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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Travel Guide to Marrakech



WHERE TO STAY 

When I travel I tend to try and stay in affordable accommodation, and luckily for me (and perhaps eventually for you ), Marrakech is full of that. After some investigation and instagram planning I found two really incredible Riads to stay in during our 4 days in the city. Riads are beautiful traditional homes that are built around a large courtyard and are usually  right in the centre of the medina, but trust me when I say you are not heading to a loud, busy B&B type place, quite the opposite actually. Riads are actually known for their peace and tranquility away from the madness of the main square Jamaa el Fna. With prices starting at £40 you really cannot say no.



The first Riad we checked into was in the Jewish quarter of the city and a little outside of the main hustle and bustle (maybe a 20/25 minute walk to the main square ) but still a really interesting area to explore. When we arrived, our car (which collected us from the airport) dropped us off at a parking spot where in the area where we then had to walk  a few minutes to our Riad through the walled streets of the medina. It was such a weird experience weaving in and out of tiny streets which all resembled one another until finally we came to a little door with the sign saying Riad Chamali. When the door opened i could hardly believe my eyes, it was such a dramatic contrast to outside we were led into the most beautiful open courtyard and show our room for the night. 









It was so beautiful, the intricate details of the tiled walls, the bright blue colours of the painted door
the smell of fresh mint tea. Our host was also beyond friendly, they even sang me happy birthday, in Arabic French! Our room was on the ground floor over looking the open court yard where an orange blossom tree offered a little shade from the glaring sun beaming into the yard. Our room was small but perfect for our one night stay but quite honestly we spent a lot of time on the next best thing about Riads which is their rooftops. In the morning we were able to enjoy a delicious traditional Moroccan breakfast on the roof of our Riad with the bright blue sky as our company. 


After breakfast at our first Riad we were collected by car to head to our next stay at Le Riad Berbere which I was very excited to see having stalked it on Instagram when planning our trip. When we arrived the first thing I noticed was how much busier and more bustling this area of the medina was. In fact it was a little overwhelming at first, there we're people everywhere, not to mention fruit stalls, butcher shops, homeless people and even donkeys (more on the donkeys later) it was truly wild.


But again, as a young man kindly wheeled our bags as we followed him again weaving in and out of tiny streets we finally arrived at our second Riad which was equally as beautiful and peaceful as the first. When you walked in through the door there was a beautiful smell of fresh roses and the courtyard was equally as mesmerising.  The place was smaller than the first but that was made up for by the gorgeous decor and the four beautiful cats that also take up residence here. 




Our host was wonderful, she gave us a map of the area and took us through all the major places we would like to see. Our room, was quaint but perfectly sized for two of us and what I can only describe as decor goals with a pink and copper bath tub and sink. Flowers were even left in our room each day which added a lovely touch. The rooftop at this Riad was also incredibly special, scattered with these huge cloud like cushions and giant lanterns, it was the perfect place to enjoy breakfast or to relax after a long day. After our first day of exploring Dan and I enjoyed a bag of juicy sweet strawberries watching the sunset from the roof, It was so perfect I felt like I was in a film. 


I will talk more on food later but most of the Riads will offer to make dinner for you in house and although you might think you would rather eat out at a restaurant I urge to consider trying a dinner at Le Riad Berbere. We paid £15 each for a three course traditional Moroccan meal of filled pastry starters, Tagine with homemade cous cous, vegetables, freshly baked bread and a delicious chocolate and orange marmalade dessert made from the famous morracan oranges you see all around Marrakech. It was the best meal we ate whilst we were there, so much so that we ordered it again the next night.

WHAT TO DO


Visit Jardin Majorelle gardens

The famous Yve Saint Laurent gardens are the perfect way to spend a morning or late afternoon in Marrakech. With just a 30 Dirham entrance fee you are free to walk the length of the gardens and sit and enjoy the peaceful space. If you want to make more of the day you can pay a little more to enter the museum which displays photos and art work of Yve Saint Laurent. We actually skipped this because we were in a rush but from what I did see it looked really interesting. You don't need to spend a whole day here an hour is plenty of time, but make sure you get a photo by the glorious blue painted wall which it has become so famous for.



