glorious pool, fed by multiple overhead streams!

Mexican folk museum Valladolid

I found a cat-face fountainhead to match my tank top.

la catrina skeleton painting

We ducked into the dining room and paid ode to La Catrina, the grand ol’ dame of death. 

Casa de Los Venados museum

At this point, our eyes were popping out of our heads — there was so much to see, in every conceivable space! Even the carved dining chairs and chandeliers were Mexican works of art.

day of dead skull figures

You’d think that a Goth lived here, with all the skulls and bones.

surreal mexican art

The corner table had a surreal display. I want that monkey for myself.

Mexican Folk art collection

These photos show only a fraction of Casa de los Venados. I encourage you to visit the Valladolid folk art museum, and see the rest.

weird mexico goth skulls

Muchas gracias Loco Gringo for being the perfect local guides!

We’re not exactly “regular tourists,” and would have been bored with a cookie cutter tour. But Loco Gringo took the time to learn about us, and tailored the itinerary to our dark fascinations.

bizarre tulum attractions

We hope you’ll reach out to them if you visit Tulum, Riviera Maya and Cancun, Mexico. 

Do you share our fascination with Day of the Dead? Have you ever dressed up and celebrated it?

PS: thank you TripHappy for interviewing me about my work in travel blogging and TV. I talk about my family heritage, inspirations and more.

Tokyo Halloween themed food: pumpkin burgers at Grand Hyatt, Oak Door! Pastel pink hair color, Attitude Clothing.

pink hair asian model, fashion blogger

Trick or treat! I now have pastel pink hair, with blue and purple highlights. Are you surprised to see this new color?

I’m overjoyed because it’s the best time of the year — Halloween. To celebrate, I’ll show you photos from Japan, where locals celebrate the season big-time.

We’ll kick things off with my fairy-hair, and then chow down on Halloween-themed cuisine in Tokyo, including skull cocktails and bat pastries at the Grand Hyatt’s Oak Door restaurant.

moat house wood sunglasses

First, let’s take a look at the latest additions to my fall wardrobe. I’m wearing wooden designer sunglasses by Moat House, my favorite independent eyewear designer.

These artisans craft all their frames by hand in their Derbyshire, England workshop. The Moat House team sent me these gorgeous Godiva frames in Brazilian purple heart and oak, with a violet mirror lens. The cat eye shape is as flattering as it gets, and the frames are lightweight — so I can wear them with comfort all winter.

I’m a big supporter of Moat House‘s artisinal approach, and encourage you to support indie, sustainable brands like them. (They have all styles of wood glasses for both men and women, which you can see on their website.)

morph8ne lace up dress, attitude clothing shop

Attitude Clothing (an online shop with an amazing selection of dark fashion) sent me some designs by a Thailand designer, Morph8ne. Their dresses seem to be made for Wednesday Addams and Nancy of The Craft (especially their plaid schoolgirl dress).

I’m wearing the Charlotte dress, which has ultra long sleeves and a doll-like lace up corset back. I love the details such as the keyhole closure in the back, and the Morph8ne logo in a heart on the front.

nu goth style tumblr, mermaid hair

Isn’t this witch-baby dress perfect for the Halloween season? (Shop more fashion by this brand from Attitude Clothing, and by clicking below…)

pastel pink blue hair color, my little pony hairstyle

How would you describe my new mermaid hair: My Little Pony? Cotton candy pastels? It also looks a bit like the asymmetrical cut and color of Final Fantasy’s Lightning character.

I always go to hair stylist Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio, in Gastown (#300-68 Water Street, Vancouver BC). Her work is magic: I went from grey-green to layers of light pink, baby blue and lavender. Stephanie is amazing at alternative dyes, but does all types of cuts: ask for her!

skull tights leggings, gal stern

As the weather gets colder, I’ve been reaching for these new gold skull tights from Gal Stern. Based in Israel, she designs luxury legwear and just released a new Halloween collection that is perfection.

The nude hosiery is the softest, highest quality (it won’t tear or run) and how wonderful are the Day of the Dead golden skulls printed over the knees! 

long clothing beanie, morph8ne dress

I’ve been keeping warm with my Long Clothing beanie, also from Attitude Clothing (they carry all my favorite brands). There’s a skeleton skull and chain version of this knit cap as well — or tuque, as we say in Canada.

pastel pink hair colour, fairy kei harajuku hairstyle

My doll-heel platform shoes are similar to these ankle boots by Demonia, and these shoes by YRU. More similar styles from my favorite footwear brands are below.

