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Marrakech, November 2006

All prices in Marrakech were in Moroccan Dirhams, which is what we used, although US$ were widely accepted.
For ease of conversion 100 Dirhams = £6

Friday, November 3, 2006

I have always wanted to go to Marrakech but the mini-breaks from the UK seemed so expensive and there was no value for money just going there for a couple of nights. How excited was I to hear that Ryanair announced their new flight routes and Marrakech was among them! ;-) Only the flight times are a bit of a pain in the backside; the flight from Luton is at 6.00am! … Hmm not the best start… however it is only 3 hr flight from the UK and on arrival it feels like stepping back in time.

The mighty Atlas Mountains that encircle Marrakesh were hidden by mist so when we landed it seemed that the city is only surrounded by dry and arid land. On a clear day you would be able to see the mountains that spread around Marrakech and are within easy reach. Marrakech is a fascinating city; vibrant, lively and very noisy. The traffic is just unbelievable; bikes, petit taxis, large taxis, motorbikes and pedestrians all seem to be going in the same and opposite directions all at the same time - I’m beyond stunned how they all manage to survive the chaos. The road from the airport is a wide boulevard lined with palm trees, it's quite modern and new and it only took 10-15 minutes to reach the city centre. The centre of Marrakech, which is the old city, is guarded by the huge 12th century city walls that encompase the medina and the bazaars. Once you’re in, the medina is a magical maze of little streets, hidden mosques and synagogues, beautiful riads, street vendors, bazaars, donkeys and of course motorbikes! The scents and aromas of different kinds of spices from vanilla and cinnamon to paprika and kif strike you immediately.

We have chosen to stay in a traditional Moroccan house called a Riad. It was located in the part of city called The Mellah, which is the Jewish quarter. All streets in the medina look the same, the houses are plain save for the various shades of red, pink and brown (mud) as the Moroccan architecture is more inward looking and hidden, rather than showing off. It gives each riad a real charm and secrecy and the only thing that gives away the entrance to the house is a big wooden door. Once you come in, it is like you would enter an oasis from the noise and bustle of the medina. The typical Moroccan house is organised around a courtyard usually with a fountain or a small pool, orange and citrus trees or palms, flowers and lamps. Our riad was absolutely delightful. The owners, a couple who are from Chile and France, clearly love what they do and you could see nice touches in every little corner. It’s the complimentary mint tea with Moroccan cookies that was served everyday, the candles that are lit up each night, and the way the owners and their staff look after their guests, that makes the riad such a cosy and real chill-out place. The bonus was the terrace on the top floor which was beautifully decorated; we also ate our breakfasts and had the afternoon tea here.

After freshening up in our riad we went to explore the city. We walked to Al Kotoubia minaret - the tallest in Marrakech. From there we walked to Jemaa El Fna Square where I had an unpleasant encounter with a street vendor who was trying to get us to take photos with his snake - when we refused he was not happy. He ran after us accusing us of taking photos and not paying him! So in the end I had to show him my camera to prove that I indeed did not take any photos of his precious snake - before my husband started a fight/ran away ;0). Other than that one rather aggressive incident we had only great experience with the Moroccan people.

We also visited the Kasbah (fortress) that also leads to the Saadian Tombs which we visited the next day. The reason for this was the fact that it was Friday, a day off for all Muslims, is similar to the UK bank holidays and so the tombs were closed. In the evening we went out for dinner to the main square and ate at the local stalls that Marrakech is so famous for. There were 4 of us and the meal cost us £13 altogether and man was it a massive feast or what!?! All food was great and well cooked, no Marrakech belly...


The next day our breakfast was served on the beautiful terrace, after which we continued with our sightseeing by hiring a taxi to take us to the Palmeraie. It was very dry. One can usually view Atlas Mountains from here but today it was so misty they were hardly visible. We also wanted to see Menara Gardens but our taxi driver either didn’t know where it was or he didn’t understand us… what a shame. Instead we journeyed to the Saadian tombs, which were a very impressive display of architecture, if a bit crowded. We returned to our riad and chilled (a recuring theme) for a few hours on our wonderful terrace with some wine and complimentary nuts and olives. The owner of our riad, Diego, booked a table for us at the Dar Zellij restaurant. We had to take the petit taxi as the streets on the way there were very narrow. The restaurant served authentic Moroccan food accompanied with traditional music, was stylishly designed with interesting decorations and was very luxurious (read expensive). The food was again brilliant but the quantity was way beyond our capabilities and we cancelled one of the courses as our bellies would simply burst! The prices here were much higher than most restaurants in Morocco, just as expensive as in the UK. But it was good to have been able to experience both the cheap and the expensive even if the cheap seemed better value.


We wanted to go to a spa but everything was fully booked!? What a shame as I found a brilliant spa (Riad Mehdi) on the internet and we actually went to look there. It was designed in a contemporary Moroccan style, dark red furnishings and zen music :-) aaaah so beautiful ... and the prices were very reasonable. We were so disappointed that we could not go… Never mind maybe next time…

To sum up, the mini-break was great but 2 nights are definitely not enough; 3 nights if not more would be needed. Especially considering the things to see in the vicinity of Marrakech.