I’m not long back from a wonderful few days away in the amazing Marrakesh – I had to share it with you, it was such a nice break! I’d visited once before, for a night, about 10 years ago and it was great to go back and explore it some more… and do a lot of chilling….
I flew out from Bristol airport and landed it in the very impressive-looking Menara airport 4 hours later. Although the airport looks stunning, they could spend a bit more money on staff as it took at least an hour to queue and get through security – always a bit frustrating when you come off a flight! After waiting for the other passengers on my pre-booked transfer, I made it to the medina gardens hotel in time to have a night cap with my sister and friend who had arrived a few hours earlier from Gatwick!
Day 1 – souks and Jemma el Fna square
After breakfast we headed to the souks (markets) and main square Jemma el Fna for a couple of hours mooching about. Whereas the first time I went, I think it was a bit intimidating, this time I was happy to get totally lost in the warren of markets and soak up all the smells and sights…. we treated ourselves to an orange juice which for about 20p is probably the best orange juice you’ll taste anywhere!
After an afternoon of lazing by the pool, I headed back up to the square ready for the evening’s festivities. I had dinner at one of the food stalls (they all try and drag you in to theirs!) and watched the world go by.
In my day 1 excitement, I forgot how easy it is to get ripped off…. I got pounced on to get this photo taken with some locals… who then demanded 150Dh (over a tenner!) – I just shoved some small coins in their hands and walked away, but I can see how they could make a fortune out of anyone a bit more nervous!
Evenings in the square are just so magical – basically it’s full of story-tellers who the locals all gather round to hear their tales. The air is also full of local music. It’s very busy, and a bit manic at times. The only thing I don’t like about it are the people touting monkeys and snakes for photo opportunities – I’m pretty sure they’re all drugged and I hate seeing the poor monkeys tied up just for tourists to hold them – very sad.
Day 2 – more souks, and the new part of the city
After breakfast, I went back to the souks for more exploring and quickly stumbled upon some new bits I hadn’t seen the previous day, including locals gathered round eating snails!
After another lazy afternoon in the sun, after dinner we walked to Gueliz in the new part of the city. We stumbled upon a nice little exhibition of local wares, but other than that there wasn’t much to see unless you wanted to shop in Mango, Zara, H&M or pop into Starbucks or McDonald’s! So we had a couple of drinks in the rooftop bar of the Renaissance hotel, Skybar, which was a lovely experience!
Day 3 – a tourist hammam, more souks and rooftop bars
After a lazy morning and lunch, we tried a tourist version of the hammam. A hammam is a bath/steam room-type place where locals go every week to get scrubbed and cleansed, and catch up with their friends. We were a little bit intimidated by the sound of the traditional, local hammams where you’d get totally naked together (men and women have separate hammams) so we opted for a more luxurious, tourist version!
We hadn’t pre-booked but we got into ‘Le bain bleu’ a very cute spa tucked away in the souks. The three of us got covered in oil, then left in the hot room, got scrubbed with a glove and wow you could so the dead skin falling off! Then covered in a mask and left to soak it in, soaked off with water and then a sit in the Jacuzzi. We had booked the hammam-massage deal and we all agreed the massage was fantastic – we were very nicely drained and relaxed afterwards! A nice touch was the mint tea and biscuits we had in the relaxation room 🙂 That cost us about 600Dh which is a hell of a lot more than you’d pay for local hammams, but it works out at about £50 which is a great deal compared to how much you’d pay for something similar back home.
I would recommend you try and book before you go rather than frantically phone around in the morning like we had to do! Bains de Marrakesh, Jardins le Marrakesh and Hammam de Rose all sound nice – some of them have outdoor gardens and pools you can chill out in so definitely worth doing some research, but I do recommend le Bains de Blue – excellent therapists!
After the spa, I wanted to take the girls to a rooftop café I’d seen the day before (and features in the Lonely planet!) – Nomad! This is a really beautiful café, with several floors – the top two overlooking one of the market squares and the rooftops of the souks. It was the perfect place for a post-spa healthy juice.
We tried to head directly back to the hotel through the souks but of course got royally lost so spent a while in there looking around, buying things! This is the day I realised how bad I am at haggling – despite going in with a price about half what the seller wanted, I paid 90DH (About £8) for some Moroccan slippers then saw them for 60DH in a fixed-price shop which is never a good sign – the fixed-price shops are typically more expensive than the souks!! Still – everything I bought is cheaper than I’d pay at home – and I now have a collection of shoes, slippers, dishes and candle holders!
That evening, after dinner, we got a taxi to another rooftop bar that featured in the guide books and websites – Kosybar. This overlooks a really old palace where storks live on the roof! Very picturesque but I didn’t manage to get a decent photo. Unfortunately the service was slow – we waited about 45 minutes for our drinks! It was made up by an interesting chat with one of their managers who showed us photos of his 100 year old parents, and his week-old baby!
From there we hopped in a taxi to another bar – Comptoir Darna – this was busy and noisy – a place to go if you’re going out, out! And a place to go if you want to be seen – it was full of ‘made in chelsea’ types, and there was a Louis Vuitton shop nearby! Anyway, we had really nice cocktails here sat in the chilled outdoor area – I loved my friend’s ‘magic carpet’ cocktail that arrived in a Moroccan teapot! The service was good here too.
We could walk back to our hotel from here. We’d learnt that getting taxis in the evening was a bit more difficult than the daytime – they were all wanting to charge 4 or 5 times the going rate, so sometimes walking was easier than haggling!
Day 4 – Jardin Majorelle… and the souks!
This day was the second anniversary of my dad’s death, so sis and I thought a nice place to remember him by was the famous Jardin Majorelle. We weren’t disappointed – these gardens are just as stunning as I remember 10 years ago. You don’t need to be into gardens and flowers to visit here – it’s just a visual delight of colours!
From here we had another walk around the new part of town but didn’t really see anything of note other than plenty of nice-looking restaurants if you were staying in this part of town. We got a taxi back to the hotel and again my haggling skills were a fail when the first price I offered (40DH – about £3) was accepted with a ‘merci’ and on the way back he told me what ‘a good price’ this was lol!
After my last few hours of sunbathing by the pool and saying goodbye to the hotel tortoises, I did one last mission into the nearest part of the souks for some final shopping and sight-seeing….
I was picked up by my transfer in plenty of time for my flight – about 3 hours – and I knew you had to check-in even if you didn’t have hold luggage. I was very impressed – the queues at check-in, passport control and security was all very small and quick so an hour after leaving the hotel I was eating dinner in the departures lounge. With so much time to kill, I was thankful for plenty of shops to look around, and plenty of areas to sit before my flight home.
In summary – I thoroughly enjoyed my Marrakech mini-break, I had the right mix for me of chilling out, and exploring the souks etc. I would have liked to visit some of the sights like the palaces and old college (all stunning buildings) but they will be there for years to come! I know you can also do things like cookery courses there… and trips… my sister really enjoyed a day trip into the Atlas mountains. The old part of Marrakech is a little bit mad, but it’s also cosmopolitan, modern and seems pretty safe. Some of the stall-holders are a bit annoying but we also came across some really kind, polite, friendly people. It was wonderful to see so many young children out there (locals and tourists) – I’d love to take the boys out there in a few years time – I think they would love this magical city!