Alongside all other lovely frenzy, I was puzzled what to get my husband for Christmas. I ask my sister what she has got for her fiancée. She sends me a photo with flights tickets to Marrakesh! Yes, Marrakesh!
Jealous, not going to lie. I secretly dreamed about visiting Marrakesh. Magical place with colourful carpets, mesmerising light patterns created by Moroccan lamps on walls and mint tea mini glasses! Not to forget horseshoe arches and mosaics… My vision of Marrakesh sounds like a dream, but is it?
I reveal my little secret and get an invitation to join them. Jump into opportunities when they come. Some greatest things start unexpected.
Beginning of March. Suitcases are packed, tickets ready and we on the way to experience Africa (North) for the first time. March offers pleasant temperatures for exploring and smaller crowds of tourists. Thumbs up!
We spent 4 nights in Marrakesh!
Our flight (UK) is quicker than expected, 3h 10min. Raynair plays the “On time” message and we cannot argue with 20min saved. After the extensive security check at the Marrakesh Menara Airport (RAK) we find our driver and jump into the car feeling ready for the holiday. The airport is not huge, you will easily find your way around.
We contacted our Riad before leaving the UK for a quote and got a great deal: 150MAD for 4 people return, so less than £2pp each way. Surprisingly, it was the cheapest option for a party of four. Not to mention that you avoid the hassle of getting a taxi, negotiating the price and explaining where you hotel is. Other options that we had as a back up plan (I always have plan B and even C): Bus No19 30MAD single or 50MAD return; Bus No11 (outside the airport) 4MAD; Taxi 100-200MAD; Walk (60min+) FREE.
It was only 15min drive and we at the Riad.
We stay at the Riad El Noujum in Kasbah. Truly, one of the nicest places we have stayed so far. Try to stay at Riad, a traditional Moroccan house. It just a must for that extra magical touch! It is reasonably priced too, just £25pp per night with breakfast included. The breakfast was good and very nicely served. Moroccan tea, coffee, orange juice, local bread, pancakes with a choice of jam, honey, butter and a sweet cake to get those calories for the day.
Start of exploration
My husband got me one of those step counters couple weeks ago, so I was very eager to beat my steps record, and I did it! We walked almost 17km! When they say immerse yourself, you do.
The first stop, Kasbah Mosque at the southern part of the Medina, was only 5min from our Riad. Although non-muslims are not allowed inside, we adore it from outside and move to Saadian Tombs. It is next to the Kasbah Mosque and the entry is 20DH per person. Try to visit it early morning or just before closing as it will be less busy and you may beat group visits. I love mosaics, so seeing well-preserved mosaics or more precisely zellij in Saadian Tombs is just perfect for me. The walls of Saadian Tombs mausoleums are decorated with zellij, calligraphy, which is as impressive as mosaics, and topped up with woodwork. It is just simply beautiful. We notice some orange trees and even turtles in the courtyard, absorb the surroundings one more time and move towards the main square, Djemaa El Fna.
We walk via Rue Ibn Rochd road and find another attraction not mentioned in guidebooks. Taxis! So many that they park in three lines and the two lane road becomes only one lane road. To our surprise almost all drive old Mercedes cars. After countless “No, thank you” to taxi drivers we are at the end of the road needing to cross the street. Crossing a street without lights is quite a challenge. The traffic with cars and motorbikes diving in any free space is crazy. We follow suit locals and cross the street to our own surprise still intact. SMELL. Fresh baking sold on streets, cooking from the restaurants, horses poo and pee… It is overwhelming at first but you get used to it. Or not.
Djemaa El Fna, the main square. During the daytime is not terribly busy but we still see snakes, monkeys, ladies offering henna, various fruit stalls. Nice fresh orange juice glass only 4MAD! Koutoubia Mosque or Mosque of Booksellers is by the square. Largest in the Marrakesh. It is sunny, so we escape to the gardens, Parc Lalla Hasna, for some shade.
Koutoubia Mosque view from the gardens
Painting on the door in the souks
The main square during the day. It gets very busy in the evening with food stalls and sellers.
Souks. We find a nice rooftop coffee, Café Terrasse Bab Ftouh, for a Moroccan Tea break. The waiter asked, if we wanted sugar, we said yes. Result: incredibly sweet tea. Too sweet for me. The first lesson, ask sugar served at the side not mixed already in the tea. In souks learn to say “No” but don’t be rude. Don’t get into conversation about prices, if you are not planning to depart with your money. Expect chaos and have a map, if you don’t want to get lost.
