Welcome to the real life labyrinth that is Marrakech. With it’s tightly packed maze of narrow streets this is a city bustling with life that will leave your head spinning. Overflowing with exotic scents, shimmering colours and souks holding more treasure than Ali Baba could shake a stick at.
Don’t be fooled by its dusty facade, this may be an ancient settlement but modern Marrakech offers some of the hottest hotels and galleries of the moment. If action, adventure and a touch of eastern mystery is your thing (and why wouldn’t it be) then take a deep breath and prepare to explore the delights of the Red City.
WHERE TO STAY
Our favourite hands down. With a choice of the chicest rooms or indulgent private houses, pretty tree filled courtyards, and a family of resident tortoises, El Fenn is as exotic as the city it inhabits. Converted from a traditional riad, it is no surprise that this boutique bolthole has won awards for its interior design.
If you’re looking for a home away from home (although we’re guessing your house probably doesn’t have it’s own hammam) then this cosy guest house, with only 3 bedrooms, could be perfect for you. A beautiful balance of French shabby chic and Moroccan flair. After a hectic day in the city the wonderful sofas are perfect for putting those shopped-out feet up.
Tucked away cross the city is Riad Miski where the staff always go the extra mile – ask them to teach you the secrets of making Moroccan mint tea and you’ll never reach for the tea pigs again.
If you want to blow the budget then this is the hotel to head for. Since it opened back in the 1920’s, this palatial place is set within manicured gardens and has hosted Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin. Recently refurbished, the traditional Moroccan décor is an opulent Moorish feast of lavish fabrics, traditional tiles and rich colour schemes. You can also pay to come here just for the day to use their pool.
If relaxing by a pool floats your boat, take a short (6km) taxi ride to the Beldi Country Club – an eco-minded bolthole, which feels a million miles away from the dust and chaos of the medina.
WHERE TO EAT
Apart from having the most awesome floor of any restaurant, this is also the place to try a mix of delicious Moroccan and Italian fare. Off the beaten track but well signposted – you can even request for a representative to come and take you to the door. Request a table in the courtyard with the rose-filled fountain.
For a truly Moroccan evening this is the ultimate restaurant. The menu, interior and music are Moorish in every way. From the hand-painted zouaké ceiling to the flower filled courtyard with fountains, this restaurant is hard to beat.
Djemaa el-Fna Food Stalls
Think of it as more of a game than a meal. Here you can try a range of…erm…“delicacies” including steamed snails, tongues and sheep’s intestines. The waiters will heckle you beyond belief to encourage you to choose their restaurant so you need to be feeling strong. Either way, at night the lantern lit stalls come alive and this is a great place to absorb the Moroccan mayhem.
WHAT TO DO
Scrub Down in a Hamman
Embrace your inner snake and shed your skin at one of these traditional bath houses. Be prepared for some tough love when it comes to the scrubbing, but it will be worth it. Using a kess (an exfoliating hand mit) you’ll be rubbed down with savon beldi (black olive soap). For a more cultural experience you can try a public hammam (be brave), or if you’re feeling shy, we suggest you opt for the private spa style treatment instead. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Affectionately known as “the Yves Saint Laurent garden”, this twelve acre electric-blue botanical garden is a must (even if you aren’t green-fingered). Other guests give flowers, but Yves Saint Laurent gifted this oasis to Marrakesh, the city that adopted him.
A little hard to find, but a haven away from the hustle of the streets outside, is the Maison De La Photographie. Here you can find 200 years worth of Moroccan history brought to life. Housed in a charming riad are some of the earliest photography taken in the country. Truly eye opening, it’s equally entertaining for the nosey parkers as for the culture vultures.
Haggle in the Souk
Hone your bargaining skills at the famous souks of Marrakesh. Keep your head as you meander through the chaos of hectic haggling, snake charmers, magicians and musicians and you may be rewarded with spices, perfumes, ceramics and rugs. Open from 9am until 9pm, the various souks start north of Jemaa el Fna and continue until the Marrakesh museum. For a more relaxed affair try the barter-free shopping at Souk Cherifia.
Explore the Atlas Mountains
Only an hour away, these snow capped mountains provide quite a contrast to Marrakesh. Drive through traditional mud-built Berber villages and green valleys with waterfalls, to experience a totally different side to Morocco. It’s (quite literally) a breath of fresh air from city life.
La Roseraie’s golden years may be a decade ago when it was THE, and only, place to be, but we still love its rustic charm. The food won’t win any Michelin stars but when the roses are in full bloom the whole property is filled with the most exquisite aroma.
Snappy happy Some locals may consider it rude, or even against their values to have their picture taken without permission so it’s always best to ask.
Cash is king Be prepared to use cash. Remember cash? It’s that paper that people used to use. Whilst you don’t want to be a walking target for thieves the contactless culture hasn’t reached Morocco and ATM’s aren’t always plentiful.
Washing hands Food poisoning is not fun over here so make sure you do everything to avoid it.
Haggling You will be expected to haggle over everything. And we mean everything.
Contributors: Louise Jackson
cntraveller.com, hotels.com, riadsmorocco.com, mamounia.com, lamaisonarabe.com, flickr, pepenero-marrakech.com, Pinterest, bluebanana.it, morocco-plans.com, bbc