Written by Slug on 31 Oct, 2012
Our hiking company paid for us to have a guide round Marrakech for half a day and for some of that time he took us around the souks. If you have a guide, one of the inevitable places you will visit will be a Moroccan…Read More
Our hiking company paid for us to have a guide round Marrakech for half a day and for some of that time he took us around the souks. If you have a guide, one of the inevitable places you will visit will be a Moroccan Pharmacy. Grin and bear it, enjoy the rest from the bustle of the streets and accept the cup of mint tea. The one I visited was Epices Avenzoar, and it was upstairs away from the noise of the street. A massage was offered for 20 Dirham (about £1.50) but there wasn't a brave soul amongst us to take up the offer. I don't like being poked around by a stranger at the best of times so it certainly wasn't on the cards when there was another group of strangers on-looking. While the white coat may be similar, the Moroccan version of the Pharmacy focuses upon local herbal remedies. Obviously alternative and herbal remedies have gained an almost respected foothold in Western minds these days, so the group of (invariably) middle aged and overweight punters puffing for breath in the hot Moroccan sun makes for easy pickings. While I'm listening to the list of miracle cures for each of the products, I can't help but wonder whether the average Moroccan would rather rely on these products or the expensive western medicines I have access to if they had free choice and I can't help but suspect I know the answer. However, it is not for me to be completely cynical and I have little doubt that for minor ailments or for complementary relief that many of these products will have something in them even if I don't see Moroccan names crowding the list of the 100 longest lived humans. The Argane nut again looms large for its healing oil and lotions, and fortunately for me they also sold some spices such as saffron and a mixed spice (Ras El Hanout) made from 35 different spices. The cook in me jumped at the chance of buying a couple of packets of these. Having purchased a couple of the cheapest items in the shop for a couple of quid I could relax; my part in the transaction was safely done. As our man was describing the products on offer, a young assistant came round either sticking said product in our nose or dabbing some kind of oily concoction on our skin. I felt a little uncomfortable but the products certainly smelt fresh and rich. As to whether you open the carrier bag that your goodies are stored in when you get home is an entirely different matter, so you might as well enjoy them here. To sum up, visiting the herbalist is probably a given if you have a tour guide so just relax and roll with it. To be honest, it is quite interesting an experience and that sit down and cup of tea is invaluable in the busy hot souk. Close
Written by Slug on 29 Oct, 2012
Our travelling companions were hoping to find a good quality rug for their long thin hallway and so an afternoon in the Marrakech Souks beckoned. Happily our tour operator gave us the services of a guide for the afternoon, and while we could have found…Read More
Our travelling companions were hoping to find a good quality rug for their long thin hallway and so an afternoon in the Marrakech Souks beckoned. Happily our tour operator gave us the services of a guide for the afternoon, and while we could have found our way round quite easily, I have to say that his services meant we got the measure of the Souk much more quickly than we would have otherwise done. I appreciate that he might have gained a commission, but likewise he directed us to shops that sold good quality items and didn’t obviously rip us off. The Marrakech Souks are a complete maze, but don't worry too much, eventually you will end up at one of the gates to the souk area or back in the main square. If you are stuck you can just ask a stall holder who will willingly point you in the right direction. The stalls are largely grouped into specific types; thus the stalls selling car tyres turned into various decorative items (mirrors and plant pots a speciality) tend to be in one place, the iron work sellers in another, the wooden bowl and animal stalls in another and so on. We have visited Marrakech before and so first took a quick wander to the government shops where prices are fixed, just so we got an idea of the price to pay in the souk to make sure we weren’t being ripped off. Obviously the message is that if you think you got a bargain then it was the right price for you.Only ask the price if you are serious about buying; else you could find yourself followed up the street by some eager seller. Last time we visited Marrakech for a week my beloved was determined to find her way back to our hotel which was located on the direct opposite side from the main square Djemaa el Fna right through to the other side. At the back of