People who have visited Marrakech seem to have split opinions about the city just like with marmite – they either love it, or they just don’t seem to…
The former group finds Marrakech an exotic city break destination within a stone throw’s of Europe with hot sunny weather, atmospheric riads, monumental mosques and palaces, and delicious Moroccan fare. The latter seems to be overwhelmed by the unavoidable hassling from the local traders and the inescapable hustling, even from little kids, who seem to try various tricks to get some money out of you! However, if you can live with unwanted attention – something I found I used rather quickly – Marrakech is a wonderful destination that feels very foreign and distant from Europe, full of hidden gems you will unavoidably stumble upon.
To first-time visitors, Marrakech might seem quite a mad place. Unless you are local, you lose all sense of direction as soon as you step into the medina (old city) – the winding narrow streets lined with countless little shops selling all sorts of exotic, colorful goods ranging from carpets and kaftans to soaps and trademark organ oil are confusing, countless shops. Even if you do not get lost in the media, you will certainly lose all sense of direction when you immerse yourself into the maze of souks, with overtly gregarious traders displaying their wares in front of each one.
Marrakech is the perfect all-year destination, perhaps best visited during autumn or spring, when the heat during the day is not as relentless as in the summer, and the nights are not yet unbearably cold!
- Find some shade at Jardin Majorelle
I absolutely adore gardens and flowers, so one of my favorite spots in Marrakech is Jardin Majorelle. An enchanting garden, originally designed by Jacques Majorelle, and later owned by Yves Saint Laurent, captured my heart during my first visit with the predominance of the color of the most intense Lapus Lazuli of the Moorish architecture encompassing the exotic verdure and glistening ponds. As soon as you step into the garden, you feel far removed from
Jacques Majorelle described his creation:
“ vast splendors whose harmony I have orchestrated… This garden is a momentous task, to which I give myself entirely. It will take my last years from me and I will fall, exhausted, under its branches, after having given it all my love.”
- Take a balloon flight at sunrise
Regardless of the pre-5 am wake-up call when everything is still pitch black, I cannot think of a better way to start the day then floating high above the ground in beautiful and still surroundings, watching the sun slowly come up above Atlas mountains. The hour of floating gently over the surrounding desert, dry river beds, small Berber villages and catching glimpses of the city itself, almost indistinguishable in the distance seems to go by in a second. Following a good hour of flying, you are treated to an authentic and substantial breakfast of pastries, eggs and sugary mint tea in a Berber village. We flew with Maroc Montgolofiere. . Go for a sumptuous Moroccan banquet
Moroccan cuisine is certainly amongst my favorites; it captures the interaction between many cultures – Arabic, Mediterranean, Berber and Andalusian – over the centuries it is strong on spices and flavors.
Typically a meal starts with a vast series of hot and cold salads, both sweet and savory, followed by a lamb or chicken tagine (meats always tender and fall apart as you tag at them with your fork), followed by fluffy couscous and steamed vegetables.
There is a handful of eating establishments serving decadent multi-course meals showcasing the best of Morrocan cuisine and entertainment – a perfect place if you are new to the local fare! My favorite was perhaps le Tobsil, but there are also Dar Moha and Lotus Privilege amongst others.
Admire the beauty of Bahia Palace
A late 19th-century palace, capturing the essence of ornate Morrocan architectural style. Top artisans worked on this palace, intending it to be the greatest palace of its time: its name means “the beautiful”. Whilst you are resting in many shaded areas, you can be inspired for your next home redecoration project.
- Maison de la photographie
A small gem is hidden amongst the souks with a wonderful array of old photographs from the late 1800s until the 1960s capturing Moroccan history and life, many photographs telling their own story. A welcome respite from the hustling! There is also a lovely roof terrace with a cafe – gran yourself a freshly squeezed orange juice and admire the panoramic views of the medina. Venture into the Atlas Mountains for the day
If you are spending several days in Marrakech, you might want to escape from the city to a place serene and quiet. A day in the Atlas mountains is the perfect answer. Just over an hour’s drive from the city, you feel like you are in a totally different country, thousands of miles away from the chaotic city: mountainous landscapes, lush greenery, babbling streams, and rivers, interspersed with an occasional waterfall, winding, sometimes treacherous trails you can hike (at your own risk!).
After a strenuous hike, you can spend a few much-deserved hours of relaxation at one of the hotels in the area. We spent a few hours at Kasbah Bab Ourika, a gorgeous hotel with an atmosphere of utmost serenity with sprawling gardens, perched on a mountainside.
- Watch Sunset over Djeema el Fnaa
My favorite time to visit the famous square, Djeema el Fnaa and the epicenter of Marrakech life, equally popular with tourists and locals, is at sundown! Go to the terrace of one of the countless cafes surrounding the square, get yourself a sugary fresh mint tea, and watch the red hot disk of the sunset over the horizon!
- Spend a day by a pool in a palatial hotel
Most of the accommodation in Marrakech comes in a form of an atmospheric and ornate riad. However, due to limited space, the majority of these do not offer a decent swimming pool, a necessity following exploring the city on foot in the scorching heat! However, there is a handful of palatial hotels in close proximity to the city offering day passes to their beautiful pools and vast gardens ( for example La Mamounia and Palais Namaskar).
Where to Stay
Riad El Fenn – I spent a week at Riad El Fenn. A riad in close proximity to Djeema El Flaa allows you to quickly escape from the chaos of Marrakech. Isolated from the noise of the city, the only thing that catches your ear is the melodious songbirds. Rooms are spacious, and beautifully decorated, whilst you can relax on the rooftop whilst having a glass of Moroccan wine, or a scrumptious meal.
Royal Mansour – if you are looking for palatial accommodation in Marrakech, then look no further than Royal Mansour, a hotel and a monumental work of art in one – over 1,500 artisans were employed to create it! This magnificent hotel was built at the behest of Morocco’s King Mohammed IV. An estate of 53 roads, this a medina within a medina! We had a wonderful dinner at the hotel’s Moroccan restaurant, La Grand Table Marocain.