I’ve already written about the beauty of our hotel, The Mosaic Palais Aziza and I suppose in a way that should have prepared me for the magic of the city I was about to fall in love with, but no. In my head, I still imagined a dusty, noisy landscape, with leering locals trying to force their wares on me in scary alleys. A typically naive view, and one that was about to be shattered.
We rose early for breakfast on our first day with a rather hectic itinerary ahead of us. Our hosts had organised for us to visit some of the more diverse and wonderful places in the city…and clearly, there was a lot to see.
Dressed suitably for the country in maxi skirt and vest (with a cover up for my shoulders, it is a Muslim country after-all), the large group of us jumped in the mini-bus and headed to the Jardin Majorelle. This was my first look at Marrakech in the daylight and I watched in fascination as the city unfurled in front of me. Camels sat non-plussed on the side of roads, casually chewing their breakfast, mopeds whizzed in and out of traffic and locals went about their business, seemingly oblivious to the heat. I had no idea what to expect from our first destination (trust me to
not do my research), so was somewhat taken aback when we arrived at Le Jardin – a stunning garden in the centre of the city. We strolled in between the huge green trees and plants, admiring the beauty and appreciating the coolness of the shade. The garden was bought in 1980 by Yves Saint Laurent, who fell in love with the tranquil space and this is where his ashes lay. It really is a magnificent place, centred around a lily-pond, scattered with Pagodas and intricate mosaic tiling.
Nearing the exit, there’s a museum of Berber history. We strolled around, taking in the traditional costumes (including what may possibly be the world’s first onesie – amazing) and admiring the heavy jewels and head-dresses the Berbers used to wear. We weren’t allowed to take photos or I’d have been snapping away (OK, I tried but got told off). At the exit, there’s another small room packed with prints of Yves Saint Lauren postcards – turns out he used to design them and send them to his friends and loved ones. A beautiful piece of his past.
We left the garden, blissed out and looking forward to seeing what was next. Some of my travel companions went on to go camel riding, while I headed back to the hotel to relax by the pool and take my first dip in the beautiful pool.
After lunch and a quick change, we headed out again for our first experience of the Medina, the souk and a bit more history. I started off a little nervous as we entered the maze of streets leading away from the main square, but was pleasantly surprised as we meandered on. Each stall revealed a new little treasure; pungent spices, the highest quality leather (goat and cow are good, camel is not), argan oil, shoes and jewel coloured terracotta pots all had me squealing and running in and out of the shops at lightening speed. We all know that haggling is part of the fun here, and haggle you must – no-one expects you to pay full price and the shop-holders really do enjoy the back-and-forth as much as we do. This is no place to be shy!
It seems far too easy to get lost in these streets, but our guide told us that all roads lead back to the main square eventually, so even the most directionally-challenged people would eventually be OK. I’d have quite enjoyed the adventure of navigating my way past the cages of Chameleons and Tortoises, through the alleys of mirrors and silverware, past the shoes and clothes and fabrics and back to the safety of those orange stalls. Alas, there was no time on this trip, but when (not if) I return, I look forward to a day of aimlessly wandering, for no reason at all. Of course, people called out, trying to sell us their wares, but I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of harassment here. At no point did I feel scared or threatened, and a quick no deterred anyone from trying too hard to capture our attention.
Finally, after our procession had successfully negotiated our way through the rabbit warren, we arrived at our destination – the Madrassa Ben Youssef. This historical monument Islamic College was founded in the 14th Century, and closed in 1960. The beautiful building has tradition seeping from it’s tiled walls – and you can explore the main sections and 130 or so tiny dormitory rooms in which the students would have stayed, learning and praying to Mecca. The walls are covered in ornate carvings of geometric patterns and the prayer rooms echo with the history of the voices that would have spoken here. Wonderful.
After a pit stop back at the hotel, we were off out into the city again. We visited La Momounia – the city’s most recognisable hotel, and a favourite of Winston Churchill. He said, of the view from his balcony
“It is the most lovely spot in the whole world”
And you can see why. This is an ultra-luxurious hideaway, accessible only to the wealthy and perfectly private for those who don’t want to be bothered while they relax. Other guests have included Madonna, Sarah-Jessica Parker (who took a suite at $4000 a night for a whole month while she filmed Sex and the City 2 in Marrakech) and Maggie Thatcher, among others.
We toured the hotel and then stopped for a cocktail in the bar downstairs. Perhaps we’re a little spoiled in London, but the £30 cocktails were perhaps not the best value – I’ve definitely had better. I’d recommend sticking to a G&T or something simple – but the piano music, dim lighting and glamorous surroundings make it a worthwhile pit-stop.
