From The Airport
20 Euro Approx / 15 – 30 min
Marrakech’s maze of backstreets is disorientating to say the least so the best transfer option is via taxi, trust me! If you’re staying in the Medina (Old City) book a taxi with your hotel or Riad in advance of arrival as often, your taxi will not be able to bring you the entire way due to the ridiculously small streets. Instead, your hotel will arrange to meet you at a certain point and guide you the rest of the way, phew.
There is no better way to experience all of Marrakech’s main sights than on foot, go and lose yourself in the never-ending array of alleyways and side streets.
In our eyes, staying in a Riad is the best way to experience Marrakech however there are hundreds to choose from. Riad Monceau is one of those gems that you find every now and again, slightly more expensive than your average Riad, however, we think it’s the only place to stay given the level of luxury meets traditional Moroccan realness, tell Ouima we sent you.
Web: Monceau | Map: 7 derb Chaabane
Things To Do
Jamaa el Fna
Coming to Marrakech and not experiencing Jamaa el Fna square is impossible, mainly because you will often find yourself walking through it to get elsewhere. Stop, grab a seat and watch the African magic unfold before your eyes.
When planning your trip to the souks, stop; you’ve already made your first mistake. My only advice is to NOT make a plan and allow yourself to get more lost than you’ve ever been before, beyond bliss.
A perfect getaway form the Medina madness. The garden was once owned by Yves Saint Laurent and when he died he chose to have his ashes scattered there. On visiting, you’ll soon realise that your whole life before this moment has been in black and white such is the intensity of the colours.
Web: Majorelle | Map: Rue YSL
A Moroccan must where you allow somebody else to wash and bathe you; a deeply personal experience. No, not in a creepy way, in fact you’re the creep for even thinking that way. For convenience I chose to have mine in my Riad so it was a short jump back into my bed.
Web: Monceau | Map: 7 derb Chaabane
Day Trip / Ait Ben Haddon
Ok, so a four hour drive from Marrakech is a long way to travel but NOTHING will prepare you for the sight that is Ait Ben Haddou, an ancient red clay city with Unesco status. Truly mind blowing.
Map: Ait Ben Haddou
Café Des Epices
Hidden away in the Spice Market, this café that will act as your midday sanctuary / watering hole should you need one in between all the shopping in the Souks. Rooftop for the absolute win!
Web: Epices | Map: Here
Restaurant Amal is dedicated to empowering disadvantaged women through training in traditional and modern Morrocan cuisine. If that wasn’t a good enough reason to visit the food is whopper.
Web: Amal | Map: Here
There’s a reason Nomad pops up on lots of Marrakech guides, the quality of food here is superb. Book a table on the roof and watch the most incredible sunset go down over the city. Oh and the saffron ice-cream, you can thank me later.
Web: Nomad | Map: Rahba Kedima
It’s the thing that excites me most about travelling. That feeling of arriving in a foreign land when the land truly feels foreign. As you touch down in Menara Airport and make your way from the aircraft towards the terminal building, you’re very aware that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Morocco a few times and its ‘that’ feeling I associate most with this country, knowing no matter what corner you turn you’ll always feel like you’re a million miles away from home.
As you drive towards the city you get somewhat lured into thinking that maybe Marrakech is like any other modern city but then you meet the Medina wall, a dominating structure built around the entire old town to protect the city. Passing through it can be compared to running at high speed towards the wall in London’s Kings Cross station such is the transformation of your surroundings, but instead of finding yourself on Platform 9 and ¾, you’ve been transported to old world Marrakech.
Stepping into Jamaa el Fna square at night is like arriving into an insanely busy Kasbah plucked directly from the set of Lawrence of Arabia, not surprising then that much of the movie was shot in Morocco. The smells, the animals and the constant barrage of people selling their wares is an overwhelming experience that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Believe me when I say there is no avoiding the chaos, and why would you want to.
I’m staying in Riad Monceau and thankfully they’ve sent someone to pick me up in the square even though the Riad is less than a 5 min walk away. Marrakech is disorientating on so many levels, if you can avail of a similar service you will be glad of the help. After reaching my Riad it’s instantly clear that it will become my hidden sanctuary during my time in the Medina. I’m met with a warm welcome by Said (pronounced Sayeed), who shows me to what can only be described as an Arabian suite, traditional but with the right amount of luxury fit for the spoilt African princess that I am. Trust me when I say the bath is as big as my bed.
Given my late arrival, I was surprised when Said asked if I would like something to eat. Fully expecting to be given a leftover sandwich he led me to a poolside table beneath the Moroccan stars and served up some of the best tajine I’ve ever had. It’s worth pointing out this would be the first of many tajines over the coming days.
