Unlike city breaks that leave you drained, a visit to Morocco’s bewitching second city will energise, excite and enchant
When a man is tired of Marrakech, he is tired of life. That might be a slight adaptation of Samuel Johnson’s quote, but it’s arguably more apt in reference to the ancient Moroccan town which has been enticing visitors for centuries.
Steeped in history, teeming with bustling souks and elegantly tiled palaces, Marrakech Old Town is still largely untouched by global brands and unquestionably the biggest culture shock you can reach in just over three-hours flight time from London.
There are so many reasons why Marrakech is eternally captivating and why a visit not only broadens your mind but focuses it to, making your brain fizz with excitement.
There are the labyrinthine and seemingly never-ending souks, where haggling is expected, and the happy chaos of the Djemma el-Fnaa square, which is the focal point of the Old Town (or Medina), which comes to life after dark. You’ll find everything from snake charmers to belly dancers, musicians and henna artists, and vendors selling mouthwatering slow-cooked lamb, pickled snails and divine nut-filled mini pastries.
There are so many sights, smells and tastes to take in, it’s a real test of your ability to go with the flow and relax into a culture that’s very different to your own. All of human – and animal – life is here, and to miss experiencing it would be to miss one of life’s greatest gifts. As Mark Twain said; “travel is fatal to narrow-mindedness”. Stepping back in time in Marrakech is a one way ticket to open-mindedness.
If ‘relaxation’ is usually top of your mini break priority list, worry not. The key to taking in Marrakech without being overwhelmed lies with your accommodation choice. Eschew the global chain hotel groups and opt for a traditional Riad, which are large traditional houses built around a central courtyard, where local staff guarantee your trip is unforgettable
Just five minutes from the main square Riad Jennah Rouge is an intricately decorated dream, with patterned tiles, carvings, sculptures and even indoor water features. As part of the Rouge Hostels group, not only do you get a beautiful room, complimentary traditional breakfast and unlimited sweet mint tea (a Marrakech must), you’re equipped with priceless advice from Managers Meriem and Rasheed.
They’ll happily advise on where to find the perfect traditional Moroccan tagging and which is the best Hammam (a steam room where Moroccans habitually go cleanse, top tip: try the Aabla spa which will leave you the cleanest you’ve ever been). They also run in-house cooking classes and organise daily excursions, including camel rides and sleeping under the stars amid the Saharan sands. The ever-smiling Rasheed explains; “while guests are here this is their home, and they are family”.
The welcoming ethos of the Riad stems from British owner Francesca, who fell in love with Marrakech as a backpacker ten years ago and has never looked back. “Sipping tea on a rooftop bar overlooking the main square at dusk is an absolute must for every visitor,” she says. “There’s huge potential for self discovery as you discover this city. It’s really about your ability to take things in your stride and deal with the many unplanned random stuff that often happens in Marrakech”.
That random stuff includes men trying to place a monkey on your shoulder in the Djemma el-Fnaa square (be warned, they’ll want money in return) and non-stop and often extraordinary haggling in the souks. If it all gets too much, make like the locals and relax under the olive trees of the 12th-century Agdal Gardens, a vast 40-acre orchard.
For more green and pleasant lands, the French painter Jacques Majorelle began planting the Jardin Majorelle in 1924, and his psychedelic plants and water-lily pond were later tended by Yves Saint Laurent. Majorelle’s signature cobalt blue studio is now a Berber art museum and wandering around the garden’s intricate tiles and cacti is a relaxing way to spend a morning.
Or for a slice of modern life in the heart of the Kasbah district, try Café Clock. This trendy spot is famous for serving up frothy date milkshakes and camel burgers, but it also puts on Arabic storytelling nights (with English translations), concerts and fantastic Moroccan cooking lessons run by the wonderful Mohammed. They last five hours and include the unforgettable experience of food shopping in the market (live chickens optional).
Marrakech is a place like no other, and one that is impossible to forget. It’s a place that demands that you fit into it’s rhythms and cultures, and there is a special joy in understanding them in a world that is increasingly homogenised due to globalisation. Go local and at your own pace to enjoy the many and varied splendours of this magical city.
Rouge Hostels is a group of seven hostels in Marrakech which can be booked via www.marrakechrougehostels.com, or email [email protected] and 0044 7873496854
Adventures, trips and ready-made itineraries, surf and yoga packages, and daily Sahara trips can also be booked via www.marrakechrougehostels.com.
For information about Cafe Clock’s cooking school, concerts and traditional storytelling nights visit www.cafeclock.com
The local currency is Dirhams, but don’t change your Stirling at home – wait until you’re in the Medina. You can pay for your airport taxi in Euros.
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