the shops are some workshops making those metal and wood items that are so admired. There are literally thousands of stores in the souk; some cater more to local tastes while others are aimed firmly at the tourist. The thing I liked the best are the huge metal lanterns; unfortunately I don't think easyJet would be too happy with them as hand luggage, and the cold and wet Yorkshire Moor weather would no doubt turn them to rust in a moment. Instead, I bought a well crafted wall sconce. I'm guessing I was ripped off as I had to buy the thing in a hurry 10 minutes before our airport taxi was due to arrive, but even so at £30 I was happy with the item, and would have paid more in the UK. Another popular item is the silk scarves but look around before you buy as the quality of the silk is very variable as is the dying. You don't want to find yourself with a coloured neck in the rain. The better stalls have a little pot of water with which you can check colour fastness. We also bought some cute little enamel handled teaspoons for a pound or so each; we like our expresso and tiny little sweet pots and these are ideal for both. Also on offer are some fake items; those rather large headphones Dr Dre style were on offer for about £6 a pair. I'm not sure what the sound was like but they looked cool (well cool for those that don't remember similar items in the 1970s and how uncomfortable they are). While you are gazing around at the treasures in the souk be aware of your surroundings. We didn't have anything taken from us on our travels but we don't wander around with our heads in the clouds. Likewise dreamers in the souk risk being run over by a scooter or hand cart. A visit to the souk can be a little overwhelming but it is part of the soul and experience of Marrakech and one of its must do attractions. Close
Written by Slug on 01 Oct, 2012
One of the products fairly unique to Morocco is the production of Argon Oil. This is the oil of a nut that is reputed to have healing and health preserving powers. Why is it that every country seems to have such a product that its…Read More
One of the products fairly unique to Morocco is the production of Argon Oil. This is the oil of a nut that is reputed to have healing and health preserving powers. Why is it that every country seems to have such a product that its residents swear upon and yet is barely heard of in the West?Whether you choose to believe the claims that a few drops can stop cancer, reduce wrinkles and generally make you live a full and happy life is up to you, but if you spend any time in Morocco then you will see the products of the Argan Oil before too long. We were invited to stop at a women’s cooperative in the scrub land a little way out of Marrakech and starved of any shopping opportunity beyond bottles of water and fanta for 6 days, we all jumped at the opportunity. To be honest, the Argan is a good tree with deep roots which helps reduce the relentless spread of desert land, and I really don't mind spending a few dirham helping to support a poor local community (and to give our helpful guide a cut too). If you get out into the countryside outside Marrakech, you may even spot goats climbing the tree (they are more like large bushes) in search of Argan nuts to eat. I'm sure the process is the same in the countless number of Argon Oil producers and show rooms up and down the south of Morocco. The building is a quite attractive traditional ryad with central open courtyard and attractive plants, pottery and tiling. Inside, a line of women demonstrate the cultivation and harvesting of the nut; using a traditional stone grinder to extract the paste from which the oil is produced. Of course, much of the Argan Oil is now extracted under factory conditions although that is less attractive to display, and you will soon spot the women stopping their "grinding" once you have passed the "show". The oil is processed into a mind numbing number of products, from moisturisers, lip balms (actually really good for sorting out our dried lips after 6 days in the sun), lip sticks, fragrant oils and the like. Then there is the food stuffs including cooking oil (where only a drop or 3 should be added to cooking or salads for flavouring) and in a peanut butter type substance. Our travelling companion happened to pick up a bottle of this stuff and found the lid to be loose; her husband was wearing Argan butter on his shorts for the remainder of the trip. If you buy your goods from the showroom then prices aren't particularly cheap; our small little plastic bottle of oil cost around £7, the perfume oil around £10 and so on. However, in UK terms they don't exactly break the bank and you are getting a good quality product (whereas in Marrakech market who knows?). As I said, in any case I don't mind spreading a little wealth in the rural community; it looks to me like life there is tough enough.Whether the claims of a long and healthy life are true (and some studies do suggest a health benefit) or not, we enjoyed the look around the production and shop and didn't begrudge spending a few pounds on some unusual nic nacks to take home. Close
