The intense contrast of deep blue walls, sunshine yellow pots and lush planting immediately places you in the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech. After a fair amount of deliberation, it became apparent that this was the only appropriate place to celebrate my 30th birthday.
When it comes to planning a holiday, there is one significant decision that all travel enthusiasts have to make; whether to return to somewhere you have loved in the past or broaden your horizons and opt for a new destination. When the trip in particular is to mark a special occasion, the choice becomes even more difficult.
This is the predicament I found myself in ahead of my milestone birthday. Having travelled to some incredible places throughout my life, I weighed up going back to one of those against the irresistible urge of ticking a new destination off my bucket list. In the end, I decided to return to a much-loved location and here's why...
It is easy to put pressure on yourself to have a good time when travelling, especially if you know you'll look back and say:
"This is where I spent my 30th birthday."
While I love exploring new destinations, I thought about the places that have really stood out during my life of globetrotting so far, and nowhere shone quite as brightly as the Majorelle Garden.
This oasis in the heart of Marrakech was a labour of love for the artist Jacques Majorelle, but by the time it came into Yves Saint Laurent's hands in 1980, it had fallen into disrepair. The fashion designer and his partner, Pierre Berge, found the garden on their first trip to Morocco, and enchanted by its colours, returned on a nearly-daily basis during their stays. When they discovered it was to be sold to make way for a hotel, they put in a counterbid and lovingly restored the garden in accordance with Majorelle's original vision.
Having been returned it to its former glory, the garden is now open to the public and completely different to any of the other attractions in the city. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the Majorelle Garden is unique anywhere in the world.
I first visited the Majorelle Garden at the age of 17 with my parents and was instantly in love with the very specific shade of blue that adorns the walls. Said to have been inspired by the colour of the overalls worn by French workmen, the artist trademarked the colour and daubed it on the walls, fountains and other features across the site. While it is doubtful that workmen in France had such a vibrant hue for their uniforms, the gardeners who maintain Majorelle's vision today wear overalls in the exact shade.
Initially, I thought the intense blue and bright yellow pots that complement it were in stark contrast to the surroundings in which the garden can be found. After all, Marrakech is known as the Red City, the Ochre City and even the Daughter of the Desert, a reflection of its sandy tones.
On closer inspection, Majorelle blue isn't quite so out of its comfort zone in Marrakech. There are accents of the colour throughout Morocco, and since visiting the garden I have started to spot it everywhere. From the indigo-dyed cheches worn by local Berber people to the shining pigment found in mosaic tiles, blue is just as much a colour of Morocco as the sand of the desert and green of the mint tea.
So, it is this colour that called out through 30 years of travelling and 13 years after my original visit, that drew me back. Returning to the Majorelle Garden was a very special experience. It's a place that has memories for our family and my parents still have a tourism poster designed by Jacques Majorelle beckoning travellers to Morocco hung on their wall. Returning as an adult and sharing it with my boyfriend offered a real sense of my travelling childhood and adult life coming together.
The garden was very much as I remembered it, a tranquil place, where the hot Moroccan sun is diffused through the leaves of the trees, and birds can be heard chirping overhead. Pops of colour appear around every corner, cacti stand proud and the water that tinkles through the fountains adds an extra element of serenity to the space.
It's hard to fight the urge to take pictures everywhere you go in the Majorelle Garden, and as I was snapping away at the perfect combination of colours, I came across one of the gardeners. I was desperate to get a shot of him in his distinctive blue overalls, but am aware that not all Moroccans are comfortable with having their photos taken.
After a small amount of negotiation and handing over a few dirhams, the gardener allowed me to take his picture. He then took hold of my camera and headed off into the trees. I quickly realised that he was capturing angles of the garden that are unseen by tourists, as he went off the pathways to take pictures of the house and fountain for me.
While there is nothing better than strolling around the garden, there are a few buildings also worth exploring while you're there. Majorelle's former painting studio has been turned into a Berber Museum, housing the personal collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge. Here, the culture of one of North Africa's original peoples is explored through art and items admired and curated by the couple over the decades.
Nearby is the Love Gallery, where you can see the original artwork used for the annual love cards Yves Saint Laurent used to send out to friends and clients at the beginning of each year. They feature various elements of his passions, with the 1986 edition clearly depicting a stylised representation of the Majorelle Garden's iconic fountain. The poster is realised in shades of blue and yellow.
Due to my deep affinity with the Majorelle Garden, I was delighted that the poster for my birth year was unmistakably inspired by it. In another strange connection, I discovered during my visit that Jacques Majorelle was born in 1886, 100 years before me. It's these little details that help me to realise that I made the right choice for my 30th birthday. Milestones are an opportunity to look at how far we've come, while realising some passions remain unchanged.
It would be rude to leave the Majorelle Garden without paying respects to the man who saved it. Since I last visited, a memorial to Yves Saint Laurent has been erected in a quiet corner of the site and it seems a fitting tribute to the fashion icon who was so in love with style. And when the new Yves Saint Laurent Museum opens in the autumn, there will be even more reason to visit.