Thanks Attitude Clothing, Moat House eyewear and Gal Stern tights for the winter wardrobe update! In the next post, I’ll show you a second outfit featuring these designers. (Photos by Joey Wong.)

tokyo japan halloween themed restaurant

Now, let’s take a look at the cute Halloween food you can currently find in Tokyo! The October holiday gets bigger every year in Japan, and you’ll find spooky-themed dishes all over the city.

Nobody does it better than The Oak Door restaurant, located at The Grand Hyatt hotel in Roppongi Hills. This American steakhouse released a masterful Halloween menu, complete with kabocha pumpkin burgers.

skull goth cocktails, tokyo

Pick your poison: the Oak Door Bar is also offering creative cocktails that feature skull glasses and syringes. All are beautifully mixed and presented, and available only for a limited time.

Above, I sipped on a Deadly Rose with pomegranate syrup, apple brandy, silver tequila and lime juice — with dry ice added for a ghostly touch. In the middle, the V-Blood pays tribute to vampires. The Trick or Treat on the right is an unusual and delicious concoction of vodka, melon and pineapple juice.

the oak door bartender, grand hyatt roppongi

The “Dr Frankenstein” behind these drinks is Seyeram Anagbonu, bartender of The Oak Door. He takes a playful approach to his creations, and showed us how he made “brain sludge” out of vodka, lime juice and cranberry jelly.

pumpkin burgers japan, sweet potato fries

Then, Chef de Cuisine Adam Noffsinger came in with these mouthwatering burgers… which look exactly like Halloween pumpkins!

I’ve never seen a burger bun as creatively executed: the bread is made from pumpkin puree and baked in the shape of the squash. Delicious, and all-naturally flavored and colored. Inside, there’s a juicy patty (The Oak Door is known for its beef), Gruyere cheese, thinly sliced Japanese kabocha and classic fillings. Paired with sweet potato fries and spiced aioli, this turned out to be the most “spooktacular” meal I’ve ever had.

bat shaped cookies, pumpkin cake grand hyatt

The Grand Hyatt also debuted a Halloween afternoon tea, and we got to try a sampling of dark desserts. The bat-shaped chocolate cookies, crème brûlée, tarts and creamy roll cakes (all pumpkin flavored) are made in-house by the award winning patissiers.

They’re masterpieces: not overly sweet, with pleasing combinations of natural flavors, and expert decoration (check out the intricate swirls on the tarts).

halloween food menu, tokyo

Head pastry chef Goto Junichi is highly regarded, and deservedly so. His Halloween desserts showcase his fine French training, fused with a Japanese sensibility and touch of kawaii.

You can find his sweets at Fiorentina Pastry Boutique at The Grand Hyatt hotel, and I hope you’ll come to The Oak Door for a kabocha burger and Gothic cocktail before the season ends. (Above food photos by John S.)

monster donuts krispy kreme japan

As you may have seen on my social media, I was in Tokyo for the start of my JRailPass train journey. I found lots of Halloween-themed snacks all over the city, and took photos for you. If only I could eat them all…

At Krispy Kreme Japan, there’s a “sweet monster show” donut box available.

halloween zombie donuts, tokyo krispy kreme

You can buy the Krispy Kreme donuts individually, or get a dozen in a graveyard-decorated box. I spy a melon soda monster, spider chocolate custard puff, grinning caramel pumpkin jack, and a purple mummy with sweet potato icing!

snoopy donuts, mr donut

The Mr Donut franchise also gets into the Halloween spirit, with spooky Snoopy donuts. 

halloween themed donuts tokyo

Mister Donut has donuts shaped like the Peanuts puppy, in white chocolate and chestnut glaze. The seasonal packaging makes it look like Snoopy is wearing a witch’s hat. This chain is also selling chocolate spider and pumpkin ring donuts at the moment.

cute pumpkin decorated cake japan

The cute cafe La Petite Mercerie celebrates with these adorable cakes: a Halloween shortcake and pumpkin gateau chocolat.

halloween birthday cake design

Their smiling Jack-o-lanterns with highlighted cheeks are the definition of spooky-cute.

mickey mouse halloween cake, cozy cafe ginza

Cozy Cafe is offering a Disney Villains special. There’s a Mickey Mouse pumpkin cream cake, with chocolate 3D facial decor. Cozy Cafe also has gift boxes and other sweets themed like Maleficent, Ursula and other baddies.

snoopy peanuts halloween candies

If you want to buy Halloween snacks to take home, don’t despair. You’ll find plenty of items in gift stores all over Tokyo.

