A weekend in the gem of North Africa.
I always found the most interesting places to be the ones that do not fit one definition, where cultures meet and even clash in unique and unexpected ways. Morocco is such a place. Here, Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish traditions and languages mix and morph into what is uniquely Moroccan. Within the country, the city of Marrakech – a hybrid of the bustle of Casablanca, the historical significance of Fez and the laidback atmosphere of Agadir – embodies this ideal. My short weekend here did not do the city justice, leaving me yearning to return to unravel more of what it has to offer.
I was lucky enough to have a friend from the city who, in line with second to none Moroccan hospitality, took care of everything for me and a friend. Knowing no visit to Marrakech would be complete without a stop at Jamma El Fna, that was the first thing on my list to see. Jamma El Fna is the city’s renowned central square, mentioned in almost every travel article featuring Morocco. As I walked from the street to the square, the crowds of people thickened, the cacophony of noise begin to merge and grow louder and from a distance, plumes of smoke rose from the white stands and created a specter-like effect. My friend showed me a painting of the square 100 years ago from one of the stands. Remarkably, it was basically unchanged. Standing there, I truly felt that it could have been 1912 instead of 2012. As I walked around, I witnessed a dizzying array of acts including animated storytellers and a man belly dancing dressed as a woman. I was most excited to sample the street food (completely safe and sanitary) and enjoyed the best orange juice of my life and an amazing pot of chicken tangine. After extensive peer pressure, I tried my first ever snail at one of the stands. While it is a local favorite, my taste buds were definitely not accustomed to its taste.
A warning to ladies when visiting the square: I strongly advice going with at least one male acquaintance, a local if possible, not only to help navigate the square but discourage verbal harassment — an unfortunate inevitability in Morocco.
In my short weekend, I also managed to squeeze in visits to Yves Saint Laurent’s exquisite garden, Jardin Marjorelle, the beautiful Bahia Palace and the Koutoubia Mosque. If you love fashion and worship Yves Saint Laurent as I do, a visit to Jardin Marjorelle is mandatory. YSL loved Morocco, especially Marrakech, and drew plenty of inspiration for his collections from the city. The Bahia Palace, built by a sultan in the 19th century, is distinguished by gorgeous art and architecture. As for the Koutoubia, my visit was short-lived as I did not feel comfortable walking around its perimeter with my short shorts. Particularly for women, I recommend more modest clothing for mosques (even if you do not enter). But for any other place, Western clothing is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it is fascinating to observe the streets, where burqa-clad woman can be seen walking side-by-side midriff-baring woman.
Marrakech is also infamous for its party people and a nightlife scene that holds its own. I quickly learnt that the routine seems to be as follows: relax at a trendy pool location, move to a bar, then end the day at a glitzy nightclub before repeating it all again. As for this summer, the places to be seen at were Myah Bay (pool), followed by Gossip (bar), then Silver (club). Myah Bay, with its modern and minimalist decorations, proved to be teeming with beautiful people. The DJ pumped a great mix of music (and actually takes requests!) while we sipped on wine and tanned on white leather couches and cabanas that surround the pool. As someone who is clueless about soccer, I was hesitant to watch the Eurocup finals at Gossip but found it wholly entertaining to see Moroccans heartily support Spain (who did win 4-0). I have heard many tales of legendary parties in Morocco’s clubs and was not disappointed by my time at Silver.
When I leave a place, I always have a very sure sense of whether or not I’ll be returning. Safe to say that I will be back in Marrakech soon enough. From the centuries old square to hip new nightclub, the one addictive commonality is that intangible spirit of fun and liveliness that is so characteristically Moroccan.
Article and photos by Natasha Weaser.