4 Days in // Marrakesh, Morocco

Described by the Moroccan tourist board as a ‘pearl polished by history’, we tend to agree. A trading post for over a thousand years and its Medina (old city) an UNESCO World Heritage site, Marrakesh is a wonderful city to explore on foot. We went in March and the temperature was around 20-22 degrees Celsius.

Here are my top things to do with 4 days to explore, as well as a few things to avoid (that we learned along the way).

Magnificent 7 // Marrakesh, Morocco

1. Explore the Souks

2. Djemaa el-Fna

3. Majorelle Gardens

4. Ali Ben Youssef Medersa

5. La Bahia Palace

6. Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret

7. El Badi Palace

Getting there –

It takes around 3 hours 40 minutes from London to Marrakesh’s Menara airport. Once in Marrakesh, we stayed at Riad Melhoun who arranged a taxi collection from the airport (we paid the riad). Getting through the airport was fine although we had to wait around 45 minutes for the allocated taxi to turn up. We would never have found our accommodation on our own, so it was worth the wait!

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Where we stayed –

Most travellers to Marrakesh either stay at a riad in the city centre or outside the city in a larger hotel complex with a pool and travel by bus/taxi to the centre. We chose to stay in the city centre at Riad Melhoun. We cannot recommend this riad enough.

The location is superb and perfectly situated for exploring. The souks and La Bahia and El Badi Palaces are minutes away and it is a short walk to the bustling main square, Djemaa el Fna. Although centrally located, the riad was very quiet and represented an oasis of calm in this frenetic city.

Our room was small, beautifully decorated and comfortable. A nice touch was the sprinkled rose petals in the room and on the bed. There were many areas in the riad where you could sit and relax, and invariably be offered mint tea! Breakfast was included and had the wow factor. No set time, whenever you get up, you can have breakfast. We found that we did not need to have lunch as the breakfasts were substantial. Service was quite simply exemplary.

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To Eat and Drink –

Most nights we ate at the stalls or restaurants at Djemaa ei-Fna, where there were plenty of choices and variable quality. However we did eat at:-

Villa Flore – down a short alley, behind a black door, this restaurant had an interesting art décor interior. This was easily the nicest meal (other than breakfast) that we had in Marrakesh. Tried pigeon ‘Pastillas’ (rolls of filo pastry) for starters. They also served alcohol. Very enjoyable.

Café de Arabes –   we stopped here for a cocktail on a lovely roof terrace overlooking the medina. Beautiful sunset view.

Things to try – couscous, tagines (many, many varieties), mint tea, kebabs, soups (B’ssara, Harira), Makouda (deep fried potato balls in sauce)

img_0136To note –

  • Haggling – in the souks you are expected to haggle. The initial price you are quoted bears no resemblance to the price you will have to pay. Do not feel you are insulting the vendor by smiling and immediately taking 50+ % off the initial price. Alternatively offer around a third of what you would happily pay and let the vendor convince you to pay more. It can take some time to agree a price! It is a carefully choreographed activity and the market sellers are better at it than us. I love this custom. Some people (my wife included) do not like it. In which case…
  • Fixed prices – the Ensemble Artisanal is a government-run complex of artisan workshops. Usually good quality – we purchased a wooden serving tray and a leather wallet and are very pleased with them. There was no haggling, in stark contrast to the surrounding souks.
  • Cover up – it is a sign of respect for both men and women to keep knees and shoulders covered.
  • Be aware – the souks are crowded and you will get jostled. Be careful how you carry your valuables.
  • Say No – you will be approached constantly. Sometimes people will try and take your hand to lead you to their store. Simply say no thank you. Firmly.
  • Getting lost – the souks twist and turn and it is easy to get lost. However, it is relatively easy to make your way back to Djemaa ei-Fna. You could also take a business card/stationery from where you are staying to get directions!
  • Motorbikes/scooters – the souks are narrow and every day we would have to quickly move out of the way of scooters in the narrow lanes. That being said, we never saw any accidents, though there were plenty of near-misses!
  • No entry – mosques and zawiyyas (saints’ shrines) are not open to non-Muslims.
  • Personal care – take a loo roll with you as not all facilities provide paper.

Magnificent 7

1. Souks

There are a lot of different souks in Marrakesh. We stumbled across souks selling carpets, slippers, scarves, metalwork, spices, woodwork, jewellery – and some selling “tat”. Visiting a souk is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the city. As mentioned above, be careful and you will have a memorable experience and some fantastic souvenirs.

2. Djemaa el-Fna

Marrakesh’s bustling main square, full of colour, sounds, street theatre and fun. Find a restaurant or café overlooking the square and see the character of the square change at dusk. We did not like seeing the chained monkeys/apes, but the snake charmers were interesting. In the evening a plethora of food stalls appear and it is a great atmospheric experience with a mix of locals and tourists. We tended to gravitate to the square at some point each evening.

img_0069img_0065enterprising hoopla played on the square

3. Majorelle Gardens

We had to take a taxi to get to the gardens. We agreed a price, however when we got there tourist police were checking the fares being charged and we paid a lot less (10 dirham instead of 20). The gardens, on a twelve-acre site, are stunning. It really is a must-see. The gardens were designed by the French artist Jacques Majorelle and were opened in 1947. The gardens also contain the Islamic art Museum of Marrakesh. Yves Saint-Laurant’s ashes were scattered in the gardens in 2008.

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4. Ali Ben Youssef Madrassa

A 14th-century centre of Islamic learning that is now a museum. It was once the largest Islamic school in North Africa. There are small dormitories arranged around a central courtyard. Situated next to a mosque (non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque).

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5. La Bahia Palace

A beautiful building that is an excellent example of Eastern architecture from the 19th century. The building itself is a shell, but the tiles and ceilings are stunning.

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6. Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret

Nearly 70 metres high, it is the oldest of the three great Almohad towers and is a landmark that can be seen from most parts of the city. There is a small park at the back. There is no entry for non-Muslims.

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7. El Badi Palace

Mainly in ruins, nevertheless there is enough remaining to imagine how luxurious the Palace was in its heyday. There are nesting storks on top of the walls. Incongruously, when we visited there was an interesting photography exhibition taking place that had nothing to do with Morocco, Marrakesh or the Palace!

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Lessons Learnt!

1.) Souks

Marrakesh is a fabulous city and makes a great city break.   The souks are the highlight but be aware that you are not in a Western market. Traders are not there to intimidate you. They simply have different ways of doing things. But if this is not your thing The Ensemble Artisanal is highly recommended.

2.) Food Stalls

There are many food stalls at Djemaa el-Fna and the quality is variable. Look for stalls that have local families eating at them.

3.) Alcohol

Most restaurants do not serve alcohol. Not a problem for us, but be aware.

 

 

Fun fact: Alfred Hitchcock’s spy thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much, opens in the Djemaa el Fna, with its snake charmers, food stalls and storytellers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


2 thoughts on “4 Days in // Marrakesh, Morocco

  1. Makes me want to go back there tho after our first visit it became a place on my list never go back 😉
    Hope you are better after the surfing accident:)

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    1. Thanks Jessie. I really liked Marrakesh. Sue didn’t like the persistent attention of some of the traders, but overall we had an enjoyable city break. Re the surfing, I am currently writing the East Coast blog, so you will be able to read all about it then!

      Like

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