A little guide to Marrakesh

marrakesh montage

Last November I spent six days in Marrakesh, with my boyfriend on a much needed holiday. People always ask me why we chose to go to Morocco, and to be honest it was a whim, but I’m so glad we went. I wanted a holiday to somewhere warm, cultural and cheap. I found Marrakesh though lastminute.com (which I thoroughly recommend) and it ticked all the boxes.

marrakesh montage

Where to go

Djemaa el Fna

The beating heart and soul of Marrakesh is the Djemaa el Fna. All the souks and alleyways radiate off this central square and it is a constant hive of activity. The Djemaa el Fna is over looked by the Koutubia, the tower of the mosque and the highest point in Marrakesh. If you get lost in the never ending labyrinth of the souks (which you no doubt will) you can always look for the Koutubia. The Djemaa el Fna is bustling in the day time but it really comes alive at night with music, acrobats, snake charmers, story tellers and food stalls. Do watch out for the abundance of mopeds and scooters whizzing through the square and down the alleyways, and if someone is hassling you to buy something just make it clear you aren’t interested.soukskutubia

 

Majorelle Garden

Marrakesh is all about contrasts; busy, bustling markets contrast with calm riads and gardens. My favourite garden is the Majorelle Garden, located in the new town, Gueliz. It was designed by the French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and later owned by YSL.

marjoelle

Bahia Palace

The Bahia Palace is a stunningly preserved palace. The Zillij tile work, carved woodwork and painted ceilings are incredible.

bahia palace

El Badi Palace

The El Badi Palace is known as the incomparable ruin, and wandering around its high walls and sunken gardens you get a sense of the grandeur that once was.DSCF8758

Saadian Tombs

The tombs date back to 1600, but where only discovered in 1917 when the french conducted an aerial tour of Marrakesh. The tombs contain about sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty plus servants.

saadian tombs

Essaouira

Essaouira is a beautiful coastal town about three hours away from Marrakesh by coach. It’s known as Africa’s windy city and is very popular with kite surfers. Whilst you wouldn’t want to lounge around on the beach, it’s lovely to spend a day walking long the battlements, exploring the town and it’s restaurants and cafes. Where as in Marrakesh everything is a faded earth red, here everything is blue and white and the Portuguese influence is noticeable.

essaouria

The Atlas Mountains

It’s definitely worth spending some time in the Atlas mountains. We took a couch tour up the Ourika Valley and got to see a bit of the Berber lifestyle.

atlas mountains

mountains

What to eat and drink

Mint Tea

Mint tea is the national drink of Morocco and is made with fresh mint, green tea and lots of sugar. It is served in beautiful silver tea pots with little glasses.

mint tea

Fresh orange juice

In the Djemaa el Fna you can pay 4d (about 30p) for a glass of fresh orange juice. Just make sure it is squeezed in front of you, not poured out of a jug.

Tagines

You can’t go to Morocco and not try a tagine. My favourites were chicken, olive and preserved lemon tagine, and lamb and prune tagine. They are served steaming hot in a traditional earthen ware tagine, with bread to mop up all the delicious juices.

French pastries

The french influence can be seen throughout Marrakesh, and one place where it is particularly apparent is the patisseries and cakes. There are plenty of traditional Moroccan sweets available in the markets, made with nuts and honey, but I sound these too sweet for me and instead enjoyed the excellent viennoiserie.souks at night

 

For a meal with a view try one of the many cafes and restaurants with a terrace over looking the Djemaa el Fna. The view at night is spectacular.

pepe neroPicture form Pepe Nero website

The best meal we had in Marrakesh was at Pepe Nero. You follow signs though winding alleyways, dodging mopeds, until you find a plain wall with a wooden door. Inside the door is the most magical restaurant. We sat at a table in the courtyard of the converted riad under a lemon tree, and enjoyed the most wonderful food and ambiance. Dinner was served with a complimentary glass of prosecco and washed down with mint tea.

 

What to Buy

The Souks are full of so many amazing things to buy, particularly traditional handcrafts. Everything is very exciting when you first enter the souks, but you quickly discover that nothing is really unique and countless other stalls will have the same beautiful products. It pays to shop around and whatever you do don’t forget to haggle. Never take the first price offered. I found it helpful to decide what I’d like to pay before I started haggling them try to work the seller down to that price, which usually works. If you’d prefer not haggle there are craft centers with fixed prices.

slippers

Leather

Moroccan leather is very good and reasonable priced. I came back with a pair of handmade turquoise suede brogues for about £30 and my boyfriend came back with a very large tan leather duffel bag for about £20. Leather slippers and pouffes are a Moroccan classic, and there are also plenty of satchels, bags and wallets.

Wood

Marquetry is a specialty in Morocco and my boyfriend came back with a beautiful lemon wood inlaid chess set.

Ceramics

There is a huge range of beautiful decorative tagines and dishes available in the markets. For practical tagines used for cooking try the roadside shops.

Rugs

I wish I bought a rug whilst I was in Morocco, but anxiety about getting them home prevented me. Moroccan rugs are all handmade, so they aren’t cheap but they are very beautiful.

Spices

The souks are famous for their stalls with fragrant spices piled high. Apparently luxurious saffron and argon oil are big sellers with tourists, but I just went for some Ras El Hanout and some turmeric. Ras El Hanout, a Moroccan blend of 35 spices makes a great gift, especially if presented in a decorative tagine.

moroccan rug

Morocco is unique in that holds on steadfastly to it traditions, the souks that look unchanged in 100s of years, and yet welcomes outsiders with open arms. Morocco is full of life, colour, culture and music. It is a true gem of a place.

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4 thoughts on “A little guide to Marrakesh

  1. Marrakesh is on my top 3 places that I want to go at the moment! This is such a fab post, thank you so much! WIll defo be useful if I ever get round to booking a holiday there! I’m glad you had a good time. Your photos are beautiful x

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