Try a traditional Hammam

I tried my first Hammam when on holiday in Turkey a few years ago and bloody loved it so I knew I wanted to try another one whilst in Marrakech. Hammam's are a huge part of Morrocan culture and is a place where you can relax in a traditional style steam room and experience a scrubbing ritual to help cleanse the skin. I should warn you here that if you are shy and don't like being naked, or at least part naked in front of people then this might not be ideal for you. Les Bain de Marrakech is one of the few places in Morroco that allows a joint Hamman experience (even though you still have separate changing spaces) so Dan and I were able to enjoy this experience together. The process of the Hammam involves relaxing on marble beds in a hot steamed room before being oiled and then scrubbed with a traditional mitt to remove dead skin cells from your body.



 Expect to be asked to remove your top and expect to have the person doing the scrubbing scrub you in places you might not expect. But oh boy, is it good when you see the dead skin come off, equally disgusting of course but still, I took enjoyment in feeling squeaky clean and glowing. Dan and I also paid for a full spa experience with a mud wrap and a one hour massage which was deliciously indulgent and relaxing. Although Dan and I found being wrapped in what is essentially adult tin foil for the mud wrap far too hilarious to fully get in the relaxation zone.

If you fancy something more luxurious then I without a doubt would recommend a visit to Royal Mansour for a spa experience. Whilst they are on the higher price end, you can truly see that you get what you pay for especially when they are using high end Sisley Paris products as part of the spa. Not to mention this incredible indoor heated pool which honestly looks like a slice of heaven. Although we didn't get to experience it ourselves it is definitely on my list for next time.


Shop till you drop



If you love to shop then you are in for a treat in Marrakech! The souks are full of treasures, from bags, shoes, kitchen goods, home wares, rugs... You name it and they have it! At first the souks can be a little overwhelming, people pull you from left right and centre to get you into their shop, they drive a hard sell and for some people that is really not enjoyable. Dan is super polite and he kept replying and answering every single person that tried to get him to shop, and in the end it became incredibly draining. At times they just would not let us leave, we even had someone follow us around for a little bit trying to take us somewhere to buy a bag. Which brings me to my next tip DO NOT accept directions from anyone who offers to walk you somewhere them self, it is a known scam, one we nearly got ourselves into. Just firmly but politely say 'No Je vous remercie' and carry on walking away. I got myself in a fuss over this a few times but by day two I realised this was a waste of time. These people are trying to make a living, yes they are pushy, yes some are rude but getting stressed isn't going to change that. Just remain firm and as the lovely host at our riad advised 'When things feel stressful go and enjoy a mint tea and relax'. This piece of advise, (as simple as it was) was really helpful to us. Whenever we got lost we just found a cafe nearby, enjoyed a delicious mint tea and got our bearings again.

Next on my tip list is to always barter! No seriously it is part of the culture in Marrakech to barter for a deal and to not take the first price. I went in lower at over 50% on their offers, if it is too low, they will simply tell you is and eventually you will meet somewhere in the middle. I would also advise to not buy the first thing you see, every shop has a version of what you want trust me! Wander, take a look, ask for prices and then when you have gathered a rough idea of the price find the one that works best for you. One thing I will say is don't be unreasonable with the prices especially on furnishings like carpets or cushions, I actually found this amazing mixed print pillow case amongst this huge pile of small rugs and it was so gorgeous, lots of different colours, hand sewn and good, thick fabric. In the end I got it down to £14 and for the quality and craftsmanship I believed it was worth it. Pillows in Habitat are three times that and this item was unique and one of a kind, sometimes you can't put a price on that.



Visit Ben Youseff Madrasa 



Ben Youseff Madrasa is an old Islamic college found in the Medina and one of the biggest in North Africa. This was just a 4/5 minute walk from our second riad so we decided to do both this and the Jardin Majorelle Gardens in one day. Again you it wont take you longer than an hour to see this but it is a really beautiful place to take some photos and look at the century old architecture.  



