27 Dec Travel Diary: Marrakech
Marrakech is like “an assault on the senses.”
Those are really the only words I can think of to aptly paint a picture of this chaotically beautiful city… and they’re not even my own words. I had to borrow them from one of my favourite movies The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Unlike any other place I have visited before, Marrakech is truly a visual experience, I mean I thought the tiled façades in Lisbon were breathtaking, but Marrakech quickly shook all my senses. From the ornate mosaics and woodwork, to the salmon pink walls and the souks filled with rows of brightly coloured powdered dyes in bowls, carpets and golden lamps; I meant it when I posted on my Instagram that “when Yves Saint Laurent said ‘Marrakech taught me colour… I felt that.”We landed at Marrakech Menara Airport, one of the most beautiful airports I have ever seen, after a 1 hour 35 minute flight from Lisbon, a little bit tired but very excited because of the bucket list nature of the destination. After years of dreaming about visiting Marrakech, to finally be in Morocco was kind of a big deal to me and I wanted to share every moment of it, which is why the first thing I did was buy a simcard at the airport, to start Instagramming.
Whilst Marrakech is pretty much a tourist destination and has quite a few places that cater to tourists’ possible want to have an alcoholic beverage, we didn’t want to assume that our riad would serve alcohol. Having never travelled to an Islamic nation, more than anything we did not want to ever come across as disrespectful by even asking, which is why we got a bottle (which we kept hidden in our suitcase for the duration of our stay) at the duty free before leaving the airport.
This brings me, in a very convoluted way, to my first tip… Tip 1: Respect that Morocco is an Islamic nation, so dress appropriately. Avoid unwanted attention and looks as a woman, by covering your shoulders and knees.
The cab ride into the medina was shorter than we expected and before we knew it, our cab driver was dropping us near a little alleyway because cars can’t really drive into most of the winding passages of the medina. Before we even knew what was going on, our suitcases were taken out of the boot and placed straight into a large wheelbarrow that a teenage boy started wheeling off without consultation in the direction of the narrow alleyway leading to our riad. At this point, I need to share my 2nd tip…
Tip 2: Notify your riad when you are arriving and get them to send someone from the riad to help you with your luggage. Riads are normally located within the Medina, so most times vehicles can’t drive right up to the front door and you need to meander through narrow alleyways to get there. When you first arrive you might not be able to easily navigate those alleyways and streets, so you will probably need someone to show you where your riad is.
We obviously did none of the above, and ended up over paying (even after negotiating with the cab driver at the airport) for the cab ride. Then on top of that, when we arrived at the door of Riad Be Marrakech, less than half a kilometre from where the taxi had dropped us off, we were unknowingly scammed of 150 Dirhams by the teenage boy for his services. Between him raising his voice and flailing his arms after we made it clear that he was asking for way too much money, we gave in, because we just wanted to get that kind of energy out of our faces.Hot and bothered and annoyed after being scammed so badly, we walked into Riad BE Marrakech (see full post on that Riad here) and all of that went away, as we sipped on mint tea and waited to check in. A stark contrast from the hustle and bustle just outside of its nondescript door, this riad provided a breathtaking and somewhat magical respite from the riot of activity in the medina.
As the fatigue of an early morning travel day seeped in, we opted to take it easy by smoking a shisha on the rooftop terrace of our riad before taking a late afternoon / early evening walk through the souk and heading to Nomad for a non-alcoholic sundowner and dinner. Located on the corner of the spice square, the restaurant overlooks a busy market square within the medina and serves modern Moroccan dishes like braised lamb shanks, spiced chicken leg and lamb burgers with a Moroccan twist as well as delicious desserts. If you want to have a meal at Nomad, Tip 3 from me, is to make a reservation at Nomad around sunset and ask to sit on the terrace.The twisting maze of narrow streets and alleyways of Marrakech transformed when it got dark that evening. The masses of people and scooters racing past us became intensely more chaotic as we tried to find our way back to our riad. With Google maps not working properly and maps.me, the app we were told to download because it would work better in the alleyways of the Medina, also not working properly, the walk home that night was a little nerve-racking. Tip 4: Download Maps.me App. It really does work better than Google Maps in the alleyways of the medina.
