In early July I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful city of Marrakech, Morocco, for 4 days. This being my first adventure into Northern Africa is truly was a culture shock, and an experience. I am hooked. I cannot wait to visit some more exotic destinations.
Marrakech is a small but busy city, split into two main sections. Gueliz forms the new town, home to the rich and famous, whilst the Medina or ‘Old City’ is a walled maze of dusty streets, market stalls and the smell of spices. There is so much to see and do here that 4 days was definitely not enough.
We stayed in the Riad Elizabeth, a beautiful Riad in the northern part of the Media, accessed via the souks. This was an absolutely amazing place to stay, relaxed and friendly atmosphere, beautiful architecture and rooms and just close enough to the main city to not feel left out. It was around a 15 minute walk through the souks into the main square of Marrakech (Jemaa El Fna) which was perfect for us.
The Jemaa El Fna is a world heritage site, and it is a spectacle to be seen. Henna women sit under umbrellas in the burning sun calling out to you whilst orange juice sellers encourage you to come to their wagons for a glass of fresh cool orange juice. In the evening it is even more bizarre a place, with snake charmers and dancers attracting attention among the busy night market food stalls, restaurants ‘air conditioned’ by the cool breeze that blows through the square in the evenings.
The souks are a big attraction for tourists, and especially for me as a shopaholic. The souks nearer the square tend to sell low quality good, but the deeper you go into the maze the more bargains you find. The items are made with excellent workmanship. Brightly coloured babouches (traditional Moroccan slippers) and brass stalls selling teapots, trays and lanterns completely engulf you as you try not to get lost.
We managed to get lost for about an hour and a half trying to get back to our hotel. The souks really are a fun place to get lost, although the stall owners will shout at you again and again to show you the way. It is best to ignore them, lest they lead you off to their friends spice shop, or further into the souks.
My shopping list from Marrakech mainly consisted of spices, with Marrakech is famous for. Harissa, ginger, cumin, amber and more can be found on almost every stall. We became fond of sitting in the small Cafe Des Epices in the main Spice Market and watching the sellers pedal their wares to passers by. I also had a cooking lesson with the girls in the Riad where I learnt to make aubergine salsa, Berber salad and many other gorgeous tasting dishes. Moroccan cuisine is beautiful, a mixture of African food with an influence of French pastries, pastillas filled with meat and spices, and meats cooked in all sorts of flavours.
We also visited the Maison de la Photographie, a French run museum of traditional Berber and Moroccan photography, set inside a beautiful riad. The museum boasts some interesting antique photography which gave a real insight into the history of Morocco over the 20th century, and earlier. For a few dirhams this is worth the visit, if not for the hospitality alone (we finally had a chance to taste those gorgeous cactus fruit we had seen everywhere, delicious!)
Marrakech is somewhere I would urge anyone to visit if they fancy something different from the typical city break that you so often find. The fact that Air Maroc has finally stepped aside and allowed EasyJet and other low cost airlines to fly into Morocco means it’ll soon be opening up as a new tourist destination, and with the Western influence already very noticeable, it may only have a few years left of charm before it turns into another hot, sunny resort for European travellers.