Written by koshkha on 30 May, 2011
Close to the entrance of the Musee de Marrakech is a herbalist's shop. If you stand with the entrance to the museum behind you and look directly away from the museum, the herbalist is in the row of shops ahead of you and to the…Read More
Close to the entrance of the Musee de Marrakech is a herbalist's shop. If you stand with the entrance to the museum behind you and look directly away from the museum, the herbalist is in the row of shops ahead of you and to the left. We've been there before on an organised tour and recognised the place. Since the weather was dull and cold and we had time to spare before heading to the bus station, we decided to go inside and be entertained. A good Moroccan herbalist shop is visual feast of magical potions and ingredients and if you can accept up front that there's absolutely no way you'll get out without buying something – usually something you don't need or really want – then it's well worth a visit.Outside the shop were large sacks of brightly coloured dried flowers and sacks of what looked like moss. "Must be magic moss" I thought to myself as the herbalist in his white coat urged us in. We told him that we'd been before but our companions were on their first visit and asked if he could do his performance and so he led us into their large display room. The room is equipped with lots of long wooden benches with upholstered tops. On our first visit we'd been part of a party of around 20 people and had filled the room. I couldn't help feeling sad that tourist times were hard and he could only get the four of us in at a time. We wandered around looking at the jars stacked five layers high around the room, some filled with recognisable things – bits of rock, twigs, seed pods, herbs and spices and such like – others with things we rather hoped we didn't recognise – dried lizards, snake skins, shells and bits of fur.The herbalist started his sales pitch, introducing is to the culinary spice blends and taking us through a range of beauty potions and home cures. My sister suffers with cold sores and he had something for that, her girlfriend with backpain for which he of course had lots of ideas. He showed up the small pots of saffron and how to tell that it was real. He extolled the virtues and miraculous powers of Morocco's special oil – argan oil – explaining the difference between the argan for massage and the oil for culinary use. Get them wrong and use the massage oil on your salad and it's an unintended cure for constipation (or at least that's a nice way of putting it). Various soaps were wafted under our noses and I was surprised to discover my sister has a love of jasmine scented soap which was something rather more 'elderly' than I'd expected.The herbalist called in his young assistant to demonstrate how wonderful one of his massage potions was. One by one the guy gave us each a back massage so good we could have curled up and gone to sleep in the shop. My sister's girlfriend mentioned her back problem and he found exactly the spot to relieve the pain. We ladies were allowed to keep our tops on (thankfully) but he insisted my husband take his shirt off so he could really get stuck into the massage. It's an excellent way to sell massage oil that hasn't been out of the suitcase since we got back and to lull shoppers into a stupor of happy carefree thoughts that mean they don't seem to care that they've just been sold lots of stuff that they'll get home and wonder why they bought.We were fairly disciplined because we knew what we want before we went. We have a couple of friends who we knew would want saffron and know that Moroccan is some of the best saffron in the world. We bought the massage oil of course – who doesn't. But mostly I just wanted to stock up on bags of the 30 spice mix for couscous and tagines and the simpler spice mix to use with fish. We'd run through the bags we'd bough several years earlier and were happy to stock up. I was surprised at how much my sister managed to buy but reassured afterwards that she hadn't felt pressured, had only bought what she knew she had a use for or had a person in mind to give it to. The credit cards came out and four happy and well massaged tourists oozed out of the door, goody bags in hand and headed off to their next attraction, more relaxed and less stressed than when they'd gone in.Yes we tipped the massage guy, just in case you are interested. We knew it would be expected and would be asked for if we didn't so we went into it with our eyes open.Close
Written by koshkha on 10 Apr, 2011
There are some countries that fill me with a sense of culinary expectation so much that my mouth is almost watering before I get off the plane. Sadly Morocco is not one of those countries. I don't eat meat and haven't done so for over…Read More
