72 hours in Marrakesh

by Elio June 16, 2013

Souks appeal. There is some kind of incommensurable appeal that oozes from the combination of labyrinthine alleyways, ancient Berber healers, hip art galleries and out-of-control donkey carts that makes a short break in Marrakech truly unique.

Day 1  Dive in headfirst

5.00pm Arrive at Marrakesh Menara Airport. If you’re an architectural aesthete, your hols start right here. Check out the sweeping grand lobby of the airport and the majestic canopy entrance, brainchild of Casablanca based E2A Architecture studio, setting the scene to what will surely be one eye-opening short break in Marrakesh. Go.

5.30pm Hop in a cab to the Riad Dixneuf-La-Ksour, located on a carriageway at the entrance of the medina. If you choose a riad located on a pedestrian street (most of them are), arrange a transfer with the hotel so that the driver accompanies you by foot to the riad’s door.

5.45pm Entering a riad is always a special moment, especially for first-timers, Dixneuf-La-Ksour is no exception.  

9.00pm Djemaa el-Fna square.  Turn right out of the riad, and right again on Rue Fehl Chidmi through the Souk Laksourand to its end. A seven-minute walk, et voilà: the mind-boggling Djemaa el-Fna square filled with hundreds of steaming food stalls and thousands of people from Marrakesh and beyond, is action-packed. Find your way through the healers, the storytellers and the Gnaoua drummers, smartly avoiding the snake charmers, and join the locals at one of the many communal tables for a tasty barbecue.

11:30pm Back to Riad Dixneuf-La-Ksour. Unwind with a plunge in the small pool, and end with a local nightcap: mint tea and pastries.

© Luc Viato

Day 2  Made in Medina

9.00am Don’t leave the riad before breakfast on the roof terrace. The freshly squeezed orange juice in Morocco is probably the best you will ever taste, and the Msemen (square-shaped Moroccan pancakes) are to die for.
Ask the hotel to reserve tonight’s table at Ksar Es Saoussan restaurant.

10:00am Head to the souks for some serious bargains! Target Mustapha Blaoui’s store, probably Marrakesh’s most famous antiquarian (142 Bab Doukkala). +Michi: design shop brainchild of Japanese stylist Masami and husband Hicham (21 Souk Lakchachbia). And Riad Yima: playground, art gallery and tea room of Moroccan Artist Hassan Hajjaj (52 derbAarjane).
Whatever you’re after, you won’t escape bargaining in Marrakesh. It’s like a national sport here: don’t take it too seriously, do it with a smile and you’ll have lots of fun.

2.00pm Lunch at Café Le Jardin. A small oasis filled with exotic plants, trees of all sorts and water features. The menu offers a light lunch choice that goes from Marrocan salad to Ceasar salad and sandwiches. End with an almond milk shake (32 souk El jeld).

3.00pm Take a small taxi (cheaper), e.g. Peugeot 205 or Fiat Uno, to the Jardins Majorelle (Avenue Yacoub el-Mansour). Hold tight while your taxi driver-dash-pilot slaloms through mopeds, bicycles, worn-out vintage Mercedes-Benz and out-of-control donkey carts.
Privately owned by fashion designer and longtime Marrakesh resident Yves Saint Laurent, the Majorelle Garden was created in the 1930s by two generations of French artists, Louis Majorelle and his son Jacques.

Don’t miss the La Boutique du Jardin Majorelle. Managed by Balmain’s former artistic director, Bernard Sanz, the boutique offers a selection of the best local craftwork – rigorously handpicked by Bernard. 

6.30pm Back to the riad. The sun is slowly setting, have a soak in the fabulous plunge pool to the sound of the Muezzin (call to prayer).

9.00pm A 3 minute stroll away, basically left out of the riad – left and left again (watch out for the sign), the Restaurant Ksar Es Saoussan is hidden away in a little and rather dark back alley. The setting is atmospheric, a 16th-Century riad (almost a museum), livened up by soft classical music and soothing fountain sounds. Tables are set with, and the food is served on, fine antique china.  And they prepare what’s probably the best Moroccan salad ever, too.

Day 3  Souk cuisine

8.45am Advise the hotel that you will be eating in tonight and give carte blanche to Atika for the menu.

Go out in the direction of Djemaa el-Fna, cross the square and take Riad Zitoum Lakdim street opposite. After approximately 500 meters, and once you’ve passed the El Mouminine school on your left, turn into Derb Jdid alley. Meet with Edwina from the House of Fusion (+212 6 50 040 341) for a half-day cooking class.

It all begins with specially blended coffee with an open discussion as to what the day’s menu of 8 dishes plus tea making will be.  Then follow the shopping list in English, and then Arabic, go forth into the nearby souk and amongst the street barrow men, claiming all your groceries in your new language. If there is anything on display that you’d like to add to the menu, just do.

© Anton Zelenov

Back in the kitchen, standing with your apron and your notebook at the prep table: the chopping, slicing, grinding, peeling can begin. Expect a fully participatory class including the writing of the recipes as you go, and followed by a joyous lunch in the courtyard.

3.00pm Before heading back to the riad, continue down the House of Fusion’s alley until you reach Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid. Turn right; you’re 200 meters from the Bahia Palace (Riad Zitoun el Jedid). A 19th-Century palace with highly worked lush decoration, well worth the extra effort – even after such a lunch feast.

4.30pm Recharge on the riad’s rooftop loungers, borrow an African art book from the riads library, and enjoy the last rays of sunshine with a glass of Moroccan chardonnay

8.00pm Dinner at the hotel. Unlike the restaurants or formal hotels, there is no dining room as such at the Riad Dixneuf-la-Ksour.  Ask for your table to be set on the rooftop to catch the evening breeze. Atika and Souad will cater beyond your needs, with fresh gazpachos, Briouats pastries delicately filled with chicken, goat’s cheese, lemon and peppers, and magnificent tajines.

Day 4  Nouvelle Ville mod-cons

9.00pm Breakfast at the hotel (with a double portion of those fabulous Msemen pancakes with honey). Check-out and leave your luggage at the riad until this afternoon.

10.30pm Take a small taxi to Gueliz, the ville nouvelle – or where the hip is. Ask to be dropped on the Place du 16 Novembre square, along the avenue Mohammed V. Look back at the Avenue towards the Medina: you should see the Koutoubia rising in the distance, with the medina framed by the Atlas mountains behind. In Gueliz you’ll find Marrakesh main concentration of upmarket fashion, art and craft shops and smart pavement cafés lined up throughout. Target Passage Ghandouri: to spot half of Marrakesh’s top contemporary art galleries; and the Marché Central de Marrakesh: for a slice of Marrakech and expats daily market life (Rue Ibn Toumert).

1.00pm Pause at Café du Livre (44 rue Tarik ben Ziad). Bookstore-cum-café, converted from an upstairs apartment and a downstairs garage, with a collection of 2000+ new and second-hand books both English and not. Salads and sandwiches menu on the international side, while prices are local. Perfect for a transition before heading back to reality.

2.30pm Hop in a cab to pick up your luggage at the riad, and back to Marrakesh Menara airport.

Inspired? See more luxury riads in Marrakesh.

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