Experience The Magic Of Marrakech
Marrakech has been exerting its pull on Western tourists for hundreds of years, but by the late 1960s was an essential stopover on the new Hippy trail. It combined the exotic history of North Africa and spiritual enlightenment with a plentiful supply of hashish. What more could any self respecting hippy ask for?
The essence of Marrakech is captured in the Graham Nash song, Marrakech Express, written in 1967, following a ride by Nash from Casablanca to Marrakech, moving from 1st class, which he found boring, to third class where “everything was happening”. But while the lyrics tell of animals and snake charmers everywhere, they also hint at something else.
“Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind. Had to get away to see what we could find.”
All aboard the Marrakech Express!
There is so much to see and do in Morocco that it seems almost wrong to single out Marrakech. If you have 14 days to spend in the Country, you will be able to see a great deal of the country, but for a short break, Marrakech, the Red City, has got a bit of everything. It will give you a flavour of this amazing country, an assault on all of your senses, the taste of the tagines, the smells of the perfume souks, the sounds of the performers in the Jemma el-Fna the touch of the soft leather and exotic throws, and the sight of the hustle and bustle of a vibrant city.
Within a few hours you will see why Marrakech was where Yves St Laurent chose to make it his home and why it was such a favourite of Winston Churchill. By the end of a few days, it will be a favourite of yours and you will be planning your next visit.
The airport in Marrakech is surprising modern and impressive. It is difficult to obtain local currency outside Morocco, but you can pick up some Dirhams at the the airport (and cash them back when you leave). The exchange rate is quite reasonable. They will probably try and persuade you to buy a prepaid credit card. I am not sure that there is a much of an advantage in this card, although obviously preferable to carrying around wads of cash. It is easy enough to use a Western debit card in ATM machines around the city, but you will probably want cash to pay for a taxi from the airport to your accommodation. There is a bus shuttle which serves the major hotels of Marrakech, but if you have not checked beforehand or if you do not want the hassle, the city is 5 km from the city and the ride takes about 15 minutes.
There is a good range of accommodation available in Marrakech from fairly basic up to extremely luxurious. There are of course many Western style hotels, but when travelling I always prefer to stay in something more local, just to get a bit more of that more local experience. A Radisson Blu is a Radisson Blu in Berlin to Moscow, in Budapest to Paris. (I am not checking to see whether the Radisson Blu has hotels in any of these cities. I am sure they are fine establishments, but hopefully you will get the point that I am making). The obvious place to stay in Marrakech is a local Riad. These are very traditional buildings, pretty much based on a Roman design, with the building centred around an internal pool. The Riad will probably be elaborately and beautifully decorated. Be very wary of Tripadvisor reviews. You will get what you pay for in a Riad, with cheaper properties offering you less and more expensive offering you a bit more. Obviously. But it is important to understand that a Riad is not a hotel. Most will be comparatively small with just a few rooms, maybe up to 12. You will probably get breakfast, but possibly not any other meals. And almost certainly you will not get alcohol: this is a Muslim country. What you will get, however, is the traditional Arabic or Berber hospitality. You are a guest in the owner’s home.
If you want something more luxurious you could try the Fairmont Royal Palm, 6 miles outside outside Marrakech. Read more about this luxury hotel here. It is perfect for family holidays, particularly those with golfers in the family.
For information about staying in a Riad, have a look at our Blog post
Other excellent choices for accommodation would be the Club Med property if you prefer reasonably priced all inclusive.
We’ve sorted your accommodation. Now what are you going to do in your stay.
The markets and souks of Marrakech are justly famed for the shopping experience you have to try. “Excuse me, sir, can you just help me translate something into English. I have it in my shop just here, just come in.” Roughly translated, this means, “Yes, I’ve spotted you, you look like a complete sucker and you won’t be leaving my shop until you have bought a carpet, a leather bag and some very fine slippers. Don’t worry, I take English debit cards, and Easy jet won’t charge you a small fortune to take it back to the UK.” You know what it means, but one way or another, you will be sucked in. You think that you can handle them, but these guys hold Masters Degrees in selling.
The designer Yves St Laurent, the Algerian Fashion Designer, who finally settled in Marrakech said that it was the Red City that made him discover colour. I don’t think he meant that it was the elaborate and colourful decoration that even modest homes in Marrakech sport. I don’t think he meant the pink walls and houses made from the local clay. Look up. The sky is so blue, a deep and special blue. It made me think of the fantastic scene in the film The Devil Wears Prada where Mel Streep’s character takes Andy to task for failing to recognise the importance of cerulean blue. You know that cerulean blue was the name if a pigment discovered in the late 18thCentury didn’t you? You will definitely want to visit the Jardin Majorelle, Yves St Laurent’s home in Marrakech. The most interesting part for me was the museum inside, not of YSL as I was expecting, but of local Berber culture and art. Go after you have been to the Souks, or at least some of them: there are 18. What will strike you is that there is so little difference between those garments and objects from several hundred years ago and now.
After a day’s shopping and wandering around, during which time you have almost certainly got lost once or twice, you will think it’s time to relax, may be get yourself properly clean, and there is no better place than in a Marrakech hammam. The custom originated from the Roman bathhouse. The first step is to open up those skin pores, which you will do in a steam room. The second stage is to get lathered in an olive oil based black soap, and then to get it scrubbed off (not too gently) with a Kessa glove to remove the dead skin. Removing dead skin is an important part of a beauty regime, helping to prevent the signs of ageing and making your skin look radiant. Finally, you are washed down with buckets of cold water. An optional extra, but one highly recommended, is a massage to get you completely relaxed. Hammams are found all over Marrakech and range in price from ridiculously cheap to ridiculously expensive. I would suggest choosing one that is local to your accommodation. You will feel incredibly relaxed and incredibly exhausted.
You cannot go to Marrakech and not try a cooking class. You know how it is, you are abroad and you try something delicious. You get home and it is not quite the same…. Or even close. There really is nothing more delicious that an authentic and perfectly prepared lamb tagine (unless you do not eat meat, of course). You can get pretty close with your own cooking class. I would strongly recommend the Café Clock a few minutes walk from the Medina. You will be given a choice of starter, main course and and dessert, and then head off to one of the local shops to buy the ingredients. Some cooking courses will take you to one of the big markets, but I am not sure that this is really necessary. Café Clock will take you to shops in their immediate neighbourhood. It is likely to be exactly the same as in one of the big markets and there is no point wasting time walking backwards and forwards to the markets.
The cooking facilities are on the roof of the café. If you have not visited the café in the evening, you should. The food is excellent and there is often traditional entertainment. Sometimes this will be in the form of story telling. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the language. Classic story telling doesn’t need language. Just look at the Ancient Greek Plays.
After you’ve cooked your delicious meal, the next part is the best part, you eat it! And it will be delicious. Café Clock will give you a recipe booklet featuring your meal and those you did not choose. There is a more detailed book on Amazon if you get really carried away. You did resist the temptation to buy a tagine in the souk, didn’t you?