Wow. Marrakesh – a sensation for the senses 24/7, and my word it is an absolutely bonkers place. There’s so much to cram in if you can hack the pace!
There we were thinking when we hopped into our taxi from the airport at 7pm we’d be dropping our bags and embarking on a leisurely first-night wander around the Medina. How wrong we were, as we decided to hit Jemaa el-Fna – the city’s main public square and thriving food market – as soon as we got there. The intensity of the place was a bit of a slap in the face as we were a bit dozy from the flight, but as long as you’ve got your wits about you you must totally embrace the madness and get involved!
Be prepared to be asked if you want to charm a snake, hold a monkey, get a henna tattoo and eat a sheep’s head all at the same time. Yep, you read that correctly – it’s insane. Let your nose soak up the oriental spices and get bartering with the street vendors to pick up some dreamy design work for your home. It was a really intense welcome to the city – crazy, but in a good way.
WHERE TO STAY
Nick and I booked in at the adorable Riad Dar One, right next to le Palais de la Bahia in the south of the Medina, for three nights. Staying in a riad is an absolute must for Marrakesh if you’re keen to get a truly authentic experience of the city’s accommodation. A riad (which means garden in Arabic) is small guest house with around 6 rooms facing on to a small courtyard garden. They are dotted all over the old city and offer a really quirky way to experience Moroccan hospitality. Walking through the back streets to get home every night was a very cool addition to our experience, as was the strong smell of amber as we walked in the door.
We decided to splash out and book the Sirocco suite – Dar One’s rooftop room with it’s own private balcony. It was definitely worth it for the view and incredible sounds of the city each evening, beer in hand before venturing out again at night.
Day 1: CRAMMING IT ALL IN – WHERE TO START
We started our first full day with a coffee at Cafe de France, a simple but large coffee shop situated right on Jemaa el-Fna square. It gives tourists and locals alike a front row seat for people-watching. A great way to get your caffeine fix and watching the traders set up for the day.
To fully immerse yourself in the Marrakesh way of life it’s a must to spend a morning getting lost in the Medina. If you get asked to go in a shop or get barked at to buy something from a stall, go for it, but never pay full price for anything. At one point we got cornered into a woodcraft shop to buy a chess set which started at 800 dirhams (about £70) and by the time we left he only wanted 10! We still didn’t buy it though…
The old city is a boho-style interior lovers’ dream. Kit out your home with amazing candles, soaps and oils, place mats and gorgeous rafia pots and baskets for next to nothing (because you always need an extra basket for guest towels in the bathroom, right?). Remember to haggle your heart out and only pay a quarter of what you’re quoted originally! Turns out I make a great haggler.
In the afternoon we took the 30-minute walk out of the Medina to the new city district of Gueliz, in the north west of Marrakesh. The one place I had been super excited about visiting during our time here was the Jardin Majorelle. My love of cacti and bold colours at home has got a bit out of control of late, so I wanted to see how the experts make it work.
Acquired by Yves Saint Laurent in 1980, he restored the original Art Deco garden, installed lots of new plants and dreamy architecture. There’s now a memorial in his name, a pricey but stunning boutique, and blocks of Majorelle blue and the most gorgeous sunshine yellow everywhere. This place offers the most tranquil escape from the noise of the city and it’s an Instagrammer’s dream. We had an exceptional lunch in the garden’s chic little courtyard cafe too.
With a few hours to kill before our dinner reservation in the new city, we headed up to the seventh floor at Hotel La Renaissance for a rooftop tipple. It’s the tallest building in Marrakesh and offers a completely unspoilt view of the city and the Atlas Mountains in the distance.
We dined at Al Fassia on recommendation from some very foodie friends of mine, which was easily the best meal we ate during our time here. A traditional Moroccan restaurant run entirely by women serving delicious tagines in a very romantic setting. I opted for the selection of small tasting salads to start and was greeted by 15 small plates of gorgeously spiced vegetable combinations. We’ve been home a fortnight and I can’t stop barking on about how good those veggies were!
Day 2: ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY
After the madness of the Medina, our second day in Marrakesh required a little escape so we spent the afternoon at Beldi Country Club. For just under £40 day trippers can use the pools (there’s 4 to choose from) and enjoy a three course lunch in the gorgeous green surroundings just a 15-minute cab ride away.
Beldi appeared to be a hit with trendy tourists, as we were joined by beautiful twenty-somethings around the pool for the day. Lunch was good, not incredible, but worth it for the tranquility and good service. A lovely, worthwhile trip, even if it did rain for a bit (honestly, what are the chances when it was scorching the day before, so sadly no blue sky photos).
In the evening we cabbed it back to the Medina for our dinner reservation at NOMAD. Another trendy tourist spot with a charming interior and a stunning roof terrace that prides itself on serving traditional Moroccan cuisine in a modern setting. There’s even a note on the menu stating this so you’re not disappointed when your meal doesn’t turn up in a tagine. We got a table on the second floor overlooking Place Des Epices, where we were able to dine and watch the bustling square become deserted as the hours went by.
So, Marrakesh in a nutshell – a cultural whirlwind – unique, endearing, totally bonkers and another level of pace. Would I go again? Probably not. But would I recommend you go? 100%. I feel it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Though ask me that again in ten years and I might consider it for the weekend – for dinner at Al Fassia alone.
We stayed for three nights in the Sirocco suite at Riad Dar One via Expedia for £100 per night.