WHAT TO EAT 

You cannot go to Marrakech or Morocco and not try a traditional Tagine, the North African Berber dish made in a clay pot is so delicious and rich and filling and is the perfect evening meal after a long day of exploring. For my birthday Dan and I went to Nomad a place that many people recommended we try, it is a beautiful restaurant over looking the square Cafe De Espices. Just note that they don't serve alcohol here (actually they hardly sell alcohol anywhere in Marrakech) For our mains we went for lamb tagine and chicken skewers with a starter of Moroccan filled pastry. It is simple food, nothing too fussy and I will be honest, it didn't blow me away, but it was tasty and fresh,  The view of the sunset over the Medina (the first photo of this post) however more than made up for this, it really is a lovely spot to relax and take in the views. 



 If you want to experience a meal is out of this world then I would 100% recommend taking a day out to visit the Royal Mansour Hotel and book yourself in for lunch at their new concept restaurant Le Jardin. Dan and I were kindly invited for the day for lunch and I honestly cannot praise it enough. First off  Royal Mansour is a 7* boutique hotel something I have never experienced before and it more than lived up to it's stars. The restaurant Le Jardin, which has only recently opened is a perfect place to enjoy a relaxing lunch, poolside. Enjoying lunch you are surrounded by beautiful orange and lemon blossoms and incredibly stunning gardens, in fact the space itself was designed by famous landscaper Luiz Vallejo.

The  menu at Le Jardin, devised by Yannick Alleno (a three Michelin star chef ) is beautifully thought out, he takes much of his inspiration for the 60 piece menu from the writings of Ibn Battuta. He was particularly interested in mixing old and new cooking method so the menu is a mix of Charcoal cooked and raw foods and is perfectly thought out.


The open grill which serves freshly grilled vegetables, meat and fish leaves a wonderful smoky aroma which is delightful to smell whilst you wait for your lunch. The chef of the day kindly prepared a tasting menu for us to try made up of fresh seabass Nigiri, Salmon Sashimi and King Crab Special Rolls as well as Cockerel, grilled with mustard, diable sauce, Squid, parsley and cumin and finally hay crust vegetables to accompany. To top it all off we were also kindly served three different kinds of desserts which were out of this world wonderful! My particular favorite was the coconut ice cream with lemongrass which was actually served in a little coconut shell! Overall, it was a wonderful experience that I would truly recommend to anyone looking for something extra special on their trip.


Final tips and tricks


1. You can only take out £300 of cash each upon entering Marrakech, so if you want more than that just take out money in the airport on arrival at the exchange desk.

2. Taxi's around Marrakech should really be no more than 40 Dirhams, we only found this out from our host after we had been stung with double that amount the day before. Start off at 20 and then they will meet you at either 30 or 40. The cost of a transfer to the airport is significantly more so I would personally recommend arranging that with your riad or hotel. 

3.  If you are sensitive to animal cruelty be mindful that you may be exposed to it in Marrakech. As mentioned above you will often see overworked and tired looking donkeys. This made me really sad to see but they are still used as methods of transport and for carrying goods. Secondly there is a lot of animals used for shows in the main square, small and large monkey's as well snakes. Do not engage with these people in anyway as you will be contributing to horrible animal tourism.

4. Always carry small change, so that if you do get in a tricky situation and need to tip someone you have something to give at hand.

5. Wear sunscreen! It can be very hot in Marrakech and even on a cloudy day you can get stung with the strong sun rays.   

6. Be mindful of dressing appropriately, Marrkech is a Muslim city so it is best to always cover your shoulders and avoid wearing low cut tops (especially in places like Ben Youseff Madrasa) 

7. Hope you have enjoyed this post! I know it was a biggun' but if you have any more questions please feel free to leave a comment or send me a tweet.


SHOP MY MARRAKECH STYLE


Off the shoulder dress - ASOS
White summer top - Matalan
Boyfriend Jeans - New Look
Sandals - River Island similar here 



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