I've just returned from a trip of a lifetime walking in the desert with an excellent guide, a docile dromedary carrying everything for a night's camping and the dromedary minder who led me on spectacular rides into the sunset. Imagine, the only sound was birdsong, no other people to be seen, delicious meals and a star filled sky at night - truly a dream come true! Reach the desert by 4X4 from Marrakech.
The food stalls in the square of the Jemaa el Fna or La Place, as the French call it, where Marakshis have come for centuries for dinner and a show are a place everyone should visit at least once in their lives we agreed with the German couple sitting next to us tucking into snails and camel heel while discussing their daughters’ Northern Soul thesis and watching the snake charmers and storytellers work their magic. I preferred their taste in music to their taste in food but the myriad of food stalls here also serve fish and chips or tagines for the more faint hearted. This isn’t a big place but that only seems to make you so much more aware of just how diverse and colourful the world is as you break bread with people from all corners of the world.
Google map: bit.ly/ydKNEH
Sure, you get the awful designer copies and culture shock when you first enter the souks but it's full of the most delicate, pretty and (very) cheap products you could possibly want. For those looking for a slightly more colourful or cultured home, I highly recommend this part of the world - but I'd only go for a day or so. It can get overwhelming, but so long as you know what you're doing, you'll be fine. I plan on heading back within the next couple of years so I can properly kit out my home.
Central Marrakech - Morocco
Google map: bit.ly/mbyDKc
Late 19th century palace.
Wonderful examples of typical Moroccan style: carved and painted wooden ceilings and intricate stonework.
The courtyards - some with fountains and tilework, some with gardens - offer a peaceful haven from the heat and noise of the city.
Google map: bit.ly/h4sJJT
We cannot praise Riyad Al Moussika enough; the effortless attention to our every wish was discrete and subtle, nothing was too much trouble for the staff.
The lunch every day was excellent. Our last meal was the best Tajine we have ever tasted - it unfortunately has changed our appreciation forever and whenever we choose a Tajine it will be compared less favourable with today's creation.
You must visit the Berber souk at the base of the Atlas mountain. The staff at the Al Moussika will arrange it with a very knowledgeable taxi driver who will outline every interesting site,
including for old rockers like me, " Mick Jaggers" Marrakesh hideaway.
The Library is an oasis of tranquillity with an excellent cross section of reading material in many languages.
Multi channel television and wi-fi in every room.
We chose this Riyad because of the TripAdvisor reviews and once again members were spot on.
The Hotel Riyad Al Moussika, where I spent with friends a long weekend at the beginning of our journey to the south of Morocco in early January, is a place that has stopped time, where the magical atmosphere, relives Morocco of Pasha of 1800, but with all the comfort of our century. Everything is perfect, authentic, calm, serene.
I recommend strongly this hotel for its central location, even for the excellent and very professional service provided by the young boys of the staff, always smiling and present without being intrusive.
The chef and owner, Khalid, a nice and helpful big boy, who speaks I do not know how many languages, but among them an excellent Italian that has enabled me to know a world of things about authentic Marrakech, thing impossible otherwise, due to my language limitations, and, most important, who cooks in divine way.
I conclude that the value for money is very good considering that the copious breakfast and the courses haute cuisine lunch, (by far the best of all restaurants in Marrakech and Morocco, where we ate), are included in rate.
Only one regret: Have stayed there for four nights only!
Worthwhile checking out the old Jewish quarter in the Mellah area in the south of the medina. The number of Jews in the area now numbers about 260 compared to more than 15,000 at the turn of the century.
You can see the evidence with the occasional Star of David and Hebrew lettering on buildings. There are still three active synagogues out of nearly 30. For a few coins the local kids will show you where the working synagogues are.
Mellah area south of medina
We don't normally go for city tour buses but this was definitely worth it. We paid 260 dirhams (about £18) for two tickets valid for 24 hours that allowed us to jump off/on the tour bus along the route.
The main reason why we recommend it was that one of the routes took us out to the Palmeraie area (palm trees, camels etc) which we would not otherwise have seen.
Red bus just off the Jemma El Fna square on Av. Mohamed V.
Our last trip to Marrakesh allowed us to get to know the city more and we are here now to share some of our tips we hope you'll find useful.
If you want to see more of the city, take the guided bus tours. These buses have just been introduced in recent years. They are red, double-deck buses and offer continuous tours throughout the day. Get a 24-hour hopper ticket and you can get off at major stops that take you to Djamaa Lfna, Menara, Saadieen Toms, Koutoubia, Bahia palace, Median, etc. The buses are equipped with recorded messages in multiple languages that provide major highlights of the bus route.
The horse carts might charge more, but have that leisurely stroll around town. May not cover as much of the city as the bus tours. You can however ask the cart person for a short tour that your bus did not cover.
As far as where to visit, start with Djemaa el-Fna or assembly place of the nobodies. This is the centre point of Marrakesh. It is a large square where many of the budget hotels and souks are located. In the evening, there are rows of open-air food stalls, jugglers, snake charmers, storytellers and magicians. Around the square there are rooftop cafes and restaurants with balconies, where you can watch the entire spectacle.
On the other side of the square outside Median walls is the Bahia Palace. It was built in the 19th century as a residence of the grand minister of one of the sultans. It has wonderful gardens, fountains and a shady courtyard. The walls are decorated with Moroccan mosaics, and hand-crafted artwork.
To the front of the square is the Koutoubia mosque. It is the tallest (70m) and most famous landmark in Marrakesh, and is visible for miles in any direction.
The bus tours will also tale you to the Menara garden, which is the most popular among the Marrakshis because it is peaceful and relaxing. It houses the oldest and best-preserved of the three most famous minarets, as well as the largest.
There are many other places we could not see such as The Saadian Tombs, Majorelle Gardens... but I recommend that you don't miss Ali Benmalah or what many call Chez Ali: an impressive memorable Fantasia Show, acrobat, traditional Moroccan folk dance and a dinner fit for a king. A traditional event, it includes an opportunity to see the Berber folklore, the jugglers' performance, the flying carpet, the belly dancing and finally the Fantasia show.
We had our hotel reservation made through www.asiarooms.com/ which we found offer very good deal on five-star hotels, just make sure you book way in advance.
The bus tour company does not have a site, but was recommended to us by hotel staff, you can't miss it if you ask, some hotels sell their tickets.
Take time away from your shopping to visit the range of museums and palaces within the Medina. We were impressed by the Musee de Marrakech, the Palais el-Badi and the Palais Bahia. Don't forget the Saadian Tombs - impressive.
The Bahia Palace is beautiful. So is Riad Tamsna, the food has always been fabulous when I have been there, but reports are varied: you can always have mint tea on the roof terrace (or a mohito if you need some alcohol in the medina).
A trip to the Ourika Valley is also a must.
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