Streets entering souks
Through the souks we reach Medersa Ben Youssef. This is my highlight of the day. It used to be an Islamic college. Beautiful zellij, carvings in cedar, marble, and stucco! The entrance fee is only 20MAD and without a doubt it is worth it and more.
Time for some food and my sister knows the place- NOMAD, a rooftop restaurant in the souks. We enjoy traditional Moroccan food with a modern twist, observe the life in souks from above, and relax with the sunset. Some perfect moments.
The main square is alive at the evening with crowds, music, performers, and food stalls. Here you can try traditional snail soup or even sheep brain. We browse a little and head back to our Riad for a nice glass of wine at the rooftop. You won’t be able to buy alcohol in the Medina but your Riad may sell it. Ours did, 130MAD for a bottle of wine, which in the new town supermarket costs less than 30MAD!
View from the rooftop- contrast to the restaurant
My step counter says that we did 16km. Still in shape.
We start our morning by heading to the Jardin Majorelle Garden. We leave Medina and enter the new town, Ville Nouvelle, which is completely different face of Marrakesh. It is the modern part of the city with boulevard type streets and houses still preserving the traditional pink colour of Marrakesh. We pay 70MAD for the entrance to the Jardin Majorelle Garden and don’t regret it. The green of plants with the famous Majorelle blue in a sunny day looks stunning. It is a popular location in Marrakesh, so try to get there in the early morning. There is also Berber Museum but we decided to spend our time in the garden.
For lunch we treat ourselves and head to the Royal Mansour, Le Jardin Restaurant. They call themselves “A Unique Place” and definitely it is! The décor of the hotel is gorgeous, so worth to walk around after your meal.
While it was sunny, we decided to return to our Riad and try Jacuzzi at the rooftop. On the evening we head back to the Djemaa El Fna and grab some street food. Turkish Sharwarma only 15MAD! I cannot pass the Patisserie des Princes without buying some sweets. Pains au chocolates are just 4MAD or petit fours 100g for 18MAD. Sweet heaven. I was back there at least twice!
They say “get lost” in souks and we do as our offline map fails. We end up in narrow streets where we barely see any market stalls and get a feeling that we are not supposed to be here. A stray dog confirms it. It is 10pm, souks are closing down and cleaning process starts. We follow a garbage truck and get to the main street. Although souks look quite messy during the day, they are cleaned at night.
The record day, 27km! Proud moment.
We start our day by heading to the Palais Bahia. Somehow we get lost and a stranger offers to help us. He showed us the wrong way and requested some money. Be careful with such ‘helpers’. The 20min walk became an hour. On a positive note: we saw more of Marrakesh, I got more steps and bought Moroccan teas at a good price. Sometimes bad starts lead to great endings. The entrance to the palace is only 10MAD. It is a big place so plan to spend at least 40min there. It is very well reserved and still used to receive foreign dignitaries.
We grab some street food and head for our spa afternoon at the La Mamounia. The day spa pass including indoors and outdoors pools, jacuzzi, gym and sauna is 500MAD pp. You can top it up with spa treatments and dinner at the hotel. The hotel is lovely, so it is worth to have a walk around its grounds.
For our last dinner we choose a rooftop restaurant at Kasbah just opposite the Kasbah Mosque. We go for traditional Moroccan soup (Harira), couscous and tagine. I always go for traditional local food as I think it will be better cooked and portions tend to be bigger too. Never get disappointed.
Rooftop restaurant but no light! Used our phones to shed some light on the food.
After the dinner we get back to souks for some souvenirs. We stumble on a spice shop, which is one of the oldest in the souks. The shop owner proudly tells us stories about famous people they had in the shop, e.g. Nicholas Cage, and easily sells us some teas and eucalyptus crystals. We bargain a bit and secure a price that all of us are happy. We noticed that prices at stalls close to Djemaa El Fna are higher, so try to walk further inside souks or shop outside souks for a better price. We got some simple Moroccan teas from a shop in Kasbah, so 0.5MAD per gram for Moroccan green or mint tea is a reasonable price.
Early breakfast, suitcases packed with Moroccan sweets and teas and a flight to catch. Note that the extra security at the airport will add time to the checking process, although we were fine with 2h prior the flight. The hand luggage only travellers still need to queue for the check in desk for a stamp on the embankment card.
Bye Marrakesh, a colourful and full of contrasts place!
My top advice would be:
- Stay at Riad
- Drink tea at rooftop cafes. Everyday!
- See Islamic Architecture
- Relax in a Spa
- Wear modest clothes
Have you been to Marrakech? Let me know how you spent your time there!