The haunting sound of the call to prayer, rhythm of the horse-drawn carriages, narrow streets of the Medina, intoxicating perfumes of the Ochre City, lush gardens, magical maze-like souks selling a myriad of wares, medieval city walls dating back to the 12th century, storytelling, singing, belly dancing, snake charmers….Marrakech is a mysterious and exotic locale to submerge and lose yourself in.
Marrakech, the first of Morocco’s four imperial cities, was founded in the mid-11th century by the dynasty of the Almoravids and is located just south of the Tennsift River, in the centre of the fertile Haouz Plain, surrounded by a vast palm grove. The ancient section of the city, known as the medina, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. Which is no surprise given its rich history and stunning architecture.
The city can be an assault to the senses, in an amazing, immersive way, and it’s a unique mix of ancient and modern, traditional and unconventional, eastern and western.
Due to dastardly COVID, as with many other countries, a state of health emergency is in place in Morocco right now, including a night time curfew from 9pm to 6am and travel restrictions in place, but let’s look to the future when this whole nightmare is finally behind us, and go on a magical mystery tour of magnificent Marrakech.
Live Like a Real Housewife
Talking of when east meets west, any Real Housewives fans will remember the New York brutes infamous trip to Marrakech, which spanned three episodes and, of course, included more than its fair share of drama, fighting, feuds and vino….buckets of vino.
Ramona, LuAnn, Sonja, and the rest of the gang stayed at the glorious Dar Liqama (“The House of Green Mint”), an opulent private villa with eight bedrooms, two pools, and a full staff to cater to their every whim.
If you can’t afford the $1,500 a night price tag that goes along with staying at the Dar Liqama, you can at least follow in their footsteps by visiting the glamorous Sofitel Lounge and Hotel Spa, where the Housewives indulged in a cocktail or two, along with some hair pulling and name-calling, whilst soaking up the sumptuous gardens and views of the towering Atlas Mountains.
Follow in Churchill’s Footsteps
If you’re more into history than reality, then head to the glorious Hotel Malmounia, which was the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill’s favorite haunt.
The legendary hostelry, which is about to celebrate its 100th birthday, is top-notch luxury–think the Dorchester meets the Ritz, with a jaw-dropping interior, and stunning gardens to relax in and enjoy a sunset cocktail or two.
It’s pricey, but worth the splurge for the ambiance and sheer glamor.
Yves St Laurent was a huge fan of Marrakech, following his first visit there in 1966, he religiously visited every year, in December and June to design his haute couture collections which were majorly influenced by the colors and vividness of Morocco.
The glorious musee Yves Saint Laurent is a museum entirely dedicated to the legendary designer, housing the best and most extensive collection of Laurent’s haute couture work, along with his original designs and one-off exhibitions.
You can continue your homage to the Algerian-born designer by wandering around the spectacular Majorelle Garden, where the museum is located. Created by the French painter Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s, the two-and-a-half acre botanical garden is so much more than your run-of-the-mill garden or park, with marble pools, raised pathways, banana trees, groves of bamboo, coconut palms, bougainvilleas, lily-filled ponds and fountains.
Sadly, the garden fell into neglect following Majorelle’s death, but it was lovingly restored by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge in the 1980s.
Whilst you’re there you can also visit the Musée Berbère, a small and exquisite museum featuring jewelry, artifacts and costumes from the Berber culture. The Berber, or Amazigh people, have a fascinating ancient and traditional culture, with 80 percent of Moroccans still identifying as Amazigh.
Snake Charmers and Storytellers
A trip to Marrakech isn’t complete without at least one visit to Jemaa El Fna, the main square that’s the heart of the city. It’s dramatically different during the day and night, so worth visiting at both times.
During the day it’s a bustling centre, filled with orange juice stalls and water vendors with traditional brass cups and leather water-bags; snake charmers and, not for the faint of heart or animal rights activists, chained Barbary apes entertaining the masses.
As night sets in the square becomes more crowded and when the snake charmers and apes disappear for the evening they’re replaced by Chleuh dancing-boys, magicians, peddlers of traditional medicines, storytellers (sharing their tales in Berber or Arabic), and a plethora of food stalls selling a variety of mouth-wateringly delicious food.
Get Your Souk On
Marrakech has a myriad of souks, with some of the most exotic marketplaces to shop in the world. For first-time visitors, souks can feel somewhat overwhelming, but if you can allow yourself to take a breath, dive in and absorb it all, you’ll truly appreciate the essence of Morocco.
The souks are a maze of alleys and narrow passages filled to the brim with spices, antiques, jewelry, vivid and complexly woven carpets and rugs, leather slippers, embroidered shawls, silk kaftans, lanterns and pottery. They are packed with people, noisy, vibrant and can cause a sensory overload, but at the same time, they’re exhilarating, fascinating and thrilling.
The souks, which are open from 9am to 9pm, meander north from Jemaa el Fna square in a winding labyrinth of maze-like alleyways until they reach the Musée de Marrakech. The best time to visit is during the cool of the morning, or in the early evening as the fading sunlight seeps through the slatted roof shades.
As with any super crowded restricted area, be extra careful with any personal belongings as pickpockets inevitably operate in the area; also, accept that you’re going to encounter some pretty pushy vendors, and be prepared to haggle for anything you want to buy. Haggling is a true art form and there’s no place for trepidation, dive right in, take a light-hearted approach and savour the experience, it’s an essential part of the Moroccan experience.
Shop Till you Drop
When you’ve had your fill of navigating the souks there’s still plenty of other options for you to splash the cash.
Some of the best spending opportunities in Marrakech can be found at the Khalid Art Gallery (for Antiquities); Gallery ZL (for decorative items and carpets); La Menara (for lanterns and jewelry); Le Château de La Koutoubia (for carpets and pottery), and La Maison du Caftan Moroccan (for tradition clothing and outfits).
To enjoy one of the best belly dancing shows in town head to Comptoir Darna. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but definitely worth the splurge.
A chic, two-story restaurant and club, with exotic decor, in addition to the belly dancing shows they offer truly delicious Moroccan & global cuisine.
Book a table for later in the night so you can enjoy drinks after the show, and some priceless people watching as Comptoir Darna is the place to go for locals looking for a hook-up or just to let their hair down.
As mentioned, Marrakech can definitely feel a little overwhelming for the novice traveler, but hey, you only live once.
If you’re looking for a trustworthy, reliable, honest and genuinely charming and welcoming “fixer” to help you plan your trip, answer any questions and provide recommendations, arrange tours, or escort you on your visit then I highly recommend contacting Hatim, a local tour guide who speaks fluent English and will truly go out of his way to make sure you have the very best time possible, at any budget.
You can contact Hatim via his website: https://www.moroccodreamteam.com, by email:
firstname.lastname@example.org or cell number: +212600264804.