There are some countries that fill me with a sense of culinary expectation so much that my mouth is almost watering before I get off the plane. Sadly Morocco is not one of those countries. I don't eat meat and haven't done so for over 20 years and the local approach to that is one of acceptance - "OK, she doesn't want meat, we won't force her" which is a step or two better than you'll find in China where it seems to be "The woman is crazy, let's sneak some dead animals into her food when she's looking the other way". Whilst nobody will treat you like you're crazy for choosing not to eat meat, they won't go out of their way to tempt or delight your taste buds. Instead they just give you exactly the same as everyone else but minus the meat. This mostly means that you'll get a lot of over-cooked potatoes and carrots and so much bland couscous that you'll never want to see the stuff again.I do eat fish and seafood – but unless you are out at the coast I'd suggest to exercise some caution especially when the weather is hot. Don't go crazy as a bit of canned tuna on your pizza or in your sandwich is unlikely to do you any harm but anything that's not frozen or tinned could give your guts a workout that they might not want. Meat eaters will most likely find that the Morrocan system of slow cooking in a clay tajine makes delicious and juicy meals out of what look to me like the cheap cuts. Certainly the rest of our party seemed more than happy with the available food. Lamb and chicken are the most typical meats and you'll never see pork and beef is rare.Every must-do list for Marrakech will tell you to eat kebabs in the Jemaa el Fna square after dark. Most likely they'll also tell you to keep a close hand on your wallet to avoid pickpockets and to steer clear of the snake charmers, monkey handlers and transvestite belly dancers unless you want to be asked rather aggressively for money. I've not eaten in the square since there's not a lot of choice that's not meat-based but mostly because I find the place too crowded and intimidating. I do however love to stop and buy fresh orange juice each time I pass through. The colourful juice sellers stalls are lined up around the edge of the square and 4 dirhams (about 30p) will buy you a glass of the juiciest, sweetest, most tangy 'straight from the orange' juice you'll find anywhere. The same juice in a sit down cafe in central Marrakech will cost around 15-25 dirhams but still be excellent. Bottled water is easily available and I've not heard of anyone getting fake or refilled water bottles. On the square the juice stalls sell a large bottle for 10 dirhams (about 80 pence) or two small bottles for a similar price. Small shops in the medina will be cheaper and a bottle of water will cost you 10 to 30 dirhams in a restaurant – with the higher prices in the swankier places. The square and the souks are also filled with stalls selling dried fruits and nuts at good prices. The stall holders will wave apricots or dates at you as you pass and there's no obligation to buy. Nut and sesame seed brittles are often available and are sold by weight and I had an outstanding mille feuille slice off a hand cart for just 2 dirhams which I only bought because I wanted to take a picture of the cakes.The souks and the central old town district have a lot of small restaurants of the wipe-down table and wipe-down menu type and these offer great value with couscous and tajines from around 30 Dirham (£2.50). You might want to take care to avoid salads or uncooked vegetables but tajines and couscous are generally well cooked. Meat on skewers is cheap and very widely available. If you're sick of the local food which is mostly very bland and tends to be the same whether you go to a cheap dive or a swanky restaurant, you'll also find in Marrakech plenty of pizza and pasta restaurants and in the new town there are lots of very classy European-style restaurants. If you are staying in a riad or hotel that's not so central you may have less choice open to you locally and in the area around our first riad we were unable to find any restaurants or snack bars at all. You may want to consider eating dinner early before you go back to your accommodation rather than hunting around the labyrinthine streets looking for food later in the evening.Most riads and all hotels will offer food but with the riads it's best to order earlier in the day if you want to eat that same evening. Many places only have a few rooms and won't have a lot of food in the kitchen if they're not expecting you to eat there. On our first evening we had a pleasant and well cooked meal at our riad but we'd ordered it before we left England.Breakfasts are large but rather basic. In the three places where we stayed we always received bread, juice and excellent coffee as well as jams and hunny, occasionally a fried egg and often the local thick pancakes or a strange fried