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
If you like colourful, cheap and unique things then head to the souks of Marrakech. I've been several times and have filled my suitcase every time. You can find items here for pennies, which you could end up paying triple figures for back home. Whether it's a multicoloured tea set, some handmade wooden boxes or a faux designer bag, you'll always find what you want here. Unfortunately, if you're not up for bartering then there really is little point in visiting.
Souks, all over Marrakech
Buy a djellaba, a traditional, hooded robe. My husband bought a black one, charmed into believing he looked, “Like a typical Arab,” in it. It’s been a wonderful dressing gown for the last 12 years. The hood keeps out drafts and means it makes an ideal monk or Darth Vader costume for scaring children at Halloween.
In the souk in Marrakech, and most other North African souks.
Google map: bit.ly/mbyDKc
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
"Big square" - everyone seems to want to point out the way. By day - orange juice and fruit/nut stalls, snake charmers and general Moroccan hustle and bustle. Take a table on a cafe balcony and watch the world go by with a glass of mint tea. By night the place livens up - loads of food stalls appear: couscous, kebabs, sausages, seafood, salads, and for the more adventurous, snail soup. There's a great atmosphere with the smoke, the smells and the live music.
Google map: bit.ly/fC2FXe
My husband and I went to Morocco three years ago and spent a few days in Essaouira and then a couple of days in Marrakech. At first we found the prospect of haggling rather daunting but after a day or two we just decided to ‘get stuck in’.
The initial shock for me was how time-consuming the whole ceremony of haggling is, starting with polite chat about “Where are you from?”, “Where are you staying?”, and many more questions. All I had in my head was “How much is it!”. But after a while I got used to this and understood that it was a new cultural experience and a different ‘shopping’ experience - although certainly it was not as sweet as presented in the last instalment of SATC!
If you visit those two places as we did, I recommend practising your haggling in the less hectic and crowded Essaouira as the stall holders seemed to be more relaxed and happier to chat and talk. In Marrakech the souk was an absolutely crazy experience and the sellers are more ruthless about getting good prices out of tourists. In my view the items on sale in Marrakech were less stylish and interesting than those in Essaouira.
For those who cannot see themselves haggling, there are shops with fixed prices (but you still can haggle in them if you like!). The shop I bought my favorite earrings in was Chez Abdou in Marrakech. Nice and short haggling and they were mine for a decent price. (Or at least that is what I thought.)
To sum up I would recommend Essaouira for more stylish, unusual items (pottery, lamps and candle holders), whereas I personally found the jewellery shops more interesting in Marrakech.
Jewellery Shop: Chez Abdou Objt d'art, Saba Grawa Lakssour No 70, Marrakech
Google map: bit.ly/9VUsdJ
This is an amazing place, a bus trip out of the city, where you can see great waterfalls, go for a hike, swim and then get a great meal at the cafe. While you wait for your food, sip endless glasses of mint tea, and take in the views and then tuck in! I had a lamb tagine (amazing) cooked in an earthenware pot in the ground. Super cheap too!
Just outside Marrakech
There are lots of young men who will accost you as you walk around Marrakech and try to act as your guide to take you to wherever you are going and then demand a fee. This is particularly so once you leave the main square and are heading out to somewhere less easy to find - for example the Bahia Palace, or the Dar Zellij restaurant. Be aware too that some of them will pretend that somewhere is closed when it is not, or will send you off on the wrong direction in order then to get one of their friends to set you right. This is a great shame because it means that, rather than interacting with people, you sometimes have to blank them or even pretend to speak a different language. If you do need directions to somewhere it may be preferable to ask a woman or an older man or a storekeeper - they are more likely to give you accurate directions out of common courtesy without then wanting to accompany you or expecting money in return. If you do end up being accompanied by a 'faux guide' against your will, you may want to explain that you are happy to talk to them along the way but do not wish to have a guide and will not be paying them any money if they accompany you. At least that way, when you reach your destination, you can feel comfortable sticking to your guns and refusing to pay - though be prepared to be pestered repeatedly and to have to hold your resolve. Of course there may be no harm giving a few coins to a boy who has taken some time to get you to the right place, but they should not expect to charge more than this and should be prepared to give you correct and honest information for free. So when one lad demanded 20 dirhams (more than a taxi fare across town) just for telling us which door on the street we were looking for we robustly refused - pour decourager les autres.
You have to try it at least once. Most of the stalls are geared to tourists. These usually have large displays of food and hustlers persuading you to eat at their stall. Treat it as a bit of fun but keep control of what you want to eat. For not much more you can eat in one of the many restaurants around the square and get more for your money. The gem is probably the packed stall selling fish (and chips), mainly to locals. Squeeze in when you can & enjoy.
The central square of Marrakech. It is fantastic, especially in the evening. Smoke rises up from the dozens of food stalls which all offer beautiful piles of vegetables, merguez sausages, kebabs, tagines and more. The cooks will call to you as you walk by, but take your time as you're protected by the watchful eye of the tourist police. When you've chosen, sit down and watch as they theatrically pour out mint tea for you. Bread and sauces are provided. Point out what you want cooked, and then prepare to be defeated. About £5 for much more than two people can eat.
In the daytime fresh juices are on offer. Orange for about 10p, mandarin/clementine for 20p.
The medina offers everything, from dried rose petals to the thuya wood ornaments, and sweets,but was the only place where I was groped and pestered.
And down the road from Djemaa el Fna (the Koutobia Mosque side) is a lovely hammam. Segregated times (so men go in the morning, and women in the afternoon). From Koutobia cross the main road as if you are going to Djemaa el Fna. Take the narrow side road, and follow it down. About 500m down on your left is the hammam. A very cheap, very interesting and relaxing experience.
The centre of Marrakech - you can't miss it.
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