I have always been a dreamer even when it comes to traveling so last year I just followed my heart and it led me to Marrakech. There so many things to say about this world – yes, world! Marrakech is simply just another world, so different than all we know and all we have seen. Marrakech is a world of mystery, a world of colors, a world that inspired so many artists, a world of rooftops and love songs, of purple sunsets and ancient stories.
Before you go, you should know that Marrakech is a major city of the Kingdom of Morocco being the fourth largest city in the country, after Casablanca, Fez and Tangier. Located to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is possibly the most important of Morocco’s four former imperial cities.
That is why a simple blog post is not enough and I have been working on several posts regarding this wonderful city so you will know what you shouldn’t miss and which are the best attractions in the Medina. Wondering where to start, all these incredible memories rush back in front of my eyes like it was yesterday when we arrived in the Medina, a little scared, so enthusiastic but most of all curious to discover Marrakech. We didn’t know much about the city besides the basic geographical and historical details and of course some “touristic” information we read online before the departure. But one thing was for sure: “Go to Marrakech with your heart open.” So, I think the best way to start describing the city is to present the reasons we fell in love with Marrakech so quickly and who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love too even before you see it,
1. Colors of Marrakech – this is the first thing you’ll notice once you arrive there: the colors. Starting with the red soil you can admire even from the plane and ending with the colorful details of every ceramic, the bright colors will be the highlight of your trip and will definitely make your pictures look amazing even without any filters. There’s an incredible mix of colors: rose-earth colored buildings, yellow spices, blue walls, green ceramics all put together beautifully and shining in the hot African sun. Everything in Marrakech is about color. For example, the pink color is originated from the pigment of the local clay and new regulations claim that every new house or building must be given this pink color. Another example is the Majorelle blue – yes, Marrakech has its own color, a particular blue that will blow your mind. There is color on every corner of this city. Bright and sunny colors that make you happy and full of energy.
2. Tea time…anytime – Moroccan people are very friendly and hospitable so the very first custom once you check in at the riad/hotel is to offer you a wet towel to freshen up and a cup of traditional mint tea served with local sweets. The tea is served hot regardless the 45 degrees outside (we were there in July), but trust me, it is sooo refreshing and tasty. They prepare this hot drink using green tea, fresh mint leaves (a lot of them) and a bit of sugar and they serve it in a lovely Moroccan tea service with an engraved teapot called berrad, tea glasses and serving tray. It may sound fancy, but this is the proper way to drink tea there and Moroccans are renowned for elevating that standard of hospitality to an exceptional level.The unique flavor comes from the ingredients of course, because Moroccan tea is not exclusively flavored with mint, but with other aromatic herbs such as sage, lemon verbena or wild thyme.
3. Getting lost…and found in the Medina – Don’t worry about that. This is something you can’t (and don’t want to) avoid during your stay in Marrakech and it’s a funny adventure as well. First of all: you don’t need a map (the streets are so tiny and their names are written in Arabic so you probably won’t understand a thing and you all also miss all the lovely details along the way). Second of all: you should buy a SIM card for 2 euros to use google maps just in case you can’t reach you accommodation or one of the attractions. Most important rules: 1. all main roads in the Medina lead to Jemaa el-Fna – the town square and 2. don’t be fooled by the young men how try to “help” you with the directions, you will end up giving them money and not reaching the desired destination. To be honest, we got lost in the first day trying to get to the market, but it was our fault because we wanted to see every single pretty street so we used the internet in order to get there. Imagine our reaction when google showed us that the market was behind us…
4. Oriental flavors – starting with the orange blossom oils that enchanted the riad and ending with aromas of the oriental spices sold in the souk market, being a tourist in Marrakech is an unforgettable experience for all senses. Everything there is authentic and every tiny details makes your trip unique. We ate like the locals and we loved it (even carried a traditional tagine back home). The restaurants serve mostly traditional meals and no alcohol (some of them have a small selection of cocktails and wines, but during the African summer all you need is tea and lemonade). I really recommend to try different traditional dishes, including desserts and you will thank me later: tagine (lamb, chicken, berber – vegetarian, cuscus, salads, lamb skewers, met pies, fresh fish from the Atlantic Ocean etc). In the end, you will love everything about the Morrocan food: the taste, the color, the presentation, the smell. Also, a not to miss culinary experience in Marrakech is going out in the evening in the Jemaa el-Fna market with all the locals: it’s CRAZY, but so delicious! You will have to chance to talk to the locals, listen them sing and cook, smiling and living the life. There’s so much energy there, more than I could ever describe. That market literally transforms after sundown.
