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bineba Marrakech - A travel report by Sabine
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Marrakech,  Morocco - flag Morocco -  Marrakech
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bineba's travel reports

Marrakech – A City for All Your Senses

  15 votes
Page: 1 2
Smell the spices in the souks, taste the tagines and mint tea in a café, hear the calls for prayer from the minarets, see the storks on the red ramparts, touch a snake in Jemaa-El-Fna (if you dare)! Most of all – enjoy this enchanting city!

Jemaa-El-Fna - a World Heritage site
Jemaa-El-Fna - a World Heritage site
Marrakech – the name alone conjures up a 1001 images and you won’t be disappointed when you visit. The Red City at the foot of the Atlas Mountains might only be a relatively short flight away from London (3 ½ hrs), but you find yourself in a completely different world, exotic and mysterious. It is called the Red City in reference to the predominant colour of its mud-brick buildings and the 12km long ramparts that contain the old city. Marrakech is Morocco’s third largest city (1 mio. citizens) and has a long and sometimes bloody history. It was originally the domain of the Berber tribes and an important oasis and trading post. Founded in 1062, it became one of the Islamic world’s most important artistic and cultural centres. It has been Morocco’s capital on several occasions (nowadays it’s Rabat), but it is still a Royal city, the new King Mohammed VI built a brand new palace here recently as the old one was far too big for his needs. Writers and artists have been coming here for decades (Churchill liked to paint here) and in the Sixties it became a firm fixture on the hippy trail. These days, tourism is probably the main trade and I would urge everyone to visit soon, as huge hotel complexes are going up at the fringes of the city and more and more airlines are offering cut price fares to go there. We went for a week in January and it was already quite busy. I dread to think what it will be like in the high season in a few years time. The weather in January was great: only one day of rain and temperatures in the low 20Cs. A few practicalities: You can’t bring any Moroccan money (dirhams) into the country, but there are ATM’s and Euros are widely accepted. The dress code isn’t very strict and you are, as a visitor, not required to cover up from head to toe, but I would still respect the local customs and religion and not wear anything too revealing. Many people speak some English, but it is useful to have a few phrases in Arabic or French at the ready.

Favourite spots:
Getting 'lost' in the souks is great fun
Getting 'lost' in the souks is great fun
Getting lost in the souks for a few hours is great fun and you’ll find your way out eventually. In the meantime enjoy the experience: the souk is divided into areas for the different crafts on offer: visit Souk Kchacha for dried fruit, Souk Smata for slippers, Souk Cherratine for leather goods, Souk Haddadine for lamps and lanterns, Souk Attarine for brass- and copperware, Souk Kimakhine for musical instruments and Souk Sebbaghine is the wool dyers’ market. Another interesting place within the souks is Rhaba Kdima, a small square surrounded by carpet shops and traditional medicine and cosmetics sellers. In the middle of the square sit traders from the countryside offering untreated animal skins and woven baskets. You can watch the craftsmen at work, spend your money (you are expected to haggle. If you can’t be bothered go to the craft shops in Ensemble Artisanal where you get fixed prices) or just soak up the atmosphere. Undercover tourist police ensure you don’t get hassled too much.

What's really great:
Stork returning to his nest on top of a minaret
Stork returning to his nest on top of a minaret
Marrakech isn’t one of those cities where you rush from one sight to the next, it’s a place where you can relax and just enjoy being immersed in a completely different culture. It is a city to explore on foot, you don’t want to miss a thing. The beauty is in the detail, like a beautifully carved door or colourful tiles in a courtyard. And remember to look up! I have always been interested in folklore and fairy tales and when I was a kid I read stories, probably ‘Tales from 1001 Nights’, about caliphs, princesses and jinns, palaces, magic carpets and lamps and there was always at least one stork involved. Walking through the southern part of the medina, near the Royal Palace, you see dozens of them nesting on minarets and city walls. It’s an amazing sight when they take off and fly above the rooftops. The stork is a holy bird in Marrakech and disturbing one could land you in prison.

La Koutoubia - the Booksellers' Mosque
La Koutoubia - the Booksellers' Mosque
The minaret of La Koutoubia, the ‘Booksellers’ Mosque’, dominates the skyline. It was built in 1147 and the minaret is 75m high. As a non-Muslim you can’t go inside, but do enjoy the gardens with its palm and orange trees and the reflective pool.
The Saadian Tombs and La Bahia Palace in the southern medina are also worth visiting. The Royal Palace is not open to the public.
The Marrakech Museum in the medina is housed in a 20th century palace and strangely empty, but the grand court with its massive UFO shaped chandelier is impressive. You can get a combined ticket to include the Almoravid Qobba next door. Also known as Koubba El Badiyin, these are the remains of the first Ben Youssef Mosque, built in 1106, but not unearthed again until 1948. The floral decorations inside the cupola are very well preserved.
The Ben Youssef Mosque opposite is the ancient mosque around which the medina was built and very striking from the outside with its green tiled roofs and minaret.

