LET'S HANG OUT IN: MARRAKECH
If you read my last instalment from Nice, you’ll know that my photographer / friend Zoe are trying to travel a lot more in order to capture some (hopefully) exceptional imagery for my Instagram account, and this blog - you’ll find some of the images we captured just below. By the title of this blog post, I’m sure you can figure out where we visited recently - Marrakech. I’ve now visited the city twice, the first time was with an ex-boyfriend a few years ago and I think that visiting with a male definitely made the experience a different one. Equally as lovely, but very different. After my previous experience, and after gawping at all of the beautiful Riad’s (Marrakech’s version of an Air BnB I suppose) on #Marrakech we decided to take the plunge and book our flights.
Growing up in the UK, Marrakech is genuinely worlds apart to what I’m accustomed to. With family dotted around Europe, coupled with a real passion for exploring, I’ve been extremely lucky to have travelled quite a lot throughout my life so far. However, I must admit, most of it has been within my safe European realms. Further afield, I tend to get a little bit anxious - mostly because I’m not familiar with customs, can’t speak the language and can’t figure out what the hell the fiddly coins mean. But pushing boundaries is when life gets most exciting.
Trust me when I say that no guide can prepare you for Marrakech. It is a frantic city which moves to its own beat - you can choose to move with it or not, the choice is yours. It is also steeped in tradition; certain things define this space, and are rooted to its very personality –the sound of steaming mint tea poured from a great height, with glasses clattering against a silver tray. The chugging of motorbike engines traversing the streets. That haunting call to prayer, which rumbles through the air five times a day. The gentle birdsong flitting between the shouts of market traders, as donkeys clop through the winding roads and street food steams and sizzles. And as the sun starts to set it throws a smoky light onto the nearby Atlas Mountains, as the cityscape transforms into a dusky assortment of blushing pink cubes.
Marrakech is unlike any other city I've been to in the sense that you can go from strolling through a run-down area, taking in the culture and original architecture but with a swift turn, you can be met with a new build four-story shopping mall. Diverse would be an understatement. Both locals and first-time visitors rejoice in the city’s oldest traditions, but there is also change in the air. It hums like background music, shifting the atmosphere around it. New art, music and food scenes are simmering just beneath the city’s surface, sparked by a generation of young creatives. And this is all taking place within the ancient walls of the Medina. At eye level, the old city seems much the same as it has always been but if you scratch the surface, a world of cutting-edge creativity awaits.
We pretty much stayed within the Medina walls, wandering and getting lost in the alleyways and souks - which is easily done. The souks (in basic terms, they’re outdoor market stalls) are the ultimate navigational challenge - a labyrinth of narrow alleyways that twist and turn in all directions from the main square, Djeema el-Fna. Even if you're not into shopping, they're still a spectacle well worth experiencing. One thing to note however, they are genuinely insane. Make sure you're fully prepared for all your senses to be overwhelmed at once - there's the aroma of spices, as well as motorbike fumes, the feel of the heat, the shouts of the stallholders and the bright colours decking the stalls which are piled high with pottery, leather bags and other goods. However good your sense of direction (mine isn't), a few minutes in dimly lit passageways will surely have you totally disorientated. But, go with it. Take whichever direction looks most interesting and no doubt you'll find some delights along the way.
PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CITY:
Musée Yves St Laurent - this beautifully curated museum is Marrakech’s first serious contemporary museum. It celebrates the work of Algerian-born couturier Yves St Laurent, who drew inspiration for his groundbreaking collections from the Red City for over 40 years. Designed by Studio KO, the building is rendered in ochre-hued bricks from Tetouan and includes a gorgeous permanent exhibition of the couture collections alongside a temporary gallery displaying the work of up-and-coming Moroccan artists and designers. Top tip: Book an appointment to visit the hushed, oak-panelled library upstairs where you'll find an outstanding collection of books on Morocco, Berber culture, fashion, North African architecture, botany and desert landscaping. They're from Pierre Bergé's private collection.