Tip 5: Walk on the right to avoid getting run over by scooters and the like…
After a delicious breakfast on the rooftop of Riad BE Marrakech and a quick dip in the pool before heading out, we made our way on foot to our first stop for the day, 33 Rue Majorelle, a Moroccan concept store home to a “well-curated selection of up and coming Moroccan brands and designer products.” After window shopping and deliberating over whether to buy the leather handbag I had spotted, we headed to Le Jardin Majorelle, just a few steps away from the store.As expected the crowds in Le Jardin Majorelle were concentrated around the Berber Museum, the vibrant cobalt blue house with yellow accents built by French Orientalist painter and plant collector Jacques Majorelle. Surrounded by beautiful cacti and plant life, this is not the only stop one should make within the gardens. Tip 6: Explore the gardens, and make sure to stop at Galerie Love, a small gallery space opposite the Museum bookshop and next to Boutique Majorelle. This little gallery space is home to a series of “Love” posters that Yves Saint Laurent created using mainly collage and he gifted as new years greetings to his friends and the clients of his fashion house. After making sure to really take our time enjoying the gardens, we walked a few steps to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, and wrapped up our day that evening with an elevated Moroccan dinner experience at Dar Zellij. From the meet and greet service where you are met at your cab drop off by a doorman from the restaurant to help you navigate your way to the unsuspecting wooden door of Dar Zellij, to the delicious tagines and Moroccan wine I sampled, this was really the perfect way to end a perfect day. Tip 7: If you want to really have a special dining experience, book at Dar Zellij instead of Nomad. The food is better, the ambience more magical and the service is incredible.Feeling a bit more familiar with the area and having mastered the artful skill of not making eye contact and saying no to all sorts of offers of help, especially that of little children, we spent the next day in Marrakech exploring the souks and Jemaa el-Fnaa, a large square and market place, where all sorts of things are happening and being sold. Here, you will truly engage with Olympic style hustling. Tip 8: Unless you are willing to part with money, rather say no to all types of unsolicited help. Don’t look at the monkeys with little red hats or snake charmers unless you are willing to pay and always negotiate down the price you are given.
Tip 9: Draw money at the airport before you leave and try to make sure you have smaller bills. It is far easier to negotiate and keep to the price you want to pay if you aren’t asking for change when purchasing something in the souks. Also, atms in the medina are hard to come by.We wrapped up our day with an early dinner and sundowners at Le Salama, where we enjoyed some happy hour drinks and a surprisingly delicious lamb tagine in this beautifully decorated and totally Instagram worthy restaurant / bar. All our ambitions to try and check out the nightlife in Marrakech dissipated due to the sheer fatigue of walking around in the heat and haggling all day. Shopping Marrakech’s souks is honestly a test of ones mettle and you really have to accept that you will buy something, and in literally the next store find it cheaper. It will happen.Keen to not waste our last day in Marrakech, we started off day 4 with a Hammam experience at Riad Ksar Kasbah, followed by a delicious brunch on their terrace and lazying about by their pool where I took the opportunity to have some more mint tea. With only a few hours left till our evening flight to Casablanca, we braved the heat and delved back into the bustling souks with the specific goal of getting to the Carpet souk aka the Souk de Tapis. Overwhelmed by the vast selection of carpets and rugs, I left with just a throw and a definite desire to head back with an emptier suitcase. Our final hours in Marrakech were spent overlooking the same market square we watched the sunset from at our first dinner in Marrakech. As we enjoyed our early dinner / late lunch and Cafe Des Espices, I certainly felt some type of way knowing that I was about to leave this city of jarring juxtapositions, with so many unexplored crevices and spaces. Marrakech is insanely beautiful. I will definitely go back.