DISPATCHES FROM EXOTIC LANDS
Magical Marrakech: here’s why you need to spend a week in the enchanting Red City
The names of certain places around the world flood the mind with exotic images. Known for its souks, spices, snake charmers, hip hotels, hidden palaces and heavenly hammams, Marrakech is most certainly one of them.
Since the 9th century Marrakech has waylaid camel caravans plying the Sahara Desert, trading in desired commodities such as gold, copper, hides, horses, slaves and salt. It is a place where trading has continued for centuries, and today djellaba-clad men leading donkey carts laden with goods continue to ply their trade through the narrow streets of the medina alongside maniac motorbike riders and zippy mopeds.
A week in Marrakech
Many visitors spend just a couple of days in Marrakech, ticking off a couple of sights and a brief haggle in the medina before continuing on their way. We feel Marrakech deserves longer and it is easy to while away a week in this chaotic yet enchanting city. One of the key secrets to enjoying a full week in Marrakech is to take short breaks from the often overwhelming, hustle and bustle of the medina. Once you have had your fill of the relentless street sellers, and getting hopelessly lost in the souk, there are plenty of tranquil and fascinating places to explore and activities to undertake. Here’s our pick of the best…
WANDER THE MEDINA, MARRAKECH’S MAJOR DRAWCARD
You can spend a full day simply exploring the Marrakech medina with its medieval, labyrinthine alleyways lined with artisan workshops selling everything from slippers to spices, magic carpets to mint tea. Packed with donkeys and traders, and home to tanneries, potteries and textile cottage industries, it is an absolute assault to the senses – the chaos, colours, sounds and smells – yet it is an experience not to be missed, and a wonderful place to simply get lost. In the medina all roads seemingly lead to ‘the square’ and there will always be someone willing to show you the way.
WATCH THE THEATRE OF DJEMMA EL FNA SQUARE UNFOLD
‘The square’ is Djemma el Fna, the legendary, open air, space beneath the towering minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque. Charming by day and utter chaos at night. As dusk falls, and the muezzins call the faithful to evening prayer, Djemaa el-Fna truly comes to life. Snake-charmers, story-tellers, henna-artists, acrobats, magicians and musicians are all spectacular sideshows amongst hundreds of food stalls serving everything from sizzling sheeps heads to snails and tasty tagines. Mountains of couscous, dates and traditional delicacies are also on offer as hawkers, touts and relentless street sellers all vie for your attention, and your money. It is one of the most hectic, yet fascinating, live theatre shows on earth.
RECHARGE IN SECRET GARDENS
For a breath of fresh air take some time out to explore Marrakech’s stunning gardens. Our favourites are the Anima Gardens nestled in the Ouirika Valley, 27kms outside the city and designed by André Heller an award-winning multi-media artist and designer who has created unusual sculptures amidst shady paths and pavilions. The Marjorelle Garden – without doubt the most famous in all of the Red City – is a stunning botanical oasis named after an expatriate French artist – Jacque Majorelle – who created the riad, vividly painted in bright blue and yellow, within the grounds. Having fallen into disrepair the property was purchased by the fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent in the 1980’s and now houses the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech, the Berber Museum and the recently opened Musee Yves Saint Laurent.
INDULGE IN MOROCCAN FOOD
Moroccan food is a highlight of any visit and we highly recommend joining a tasting tour and cooking class. This isn’t just about food but a real opportunity to learn about Moroccan culture and traditions as you wend your way through the market selecting a myriad of fresh, locally grown ingredients and an assortment of spices that you will combine to create an elaborate tagine, pastilla (flaky pigeon pastry), steaming pile of couscous or traditional Moroccan bread. The ultimate highlight is then enjoying the fruits of your labour as you dine on your own culinary creation.
DRINK TEA AND WATCH THE WORLD GO BY
Drinking tea in Morocco is a much-loved tradition that signifies hospitality and friendship. There is an art to the preparation and specifically to pouring it: the higher the teapot is held, the better. By the end of your time you may feel you are drowning in this minty, sugary treat but sitting in the tea shops haggling over magic carpets or watching soccer with the locals is stuff of real Moroccan life, and its addictive!
RELAX IN A RIAD AND TREAT YOURSELF TO A HAMMAM
A riad is a classic Moorish home of two or more levels set around an interior garden, often with trees and a trickling fountain. Internal balconies typically overlook the garden and roof terraces with high walls are common. Many have been converted into luxurious boutique hotels. Built with privacy in mind, they provide a quiet retreat in the midst of the city’s hustle and bustle providing little oases of tranquillity. Hammams are a common feature and most riads will have a steam room and traditional spa facilities. Here you can indulge in a range of treatments ranging from an authentic black soap scrub, an argan oil massage or bespoke facial.
WALK THROUGH MOROCCAN HISTORY
Wandering through Marrakech you’ll wonder what lies behind every closed door and down every alleyway. The only way to get beyond the guidebook and truly discover the history and culture of Marrakech is to employ the services of a local expert. During a guided walk you’ll discover former Koranic school and a true jewel of architecture the Medersa Ben Youssef, the 70m minaret of Koutoubia mosque, Bahia Palace and the Saudi tombs, and the Palace Dar Mnebhi which demonstrates classic Andalusian architecture. You’ll also stumble across interesting incidentals – imposing archways, carved doors, fountains and street art – discover historic souks and hear the anecdotal stories of days gone by.
Venture further and head to the Sahara, the sea and the High Atlas Mountains
Marrakech is a fabulous destination in its own right but it also serves as an excellent base for explorations further afield. The Agafay stone desert is just 45 minutes outside the city but offers a sophisticated glamping experience complete with elegant white tents, al fresco spa treatments and camel expeditions. The bohemian coastline of Essaouria is just a couple of hours drive away and can easily be reached in a day. Further afield, head north to the Atlas Mountains for Berber hospitality, striking views and endless hiking trails, or south to the Sahara desert for a classic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ experience.
Ready to go?
If you want to explore more of magical Morocco then get in touch with us to design an itinerary to specifically suit or check out our scheduled soirees and get ready to fall under the spell of Morocco. However long you choose to spend in Marrakech you will feel mahabba – the warm welcome of the Moroccan people. Insh’allah (God willing) we will be sending you off on a tailormade made journey, or welcoming you on one of our scheduled departures, very soon!
“There are certain places on the surface of the earth that possess more magic than others; and one of those places is Marrakech.” Paul Bowles – American writer who resided in Morocco for over half a century