For these sweets, Snoopy transforms into a vampire, and peers out of a coffin.

halloween special edition snacks, candy

At Don Quixote (the discount general store), you can find all sorts of inexpensive themed snacks during this season. I found anime biscuits and Halloween Pocky, as well as many others for under $5.

kawaii halloween ghosts, skeletons

Japan rocks at packaging design. The Halloween mascots are always kawaii, with bright colors and simple shapes.

halloween pumpkin cupcakes

At Tables bakery, I was tempted to buy a Jack-o-lantern demitasse cupcake. There’s also one that looks like Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas.

halloween macaroons, ghost cakes

How cute are these bite-sized purple pumpkin and ghost mini cupcakes? 

nicolas house harajuku bunny cafe

In Harajuku, I swung by Nicolas House, a cafe with a bunny theme. All the custards and sundaes have rabbit ears and smiling faces. For the time being, there’e an orange pumpkin Bunnicula.

rabbit decorated desserts tokyo

Nicolas House did a Miffy collaboration last year, decorating all the sweets to look like the Dutch character.

cute bunny cafe, harajuku nicholas house

Even the savory dishes have a cute bunny theme.

kawaii monster cafe, harajuku

Finally, I popped into the Kawaii Monster theme cafe in Harajuku. The restaurant is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu meets an acid trip: there’s a cyber mushroom disco inside, and a giant sofa that looks like a cat. Everything is rainbow-colored, even the food — such as primary colored pasta, served on an artist’s palette.

tokyo monster theme weird cafe

I didn’t go inside or eat a meal here, but you can get the gist of it from these photos of the exterior. Kawaii Monster Cafe is open all year round, so you can get a taste of the rainbow at any time.

halloween eating eyeballs, disgusting horror food props

I leave you with this anatomical dish on display at Okadaya (the Shinjuku craft store).

What do you think of the Halloween treats in Japan, and my newly pink hair color? 

fashion blog halloween outfit scostume

PS: If you’re looking for a Halloween costume, I’m selling many of my favorite cosplay outfits on my Depop shop! I’ve also put up more Japanese Goth and Lolita fashion for sale including Banana Fish, h.Naoto, Peace Now, and much more.

Come see all the listings here, then email and let me know what interests you. I’ll do bundle discounts, and all items come with a photo and personal note. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Travel guide to visiting Lake Bled, Slovenia! Romantic castle & island near Ljubljana, Slovenian cuisine at Tito’s Palace.

lake bled medieval castle

I’ve been asked: as a travel blogger, do I get jaded about traveling? Does going to new countries become boring at some point?

The short answer is no. Every time I visit a destination, especially one I know little about, I end up finding unexpected gems.

This was exactly my experience at Lake Bled in Slovenia. Who knew that this unassuming country would have a lake and castle straight out of a fairytale? 

slovenia famous island on lake

Photos of Lake Bled are stunning enough, but the views are even more impressive in the flesh.

It’s the definition of picture perfect: a tiny island with a white church, in the center of an emerald lake. The isle surrounded by the lush green Julian Alps, and Medieval-era Bled Castle.

lake bled tourism, slovenia

You’ll recall from my introduction post that Slovenia is a tiny country, which makes it easy to travel around. From the capital of Ljubljana, it’s less than an hour’s drive to Lake Bled.

lavender purple hair, disturbia dress

That day, I wore my new blue tie-dye dress by Disturbia, the Goth and alternative fashion label that is one of my favorites.

My sheer Sailor Moon jacket is perfect for warm weather. I got it in Hong Kong, and love how the color is neutral, and the wands and crescent moons are subtle (but Sailor Moon fans will understand the references!)

Shop more fashion from Disturbia by clicking the pictures below 

slovenia oldest castle, bled

Bled Castle is the oldest in Slovenia, and one of the country’s proudest attractions. Since it’s easy to access Bled from Ljubljana (there are also buses and trains), many visitors take a day trip to the lake.

beautiful slovenia scenery

I walked around the towers of Bled Castle, imagining that I was a European princess. Inside, I saw the silver armor of knights, spooky bones and other relics from the Middle Ages.

