Marrakech is a sophisticated and refined destination, full of colour, contrasts and textures, mint tea, couscous and tagines. It is chaotic and overwhelming, yet peaceful and fascinating. Bright and airy courtyards provide an oasis from the busy, dusty streets, and the interiors you come across are completely mesmerising.
It’s a destination that has been on my list for years, but I always prioritised other places. Let me just say, if you’re considering it, then go – I can’t wait to get back! I found it difficult to find much practical information before I left, so this is my guide to the red (not pink as many people think) city.
The contrasts, colours, hidden details and textures makes Marrakech a photographers’ dream. The winding streets and alleyways that make up the Medina are something else; they’re super confusing so be prepared to get lost, and you generally always end up back at Jemaa el-Fna square! This is half the fun, the shades of pinks and reds that you come across are really dreamy. Also, look out for the ever-changing contrasts, this was one of my favourite things. There was a beautiful door a few riads down from ours – the photographer inside me shot it several times during our stay, as the light changed every time (much to the amusement of my husband).
Rooftops and sunsets go hand-in-hand in Marrakech; mainly designed for restaurants, cafes and bars (as it was Ramadan during our visit, alcohol was not commonly served). Both El Fenn and Nomad had gorgeous rooftops views, as did our two Air BNB riads in the Medina. It isn’t common for locals to use their rooftops so don’t be surprised if many appear abandoned.
On street level, hidden courtyards provide an escape from the streets for a well earnt meal. Most are filled with abundant greenery and bougainvillea, perfect for a fresh juice and some downtime. La Famille was an absolute highlight, vegetarian food served by women (not so common in Marrakech) in a lush courtyard setting. The menu is short and changes daily, and is delicious – I had the peach salad, with cabbage, sultanas, mint, goats cheese and couscous, and I’ve been dreaming of it ever since.
The motorbikes in Marrakech are fast and they come close, so veer to the right when walking through the souks. The souks are busy, but you don’t get hassled too much. The basic rule of thumb is, if you like something enough to ask the price, then be prepared to haggle it to the price you’re willing to pay. Generally speaking, asking the price of something shows an interest in purchase so be a courteous traveller and abide by the customs.
There are the most incredible scents, spices and powders as you walk through the souks (particularly head to the spice souk). They come in the most vibrant colours used for local cooking, as well as to dye leather, fabrics, wool – you name it! Go with an empty suitcase, and some extra money for posting home, as the rugs, cushion covers, mirrors, leather items, ceramics and woven baskets were just a handful of items you’ll wish you were redecorating with.
YSL Museum was an absolute must see while in Marrakech. I’m an architecture fiend and this was really an exciting morning. Designed by Studio KO, the YSL Museum houses sketches, clothing and accessories of the late designer. Jardin Marjorelle next door was also co-owned by Saint-Laurent and is stunning, but busy, so go early and avoid weekends if you want to avoid the fashion bloggers.
When visiting a new destination, sometimes I find myself caught up with seeing and doing as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I like to busy when I’m away, but one of my best friends once taught me to enjoy the quiet and to take time to relax. This is especially needed when staying in the heart of the medina. Hammams are an ideal way to relax; my lovely husband splurged for my 30th birthday and took me to La Sultana, an absolutely incredible experience in quite possibly the most beautiful space I’ve ever been in. There are many hammams at a variety of prices – I only wish I had more time to test them all out!
Beldi Country Club is another wonderful way to take a break from the hectic medina streets. Surrounded by olive groves and rose gardens, it’s a 20-minute drive from the medina. Go for a day, hang out by the pool, drink rose and have lunch. The grounds here are pristine, so make sure you pull yourself away from the pool to suss out what else there is to offer.
Here are some of my tips, fun things to see/do and favourite places to eat.
- Haggle in the souks – approximately a third to half of the original price is the going rate – but go with what you think is a fair price to pay.
- Don’t drink the water (unless boiled). Tea is fine.
- Most restaurants need booking.
- Veer to the right when walking, and don’t make any sudden movements near bikes.
- Book a hammam – save this for one of your final days when you’ve truly earnt it.
- YSL Museum
- Jardin Marjorelle – Go early and not on weekends to avoid crowds.
- Maison de la Photographie – stunning film achieves and cute rooftop terrace for fresh juice.
- Chabi Chic – ceramic heaven.
- Walk the medina streets first thing in the morning to get a sense of what they’re like. Helps you find the peaceful within the chaos.
- La Famille * – vegetarian courtyard lunch.
- Le Jardin * – courtyard lunch or dinner.
- Nomad * – one of the most well known (for good reason) rooftop venues, lunch and dinner.
- El Fenn * – rooftop bar and restaurant, beautiful space and food. More pricey than your average, but worth it.
- Dar Cherifa – art gallery and ‘literacy café’ in an early 16th Century riad.
- Street food – eat the briouates (filo pastry triangles) and fresh breads.
- Street juice – 4 to 7 dirhams is average for cup of OJ. 10 – 15 dirhams for a 1.5L container.
* Book ahead.
Immerse yourself – it’s all an adventure!
All images copyright Josie Withers.