Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
Marrakech will ambush your senses. Colour is everywhere; from the mosaic tiles and woven textiles lining the souks to the brightly painted streets. The smells are both alluring and off-putting; you walk down one souk that is selling live poultry only to stumble into towers of caramel peanuts and dried figs. The noise is constant, from the hum of motorbikes that tear past to the bargaining shop owners beckoning; ‘look, look lady’. But the chaos is contagious, as is the sugar-laden mint tea and the fresh orange juice that tastes unlike any OJ you’ve ever had.
What to do
- Visit the enchanted Jardin Majorelle, a garden bought by Yves Saint Laurent (in 1980), located in the new city.
- Go to a public hammam (Turkish bath) – this was a highlight for my better half, AT. Ask your riad to suggest a local public hammam or there are a handful of beautiful spas if you’re after an upmarket pamper session. Try Les Bains.
- Get henna and sip a mint tea at the Henna Cafe – all the profits of the Henna café and school go towards local educational projects and assisting those in need.
- My friend Hermione recommended we visit El Fenn and it was certainly on-point. Owned and operated by Richard Branson’s sister, Vanessa, head up to the rooftop for lunch and enjoy uninterrupted views of Koutoubia Mosque. I must also mention, Yves Saint Laurent and Winston Churchill have both stayed there so if it’s good enough for them..
- Take a stroll around La Mamounia. A new friend, James, suggested this hotel/palace and it’s breathtaking. Make sure you check out the indoor pool. He also recommended Peacock Pavilions, which we didn’t get to but I wish we had. Next time!
Where to eat
- Nomad – lunch on the rooftop at Nomad is a must. It’s a little difficult to find so make sure you have google maps or a reliable map. The menu is a modern take on Moroccan classics; order the lentil and goat’s cheese salad and the Nomad cous cous.
- Jemaa El-Fna Square – try the snails and drink cups of fresh orange and grapefruit juice (we had at least two a day!)
- Le Jardin – behind an unassuming door in the Medina awaits a leafy garden oasis. It’s owned by the same team behind Café D’espices and Nomad and it’s clear they have a deft aesthetic touch. Sit in the open courtyard or head upstairs to the rooftop. The date shake is a must, as is the lamb kefta with egg.
- Cafe D’espices – overlooking an open souk, snag a table on the rooftop and watch the world go by. If you’re tagine-d out, they serve a fresh feta and eggplant salad and delicious omelettes.
- Naranj – escape the hustle and bustle of Jemaa El-Fna and head to Naranj for a fusion of Lebanese and Moroccan dishes. Try the ginger tonic with mint and orange juice.
- Café clock – be sure to call ahead and check if there’s live music (they do a weekly “Sunday Session” and there is sometimes bands on Saturday night). The atmosphere is incredible and our night at Café Clock was one of the best we had in Marrakech. Order their signature camel burger and harira (chickpea) soup. Grab a table on the rooftop and enjoy sunset views over the Kasbah.
- Bo zin– with a vegan, vegetarian and gluten free menu, Bo Zin certainly stands out in the Marrakech restaurant scene. The vibe and aesthetic is like any swanky nightclub/restaurant you’d visit in New York. Few restaurants in the medina serve alcohol so if you’re pining after a cocktail, let loose here.
- Avoid going in summer, it was quite warm even in October when we went.
- Learning a few words in Arabic (like ‘no, thank you’: ‘la shkra’) goes a long way.
- Always walk (and look) like you know exactly where you’re going. That way, you’ll never get overly harassed or told that a street is ‘closed’ (which it rarely is – but I guarantee a bunch of young Moroccan boys will try to show you the way and then ask for payment).