The beautiful Riad’s, most namely, Riad Yasmine, Riad Dar Ten & Riad BE Marrakech. We stayed in a place called Riad L’Arganier which was equally as beautiful - but not as “Instagram”. Whilst there are plenty of cheap hotel rooms and luxury resorts, you can’t not stay in a Riad - after all, that’s what Marrakech is famous for. I’m not sure how, or why, but Marrakech’s interior designers really just get it. Everything is so chic. Top tip: If, like me, you’re in it for the photos, even if you’re not staying at a Riad, most will let you visit to take photos but with often having lunch there at a cost. However, with meatball tagine on the menu, I’m not complaining.
Jardin Majorelle - the eponymous Jardin Majorelle - a villa with cobalt blue exterior and a delightful garden full of rare desert flora - is one of Marrakech’s most frequented sites. We sadly didn’t get the opportunity to visit this time round, mostly because I’m ludicrously anal and seeing as it is was a content trip, I just knew that the cobalt blue everything would have clashed with the rest of the shots from the trip. I visited on my first trip though and my goodness, it’s stunning. As a true millennial, I was almost gushing over the towers and towers of cacti #basic. Inside the villa, the Musée Berbere showcases a beautiful selection of indigenous tribal garments, jewellery and other artifact. Top tip: You can save yourself a bit of cash by buying a combined ticket for the gardens and the museum if you’d like to visit both.
Traditional Hammam - we can all admit that keeping our skin looking good takes real maintenance. Help is at hand in the form of Marrakech’s extensive network of hammam’s - in their steam-filled interiors, a tebbaya (bath attendant) will coat you in olive soap, scrub off layers of dead skin and slather on a soothing mud mask. So, sooooo good. Top tip: Some hotels and Riad’s have in-house hammams, otherwise, I’ve heard that Hammam de la Rose is a must.
TOP TIPS / OBSERVATIONS:
Getting currency beforehand can be a bit of a nightmare because Moroccan Dirham is actually a closed currency. Marrakech does accept Euro’s in some places, but not all, and cards are rarely accepted due to poor signal within the walls of the Medina.
Following on with what I was saying above, signal within the Medina is b-a-d and that extends to WiFi so don’t expect any miracles.
Marrakech is a very cultural city and is reigned by Islam religion so be as respectful as possible. Cover up your shoulders when walking around the streets, don’t get too visibly drunk and keep the PDA to a minimum. Hand holding is fine, everything else will get you a few stern looks.
Don’t let those bikini-clad Instagrammers deceive you. Although it might look like you can get away with roaming the streets in short shorts and a crop top, you most certainly cannot - or I wouldn’t recommend it anyway. You will draw an awful lot of unwanted and unpleasant attention if you venture out in anything too revealing.
English isn’t widely spoken but most people speak French, however I always think it’s nice to familiarise yourself with even just a few words when in a foreign country. Here are a few:
Hello - Salam Alikome
Thank you - Shokran
Goodbye - B slema
I must say that Zoe and I experienced a fair amount of “cat-calling” whilst there. I appreciate the massive cultural differences, and so never really took offence, but it is very common and also frequent out there. Nobody was purposefully disrespectful toward us, and nobody touched us, but there were lots of remarks.
Taxi drivers drive a hard bargain so expect to haggle - a lot. I would recommend pre-booking taxis, especially to and from the airport to avoid any crazily inflated fares. Also, walking around the city means that you’ll get to see the real Marrakech.
Stay alert on the streets. Navigating the streets of Marrakech involves a great deal of patience, and the ability to stay perfectly alert at all times. People, bikes, carts, donkeys - you name it, will be hurling toward you at all times.
During our stay in Marrakech, I fell in and out of love with the city on an almost hourly basis. An experience would occur or a scene would unfold which would make our hearts swell, only for an interaction a little later to dash our hopes away and dent our confidence in whether Morocco was really a country for us.
I’ll be brutally honest when I say that not everyone will love their time here, but nobody will be able to leave this city without a sensory experience which stays with them for a long, long time.