Courtyard of Riad Catalina
Courtyard of Riad Catalina
We wanted to stay in a riad in the medina, and after much research, we decided on Riad Catalina (near Bak Laksour), which I found mentioned in an on-line article in the German magazine ‘Der Stern’. The riad was absolutely beautiful, the courtyard filled with palm and orange trees, mosaics and fountains, lanterns, painted doors and wooden ornaments and there were even two white turtledoves. Our room was quite small, but clean and comfortable, and had plenty of storage space in wall cupboards, so luggage could be stowed away. It was decorated in shades of red and orange and it had the most beautiful lamp. The bathroom was also tiny, but perfectly adequate with a shower and a shiny copper sink. Breakfast was continental with Moroccan touches, like local bread and pastries. The riad has a roof garden with a plunge pool and great view over the roofs of the medina to La Koutoubia. The staff was very friendly and they can sort out trips and excursions for you.

Jemaa-El-Fna at night
Jemaa-El-Fna at night
As Morocco is a Muslim country you won’t find many bars in Marrakech, especially in the medina, but if you are desperate for something stronger than mint tea, most of the bigger hotels and some restaurants have bars serving wine, beer and cocktails. Most of these are to be found in the Ville Nouvelle, the modern part of Marrakech and also east of the city, where massive hotel complexes are being built. This is also where some of the big clubs, like ‘Pacha’, are located, if that’s your cup of (mint) tea. For me, personally, it was much more interesting wandering around Jemaa-El-Fna, even if you don’t get anything stronger than a glass of freshly pressed orange juice.

Mint tea is supposed to cure many ailments
Mint tea is supposed to cure many ailments
THE place to hang out from morning until long after sunset is Jemaa-El-Fna. This huge space was used for executions in the past, hence its name ‘Dead Men’s Square’. Now it is a World Heritage site, a place where ancient traditions are still alive and it’s not just a magnet for tourists but also for locals. During the day it is busy with snake charmers, storytellers, musicians and dancers, acrobats, dentists displaying hundreds of teeth they’ve pulled, henna artists, bizarre looking water sellers and monkey handlers with their pitiful animals. When the sun goes down they all move to the sidelines and the square turns in just a few minutes into the biggest open air restaurant in the world. Grab a seat on the terrace of one of the cafes, we liked the Café Glacier, and settle down to watch this amazing spectacle. It’s a people watcher’s paradise: somebody transporting 15 trays of eggs on a bicycle, a family of four on a moped. It’s noisy, but great fun. And it’s free!

Food on offer in Jemaa-El-Fna
Food on offer in Jemaa-El-Fna
‘Ksar Es Saoussan’ not just a restaurant, but an experience. A giant African man in a red robe picks you up on the main street and leads you through the alleys to the restaurant which is beautifully furnished with art and antiques. More like visiting somebody’s private house. We were invited to go up to the roof terrace and have a look around before cocktails were served in the covered courtyard by the fountain. The set menu with traditional Moroccan dishes is for either 3, 4 or 5 courses and includes wine, water, tea and pastries.
Café Argana on Jemaa-El-Fna offers great views from the terrace and tasty tagines for about £5.
Pizzeria Venezia opposite La Koutoubia serves okay pizzas if you want a break from tagines.
Café L’Etoile (rue Bab Agnaou) has a nice atmosphere and the food we had, Harira soup and brochettes, was good too.
Jemaa-El-Fna in the evening: boiled sheep’s head, mountains of snails, chicken, lamb or kefta kebabs, sausages, boiled eggs, couscous and salads.

Other recommendations:
Oukaimeden in the Atlas Mountains
Oukaimeden in the Atlas Mountains
Get out of Marrakech for a day or two. Go on an organized trip or hire a grand taxi and driver, it’s not much more expensive and has the advantage that you can go where you want and stay as long as you want. We went to Oukaimeden in the Atlas Mountains, the highest ski resort in North Africa. I hadn’t seen such pristine snow in a long time. The drive there was spectacular too, climbing up the mountain past Berber villages clinging precariously to the hillsides. We had lunch in the Ourika Valley in Setti Fatma.
Our other trip was to Essaouria on the Atlantic coast. On the way there you pass an Argan tree orchard where you can see some of the famous tree-climbing goats. The drive isn’t very interesting and the road quite bad, but Essaouria makes up for it. It has a colourful busy fishing port, a traffic free medina, white washed houses with blue shutters, sandy beaches, medieval looking ramparts where Orson Wells filmed ‘Othello’. Jimi Hendrix was also a big fan of the city.

Published on Friday September 14th, 2007

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Fri, Jun 11 2010 - 05:12 AM rating by xolar

Thanks for nice report - I love Marrakesh - have been 2 times.
Have a good weekend- Andrew

Mon, Oct 15 2007 - 01:48 AM rating by magsalex

Interesting, informative and nicely illustrated report.

Wed, Sep 19 2007 - 09:48 PM rating by downundergal

Sabine - what an absolutely marvellous report! You bought the city alive with your descriptions - it was so vivid and full of great travel trips as well. I will have to look at some fo your pictures to see more.

Tue, Sep 18 2007 - 07:09 PM rating by rangutan

I loved Marrakesh too but could not describe it as perfectly as you have here. This report should be truly considered one of the best recently.

Tue, Sep 18 2007 - 02:09 AM rating by marianne

Very well written and very complete info. Beautiful photos, especially the mint tea

Sun, Sep 16 2007 - 06:48 AM rating by davidx

I expect to look again a number of times in the next 2 months before I go for the first time. Very interesting and informative.

Sat, Sep 15 2007 - 04:36 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

very nice report,mint tea is interesting ,nice pictures included

Fri, Sep 14 2007 - 03:50 PM rating by mistybleu

A wonderful informative report. I was in Tunsia earlier on this year and so many aspects seem similar.


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