Marrakech is a wonderful place. Wonderful, not in the sense of lie back in your chair with a cocktail in hand as you listen to the waves crash on the sandy shores, rather, wonderful in that it is an assault on the senses. Never have I been subject to so many smells, tastes, sights and sounds; all amplified by the blazing sunshine and narrow streets. Even though it was my third trip to the Moroccan enclave, there was still so much to do on our recent expedition to Northern Africa. Below I have listed a few of my must-sees and must-dos if you are planning on taking a trip there. Believe me, the people of the Marrakech medina are unapologetic in their pursuit of a sale, so you’re better of preparing ahead than fumbling around with a map mid-journey.
Let’s start with the basics and the place that everybody has heard of. Marrakech’s main square is, quite literally, chaos. Market sellers come here in their droves each day to launch a verbal barrage of cockney-style salesmanship. They are only drowned out by the unmistakable sounds of the snake charmers; infinitely old wise men who sit under the shade of an umbrella and dice with death in the form of a cobra. Then there are birds, monkeys, and every “designer” piece know (and sometimes not known) to man. My top tip is to escape the crowds and grab a drink on the rooftop of Hôtel Restaurant Café de France. It is perfectly positioned for a drink during the day or, if you want a real experience, dinner as the square transitions from day to night.
Le Jardin Secret
Not so much of a secret anymore, but the £5 entry fee is well worth the investment if you are looking for a slice of paradise in amongst the madness of the Medina. The architecture and adornments are great to look at, and you feel miles away from the chaos on the other side of the garden walls. Head to the rooftop café for spectacular views over the gardens below.
Probably one of the most accommodating venues when it comes to Western visitors, this restaurant/bar/café is directly opposite the secret gardens and is a great place to unwind over local food and a Casablanca beer. The rooftop tends to be an absolute scorcher in the midday sun, so head downstairs for some respite from the sun. The slow cooked lamb tagine comes highly recommended.
The YSL Museum Marrakech
A short taxi ride from the old town (which should cost about 50-70 Dirhams, or £5) but well worth venturing out of the Medina for. A homage to, and the final residence of, Mr Saint-Lauren himself, the gardens are beautiful in their unmistakable vivid blue and the collection of couture clothing is a real sight to behold.
Le Grand Café de la Poste
Also in the newer suburbs of Marrakech, and handily across the street from Zara, this French colonial-style restaurant and bar is the perfect place to while away the hours in the afternoon. There is a great buzz here and you will find dishes that cater more to Western taste buds should you become tired of tagines. There is an extensive cocktail list too, and is a great place to grab a drink. The majority of Marrakech is alcohol-free so your best choice is either here or a trip to La Maison Arabe in the old town.
Of course, no trip would be complete without a trip into the Medina. The seemingly endless sprawling alleyways can be a little overwhelming at times, so be sure to plan your route ahead. Luckily we were able to use data on our phones (Vodafone) and so navigating the streets what a lot easier with a quick glance on Google Maps. Several years ago, it was a different story and if you feel like you may get lost then it may be worth investing in a local guide. Don’t be afraid to interact with the sellers and the locals; a quick “no thank you” will often put an end to any sales pitch.
Of course, if Marrakech itself get a little too much to handle then an escape to the desert might be just the the ticket. There are plenty of choices but, if you after that perfect Instagram shot, then Scarab Camp is a great place to go for a camel ride and dinner under the stars. Incredibly it is only a short 45-minute drive from the centre of Marrakech, but the camp feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of the Medina. If you can’t stay the night then at least stay for the evening; there is nothing better than relaxing under the clear night sky with a tagine in hand.
Where To Stay
There are two very different options when it comes to accommodation in Marrakech. One will see you wander round seemingly endless acres of manicured grass and perfectly tiled walls. The other, and by far my favourite, drops you right in with the thick of it. Riads are fantastic creations; beautifully crafted rooms that all face inwards to a central courtyard. Light comes directly from the sky, funnelled into the courtyard and casting incredible shadows on the terracotta walls. Dar Jaguar is a great option if you are looking for somewhere right within the Medina and not far from Jemaa el-Fnaa. The State of Grace Suite perfectly infuses Moroccan culture with a touch of luxury and is well worth the extra price should it be available during your stay.