8 Reasons Why Marrakech Should be Next On Your Travel List
The pink city of Marrakech was on our bucket list for a while now, when Andrei decided we needed to celebrate our anniversary in a big way this year.
He got us the tickets, but kept it a surprise. I only knew we were going somewhere we haven't been yet.
A few days before the actual trip, it was still a burning secret, when I started worrying about what to pack.
I sweet talked him into telling me the details, assuring him it was still an incredible surprise. He gave in.
— Okay, okaay! It's Morroco! He fessed up.
I was so excited, but also so relieved I knew before hand. Marrakech is still very much a traditional Islamic city, so wearing my tiny, ripped shorts wouldn't have been a great idea.
I knew I wanted to buy an authentic handira blanket since forever and this was my chance!
The trip was a delight and now that we're back, I'm ready to give you all the reasons why Marrakech should be on your travel list!
For the culture filled medina
On the edge of the Sahara Desert and the High Atlas lies the city of Marrakech with it's sun burnt pink buildings. Its pink pise is made of rammed earth, that hides luxurious palaces in the most unexpected places.
In the Medina, or the heart of the old city, Europe, Africa and the Middle East mingle and merge, and the past and present are hard to tell apart. Almost everyone speaks a fluent french and the service in all Cafés are a proof of the French influence on their former colony. You can get crème glacée (ice cream) anywhere and their breakfast is usually a fusion of French and Arab pastries with coffee or green tea.
The narrow streets, fountains, palaces and mosques are bursting with vendors, locals and berbers (the original Morrocan population that used to live in the mountains), as well as tourists and nomad travellers. This centuries-old trading hub is a creative sweet spot where ideas thrive and a buzz of entrepreneurialism charges the air with an intoxicating, and sometimes, intimidating energy. This isn’t a place you can gracefully glide through. There's always a scooter cutting through the mass of people rushing on the streets, a donkey carrying fresh bread or a rich foreigner packing his authentic Moroccan carpets. In Jamal El Fna, the main plaza, snake charmers, women offering henna tattoo or smart little monkeys are there to entertain.
2. for the Moroccan Tagine
Morocco's signature dish is cooked in a tagine, a clay pot that looks like a little volcano, with a wide bottom where they place the meat, veggies and cous-cous, and a cone lid that keeps in all the head and moisture.
Traditionally, lamb, chicken or fish are the meat varieties, but you can also get camel if you're willing to pay up or chickpeas if you're vegetarian. The entire dish is simmered at a low heat for hours, until everything is really tender.
What I found most interesting is the fact that many recipes mix in whole dried fruits, like apricots, prunes or dates, giving the meal a particular sweetness I haven't found elsewhere. Other combinations of tagine recipes include meat with preserved lemons and olives or peas and artichokes. That’s pretty much what we had our entire trip, because we stayed away from street food this time. The water in Morocco isn't clean and the meats aren't kept in refrigerators, so it's up to you if you want to risk it.
A great place to have a spectacular dinner with African music, belly dancing and berber performers, all while getting great service and testing out traditional meals, is Lotus Privilege. We went back twice, that's how much we loved it!
For a western-oriental fusion, you should definitely try Terrase des Epices and don't skip on dessert!
On the flip side, a terrace called Nomad had great reviews and made quite a buzz among westerners, but we found it disappointing.
3. for the shopping adventure in the souks
Shopping in Marrakech is quite an adventure. The narrow streets of the Medina turn into an endless market from midday to midnight. You never know where something truly special hides, in the midst of all the craziness, but treasure hunting is part of the fun.
Most of the items in the market can be found in more than one place, so take a first walk around the Souks before deciding where to step in. Moroccans don't culturally have the notion of "window shopping", so if you walk in a shop, they think you're there to make a purchase, not just kill time. Make sure to let them know before you go in, that you're just browsing, if you want the seller not to hassle you into buying.
Because there are no price tags in the Souks, so you'll need to bargain. The first price you're told is usually about 2-3x more expensive, than what the seller is ready to sell it for.
When you find something you like, you just have to work your way up from about 20-25% of the price until both of you agree. More often than not, you can get away with a quarter of the price if you just pretend to walk away, so make sure you don't look too interested.
On the other hand, there were two shops I actually really wanted to buy something from, but ended up being politely invited to get the hell out, because they weren't willing to haggle at all. It seems that the seller felt offended of my suggesting their items should be cheaper. Oh well, I guess you'll have to feel it out a bit and not get too invested in any purchase.
Also, remember that these people can really use the money, so don't be too harsh on them. They're only trying to make a living and tourism is pretty much their only income stream.
If you want to buy some authentic Moroccan home goods or apparel, but aren't planning to leave the continent anytime soon, there's always Chabi Chic. They have international shipping and lots of cute stuff.