There’s a crazy Medieval toilet in one room: the hole is a precarious drop down below, like the Vale’s Moon Door in Game of Thrones.

slovenian landscape

Bring your camera. There are outstanding views of Slovenia, from the castle windows and terrace.

lake bled castle, attractions

It’s obvious why Lake Bled is a favorite destination for romantics. The location also leads into Triglav National Park, where you can take part in all types of outdoor adventures.

row boat ferry to lake bled

Time to explore the little island on Lake Bled. The traditional way to get here is by pletna, or a gondola with paddles.

As you can see, it takes a lot of muscle to row, row, row the boat! 

bled island, Church of the Assumption

The Church of the Assumption is the focal point of island. Excavations revealed a chapel that dates back to 9 AD, but the current one was built in 1698. Inside, there’s a “wishing bell”: you pull on a long rope, and it rings the bell at the top of the steeple.

lake bled rowboats

Lake Bled is not one of Europe’s most known attractions, and this is a good thing. You’ll feel as if you stepped into the olden days, and the experience doesn’t feel commercialised.

slovenia gondalier, pletna boat

The same well-muscled fellow took us back to the shores. He does hundreds of back-and-forth rows per day – what a workout!

slovenia tourism, lake bled tourists

I was glad to have the pletna to myself. We shot a 360 degree virtual reality video on the boat, which we will release soon.

lake bled travel guide, tips

I looked back, and the island faded into the distance. Many Slovenians get married here. According to local tradition, if a husband carries his new bride up the 99 steps to the church, then a happy marriage is guaranteed!

slovenia nature, flowers

But even if he crashes and burns, romance is in the air, with pink flowers and picturesque frames like this.

lake bled lunch, restaurant

Even though I didn’t do any rowing, I was ready for lunch. At Lake Bled, dining comes with a 5-star view.

tito dictrator palace vila bled entrance

Our guide Ales took us to Vila Bled, which used to be Tito’s palace.  President Josip Broz Tito lived here, during Slovenia’s time in Yugoslavia. He was known as a “benevolent dictator”… perhaps the beauty of Lake Bled kept him from harsh ruling!

yugoslavia soviet communist art

We walked through Tito’s decadent palace. One of the rooms had a giant Soviet-style mural, featuring hardy workers waving red star flags and sickles.

vila bled menu, slovenian food

We sat down at a table in his courtyard — you can’t beat a view like this. My filmmakers and I started with fresh juices, asparagus soup, and a feta and vegetable souffle. Even the simple brown bread, dipped in Slovenia’s best olive oil, was beyond this world.

ravioli with shaved parmesan

As I mentioned in my Portoroz post, there are lots of Mediterranean influences in the local cooking. This starter, a ravioli with parmesan, was executed with as much finesse as anything I’ve eaten in Italy.

slovenia trout, top restaurants

If you’ve been following me on Snapchat (@lacarmina), I’m sure you were drooling at the food we ate that day. Trout is outstanding in Slovenia, and I ordered it multiple times during my journey. As you can see from the stamp above, Vila Bled’s version was moist and colorfully presented with fresh vegetables.

slovenian wines, wine

Everywhere we went, Slovenian food was outstanding. At Gostilna pri Mari in Piran, an older local couple brought out plate after plate of incredible seafood. We started with octopus and squid carpaccio, moving on to squid ink risotto and penne with cuttlefish, and an entire grilled seabass.

Although you rarely hear of Slovenian wines, the local varietals are as complex and delicious as the ones produced in neighboring Italy and Croatia. I’m holding one of their dry, white wines from the Littoral region.

Vila Podvin, slovenian bed and breakfast

From Bled, we drove to Vila Podvin in the village of Mošnje Radovljica. This was a bed and breakfast inn to remember: the owners are proud of their heritage, and display Slovenian crafts in the lobby. We relaxed in clean and quaint rooms, then went downstairs to the garden — to experience their award-winning Slovenian restaurant. 

