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Eat, Sleep, Shop – The Marrakesh Way

Discovering a country’s cuisine, having a comfortable place to stay and indulging in a spot of shopping is all part of the holiday experience. Here is what Marrakesh had to offer:

EAT
If you are anything like me, sampling the local cuisine is a must when on holiday. Despite most restaurants aiming their menus at tourists, the food is, in the main, very good. There aren’t many options if you are a vegetarian but most places do have a limited selection for the non-meat eaters. Also it is worth remembering that as a Muslim country, most places do not serve alcohol, though the higher end restaurants do. Here are a few recommendations:

For lunch:

Le Bougainvillier (33 Rue Mouassine): We stumbled across this one lunchtime as we were trying to find our way back from the Medina. Serves paninis, sandwiches, salads & cakes. The lovely courtyard is a great place to relax after a morning in the souks.

Earth Café (www.earthcafemarrakech.com) : Marrakesh’s first vegetarian café, it has a great choice of food. The portions are very generous, the prices are reasonable and the staff is very friendly. A great little place for a relaxed lunch. It also runs some cookery classes if you are so inclined.

For dinner:

Marrakchi (52 Rue des Banques): A restaurant positioned high above the Djema el Fna square, it offers a wide choice of good food, the service is great and the entertainment made for a great evening. We shared a vegetable pastilla to start and then had tagines. We also sampled a Moroccan red wine from the Meknès region – very palatable! Mains start at 130dh (approx. 13 euros).

Le Tanjia (near Place des Ferblantiers): This restaurant, in an old mansion with modern decor, served the best fish tagine of the holiday! The service was excellent and the prices were reasonable.

Djemaa el Fna Foodstalls: If you wish to eat at one of the stalls, I’d recommend choosing one which is mainly visited by locals, they don’t tend to hustle for your custom as much and the food is very good. You just take a seat at one of the benches and choose what you want from the menu. I greedily had several merguez sausages whilst John plumped for some calamari, all food comes with bread and they fetch drinks for you from stalls nearby. Being at the heart of it all makes it an incredible experience, one which I urge you to try if you get the chance.

SLEEP

If you ever find yourself in Marrakesh, I’d recommend staying in a riad, namely Riad Les Hibiscus, an oasis in the middle of the chaos. A two minute walk from the Djemaa el Fna square, its non-descript exterior belies the beautiful interior of tasteful white walls, sage green doors & woodwork, a small pool in the central courtyard, comfortable wicker furniture and interesting artwork. Stunning flowers & lush plants add to this haven. The room (Lotus) was comfortable, clean and peaceful and I cannot praise the riad’s hosts enough for their kindness and discreet manner.

SHOP

I found the souks incredibly overwhelming the first time we ventured there, there are no street names and it is easy to get a little lost! However, if you are blessed with a good sense of direction and a map, you should enjoy finding your way round. The souks north of the Djemaa El Fna square are made up of a long covered street, Rue Souk Smarine, which then branches out into two smaller streets, Soul el Attarin and Souk el Kebir. Off these, you can find all the souks, down alleys, lanes and small squares. Each are dedicated to specific crafts.

If you are not keen on haggling, I’d recommend going to the Ensemble Artisanal (Av. Mohammed V). It is a government run complex of arts & crafts with a good selection of goods – leather, jewellery, clothing, rugs, carpets and ceramics. The prices are fixed and you can shop without any hassle – I bought my niece and nephew some gorgeous babouches for a very reasonable price. At the back there are workshops where we saw some young ladies making carpets, an impressive and time-consuming task.

Next instalment: yoga, surfing & some great Moroccan inspired vegetarian dishes

Rousing Marrakesh

Imagine all your senses being stimulated at once, the smell of spices & food, the taste of ‘whiskey marocain’ (mint tea), the sight of vivid colours in the souks & smoke plumes emanating from the food stalls, the warmth of the sun on your skin, the stickiness of the humidity, the cobbled streets teeming with people, the rousing call to prayer, the sounds of the snake charmers’ instruments, drums beating, mopeds speeding past, people selling their wares. This is Marrakesh. It’s loud, it’s big; it’s an exuberant friend – the life and soul of the party. Don’t be fooled by its liveliness, it also has quiet moments; in the beautiful riads, the ruined palaces, the less frequented streets away from the tourist spots.

We spent 4 days there at the end of June, staying a stone’s throw from Djemaa el Fna, the city’s amazing square. Famous for its snake charmers, acrobats and storytellers, the square is bustling with people from dawn till well beyond dusk. Stalls selling fresh orange juice, dried fruit, nuts and water are there for the duration. Come the evening, the lantern-lit food stalls set up adding to the already electric atmosphere. The decibels increase: music floods your senses from all quarters & stall holders tout for your business relentlessly. Being at the heart of this organised mayhem makes it an overwhelming yet incredible experience.

Places to see:
Ben Youssef Medersa: My favourite place in Marrakesh was the Ben Youssef Medersa, a koranic school attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque. Exuding a sense of peace and stillness, the large central courtyard is a sight to behold with its intricate carved cedarwood lintels, stucco work and zellij tilework. Mesmerised by such elaborate artistry, I felt transported to a different time. Dormitory quarters are found upstairs and are an insight into how students lived. It’s almost impossible to imagine that at one time over 800 students were housed there.

El Badi Palace: Now a ruin, El Badi Palace was originally commissioned by the Saadian sultan Ahmed el Mansour in the 14th century. Although stripped bare from anything valuable, you can’t help but feel that this was once a place of luxury and magnificence. It is vast and an oasis of calm away from the busy streets of the city.

Koutoubia Mosque & Minaret: Standing at an impressive 70m high, it is found close to the Djemaa el Fna square.

Majorelle Gardens: This carefully laid out botanical garden with groves of bamboo, palm trees, a cactus garden and lily-covered ponds was created by painter Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and 1930s and later owned by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. A delightfully tranquil place, the bright blue pavilion contrasts beautifully with the verdant plants inhabiting this little piece of paradise.

There are many more places to see in Marrakesh and the bus tour is one of the best ways to see the city. You can get off at any of the stops to explore further. And, because the ticket lasts 24 hours, you don’t have to do it all in one day.

Coming soon: Marrakesh, where to eat, sleep & shop…