You know when you get that burning desire to feel the sunshine warmth all over your skin after months of being buried under multiple layers of clothing? This is exactly how I felt while booking my tickets to Marrakesh on an evening in December. Fed up with the grey sky and low temperatures of Scotland, I decided to try Marrakesh for some winter sunshine. Last time I visited Marrakesh, it was on a 5-days press trip which left me with the best of impressions, so naturally, when the question ‘where to go for some winter sunshine’ came up, Morocco was the answer. USEFUL TIPS for visiting marrakesh
Foolishly, we decided to book a hotel located in the centre of Marrakesh only to realise, just hours before our flights, that unmarried couples were not accepted in the premises of the said hotel and couples should present their wedding certificate otherwise they’d be asked to leave! Bewildered and shocked by this policy, I panicked and tried to book another hotel the soonest possible. I suggested we stay at the same hotel I stayed the last time, Savoy Le Grand Hotel Marrakesh that was located in the prestigious Hivernage area, which might be a bit further outside the city centre but it is considered one of the safest areas of Marrakesh, so you benefit from it more. Surrounded by the Menara Mall and the Buddha Bar one each side, with a swimming pool, a restaurant bar (and limited time on my hands), there wasn’t much more to think…. USEFUL TIPS for visiting marrakesh
Once we landed, the usual barter with the taxi drivers outside the airport started! In Marrakesh, tourists are expected to pay 7-10 more than the locals. So instead of paying 20 dirham for the 2km ride from the airport to the hotel, the taxi driver asked us 200 dirham that I managed to get down to 100 which was still a very decent profit for him. USEFUL TIPS for visiting marrakesh
Upon our arrival to the hotel we were welcomed with a glass of Moroccan tea served in the unique, playful way that only skilled Moroccan servers can provide! We were, then, showed our room which, to my surprise, happened to be the exact same suite I stayed a few years back. What a lovely coincidence and a great start to your trip! USEFUL TIPS for visiting marrakesh
As we were already in an 11 hours journey from Scotland to Morocco (via London), we decided to take it easy on our first day and just lounge around the hotel. I went to the spa, had a lovely swim in the pool and only decided to get dressed and go out when we got hungry. Luckily, the Buddha Bar was only next door…
Buddha bar was even better than I remembered. We sat in a table close to the stage and enjoyed some cocktails and sushi while watching the belly dancing performance… It was a great taste of Morroco and we loved the interiors, cocktails and live music!
Much like the Mediterranean countries, Morocco has an abundance of oranges that comes extremely handy if you are a freshly squeezed orange juice lover (did someone call me?). So once the alarm went off, I quickly prepared myself and run to the breakfast buffet for bottomless glasses of this beauty…
After a few too many glasses of orange juice, Moroccan tea and croissants, it was about time we went on our first day of exploring Marrakesh.
Unlike the previous time I was in Morocco, this time we were in charge of organising everything – from which tourist attractions were the most important ones to see to the best restaurants to visit and museums to see. It was fun and a torment at the same time but we managed. Once we figured how to barter and got accustomed to the local mentality we adapted and started enjoying our time.
No affectionate gestures like holding hands and hugging are welcomed in Marrakesh and tourists should respect these rules. Ladies should have their shoulders covered and if not married, on some occasions, they should hide their hands under their clothing layers, which is what happened to me a few times. Clothing should be loose and whenever possible eye contact with men in the streets should be avoided as it is perceived as disrespectful. Also, pictures of people should not be taken without asking their consent. Moroccans believe that the soul is ‘printed’ in each photograph and that by taking pictures, you ‘steal’ someone’s energy. Once we figured out these unwritten rules, mainly by observing the other couples around us, we were good to go! USEFUL TIPS for visiting marrakesh
As we were still a bit unsure about the best sightseeing locations to visit, we hired a tour guide via Tripadvisor. Mohamed was exactly what we were looking for, he instantly made us feel at ease and by the end of the tour we became friends! Not only he narrated us the story of the city monuments, but he also took us on a tour around the Souks – which can be extremely stressful and chaotic at times – and showed us the back alleys with the best kept secrets too. I cannot reccomend Mohamed enough, having a local showing us around lifted so much stress and concerns off our shoulders and allowed us to enjoy the walk through the city! USEFUL TIPS for visiting marrakesh
^^the leather market in Souks ^^
Our experience bartering for handmade mugs and bowls at the Souks was quite interesting, mainly because the shop owners are willing to chase you down the streets until they convince you to buy from them and not their competitors. If there’s one piece of advice to offer that would be to barter to the best of your ability and always think ‘how much would I pay for it in the UK’? A handmade mug in Scotland would cost anything between £8-20 so keep this as a guideline and offer your price. There are no set prices and typically you can lower down the price to 1/4 of what you were initially told. We bought two lovely black & white mugs that were initially priced at £40 but eventually sold for £10, and this just goes to show how much you need to play the game to lower the prices.