pastry whose name I never learned. Cake was also often served for breakfast but don't expect a bit UK or US style hot breakfast. Many riads now offer cookery courses for their guests though it's beyond me why anyone would want to learn to cook such dull food.Vegetarians should take particular note of the delightful Earth Cafe to the south east of the Jemaa el Fna. It was the first vegetarian/vegan restaurant in the city and I've not heard of any others anywhere else. If you have various food allergies, I'd suggest to take care and consider getting translations done of what your needs are. We travelled around Libya last year with a lady who was a gluten-intollerant vegan and had a laminated card with translations of what she could and couldn't eat. Food is mostly inexpensive and filling although some of the restaurants in your guidebook may prove to be very expensive. Alcohol is almost always expensive and is not always easy to find. On a previous visit during the holy month of Ramadan, we just decided not to even bother trying to find alcohol although some of the people with us got very good at tracking down international hotel chains where they could buy at vastly inflated prices. If you like to drink spirits, I'd suggest to use your duty free allowance from your home country and fly in with a couple of half litre bottles of your favourite tipple.Close
Written by manlalakbay on 09 Jan, 2010
Marrakesh can get a bit warm during the day, so one can get a bit parched in the throat. You can't really trust tap water in a desert country, can you? So how do you deal with thirst the Moroccan way? Why…Read More
Marrakesh can get a bit warm during the day, so one can get a bit parched in the throat. You can't really trust tap water in a desert country, can you? So how do you deal with thirst the Moroccan way? Why with fresh orange juice, of course!Djeema El Fna, the main square in Marrakesh, has fresh orange juice carts all over. Locals and tourists alike can enjoy their Vitamin C overload as they make their way from one part of the square to another. The carts look more inviting with the oranges lining the counters. It looks attractive and lively and definitely projects well in photos. The juice is served on glasses (yey! environmentally-friendly!), but you may also opt for plastic cups if you prefer to take it to go. One has to keep a sharp eye on the price of the orange juice though. Our first few nights, we were already rejoicing with our four dirham OJ, only to discover that one of the farther carts only sells it for three dirhams! One of my companions got her first glass for ten dirhams even. Though during Islamic holidays, when most of the carts are closed, those open really do sell it for ten. One may also opt for grapefruit juice which costs for 15 dirhams.Restaurants also serve fresh orange juice between 10-15 dirhams. It balances well with the strong flavor of the tajine. So forget the soft drinks and sugared juices in the mean time and take advantage of cheap orange juice of Morocco!Close
Written by manlalakbay on 08 Jan, 2010
One of the things I found most welcome in Marrakesh is how affordable their food is. I'd go as far as saying it's quite cheap. Even students like us could afford to eat as much as we like without feeling the credit crunch.…Read More
One of the things I found most welcome in Marrakesh is how affordable their food is. I'd go as far as saying it's quite cheap. Even students like us could afford to eat as much as we like without feeling the credit crunch. ;pMeals often begin with a serving of Moroccan salad, which is just really chopped tomatoes topped with parsley and some salt. It is still good though and matches perfectly with the Moroccan bread. A perfect appetizer for the coming main dish!One traditional cuisine of Morocco is the tajine or tagine. The tajine is actually named for the dish where it is cooked and served. The traditional tajine pot is usually made of clay. It is usually painted with different colors and traditional Morrocan designs and then glazed afterwards. It is made up of a base, where the food is placed, and topped with a conical cover. The food itself is made of slowly stewed meat to make it tender to the bite. Usual meats used are lamb, beef or chicken. Vegetables like potatoes, carrots, green peas are also used in the meal. Pitted olives are sometimes used as well.What truly makes the tagine quite tasteful are the spices. A combination of saffron, turmeric, cumin and paprika gives it the definitive taste. When it is served, a sliver is lemon is given for the diner to choose whether s/he wants to give the tagine an extra kick to the palate. I definitely liked mine citrusy!Another traditional dish is the couscous. Couscous spherical granules are usually made with semolina flour. Once the couscous is cooked, it is topped with the usual stewed meat or chicken as well as the vegetables. It's taste is similar to that to the tajine though there is less meat and vegetable servings. Both dishes are a must taste when in Marrakesh. The flavors are quite strong and lingers in your mouth. The meat, however, when put in the mouth, seems like it is melting with how tender it can get. One funny thing about the couscous and tagine, it is so popular that you may end up eating it everyday like we did! Most, if not all restaurants have it on their menu. The three that we tried all had delicious versions of the traditional dishes. If you feel tired of it, there is always your typical Italian pizza and pasta restaurant. But when in Morocco, might as well relish the cuisine!Close
