48 HOURS IN MARRAKECH
Anyone who is expecting modern sophistication and a tranquil paradise of calm is in for a shock. Marrakech is like no other place on earth, full of magic and mystery, mesmerising chaos and its own unique brand of unconventional beauty. The snow-dusted peaks of the High Atlas Mountains and the flaming red of the scorching desert create a backdrop of pure exoticism that will make you feel as though you’ve been pulled into a far-flung world forgotten by the clutches of time. Just make sure you come prepared for a serious case of sensory overload! Once the hub of camel caravans from the south, this bustling North African city still throbs with energy both day and night. A place where the air is infused with an exotic blend of burning incense, spices, soldered metal, leather and the sweet and woody scents of musk, rose and amber. Where the daily call to prayer echoes from the towering minarets that puncture the sky and struggles to be heard above the beeping cars and haggling street vendors. A sprawling labyrinth of dusty alleyways makes up the kaleidoscopic souks that burst to the brim with all manner of treasures and trinkets from hanging lanterns and tribal handwoven rugs to pyramids of rainbow-coloured spices and raw silk scarves and sparkling silverware. Meander through the souks in the late afternoon dodging donkey carts and mopeds that zig-zag through the crowds as you try your hand at haggling for that Aladdin-style silver lamp and those pointy-toed Babouche slippers. Make for the city’s lively main square just before dusk and watch the spectacle of Djeema el-Fnaa unravel before your eyes as darkness descends. You’ve no choice but to delve straight into the thick of it, perhaps pausing to snack on pigeon pie and roasted snails atone of the dozens of food stalls that fire up their kitchens with charcoal smoke and vie for your attention amidst snake charmers, tooth pullers and zealous acrobats. Of course, the hectic madness of the medina is balanced perfectly with the oasis of peace and stylish sophistication of your riad where babbling water, rose petals and candlelit lanterns prevail. Treat yourself to an invigorating hammam massage before enjoying a decadent dinner at one of Marrakech’s chic restaurants where pastries are glazed with syrupy orange blossom water and rich tagines are laced with cinnamon and served with spiced couscous. We dare you not to fall head over heads in love with spellbinding Marrakech.
DAY 1: Morning
For us the official sights in Marrakech are somewhat underwhelming, we’d recommend you concentrate your time allowing all your senses just to soak it all in – it truly a different world, especially for the first time visitor. However, for those that can’t get enough culture then one of the best sights to visit is the Bahia Palace which has some fascinating history. The intricate detail in the doorways and ceilings are spectacular but as there is no furniture it feels a little empty so we’d recommend a guide to explain the history and make the most of your visit.
DAY 1: Lunch
CAFÉ DES EPICES
Snuggled right on the edge of the old spice souk in the heart of the buzzing medina, the Cafe des Epices roof terrace provides the perfect excuse for a well-deserved break from the haggling for treasures in the dusty souks. Enjoy a fresh juice or a fragrant mint tea while enjoying a spot of people-watching. Peer down at the wrinkled old women selling their colourful knitted hats, watch as all manner of spices are ground and collected, scenting the air with cinnamon, ginger and saffron. If you’re feeling peckish the small menu offers some light bites including mini Moroccan-inspired hamburgers, sandwiches and salads. Prices are very reasonable too. Yes, we could happily wile the day away up here.
DAY 1: Afternoon
Sacks overflowing with fresh mint, almonds and cinnamon; gleaming displays of brass and copper teapots, lanterns, mirrors and candlesticks; handmade organic soaps scented with rose, saffron and rosemary; sky-high stacks of juicy olives, pomegranates and sticky pastries; kaleidoscopic walls of pashminas, rainbow scarves and pointy leather slippers adorned with beads; gravity-defying piles of dried rose buds, golden turmeric and ginger; herbal teas that claim to cure all manner of ills and a jumble of bejewelled trinkets, rings and glass tea cups. There’s no shopping-stone unturned in the famous souks of Marrakech… you name it, they’ve got it! Best visited in the cool morning or late afternoon when golden sunshine trickles through the crevices of the wooden roof shades transforming a million dust particles into glittering gold dust. The best way to experience the souks is to leave your map at home and get lost in the mayhem. Haggle to your heart’s content with spirited stall salesmen or simply soak up the atmosphere. Whatever you do just make sure you’ve left enough space in your suitcase to store all your treasures!
DAY 1: Evening
DJEMAA EL-FNAA SQUARE
Take a medieval market in the heart of Marrakech and add some dancing musicians, cheeky monkeys, food stalls hazy with fire and smoke and noisy street vendors shouting in your ear with a touch of tarot cards, spices, souks and towering minarets and you’ve got yourself the intoxicating main square of Djemaa el-Fnaa. Representing the beating heart of the medina the Djemaa el- Fnaa really comes to life as the sun sets and dusk settles over the square. This eclectic hub of street theatre and entertainment attracts a weird and wonderful variety of street artists including palm readers, snake charmers, soothsayers, acrobats, belly dancers and tooth pullers, your only option is to dive right in and embrace the madness. Get in amongst the thick of it by making a beeline for one of the myriad of food stalls for a freshly squeezed juice and some authentic street food tinged with the tang of charcoal, fire and ash. If you’re feeling daring why not try some goat head or even a spleen kebab? Then once you’ve had your fill of somewhat overwhelming fun, find yourself a cosy spot at one of the cafe balconies overlooking the square and watch the action unfold below with a steaming mint tea in your hands.