5. Romantic riads – The best starting point to experience the exotic and vibrant atmosphere of the red city is one the Marrakech riads. A Riad is the Moroccan traditional house, normally with two or more stories around an Andalusian-style courtyard that contained a fountain. The riads were inward focused, which allowed for family privacy and protection from the weather in Morocco. Once you booked your flight tickets to Marrakech, then main concern is regarding the accommodation. You have two options: staying in a resort – most of them outside the historical city, the other ones very expensive or staying in a Riad – most of them being in the Medina, a few steps away from all the buzz and the attractions. We obviously chose to stay in a Riad, mainly because we love to try the traditional way of living of every country we visit and also because the Riads are known to be very beautiful, with lovely decorations, spa facilities, amazing rooftops and Moroccan cuisine. You will also have the opportunity to find out more about the Moroccan culture and traditions from the local staff. Also, a not to miss experience if you stay in a riad, is the spa: INCREDIBLE. The hammam (a traditional bathing and cleansing ritual) is a must try and also the full body massages. The result? Silky-smooth skin and a refreshed feeling that can beat even the hottest of days in North Africa.But I will tell you more about staying in a Riad in the following posts and I will also have a nice surprise for you. Before getting there, all you need to know is that Marrakech’s riads are historic, atmospheric and – if you choose wisely – provide some of the best-value places to stay in this magical city. We actually booked two different riads because they all looked pretty and we couldn’t decide.
6. Rooftops and love songs – in my opinion the best and easiest thing to do in Marrakech is to escape the chaos for a moment and relax on a rooftop terrace with a drink in your hand and the camera in the other one. There is nothing quite like finding a nice place with panoramic views to sit back and relax in the bustling city. Marrakech has an amazing variety of rooftop bars with beautiful views and delicious food, all of them near the market, where you can enjoy the colors and the locals during the day, the lights and sounds of Marrakech during the evening – being above the Jemma el-Fna market which is the craziest place we’ve been so far: monkeys, snakes charmers, henna tattoo artists, fruit juice vendors, the impressive night food market, spinning fireballs and soooo many people. In a following post, I will also share our favorite spots.
7. Souk hunt – After having a traditional Moroccan breakfast in the courtyard of your Riad, begin your day with a little shopping spree in the maze-like Souk market of Marrakech. Be ready to bargain, to hear amazing stories from the vendors and in the end to fill your bag with souvenirs, shoes and spices. If I were to use a single word to describe the Souk, that would be “overwhelming” – a wonderful chaos of color, energy and flavor. There is nothing you can’t find here. The labyrinthine souks of Marrakech are full of treasures , perfect to be taken home and remind you of the beauty of Marrakech: lamps straight out of Aladdin, gorgeous Moroccan glassware, ethnic jewelry, dyed leather, colorful ceramics, olives and preserved lemons, spices full of flavor, leather slippers called babouches, argan oil, handmade rugs and carpets, djellabas – Moroccan dresses for both men and women and so many other stuff. The most important advice before going to the Souk? Learn when to say No, in a polite way, of course.
8. Secret gardens – what a better way to relax after you have spent a half day in the souk market than to discover some of Marrakech’s hidden gardens. Yes, gardens! Even though the desert is close and the temperatures are high almost the entire year, there are places with luxuriant vegetation in Marrakech that make for the perfect oasis during a hot summer day. Probably the most famous one is the Jardin Majorelle. But you must try also other places in the city with pretty gardens such as Dar Si Said (the Museum of Moroccan Art), La Mamounia Palace (the 5 star hotel) or the Bahia Palace.
9. Moroccan tiles – if you have been to the Andalusia region you know what I am talking about: those colorful and elegant mosaic tiles that decorate every building. This is something so simple, but yet so beautiful regarding interior design. The tiles have also a useful purpose – to keep a lower temperature inside the house and protect you from the burning sun. While in Marrakech you will admire different mosaics everywhere you go, from turquoise tiles in the Marrakech Museum, to green tiles that ornate the Koutoubia mosque, to colorful mix inside the Dar Si Said and the classic black and white combo inside the La Mamounia. You will observe the great contrast between the modest façade of the building (pure rose-earth) and the opulent interiors. We found out from the locals that the explanation behind, is that in their culture, the poor people should not see from outside the wealth of the rich people, so even the rich people will have rose-earth houses, but if you go inside you will find out that some of them live like African kings.
10. Palaces of Marrakech – the most incredible thing in Marrakech is the vibe and that feeling that you have travelled back in time and in the middle of an oriental story. I highly recommend to explore the Medina by foot and let yourself be dazzled by the wonderful chaos around. Having such an impressive history, Marrakech has so many treasures for its visitors and the most beautiful of all are the palaces. My personal favorite was the Bahia Palace – one of the masterpieces of Moroccan architecture with eight hectares and 150 rooms. Although not a palace, another places that fascinated me in this city are:
Marrakech will always be the city of magic. There is something about this place that takes you beyond the 1001 nights and reminds you of Aladdin and his magic lamp.
Arina in Wonderland