Written by Isabel G. on 23 Aug, 2009
If you think you’re well rehearsed in the choreography required to navigate Oxford Street at rush hour on a Friday night, then try any street in the medina of Marrakech. Dropped off by our taxi from the airport, we found ourselves wading upstream as cyclists,…Read More
If you think you’re well rehearsed in the choreography required to navigate Oxford Street at rush hour on a Friday night, then try any street in the medina of Marrakech. Dropped off by our taxi from the airport, we found ourselves wading upstream as cyclists, donkey carts, the odd car and a multitude of mopeds (often carrying whole families of father, mother and child) all share the same three-metre road, forcing you into a series of exotic acrobatic positions.After this bombardment through a riddle of streets our riad’s small yet very solid wooden door and four thick stone walls created an almost fortified home, which we were relieved to be welcomed into. Following a rather warm night’s sleep, but a good breakfast of Moroccan pancakes and flat-breads with home-made jams, we set off to be bombarded once again with the visual sights of the city. On first impressions El Badi Palace can appear more grave-like than the Saadian Tombs with its haunting yellow ruins, inhabiting storks and underground dungeons. In contrast, the elegant Saadian tombs fizz quietly with stone carvings as delicately intricate as lace adorning archway after archway. This subtly prepares you for the Dar Si Saad Museum, which is positively effervescent. Every design radiates out from a single shape, but this time far louder through patterned tiles on the floors, bright mosaics on the walls and hand-painted ceilings above. Although this would seem to compete with the artifacts displayed behind glass, in my opinion the interior design wins – triumphantly.Knowing we had over-stretched ourselves the day before, we spent our second day in the souks. This sprawling market is covered overhead by reeds allowing it to be a cool place to wander even at midday…but we wished we’d packed a compass. At times the souks seem as complicated and maze-like as the intricate stone carvings, and this can definitely set off a hot sweat as you attempt to read a map and dodge the children offering to take you the "right" way for a tip. However, after gaining some confidence (and a bottle of water) we were ready to squeeze the souks for all they were worth: we explored the cave-like shops bursting with silver and jewels, the range of babouches from classic yellow leather to a mock Burberry design, an array of spices, and a slightly disturbing stall selling tortoises stacked like bricks and baby Peregrine falcons.Worn out from haggling on teapots and lanterns, we’d hoped to eat dinner at the renowned food stalls used by locals and (fearless) tourists alike, located in the main square: Jemaa el Fna. But something about the out-of-date English phrases from the nineties used by the waiters urging us to enjoy their kebabs/soups/snails/sheep’s brains, combined with our realization that we were not so fearless, led us to one of the cafes that frame the square with large terraces on which to view the chaos (and not be part of it for a change). After a hearty beef tajine and a big pot of sugary mint tea we descended back into the square, this time staying clear of the electric lights and white smoke of the food stalls, and headed instead towards the mysterious clusters of people in the dark. Behind these round walls of people, acrobats climbed one another, dancers pranced, musicians played and storytellers captivated with dramatic expressions strengthened by the chiaroscuro sourced from a single light bulb.The next morning brought with it a slight breeze, blowing away the kaleidoscopic spectacles of the night before. We seized it with both hands and immersed ourselves in the Majorelle Gardens. The impact of this place is immediate: the reds and oranges of the medina become lost under the towering palm trees, fruit trees and eccentric collection of cacti. Two ponds create an oasis-like environment, which is heightened by the famous blue house that remains bewilderingly brighter than the sky on a clear day. Unlike the traditional Moroccan decoration that is so overwhelmingly detailed, the Majorelle Garden was begun by