Renowned for being a melting pot of Mediterranean, Arabic and Berber cultures, Marrakech is a hive of exotic excitement. The beating heart of the Red City, its vast central Medina is a labyrinth of treasure troves. The artery-like lanes of tightly-packed souks and food stalls, piled high serving aromatic fares, where donkeys bray in the shade and snake charmers cut through the clamour with tuneful trills. Push against one of the ornate hidden doorways to be suddenly transported into the serenity of an exquisite palace or the quiet oases of the city’s countless riads. Here we share our tips on how to best spend a break in Morocco’s capital of culture.
When to go
Marrakech enjoys good weather throughout the year, so you can be quite flexible with your travel dates. If we were forced to pick our favourite time to visit, it would be spring (March – May), when the plants are blooming, the Medina lively and the weather bright and fresh. Autumn (September – November) is also a lovely time to go, with the summer heat still lingering on the baked clay walls and a slightly slower pace throughout the city.
What to do
Knowing where to start on a trip to Marrakech can be a challenge, but the first day ought to be spent truly immersing yourself in the Moroccan culture, navigating the Medina’s myriad of alleyways. Getting lost among the intricate architecture and merchandise is all part of the fun, dodging scooters, cycles and animals in your path. Going around in circles is inevitable, and we guarantee you won’t see the same thing twice. There are innumerable palaces, mosques and museums to stumble upon, but absolutely unmissable among them are the Bahia Palace – a breathtaking 19th-century masterpiece of Moroccan architecture, and the Medersa Ben Youssef – a sumptuously constructed school of law and theology which has it roots back in medieval times.
A visit to the magical Jardin Majorelle is unmissable for an afternoon of calm. Cool, blissful blue all over and intersected with pretty pathways, streams and babbling pools, the garden is an ideal spot for some relaxation in the shade. Nearby, the recently opened Yves Saint Laurent museum houses over 5,000 dazzling haute couture pieces made by the celebrated design house between 1962 and 2002. The collection, within a magnificent contemporary building, is a real must-see.
What to eat
The rich flavours of Marrakech are what draw visitors back again and again. From steaming glasses of sweet fresh mint tea to the strong fragrance of tagines, your stay with be filled with culinary experiences. Morocco’s food culture is as varied as its style of dining, from rich treats served by a peddler, or rooftop haute cuisine, to the candlelit decadence of basement dining, the options are seemingly never-ending.
Those on the hunt for an authentic dining experience will delight at Jemaa el-Fnaa square where some 50 uproarious stalls compete to seat you on long scrubbed benches and serve up an array spiced stews and sauces over steaming couscous. Simple yet delicious and popular among locals, these specialities are not to be missed, and your riad hosts will surely direct you to their personal favourite.
A scattering of plush cushions and rugs found on the roof terrace cafés and shaded courtyards allow you to recline like royalty, admiring the view over the city as the sun begins to dip to the horizon. A Chic Retreats favourite is La Famille restaurant which as a daily-changing vegetarian menu of homemade dishes and artistic salads.
Another fabulous lunch spot is the Amal Center, where you can learn to make some local specialties, and taste the expert-made dishes. This not-for-profit organisation is dedicated to empowerment of disadvantaged and displaced women through restaurant training, which in turn leads to secure job placements. Contributing to the local community whilst enjoying a delicious lunch is an afternoon well spent in our opinion.
For a more luxurious dinner option, Riad Farnatchi’s Le Trou au Mur (hole in the wall) is highly recommended. An expert fusion of European and Moroccan cuisine is served up in a artfully refurbished riad in the oldest part of the Medina.
What to buy
Refine your haggling skills in Marrakech’s shopping paradise. Peddling sandals, spices, baskets, ceramics and everything in between, you’ll be spoilt for choice with goods and trinkets. Make sure not to take the first price you’re quoted – its usually double what you ought to really pay.
The leather tanneries spread over the rooftops are a worthwhile visit – if you can stand the stench – to catch a glimpse of the fascinating process. Hand-weaved baskets and rugs straight from the loom come in a baffling variety of sizes and colours.
If bartering isn’t your game, the modern, upscale district of Gueliz has an array of boutiques selling high-quality artisanal goods at fixed prices.
Escape the city
Nature lovers will rejoice at an excursion out of the city to the spectacular Atlas mountains. A day of exploration or calming reflection awaits among the lush valleys and rocky outcrops that conceal picturesque terraced gardens and Berber settlements. A trek through the rugged Saharan terrain to the Cascades d’Ouzoud waterfalls is an unforgettable day trip – no doubt you’ll spot curious macaques on the way to this natural wonder.
As is typical of Marrakech, the Riad de Tarabel is tucked away behind a heavy, ornate wooden door, down a quiet alley. Inside its high walls lie sun-kissed terraces, tree-lined courtyards and a pretty pool. This romantic hideaway, with its intricate floor tiles and hand-painted wallpaper is a stone’s throw from the buzzing Medina. A celebration of European and Arabic styles, its Moorish antiquity fuses gracefully with colonial French elegance.
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Opulent and elaborate throughout, Farnatchi hosts ten suites of varying styles, each with exquisite décor and handmade beds. With a charming rooftop garden, award-winning spa and white marbled hammam and just 10-minutes walk from the Jemaa el-Fnaa square, Riad Farnatchi is truly one of the Red City’s most luxurious stays.
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Nestled in the heart of Marrakech’s ancient Medina is this elegant oasis, just steps away from the hubbub of the city’s streets. Relax on a sun lounger by one of the hotel’s inviting heated pools or retire to the cosy library to enjoy a fresh mint tea on one of the plush, feather-filled sofas with a rare, leather-bound book in hand. In the evening, the soothing strains of jazz beckon you towards the pretty lounge bar. Savour a cocktail or two here, before moving on to the open courtyard to dine by candlelight on a balmy evening.
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