Vila Podvin restaurant, slovenia

At Vila Podvin, the dishes are “New Slovene” masterworks by Chef Uroš Šteflin. He reawakens forgotten Slovenian recipes, with modern and creative techniques. We started with a unique soft boiled egg appetiser, followed by either lamb or trout in nuanced, naturally-flavored foam. One of the best meals of our entire trip.

We even woke up early for the breakfast at Vila Podvin, a mix of homemade thick yogurt, fruits, farm eggs and other European delicacies.

slovenia lake bled castle

Like Elaine on Seinfeld, I don’t like to use the word “breathtaking”… but for Lake Bled, I’ll make a happy exception! Although my film team and I have been to many beautiful places around the world, this under-the-radar destination took our breath away… awayyy…

(All photos by Melissa Rundle and Eric Bergemann of Borderless Media).

travel tourism influencer campaigns, top travel blogs

I wave goodbye with the national flag of Slovenia. The coat of arms is a shield with the image of Mount Triglav, the country’s highest peak. Below are two wavy blue lines representing the Adriatic Sea and local rivers, and the colors go back to Medieval times — like the castle where I’m standing.

Had you heard of Lake Bled? Wouldn’t you like to visit?

bat sweater, skull leggings

PS: Shopbop is having a major sale right now – only til Oct 14th at midnight Pacific time! You can just enter code “MAINEVENT16″ for up to 30% off. My favorites are above: a leopard skull sweater, Goth skull print leggings, and this bat sweatshirt that is perfect for fall.

PPS: If you like what I’m wearing, shop more Nu Gothic fashion from the same brand (Disturbia) with a click below. And I’ve added new items to my online shop, including h.Naoto, Banana Fish, rocking horse Lolita shoes. Come see it here.

Royal Mansour Marrakesh: world’s most luxurious hotel! 5-star Morocco riad, Michelin restaurant.

royal mansour morocco top hotel

Come aboard my magic carpet, and fly with me through a Moroccan fantasy hotel: Royal Mansour Marrakesh

My film team and I have been invited to stay at many wonderful places, but Royal Mansour was unlike anything we’d experienced. If you’re a dreamer like I am, inspired by the art and culture of Morocco, then you’ll understand why this five-star riad is so special.

(PS: don’t miss out on my current Japan travels, which you can see on my social media @lacarmina and linked in the top right sidebar.)

royal mansour marrakesh courtyard fountain

It sounds like a tale from 1001 Nights: Royal Mansour was the vision of King Mohammed VI, who employed over a thousand craftsmen and spared no expense to make this dream a reality. (Book a stay at this hotel & learn more here.)

most expensive hotel in world, morocco

My friends and I felt like Scheherazade, wandering the king’s palace in a daze. In a single picture, you’ll find a million details: the tiles, marble, gold, and carved arches.

phantom of opera fashion, dress

You can imagine the fun we had, exploring the riads and hidden lounges, and taking photos along the way. Each area was lit to perfection — such as this reception area with a glowing chandelier. 

The space made me feel like Alice in Wonderland, so I wore a romantic white dress by Liz Lisa (I’m currently selling it on my Depop, in case you would like it!). I played around with some color edits, to emphasize details of the architecture.

entrance luxury hotel riad morocco

Let’s start from the entrance. Marrakesh’s Royal Mansour is only minutes from the bustling Square of the Dead, but the atmosphere couldn’t have been a bigger contrast. We drove through peaceful, opulent gardens and arches until we reached the grand entrance.

An adorable “lobby girl” greeted us, wearing a red cap, military-style outfit and white gloves.

royal mansour rooms, riads

At Royal Mansour, guests don’t stay in rooms. They get their very own three-storey riad, or Moroccan house with an open courtyard.

My jaw dropped when I realized I had one of the 53 private riads all to myself. I stepped past a blue-tiled foutain, into a living room furnished with the finest furniture.

luxury modern design chandelier

The riad was fit for a Moroccan princess: a kitchen, rooftop terrace with a swimming pool, and my own elevator. Every detail, from the antique star lamps to the cushions with glass beads, was exquisite.

most luxurious hotel rooms morocco

My bedroom looked like an illustration from a centuries-old storybook — yet it had all the latest amenities including free movies. I spent an hour soaking in the giant marble tub that lies behind these curved wooden doors.

marrakesh royal mansour palace

Outside, the gardens were blooming with palms, purple bougainvillea and pomegranate trees. The landscape artist – Spain’s Luis Vallejo – also designed the gardens at the Alhambra palace in Granada (which we visited).

royal mansour architect, design

My long white dress added to the dreamlike feeling of the space. My platform sandals are these ones by YRU.