a French artist and then taken over by Yves Saint Laurent who confronts you in boldly painted pots, a rainbow of rare plants and amongst other species – a striped bamboo, that looks like it could only have been drawn up by a graphic designer.After snacking on lunch and hiding from the sun in our riad, we took a taxi to our next place of accommodation: a hotel located fifteen miles south of the medina. As we moved further from the city, wagons selling watermelons (or the more modest stalls of cactus fruit), began to disappear as ochre wastelands took over. Our "grand taxi"; a Mercedes, seemed completely out of place as it strove over a dirt track swollen with hills and dropping with valleys. On arrival we were greeted by our friendly host with Moroccan biscuits, juicy oranges and a pot of mint tea, which we enjoyed in our new room: far more rustic with a wooden ceiling that scented the whole space; a subtle reminder that we were now in the country. Refreshed and excited, we set off for a walk that brought us closer to the Atlas Mountains, but, still shrouded in the summer haze their shadowy presence was sadly no clearer than the day we arrived. In the foreground straw-hatted shepherds and farmers waved to us, returning to their homes conjured from the red earth and clustered to form one of the many Berber villages dotted around the mountainous regions. We did the same, and returned to our hotel to find another dinner on another terrace. But this time it was a totally different experience: fresh bread and olives picked from the olive groves six-hundred yards away were the best we had ever tasted and were followed by a terracotta tajine, in which a whole chicken with currants and prunes awaited. It would have to wait, looking towards the city over the expanse of the plains finally allowed us to rest our eyes on a panoramic view of the sun setting.Isabel Galleymore travelled with Morocco Gateway to Marrakech and stayed in Riad Zina and Tigmi:http://www.morocco-gateway.com/Close
Written by poulshotman on 24 Sep, 2006
I recently visited Morocco, first touring Marrakesh by myself and then linking up with 15 other people on an Exodus Travel trekking holiday through the High Atlas Mountains.Whilst in Marrakesh I stayed at the Yaoub Hotel, which is in the Gueliz area and next to…Read More
I recently visited Morocco, first touring Marrakesh by myself and then linking up with 15 other people on an Exodus Travel trekking holiday through the High Atlas Mountains.Whilst in Marrakesh I stayed at the Yaoub Hotel, which is in the Gueliz area and next to a cemetery and prison! It is about a 20 minute taxi ride from the airport which will cost you about 150 dirmahs. The accommodation is basic but if you are only there for a few days this is all you need. I paid £22 per night.Marrakesh can be divided between the old Medina with its famous Jemma El Fna square where you can find snake charmers and orange sellers, and the French quarter known as Gueliz with its bars and and roadside cafes.Behind the square are the seemingly endless alleyways of souks where you can haggle for leather goods, ceramics, and lanterns until all your dirmahs are gone. The heat is intense so it was a relief to go off trekking to High Atlas where it's a bit cooler. We did point to point trekking going from one valley to the next and meeting the friendly Berber people.In all we did 250kms and climbed 7104 metres in 9 days culminating in ascent of Mount Toubkal at 4167m the highest mountain in North Africa. We left the base camp before dawn reaching the summit at 8:30am. There was frost on the ground which made going tricky but the views from the top were spectacular.All the while our kit was transported by 8 pack mules whose ability to negotiate steep and rocky footpaths has to be seen.I am sure I will visit again perhaps the Anti Atlas or the coast at Essaouira.Close
Written by Richard Cain on 25 May, 2005
I spent just over a week in Morocco. As time was of the essence I had to choose my destinations carefully. One was chosen for me - Rabat, as it was the reason for coming - a business trip. Having said that, it's a nice…Read More
I spent just over a week in Morocco. As time was of the essence I had to choose my destinations carefully. One was chosen for me - Rabat, as it was the reason for coming - a business trip. Having said that, it's a nice enough place and built in a similar fashion to most of the cities of French North Africa, having a modern French town (la nouvelle ville) and an old Arab town (the medina). The French town is planned in a grid and has the usual amenities. The Arab town is far more interesting, having many narrow alleys, all the hustle and bustle, and plenty of handicrafts for sale, admittedly the same as you would get over all North Africa - pretty filigree metal lamps, carpets, brightly glazed pottery, and sheeshas (hubbly bubblies). As it is not primarily a tourist town, however, you won't get hassled.
