A baffling labyrinth of hustle and bustle located within the shadows of the towering Atlas Mountains.
Stepping into Marrakech will throw your senses into overdrive, there is so much to see and do that I have filtered out the best experiences from a chaotic three days in the red city. The city’s enchanting medina is the main hub of activity – a baffling labyrinth of hustle and bustle located within the shadows of the towering Atlas Mountains.
1. Embrace the lack of clear direction.
In other words, get lost. However much we think we have excelled ourselves in the realms of modern-day technology, you will definitely struggle to direct your way around the medina. For (at least) the first 48 hours within the haphazard streets, you will likely take all the wrong turnings and find yourself being approached by “local guides” who will guide you to where you need to be – the only catch being they won’t leave you until you have coughed up what they feel is the respectable amount of money. Getting lost is all part of the fun of it. While getting lost can be irritating, getting into the depths of the medina is what it’s all about, uncovering the real Marrakech to find hidden gems is the magic that the city holds.
2. Sample culinary excellence.
Book a table at the new Maison MK Hotel, for their 5 course-tasting menu. This boutique hideaway is just a stone throw away from the Djemaa el Fna nestled within the main hub but hosting a calm and tranquil atmosphere. The experience begins with sunset canapés and cocktails on the panoramic roof terrace. The menu is exquisite and varies each evening; using local ingredients the chefs create a modern menu with Moroccan twists. With intimate surroundings and five-star service, this is an experience not to be missed. Once you’ve had a taste of Moroccan excellence and fancy your hand at creating, the hotel also hosts cookery courses.
3. Barter your way through the souks.
Have you ever desired a magical wooden box, a Sarahran necklace, herbs that make you look 10 years younger, hand-painted ceramics or leather in any form? You can be sure that you will want some (if not all) after a few minutes in Marrakech. The souks – a collection of undercover markets – welcome in all their victims and leave them in a trance not knowing which way to turn; the wares on offer are plentiful, beautiful and (if you can handle it) good value for your dirhams. As one of the most exotic places that you can shop, the souks are a real shopper’s paradise to finding something new at every glance. It’s easy to spend a whole day in them with the feeling of the ‘unknown’ around each corner. If you don’t want to feel cheated out of your haggling, before heading to the souks, visit the government run market of Ensemble Artisanal with fixed prices. It can get a bit full on; make sure you break up the markets with a freshly squeezed orange juice or a refreshing mint tea from one of the rooftop cafes surrounding the souk areas.
4. Take sanctuary in the idyllic Jarden Majorelle.
If you are feeling souk weary and need a break from the stifling hot African sun, located in the new town outside of the medina is the calming oasis of Jarden Majorelle. The iconic Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge restored the garden in 1980. Make sure you take time to visit the ‘love’ prints exhibition. Showcasing over 300 worldwide plant species, electric blue art deco architecture, Berber art museum, café terrace and a sumptuous boutique, it is the perfect way to spend a relaxing morning winding in between the pools and palms.
5. Relish in the cultural and historic vibes.
One of the most visited landmarks in Marrakech and hard to ignore from the call to prayers echoing throughout the main square, is the Koutoubia Mosque. Standing tall at 70m, as well as its cultural significance for the city, it boasts ornate architecture, which is also reflected throughout the city. Sticking with the striking architectural theme, visit the Ben Youssef Medersa, once North Africa’s largest Quranic school. No longer in use but for 40 dirhams to wander around you get a feel for the magnificent learning space. If you have time in your day, also nearby is the museum of Marrakech. Next up, visit one of Marrakech’s most popular historical sites, the Saadian Tombs, walk around the beautiful enclosed garden with over 100 mosaic decorated graves lavishly decorated.
Article & photos by Gemma Harris.