(I’m currently selling both of these items, plus more from my closet at discounted rates. Come take a look at all my sale listings, and email me if you’d like to get anything!)

royal mansour marrakesh reviews

The heart of the hotel is its main courtyard, a palatial arrangement around a cross-shaped fountain.

Mohammed VI began building Royal Mansour in the 2000s, and brought in the “crème de la crème” including architecture firm OBM and the French interior designers 3BIS. He spared no expense. The total budget of the project has never been revealed.

morocco beautiful riad, art hotel

He wanted Royal Mansour to be a tribute to traditional Moroccan craftsmanship — so he hired over a thousand of the country’s best artisans. Each tile was handcut and placed, and every screen was painstakingly carved.

Imagine the effort that went into the zellige alone (the starburst-shaped mosaic wall) in the photo above…

moroccan interior design, art

Around the courtyard, there were intimate curtained rooms filled with cushions and paintings. I ducked into this hidden space and closed my eyes, taking in the scent of jasmine and orange blossom.

I listened to birds singing from the room next door, water trickling through the courtyard, and the light strains of Berber music.

moroccan blue tiles, water fountain

Every corner of the hotel delighted our senses, particularly the open-air courtyards. We walked up the stairwell and found libraries, cigar and cocktail lounges.

Royal Mansour is opulence in its subtlest form. The hotel never feels over-the-top, and yet each detail is pure luxury.

moroccan windows, female travel instagram

The King brought together the highest achievements of Moroccan culture in a single place: interior design, paintings, sculpture, gardens, food.

royal mansour hotel luxe

The cigar room was a perfect example of the hotel’s understated luxury. At first glance, it seems like an old-fashioned gentleman’s lounge.

But then you notice the film-quality lighting from handmade lamps, and the shelves of rare cognacs and cigars. (All photos by Borderless Media.)

royal mansour moroccan restaurant

We had the dinner of dreams at one of Royal Mansour’s restaurants, La Grande Table Marocaine. It’s overseen by Yannick Alléno, a chef with three Michelin stars. 

top restaurant marrakesh morocco

Seamless service, by servers in white gloves. They poured water over our hands as a washing ritual, and served us fine Moroccan wines — above was one of the best glasses I’ve ever had.

moroccan appetizers, molecular gastronomy

We started with our new favorite appetizer, a spread of Moroccan salads with honey and spices.

In the center, we had a selection of pastillas, or savory pies wrapped in crisp pastry. I’m still dreaming of the spinach and cheese one.

morocco clay pot tagine cooking

It was hard to choose our main courses, which were based on Moroccan tradition. Tagines, couscous, Moroccan gnocchi, fish served in clay pots. As expected, everything was 5-stars. If only we could have ordered the whole menu…

We loved the desserts with a molecular twist, including an orange blossom concoction with citrus caviar that burst in your mouth.

royal mansour desserts, pastries

It was around my birthday… and the staff surprised me with these Grand Budapest-worthy cakes.

The hotel has a clever underground tunnel system that lets staff enter and exit the riad without disturbing your peace. One of them delivered these delights at the exact right moment, and then scurried back into the tunnel like a genie. Amazing.

marrakech hotels 5 star lavish

I hope the doors to your imagination are open, after this peek inside Royal Mansour Marrakesh — which deserves its title as one of the leading hotels of the world. The riad just re-opened after a summer renovation, and the gardens have become more enchanting than ever. Learn more and book this hotel here.

marrakech palace bahia

I leave you with a few shots by Joey Wong of Bahia Palace in Marrakesh, built in the late 19th century by a former slave who rose to become the Sultan’s Grand Vizier.

morocco courtyard harem bahia

Bahia has a 2 acre garden and harem, decorated with these intricate Islamic reliefs.

ancient moroccan palace bahia

The detailing live up to the palace’s name, which means “brilliance.” Isn’t Moroccan architecture magnificent? I’d jump at the chance to come back and see more of the country.

If you’re planning a trip to Fez, Marrakesh and surrounding cities, check out all my travel tips and articles here. And watch me explore more of Royal Mansour in our Morocco travel video. To book a stay at my riad and see prices, click here.

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