Onward again, to Le Salama restaurant for a delicious (and huge) traditional tagine shared by us all. I took some time to sit upstairs in the open air, watching the city unravel in front of me in it’s own wonderful way, before joining the group for fun and banter before making our way home.
One of my favourite parts of the city was the Medina, which was so wild and buzzy it almost seemed to have it’s own life-force. In the daytime, stall holders sell freshly squeezed orange juice, while the water sellers in their traditional dress pour chilled water for thirsty passers by.
At night, the square takes on a different personality altogether – it’s packed, and noisy and busy and you have to weave your way between mopeds and pedestrians with precision timing or you’ll be swept away. Everywhere you look there are snake charmers showing off their skills, monkeys performing tricks, stall holders selling their wares and young beggars rather politely testing their luck with tourists. It’s wonderful, and mystical, and I breathed in every moment and smell and sound as we guided our way through the madness. And madness it is. Not for the faint-hearted.
If you’re someone who likes to be active while travelling, you should definitely visit the Terres d’Amanar Eco Adventure Park. A 40 minute drive from our hotel, the park is packed with things to do, including a 300+ metre zipwire, horse and camel riding, Berber craft workshops and, if you’re like me and like to relax, two magnificent pools. The park has won awards for eco-tourism and has a number of eco-lodges in which you can stay if you want to make your visit a little bit longer than just a day. The best thing for me here was the magnificent scenery. The park is set high up in the hills, surrounded by greenery, with a clear view to the snow capped Atlas Mountains behind you and the dry, arrid landscape rolling out in front. Truly beautiful.
I was worn out after all the activity but the rest of the team carried on. Some went for drinks at the glamorous Nikki Beach, and all went for dinner to Le Foundouk restaurant that evening. Both were apparently wonderful and I missed out. Damn by ridiculous health…
Our final morning was spent drinking fresh orange juice and sipping on coffee at the magnificent Old Post Office, one of the most glamorous places to take breakfast I think I’ve ever been. The, after some more wandering through the souks, we visited an altogether different type of location – one of the Riads in the centre of town. Hidden behind typical stone walls (most houses in the city look the same from the outside, so neighbours do not get jealous of/show off wealth) Dar Fakir is an oasis of calm just seconds from the madness. Set (as all Riads are) around the central fountain, this cool, calm, beautiful Riad is available for around just £90 a night – which is a real bargain. If anyone saw the Made in Chelsea trip to Marrakech (Season 2), this is where the cast stayed. We relaxed, drank Mint tea, browsed through books in the library and then climbed on the rooftops to bathe in the sun and listen to traditional music from a nearby home drift through the air. Wonderful.
Our final afternoon was tinged with sadness, as I don’t think any one of us wanted to leave. We relaxed by the hotel pool and made use of the fantastic spa – having massages and hammams, followed by henna tattoos while we relaxed with a glass of champagne.
I don’t know if my words here have summed up how truly blessed I feel to have been invited on this trip. From the moment I met with my travel companions (all fellow writers) at Stansted and chatted with them in the One Lounge (which I highly recommend checking out, by the way), through the quick and enjoyable flight (where I made firm friends with Kate from I am not a celebrity) to that breathtaking moment when we arrived at our hotel, to each and every meal, excursion, sight, sound and moment that passed, I loved it.
Marrakech is a city I feel I could return to again and again – I honestly don’t know how you could ever get bored. It’s a city that makes an assault on every one of your senses – with new sounds, sights, tastes and feelings that leave you slightly overawed and confused but with a huge, unmissable smile on your face.
Recommendations in Marrakech:
The Souk, of course!
If you’re an explorer you will love this city. You can embrace the differences, get lost, explore, see and do. If you’re a little more cautious, you will too – but I recommend chatting to your hotel before jumping in head first – it may be a little daunting at first!
I travelled to Marrakech as a guest of Easyjet, who have recently introduced a new flight direct to the city from Stansted. It’s quick and easy and well worth looking into, as flights start from under £30 one way! We stayed as guests of the Mosaic Palais Aziza and were guided ’round the city by the Moroccan Tourist Board. Many thanks to all involved in the trip, as it was truly fabulous.
- See Part 1 of my review of Marrakech here.
- Part 3, Marrakech in photos, is coming soon.
*APOLOGIES FOR MISSING IMAGES, LOST IN THE CROSSOVER FROM THISLITTLELADY.CO.UK
Photos were taken on the Canon SX50 HS. It takes gorgeous shots – and you can get one with a £50 discount here if you’re quick!