Marrakech is an amalgamation of culture, with modern industry and infrastructure, resting minutes away from bustling souks and medinas. The ochre colour of the city represents its warmth, and riads provide small escapes to grab a bite to eat, or to learn how to cook your own tagine.
The fourth largest city of Morocco – after Casablanca, Fez and Tangier – is a mix of retained tradition and acceptance of modernisation, and should be a must-see on anyone’s holiday list. Although English, French and Arabic speaking, French is the most widely spoken language in the city of Marrakech.
Our first port of call was the Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi, which was a 20-minute ride from Menara airport. As one of the first hotels in Marrakesh, most native Moroccans remember it from their childhood, and as an authentic experience it’s pretty much luxury at an affordable price. Aside from the four restaurants, four pools, and Rose spa, it had the best service we experienced during our stay. Chocolate addicts, take note – they also have a chocolate hour every day, which always had us waiting 10 minutes beforehand in anticipation.
We felt like we were travelling within the hotel and decided to try out the Moroccan hammam [steam bath] experience at the hotel spa, which was definitely something different. If you get a chance whilst you are in Marrakech, and need a moment to relax, source out a spa and try the hammam – it was like being completely scrubbed top to toe and would be great for any post-trek cleansing.
There is so much to do in Marrakech, that it is worth spending at least a full week there, although a taste of the city can also be experienced in just a few days. One of the most helpful tools I used to navigate what was on offer and even arrange my airport transports, was Get Your Guide. The app allows you to book suggested tours, excursions and activities, and then they plan the rest. It really is a traveller’s best friend and has a range of prices for any budget, offering two-day excursions in the Sahara or Atlas Mountains, and traditional tagine-making.
We booked the camel ride for our first day through the palm groves, which is definitely a must-do, as the experience is one of a kind. We were served Moroccan Mint Tea, as we rode on camels through the vast expanses of the groves, our guides singing authentic Moroccan songs as we went. Next, we travelled to have a look at Marrakech’s famous gardens. For fashion lovers, Majorelle Garden is a great spot as it was once owned by Yves Saint Laurent and created much of the hallmarks of Marrakech culture, such as the decorative combination of black and blue, which was also seen in Yves Saint Laurent’s collections.
Menara Gardens is also a popular destination, with good reason, as it is visually stunning with surrounding water features that are popular to Marrakech to represent tranquility and calmness as well as provide a coolness against the heat of the city. As everything is quite compact, it is easy to explore on foot once you are in the heart of Marrakech and the souks are great whether you like to shop or not… but especially if you love to shop. There are towers of spices, racks of jewellery and tonnes of tapestries which you can practice your bartering skills on, or just window (er…market?) shop.
When you think of Moroccan food, you think of tagines and we had the most mouthwatering tagine – rated one of the best in Morocco – in Riad Living‘s restaurant, La Table Du Riad. I’m not kidding when I say this was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Their philosophy focuses on everything being fresh, so you have to order your food in advance, as everything is prepared on the day; nothing is frozen or pre-prepared, which is probably what makes it so good! They also have rooftop seating which allows you to look out on the medinas of Marrakech at sunset.
Tripping in Marrakech is surreal because of the variety of things to do around each corner. Whether you’re someone that likes to relax in the heat with a cocktail, an adventure seeker who wants to explore the Sahara, or a foodie, there’s truly something for everyone. Marrakech isn’t totally homogenized, like many other tourist destinations. You feel a sense of culture whilst there, something that is often amiss in the increasingly commercialized world we live in, that attempts to appeal to a consumerist audience. Marrakech has not yet conformed to this, and hopefully never will, making it a truly different place to visit.
Words: Julia Cohen