There are also plenty of little cheap restaurants selling the Moroccan staple - tajine, basically a rather dry stew, often with raisins or prunes - and always very tasty. The name itself comes from the dish it is cooked and served in - a shallow porcelain bowl with a conical top.
For my remaining days, I chose to head for the tourist centre of Marrakesh and the increasingly popular little resort of Essaouria. I was fortunate to get a lift, and so the four-hour drive passed quickly. The landscape was pretty flat and featureless, although it changed appreciably from the green north to the dry south. We stopped off along the way for a meal at a large truck stop lined with many butchers and barbeque stalls. The grilled lamb was excellent and certainly fresh as most stalls displayed live sheep, freshly skinned animals, and hanging carcasses. This was washed down with some tea flavoured with absinthe, a local speciality.
After getting dropped on the outskirts of town, I took a taxi into the centre telling the driver to head for Hotel Ali. Initially I thought the taxi driver was playing silly buggers, as he told me to get out with no Hotel Ali in sight. He pointed me up the road and was off in a cloud of petrol fumes as soon as I had paid him off. Arriving in a strange town at night and having no idea where your hotel is is a bit unnerving, but in this case, the taxi driver couldn't have driven me to the hotel door, as the centre of Marrakesh has been pedestrianised. I found the hotel easily enough, as it is something of a local landmark. Situated pretty much in the centre of things I didn't stray too far away for the next few days.
Marrakesh has been attracting travellers for many years, and even in these first few minutes, I could feel its buzz. For a start, unlike most North African towns, there were plenty of people strolling about at night, and the cafes were teeming. While I was checking in, I was attracted by the aroma of barbeques wafting by on the evening breeze. I dropped my bags off, and within minutes I was at the very heart of Marrakesh - the Place Djemaa el-Fna, a huge square, but teeming with people, smells, and an atmosphere of bygone times. There were groups of people gathered around acrobats performing tricks, monkeys performing more tricks, snake charmers, medicine men, henna artists, and dancers. There was another area identifiable by the huge clouds of smoke issuing from barbeques. On the edges of the square were the cafes filled with observers. I now knew something of why Marrakesh had been attracting people for years - but interestingly there were few tourists.
The next few days I wandered around the labyrinthine passageways which form Marakesh's markets, browsing the goods for sale and escaping the hubbub in some excellent museums housed in former palaces. These museums are well worth a visit, if only for the calm, cool serenity of their open courtyards and the wonderful tiles.
After Marrakesh, I headed by bus to the coast - a four-hour drive to the pretty resort town of Essaouira. Essaouira is definitely on the map, as it is pushing itself as a bit of a resort town. It is quite famous on the windsurfing circuit, and there is also an annual world music festival. There are also plenty of handicraft shops (especially woodwork) and Western-style restaurants. Judging from the window of the local real estate office, foreigners were also being attracted to the local houses. Despite all this, it was still at that perfect stage where it retained an age-old charm and the majority of people got on with their lives as they had for hundreds of years. Only time will tell how fast this will change.
Make sure you check out more descriptions and photos of North Africa and beyond on the website Wanderings Africa.