So you’ve heard and read loads about the Souks and you’re ready to bring your A-game when it comes to navigating them, right? Wrong. Nothing will prepare you for the maze that lies ahead. Being the planner I am, even the thought of not knowing my exact geo-location at any given time brings me out in a sweat, so foolishly I asked Ouima (pronounced Uma) at the front desk to suggest the perfect route through the souks that would mean I miss nothing. She quickly and politely interjected mid sentence to tell me that even she still manages to get lost in the Souks. She told me to go and get lost, see where the wind takes me and that’s what I did.
Now there’s lost and then there’s the kind of lost you get in the Moroccan Souks that no amount of broken Arabic will fix, I was beyond lost and it was so bloody exciting. The real problem arises when you realise that you’re going to need an extra check-in bag for the journey home for all your wares as this is a shoppers paradise. From leathers to ceramics and everything in between it’s hard not to go absolutely bananas on the buying front. Who even knew I needed leathers and ceramics in my life! Even when you reach a point where you look at all the treasures you’ve bought and realise that they don’t actually go with anything in your home, you’ll find yourself buying more and more. The only thing I can compare the rush to is being a contestant on BBC’s ‘Bargain Hunt’ while high on crack cocaine.
My rule of thumb for haggling is to offer roughly half of the proposed price and if it’s not accepted then walk away. Chances are you will get what you want if you stand your ground. The shop owners are incredibly persistent but politeness and a bit of respect goes a long way and will usually play in your favour. Please = Aafek. Thank you = Shukran.
After what seems like an eternity in the souks it’s time for a well earned lunch in Café Des Epices in the Spice Market, try to get a table on the roof for a view that absolutely delivers.
Feeling tired in the afternoon sun, it’s time to retreat back to my Riad. In Marrakech, there are so many places offering Hammam ranging from the popular Les Bains de Marrakech to any one of the hundreds of Riads throughout the city. For me, the idea of being able to fall into bed after a hammam trumped having to get dressed in order to walk back to my hotel, so I chose an in-house hammam experience which took place in a specially designed steam room on the roof.
Weekly visits to the local hammam are an integral part of Moroccan life. Usually Moroccans will visit with a friend who’ll help them bathe and scrub their body. Allowing a stranger to bathe you is a deeply personal experience, one I loved as it demands respect from both parties even if you’re the one being scrubbed. It is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, feeling somewhat powerless while allowing an almost ritualistic ceremony to take place. In reality you’re lying down while somebody cleanses and exfoliates EVERY inch of your body leaving you cleaner than when your mother used to wash you in the kitchen sink. Oh, was that just me?
Before I visit a city I will do a lot of food research, but I also try to avoid restaurants that I see listed on too many blogs / review sites as too many recommendations has the ability to turn me off also. Nomad is one of those names that appeared time and time again but this time I felt the menu was exactly what I was looking for in terms of traditional Moroccan fare with a contemporary feel. Go rooftop to watch the sun go down behind the Kotoubia Mosque. Do not leave the restaurant without trying the Saffron Ice Cream, you’re welcome.
Another day, another venture into the Moroccan unknown, this time to Jardin Majorelle in the new town, a part of the city that looks and feels like its namesake. The Medina can get a bit much after a couple of days so this is the perfect escape. It took French painter Jacque Majorelle 40 years to create the garden, then in 1980 Yves Saint Laurent saved the garden from demolition and after he died his ashes we’re scattered there. It’s hard to see how anyone would not enjoy a trip to this insanely lush landscape. When leaving the garden, be sure to pop into the concept stores across the street for a goo.
Around the corner from the garden is Restaurant Amal which is dedicated to empowering disadvantaged women through training in traditional and modern cuisine. The food is wholesome and delish. Tajine number 2 or 3… I’d stopped counting.
Note: As most streets will lead you to / from Jamaa el Fna square, it’s hard not to get caught up in the bustle. At some point during your time in Marrakesh you will be faced with snake charmers and / or monkey handlers looking for some quick cash in exchange for getting a photo taken with their ‘pet’ of choice. In the interests of animal welfare, politely decline and move on.
It would be mad to visit Marrakech and not leave the city, after all you’re on the freakin African continent! Lots of tour companies offer trips to the Atlas Mountains and if time allows you can even overnight in the Sahara desert (min 3 night trip). As my time was short I hired a driver with a 4×4 for one day (EUR140 incl. fuel) to take me to Ait Ben Haddou, an ancient city made of clay with Unesco status.
Firstly, to reach the city you must drive for 4 hours through the Atlas Mountains on the Tizi’n’Tichka pass. What my driver failed to mention was that the pass would be completely covered in snow and sleet as it was February and that every corner we took would take us one step closer to death. Be warned, this road is not for the faint hearted.
After what seemed like an eternity driving I finally caught my first glimpse of the ancient city in the distance and it left me completely breathless. A sight so perfect that no photograph will ever do it justice. As you approach the town, there is a viewing point on the right hand side where you can view the city across a lush green valley. DO. NOT. MISS. IT.
I travelled to Morocco for 3 nights / 4 days, a perfect amount of time for the above itinerary however be warned, the country’s ability to lure you back will have you returning for years. I’m already planning my next visit.