Marrakesh for beginners

by Elio December 03, 2013

As the sun sets, the air is filled with a flickering light and the scent of grilled meats and spices. The haunting call to prayer echoes from a nearby minaret and a storyteller plies his trade by lamplight. This is Marrakesh: a city of sensory overload.

And North Africa’s most bustling city, too.

Where to go in Marrakesh

As the sun sets, the air is filled with a flickering light and the scent of grilled meats and spices. The haunting call to prayer echoes from a nearby minaret and a storyteller plies his trade by lamplight. This is Marrakesh, a city of sensory overload, where ancient riads lie hidden within the twisted streets of the old medina and vendors hawk traditional goods like brass lanterns, leather bags and hand-woven carpets in the labyrinthine souks.

Djemaa el-Fna

Marrakesh’s most colourful attraction is Djemaa el-Fna. The main square is the beating heart of the city and much of the rhythms of daily life are played out here. In the day, the square is quieter, but at night it comes alive with open-air food stalls, musicians, snake charmers, street theatre and storytellers. Near the Djemaa el-Fna is the Koutoubia, a 12th century, 70 metre high minaret. The azan, or call to prayer, rings out from here five times a day.

The Saadian Tombs

The Saadian Tombs, located in a quiet enclosure near the Kasbah, is the resting place of a few prominent Sultans and more than 100 Saadian princes, as well as other members of the royal household. Sultan Moulay Yazid, the brutal king who ruled Marrakesh for 22 short, terrifying months, is buried here, as is Sultan Ahmad Mansour, who commissioned the building. The site dates from the 16th century and still has many of its original features like intricate roof carvings and colourful brick fired tiles.

Yves Saint Laurent Gardens

Famous for its blue and yellow colour scheme, the Jardin Mayorelle is a peaceful respite from the hustle of the souqs of Marrakesh. The gardens showcase a collection of exotic plants, all within beautifully landscaped grounds. There is also a pond stocked with carp and curious turtles. An on-site café offers patrons a chance to recharge with cake and coffee.

Where to stay in Marrakesh

There are a number of modern chain hotels available in Marrakesh, but with plenty of atmospheric, ancient riads set in the colourful streets of the old city, why would you choose the former over the latter? Riad hotels in Marrakesh: riads are traditional Moorish buildings with internal courtyards, now converted into cosy boutique hotels run by in-the-know expatriates and caring locals.

Riad Ariha

Located in a quiet neighborhood of the medina, this understated boutique guesthouse offers traditionally-cool rooms at an unbeatable value. The kitchens at Riad Ariha dish up traditional tagines, and breakfast on the rooftop, with a view of the faraway Atlas Mountains, is a real treat. Doubles from 87 euro per night including breakfast.

Dar 73

Well-equipped riad with a hammam and a roof-top Jacuzzi, this ancient aristocratic riad offers attractive rooms and an elegant courtyard with a suspended garden. Dar 73 also boasts a beautifully appointed roof top with expansive views of the medina. Doubles from 90 euro per night including breakfast.

Talaa 12

Splash out in style at Talaa 12 Marrakesh, a decidedly luxury riad with 4 upper end rooms and 4 expansive suites, and design yet traditionally-inspired décor. Doubles start at 150 euro per night including breakfast. Cherry on top, that includes access to Le Palais Paysan facilities at the first foothills of the high-Atlas.

Where to eat in Marrakesh

Marrakesh offers a gastronomic adventure of exotic spices and flavours. Tagine is the national dish of Morocco, but there is also a heavy emphasis on lamb and sweet pastries. As Morocco is a Muslim country, there are fewer options for drinking, and almost all of the local bars are patronized by foreign visitors.

Djemaa el-Fna

There is no better place to unleash a foodie than the Djemaa el-Fna. Barbecued meats, tagine, lambs heads, snail soup, unleavened bread and freshly squeezed orange juice are all on offer here after the sun goes down. Graze your way from stall to stall and sample as much as you desire or dare.

Ksar Es Saoussan

17th-Century riad superbly converted into a fine restaurant. Inside, the riad is filled with antiques and the classical music playing is a fitting accompaniment to the rich and flavorful food. Try the pastille, or pigeon pie, a traditionally a festival dish. And the Moroccan salad, probably one of the best in the medina. 3 rue des Ksour, Derb El Messoudyenne, 40000 Marrakesh (+212 524 440 632).

Kosy Bar

Modern and sophisticated, this Moroccan-Japanese fusion bar is the perfect place to sip a glass of wine at the end of a busy day of shopping in the souqs. Set across from the Badi Palace and in the heart of the medina, Kosybar is the perfect spot for people watching. 47 Place des Ferblantiers, Mellah, 40000 Marrakesh (+212 524 380 324).

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