Marrakech the Magnificent.

Marrakech. Where can I even begin?

It's the kind of city that to really live it, you have to jump in at the deep end, all guns blazing, with your only plan to be to plan-less.

I admit I realised I'd missed the green fields of England when I touched down at Gatwick after three weeks exploring Morocco, but I already miss the cocktail of sounds of the city; from the calming call of the mosques in the middle of a thunder storm, to the eerie charming of Cobras in the square, it seems odd to be back in my country farmhouse with no sound.

This city of a thousand streets, winding mazes of back alleys, intriguing souks and some of the friendliest people I've ever met on my travels welcomes you with open arms and will inevitably slow your pace to a crawl. Which for me, was hugely welcomed. You have to be ready for misshapen, broken, late and wonky everything, but that is simply part of the charm and it will be served with endless mint tea by someone keen to tell you stories and share everything they have with you.
The biggest thing I've learned from travelling around Morocco this summer, is to go with it.

I've given you the crux of the post right there but if you're still intrigued, here's a simple guide to Marrakech the Magnificent.

First off: where to stay. There is an abundance of beautiful places in Marrakech. It just depends what you're after - if you want the hustle and bustle of the Medina but slightly smaller living space then a riad is perfect, but there's also nothing to stop you coming into the main areas from one of the hotels outside the walls. For us, we wanted to be slap bang in the middle of the action. The absolute beauty of a riad is that they let you do this, the locations are often very central and walking to Jmaa el Fna is very easy. But when the city has truly worn you out, whether it be the heat or the heavy shopping bags you will inevitably be bringing back, a riad is the perfect escape, a much welcomed oasis in the desert. Much cooler and usually with roof terraces, you can relax after a busy day with a pot of mint tea, sat on floor cushions listening to the drums, birds and all manner of other intriguing sounds. Or cool off in a plunge pool like at the Riad Magie D'Orient, which we really appreciated!

The beautiful courtyard of Riad Magie D'Orient

There are plenty of places to visit on the tourist trail, which are truly magnificent and definitely worth a visit. I really enjoyed the Saadian tombs, which are tucked away down a really tiny street, but open up onto a breathtaking garden dotted with brightly tiled gravestones and impressive tombs, housed in ancient and spectacular buildings. On the way check out the dusty orange walls and mosque, a quintessential part of Marrakech but also a welcome relief from tiny winding streets and the crowds.

The mosque en route to the Saadian Tombs

The stunning tiles of the Saadian tombs

Another truly eye opening experience in Marrakech is to visit the tanneries. It's not a happy daytrip, that I'll admit. I found it quite hard to imagine just how difficult the lives of the people who work in the tanneries is, surrounded by dangerous chemicals in the blistering sun. Their life expectancies aren't long, and it's all to produce bags and belts bought largely by tourists. I don't think what goes on in the tanneries is really understood- the amount of physical labour involved in the creation of leather goods is enormous. That said: I think it was a very valuable experience and I certainly learned a lot. The one we visited used natural products to treat the hides, using pigeon poo instead of processed ammonia and then using chamomile to soften and take away the smell. It's still a hard life, you can read more about the leather industry here, a really interesting article I found while researching whether visiting tanneries is ethical or not. We decided to buy any leather products we bought from the cooperative next to the tannery; cutting out the middle man and ensuring the people who make items are properly rewarded. Still, it's always dubious as to who is running the tanneries. I can't imagine they are getting their hands dirty. Yet even in a gruelling line of work, the people we met couldn't wait to show us their work and welcomed us in with tea.

Makes you realised quite how easy we have it.

The pools of chemicals used to dye the animal skins

Our local guide gave us some mint each to mask the smell of the tannery, calling it a 'berber gas mask'

Next up: Bahia palace. After exploring all day, this was our last place of the day and the heat was still oppressive at 4pm. Then out of nowhere, from a couple of rain splatters, we were caught in the middle of a rain storm and had to dash for cover. Rain wasn't something we had expected, but as I said, Marrakech is a city where you must be prepared for everything! After 30 minutes watching one of the most spectacular storms I've ever seen, we were relieved when it finally ceased, to find much more pleasant temperatures and clear views out across the mountains now there was no dust in the clouds. So literally, every cloud...!

5 minutes before we got soaked

Though I don't think I'll ever tire of sandy orange walls, dusty pinks and the bright blue doors of the medina, if you're going to leave it, my favourite place to visit is the YSL gardens. Jump in a cab for 10 minutes and you are transported into a different world of sky high cacti, exotic plants and exploding life in possibly the most incredible garden I've ever visited. It truly is a world away from dodging motorbikes, donkeys and street stalls of the city and is the ultimate getaway from the madness. At 70 dirhams (7 euros) it's considerably more than the usual 10 or 20 dirham entry charges for other sights, but it is so worth it.

The blue house peeking out from the tallest cacti I've ever seen

Not a bad view from your patio

I've ultimately saved the best for last. Even if you wanted to, there is no avoiding Jmaa El Fna, the main square of the city which is busy in the day and then completely comes alive at night with food stalls, juice bars, henna artists and everything you could possibly want to buy in one place. Make sure you don't get too close to the snake charmers or you'll find one around your neck. We watched many tourists pose with a snake around their neck then quickly pressured into parting with large sums of money for the experience. Equally avoid the monkeys and other animals which are badly treated and are only catering to the tourist demand. Watch out for henna artists 'capturing' your arm and inking before you can stop them and instead visit the Henna Cafe, which also has great food. It's just a 1 minute walk off the square and has proper artists and a charity foundation too.

Everything that could be decorated was, even the front door

Back to the square: whatever the hotels tell you, eating from the food stands in the square are pretty safe. The grills are hot, it is cooked in front of you and everywhere we went was clean. Just avoid using metal cutlery which is washed in tap water and be vigilant with fruit and veg that could have been washed in water too. It's truly part of visiting the square and you can wash it all down with a freshly squeezed orange juice for 4 dirhams (40 cents). It doesn't get much better than that!

Watching the swirling rainstorm in the distance while listening to the prayer calls was an experience I won't forget

Fresh skewers and vegetables at the square food stalls

When the madness becomes overwhelming, get to one of the rooftop restaurants that surround the square. You'll have a fantastic view of all the goings on but will be able to have a (non alcoholic) drink in peace. It's a great way to finish a day and the 8.30 or 10.15 mosque calls to prayer will echo around the square in unison for a real atmospheric feel. It's a feeling quite indescribable until you experience it; the warm air still blowing and the drummers still drumming, it's easy to get totally swept up in the magic of this breathtaking city.

Before the square became heaving with people

I've only been gone 3 days and already I miss all this. I miss mint tea, hairdryer temperature wind, toothless smiles and camels and flip flops and comfortable hareem pants.
I'll be back Marrakech - I'd return just to sit in a bar above the square and people watch while knocking back gallons of mint tea. It's just not quite the same in England.

That's all for now on my adventures with friends and family. In one week, I'm off all by myself to Asia for a year and I'm on the brink of the exciting side of terrifying. Big things are coming, so watch this space! And visit Marrakech the magnificent - you won't regret it.

Watching the sunset from Riad Jnane Mogador


Popular Posts