The Magic of Marrakech and Falling in Love with the Red City
by Annika Ziehen
Marrakech and I was love at second sight. The first time I went I actually hated it and only during my second trip did I start to enjoy it. I don’t know if it was Marrakech or me that was different, but eventually the city took me in, swept me off my feet, and I returned with a lot of excess luggage thanks to some successful shopping sprees through the souks.
For you to have a great time as soon as you set foot into Marrakech I have assembled a list on how to best fall in love with the red city.
The art of getting lost
First you will need to learn the art of getting lost. The medina is a maze impenetrable by Google maps or regular maps for that matter. Accept that you will get lost and you will always find your way somehow. A few words in French will also take you a long way to ask directions and don’t worry – if you end up in a carpet shop it is probably by choice!
Sleep like a princess
There are no more authentic and no more beautiful ways to sleep than in a Morrocan riad in the medina. Many of these traditional houses have been transformed into guesthouses and you may just feel like a princess staying there. Riads are usually hidden behind unassuming doors that open into airy courtyards and offer a breath of fresh air in the middle of town. Chambres d’Amis for example offers the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle but you are still in the middle of all the action.
View from above
Hungry after exploring and getting lost? Again, the best restaurants will be hidden deep in the medina and need to be discovered. However, around the main squares, Jemaa El-Fna and Place des Epices, you will find many sidewalk cafes for refreshments. If you rather want to enjoy the wonderful madness from a distance head up to Nomad’s roof terrace that offers fantastic views with its amazing food.
Shop like a pro
Want to channel your inner Carrie Bradshaw, but don’t quite know how to deal with the souks? I recommend taking a local shopping guide. Tell your guide beforehand what you are interested in buying and he will be sure to guide you through the different areas of the souks and to the best shops. Get a lesson in telling real saffron from fake, learn how to bargain like a Berber, and find true treasures buried behind unassuming doors. More actual shopping, a lot less hassle!
With all my newfound appreciation for Marrakech, sometimes city life here just gets too much. Then it becomes time to be grateful and take advantage of its proximity to the Atlas Mountains. Hire a driver or car and take a little road trip, an hour and a half later you will find yourself in mountainous solitude. Here you can cool your feet in a stream and take a literal breath of fresh mountain air.
The historic buildings in Marrakech are a treat for art and history lovers, but there is also a young art scene making for an exciting addition to the city landscape. A perfect blend of old and new is the MMP+ which is located in the old Palais el Badii, showcasing young Moroccan artists. Le 18 and Riad Yima are hidden riads deep in the medina that hold smaller exhibits and offer an interesting insight into contemporary Moroccan life.
Brave to get clean
Make no mistake, in Marrakech, you will get dirty. Just like in any other big city, streets are dusty and dirty and walking all day will leave you to feel exhausted. That’s where the Moroccan hammam comes as a perfect solution to get squeaky clean and to relax. I will admit a bit of French and a lot of courage is needed for the experience. Start at Le Bain Bleu, a nice spa for your first scrub visit and work your way up to the public hammam.
You will leave, not only with the softest skin you ever had but also invigorated and ready to take on the city again.
While touristy, Marrakech’s true heart is still the Jemaa el Fna. The main square morphs from simple shopping destination into food court into night circus as the day goes on. Join the daily activities for sunset prayer and enjoy a feast for the senses from Cafe de France’s rooftop. All surrounding mosques calling for Maghrib create the most beautiful dissonant concert while the sun drenches everything in gold. Once you see it, your heart will be unable to resist the charm of Marrakech and before you know it might be too late: you are in love.
Follow Annika on Twitter: @nightelephant