Stalls bursting with SILKS + LEATHER. MOROCCAN LAMPS dangling above your head. MOUNTAINS OF FRESH SPICES. Mingle with locals. TASTE HOMEMADE ALMOND PASTRIES, washed down with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. A PLACE WHERE SOUNDS AND SMELLS COME TO LIFE.
WORDS + PHOTOS CARMEN HUTER
Marrakesh is everything you imagine it to be. The old town is a tourist-ridden UNESCO world heritage site: a complicated web of plazas and alleyways, obscured by clouds of red dust, and traversed by donkey carriages and hawkers.
The new town has its own sense of purpose, with art galleries and cutting-edge boutiques popping up all over the place.
The dusty chaos of the old town and the planned precision of the new, make exploration of the city an operation that demands you set aside your sense of direction, and dive on in.
Djema el-Fna: If you want to tackle the labyrinth of souks that make up the medina, this is where you start. With snake charmers and acrobats, and everyone in between, the lower the sun in the sky, the more bustling action you will run into. Speaking of which, sunsets are best seen from one of the rooftop cafés in the northern corner of Djema el-Fna.
Medina: The medina ramparts stretch across 19km and include the Djema el-Fna. Walk south to explore palaces or take a breather in your riad (traditional boutique guesthouse). Head north for mosques, souks, and zawiyas (saints’ shrines). The souks provide excellent retail therapy (and people watching opportunities). Just be sure to haggle and triple-check the quality of goods. Checking the price with the neighbouring stall will keep your wallet on track.
Museum for Photography and Visual Arts: This is the world’s largest freestanding photography museum. A must!
Ali Ben Youssef Medersa: As you enter the medersa (theological college), an inscription reads, “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded.” The level of detail of the Hispano-Moresque ornaments, you nd once inside, is exceptional. It’s considered one of the most impressive Quranic learning centres in North Africa.
Maison de la Photographie Marrakech: This is a photographer’s dream, with an excellent collection of related exhibitions. This gallery is also home to one of the best rooftop terraces in town. Stay for lunch, reflect on what you’ve just seen downstairs, and enjoy the view.
Bahia Palace: La Bahia means ‘The Beautiful’. I concur. Even though only a small proportion of rooms are open to the public, it’s well worth a visit.
Jardin Majorelle: After the tumult of the medina, this artistic paradise, gifted to Marrakesh by none other than the great Yves Saint Laurent, is a welcome pool of calm. Beat the crowds and come early.
Ville Nouvelle Art Galleries: These galleries really gives you an idea of where the forward thinking Moroccans are headed. Check out Galerie Rê, Gallery 127, and Matisse Art Gallery.
Beldi Country Club: A quick taxi ride out of town, this is not your average boutique hotel. There was a sea of roses (15,000 to be precise), picture-perfect intimate pools, tropical greenhouses with classical music, free-standing outdoor bathtubs, on-site potteries, and delicious food. You can buy a pool pass, or have lunch overlooking Marrakesh. I so wish I had stayed here the night!
Morocco is a vegetarian-friendly place, which suits me perfectly!
Mint tea is offered everywhere, at all times in Morocco. Fresh mint leaves, scalding hot water, and plenty of sugar are always proffered. Ask for less or no sugar, if you prefer.
Djema el-Fna stalls: As the shadows grow, so does the action in the old town square. Walk round and find a stall with a good view of the square. The busier the stall, the better the turnover of ingredients, the better for your stomach.
Earth Café Creative: Here you will find vegetarian food to convince even the most determined of carnivores.
Café Clock: Join the expats and curious tourists for seasonal Marrakesh cuisine with a modern twist. Great vibe and sunset concerts on Sundays.
Le Jardin: An excellent upmarket choice for dinner. Book ahead.
Kaowa: LA vibes in downtown Marrakesh. Juices, smoothies, and light lunch, all at a reasonable price.
Amal Centre: Support disadvantaged Moroccan women by eating here. Very much worth a visit.
Roti D’or: If tajines are coming out of your ears (which they will be, sooner or later), this Mexican eatery is your place for a culinary holiday.
Atay Café: Amazing food and panoramic views. What more do you need?
Nomad: A French-Moroccan rooftop venue.
On Foot: The only realistic way to navigate the medina. Your riad hosts should be able to give you a decent map. Walking away from Djema el-Fna, have a good look around to get your bearings. Keep an eye on your phone’s compass to navigate your way back.
Petits Taxis: Perfect for short trips into Ville Nouvelle. Flagging one on the street is pretty straightforward. The fees are steeper in the evening. Make sure you request a metered fare.
City Bus: Take from Marrakesh Menara Airport (pick up a SIM card while you’re there), or the train station, to your destination.
Grands Taxis: Usually a Mercedes-Benz, the additional comfort is better for day trips to nearby palmeries, for example.
Discourage being hassled by dressing modestly and having your shoulders and knees covered. Also, a firm but friendly ‘La’a, shukraan’, Arabic for ‘No, thank you’, does a great job at keeping away unwanted souvenir hawkers.
READ more about Carmen’s adventures at: CARMENHUTER.COM