Tired of tagines? Then this is for you. Pepe Nero’s chef has created two distinctive charmingly named menus that’ll satisfy all tastes. On the ‘Il Bel Paese’ menu you can expect a host of modern Italian dishes such as beef and tuna carpaccio, homemade pastas and a wonderful Sicilian cassata. And for those that aren’t totally couscoused out there’s the ‘La Ville Rouge’ menu which features Moroccan delicacies along the lines of rich harira soups, traditional pigeon pie and local pastries. You’ll find the entrance to the restaurant behind a heavy wooden door at the end of an eerily dark alleyway. Just ignore the local children and their adamant claims that the restaurant has closed unexpectedly! Inside, smart tables and transparent-design chairs are set neatly around a riad-style courtyard. A gleaming jade-green pool sits like a jewel in the centre where floating rose petals are disturbed only by the ripples from the fountain. If you’re after a particularly romantic soiree then this is where you’ll want to reserve your table. Certainly more expensive than your average local but the divine setting and quality cuisine more than make up for it. You’ll even be treated to a complimentary mimosa (prosecco and orange juice) and an amuse bouche to whet your appetite.
DAY 2: Morning
One of the most popular sights to visit in Marrakech, largely as Yves Saint Lauren restored it in the 1980s. Based outside of the medina, it’s a very pretty and tranquil botanical garden which offers a lovely wander away from the chaos of the souks. Expect queues though.
DAY 2: Lunch
UN DEJEUNER A MARRAKECH
A smart spot for coffee or a light bite…. if you can find it through the maze-like souks! Three steep flights of stairs lead out onto a tented roof terrace dotted with comfortable cushions to lounge on and shaded areas to protect against the burning Moroccan sunshine. We tend to go for a light lunch and a non-alcoholic cocktail that’s crammed full of fresh fruit. You can’t go wrong ordering the delicious Moroccan samosas or the carrot soup, and the homemade asparagus quiche and turkey-filled croque monsieurs are wonderful too accompanied by zesty salads that are full of flavour. Just make sure you leave a bit of space for one of the divine desserts on the menu. Pair that with a cup of freshly ground fine Italian coffee and you’ll be ready to take on the madness of the medina with renewed energy!
DAY 2: Afternoon
No trip to Marrakech would be complete without indulging in a traditional Moroccan hammam. And you’ll probably need it after all the dust and drama haggling in the souks and exploring the city’s main square. Luckily enough, Marrakech does pampering extremely well and a good hammam, or Turkish bath, will revive your senses and melt away any stresses, aches and pains leaving you feeling light and refreshed and your skin rose-petal soft so you can face another day of mayhem. The hammam itself takes place in a dark and steamy cocoon-like room lined with heated benches that are set into traditional tadelakt walls. Once you’ve taken a seat you’ll be drenched with warm water then scrubbed with a strong savon noir that’s been perfumed with eucalyptus or bitter orange. After that, prepare to be exfoliated to within an inch of your life by a scratchy loofah glove that ruthlessly scours away dead skin. You’ll them be smothered in an organic mineral clay known as ghassoul before being doused with another bucket of warm water to reveal invigorated, clean and velvety skin. We suggest opting for a massage straight after your hammam so your muscles and mind can truly unwind. If you’d like to have a hammam massage then do speak to your riad.
DAY 2: Evening
You couldn’t have a name like Kosybar and not boast an exceedingly comfortable space that lures you in and coaxes you never to leave. Luckily for us, this atmospheric bar delivers far more than cosiness. While there are two other levels to choose from, we always make a beeline for the magical roof terrace right at the top which offers sweeping panoramas over the city. Arrive at sunset and watch the blue sky melt into a dazzling blend of pastel pinks and fiery reds. The street vendors will be wrapping up the day’s trade and the hectic square suddenly mellows with storks soaring overhead then flying back to their monster-sized nests on the Badi Palace walls. Add elegant decor, dimmed lights, trendy chill-out tunes and a cracking wine list, and you’ve got yourself the idyllic location for pre-dinner drinks. This seductive ambiance is probably just as well given that the service can be a little on the slow side! There is food on the menu but with so many fabulous restaurants why not move on to one of our special picks for dinner.
LE COMPTOIR DARNA
Part restaurant-lounge, part boutique-bar, this popular Marrakech hang- out is the place to see and be seen and attracts many of the city’s young and beautiful in-crowd. Plush-red curtains are pulled back to reveal a sultry candlelit dining room complete with sparkling lanterns and an extravagant dark-wooden staircase seating a handful of lute-playing musicians who serenade the crowd with oriental folk music. Le Comptoir really heats up later on in the evening when the restaurant transforms into a something of a theatre and the main spectacle kicks off. As such we suggest booking a table later than usual (between 9.30pm and 10pm) so you’re in the right place at the right time. Why not sup on decadent cocktails at the Art-Deco bar upstairs before dinner! The international-inspired menu boasts an eclectic range of dishes that fuse the exotic flavours and spices of the East with the flair and sophistication of the West so you get the best of all worlds. We like the more traditional specialities on offer including the exotic medley of Moroccan salads to start followed by a tasty tagine with sweet-onion and orange blossom flavoured couscous, and an assortment of sticky, cinnamon-rich pastries. You’ll no doubt forget about the food on your plate as a flock of belly- dancers descend the central staircase shaking and swaying their way between chairs and tables. Just beware… the dancers are not afraid to climb up onto your party’s table to entertain you! The place keeps pumping well into the night so prepare to party like the modern- Marrakeshis or make a beeline for the starlit patio for some fresh air and perhaps a shisha pipe. Prices are expensive but not exorbitant particularly when you consider the whole package.
If this has whet your appetite for an adventure to Marrakech in 2022 and beyond then please don’t hesitate to get in contact and we’d be more than happy to organise a trip for you. Alternatively, you can join our Sahara Desert Experience which includes 2 nights in Marrakech.
Written by Marion Poerio & James Chisnall, Untravelled Paths