4. for the many luxury Riads
A big part of visiting Marrakech is about spending time in the gorgeous palaces called Riads, that are scattered throughout the city. We booked our stay on AirBnB. We wanted a really authentic Riad in the heart of the Medina and found plenty! This was a big part of our experience, so I suggest you forget about usual hotels this time.
You can book your accommodation in a traditional Riad, which I truly suggest you do, but that doesn't mean you can’t enjoy a little brunch or a cocktail by the pool in a different one. We spent an entire day just Riad-hopping and breathing in the beauty of all the details and their symmetry and of course, the opulent gardens.
If you can afford booking a room in a luxury hotel in Marrakech, it's worth it, but even if you don't, most of them have day-passes that you can buy online. You can hang out in the different lounges, restaurants, cafés and spas all day long, but they do get pricey (about 150$ per person for the pass).
I saved you some time and got you the links to the most instagrammable Riads you probably saw all over the internet, but do take time to find your own little paradise to take pictures in. There are A LOT to choose from!
5. For the Saharan Stars
We met an incredibly friendly Saharan nomad in the Medina one day, and he told us there are plenty of trips leaving Marrakech to head out for a few nights in the Saharan Desert. He was also making some business as a guide and told us many stories about how the different tribes in the Sahara make a living and the talisman they use to figure out the time and direction. He told us he missed the "Saharan Cinema” here in the city and my imagination went wild, when he explained that he was talking about the starry skies you could only see from the desert.
Our trip was too short to fit in such a trip, but I already promised myself I'll be back in Morocco just so I can sleep under the Saharan stars, ride a camel in the heat and drink green tea when the sun rises from the sandy dunes. What a dream, right?
Make sure to add this one on your bucket list!
6. for the oriental Spices
Wether you love to cook or wear the best perfumes (or both like me), oriental spices and scents are abundant in the souks and a great adventure to shop for.
We got really fresh saffron to take home for our paella parties and it smells so vivid, it's nothing compared to what we get in Europe's supermarkets. Ras El Hanout also makes a great souvenir for foodies. It's a traditional Arabic spice blend and translates to "head of the shop” or "top shelf”. It’s a mixture of the best spices the seller has to offer. Recipes of the combination differ from seller to seller, but most commonly, it's a mix of cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, chilly peppers and coriander, but could also contain dried rose buds, fennel seeds or more exotic ingredients that are typical to wherever it was made.
Don't even get me started on the variety of teas and just how rich their scents are!
The perfumes you can find in Morocco are also a weakness of mine, because vanilla, wood, cinnamon and pepper are what I always look for in a fragrance. If you're into oriental odours, Marrakech is the place to be.
7. for the relaxing hammam
A hammam is known around the world for being a cleansing ritual that dates back to the Roman Empire. Moroccans were among the first to adopt this type of public bathing, because back in the day, most Moroccan houses didn't have running water or baths. The tradition of bathing is a big part of Middle Eastern and North African culture, often taking place in beautiful old bath-houses. Bathing is as much a place to socialize, as it is a place to relax and clean yourself.
Depending on where you go, it may or may not be separated by gender and can include everything from someone washing and exfoliating you, to getting a full massage. Most traditional hammams are a wash-yourself kind of place, but we splurged and went to a fancy Riad offering this service to get the entire experience.
We left our clothes in a locker and went in black room covered completely in Sahara Noir Marble (after designing my apartment, I'm really a marble connoisseur and a bit of a snob, I confess) A young woman joined us and took care to wash us both from head to toe. It was so intimate for me to be with my partner and a stranger while being practically naked (they give you a disposable thong), that it was both thrilling and reviling. After getting properly washed and scrubbed, we both got massages with oriental essential oils. About two hours later, we went upstairs on the gorgeous terrace to watch the sun go down over all the messy rooftops of the pink city. We went to Bliss Ryad Hotel for the hammam, but I'm sure there are many other gems we haven't yet seen. The pictures above are from their inner garden and interior design details on their grounds.
8. For the kitten population
Did you know there are as many cats living in Marrakech as there are people?
If you're anything like me, these furry creatures make your heart pound a little bit faster and your voice just a little bit higher, as you fantasise about putting them all in your purse and brining them home! For a cat-lover, this truly is an experience, but remember that these cats live on the streets independently, so not all of them are properly cleaned or fed. The Moroccans faith doesn't allow them to sterilise the cats, so they breed freely. They believe it's God's will to bring about life, so it's not their business to intervene. The cats mostly live on going through the trash bags people put out in front on their houses at night. It can get really messy on the streets because of it, but in their faith, it’s a sin to waste food, so if anyone, even an ant, can find a good meal out of their trash, then they're happy to give it to them. In many ways, this is more heartwarming than our western point of view, but you do have to get used to the junk lying on the streets in the evening.
Alright, that's a wrap!
If you have any questions about Marrakech or are planning to travel there soon, make sure to leave a comment below and I'll help as much as I can.
Much love. x