^^ Traditional oven dating back to the 11th century, found in the back alleys of the Souks market ^^
Diving into the Souks is a fantastic experience! If you go open minded and with a tour guide (or Google maps) you will find yourself enjoying every bit of it. There are loads of exotic smells, roses and oranges are the two most common ones, spices, colourful rugs, handmade mugs, food, baskets and so much more than one can imagine. Make sure to enjoy the barter and if you feel like there is so much pressure just smile, be polite and leave. Shop owners are used to tourists showing interest to their good and they are prepared to let you have a look around without any pressure to buy.
On our third day to Marrakesh, we woke up determined to make it to Jardin Majorelle (I wrote a bit more about the history of the gardens in a previous post HERE). Simply put, Jardin Majorelle is a visual experience and the most popular gardens in Marrakech.
The first thing you notice upon entering the garden is the charming bougainvilleas and deeply rich blues (inspired by the Atlas Mountains) all over the walls and tiled floors. Then there are the bubbling water fountains, the YSL Memorial and the gargantuan cacti (in every size you can imagine)!
Jardin Majorelle are extremely calming -despite the masses of tourists visiting here on a daily basis – with loads of greenery, relaxing water sounds, that provide a shelter from the bustling city of Marrakesh. As they are one of the top attractions in Marrakesh, it is advised you buy your tickets online and go as early as possible to avoid the crowds and have your time to enjoy and wander around.
^^ The famous YSL prints displayed in the museum ^^
^^ Colourful, luxury, handmade fashion items in the YSL shop ^^
We spent a couple of hours admiring the unique blue colour of the gardens and the cacti. It was peaceful and nice to be surrounded by all this greenery and we didn’t want to leave!
This was the day we did most of the tourist sightseeing, starting with the historic Bahia Palace followed by a walk in town that led us to getting lost in the back alleys, which I consider always a good thing if you want to explore a place and see a bit more of its culture!
Hidden in the midst of the crowded Mellah (Jewish Quarter), Medina (old city), and the Kasbah (area where the royal employees used to live) was the surprisingly peaceful Bahia Palace. The palace’s two-acre gardens were built in the end of the 19th century, and as its name means ‘brilliance’, it was intended to be the greatest and most brilliant palace of each time! Even though these days it is a place of tranquility, here, Ba Ahmed once housed his four wives and twenty four concubines. A very busy man I must say!
The palace was built over a period of 15 years by two different designers, in two separate stages, which justifies the irregular design and composition when compared with other palaces of its type and era, but it boasts floor to ceiling tiles in every colour combination you can possibly imagine! There are beautiful, hand carved, marble arches and doors with so much detail in them, it is impossible not to think how much time and effort it must have taken the local craftsmen (who were brought from Fes) to complete this project.
^^ We found so many stray kittens it broke my heart and wanted to get them all back home with me! ^^
^^ Plentiful of pink and orange doors in Marrakesh with very idiosyncratic handles on some of which, you could see the handmade carving lines ^^
Once we started feeling peckish, we went for some tea (that turned into cocktails) and nibbles at La Sultana Hotel – this was one of the places I visited and loved the previous time I was in Marrakesh and promised myself to return back as soon as I was in Morocco. With some of the best views of the city and Grand mosque, colourful tiles and relaxing vibes, this is is exactly what we needed to escape the chaos of the city!
dress by M&S (gifted), bag bought from the Souks.
On our last day we opted for a visit at La Mamounia, possibly the most Instagrammable (and expensive) hotel I have ever been. We bought a day pass and enjoyed the premises along with a few cocktails. It was sunny and it felt like summer!
^^ I captured this picture completely by chance while trying to switch off my camera and get it into my bag. Isn’t this blue sky gorgeous? ^^
La Mamounia embodies every impression one has for Marrakesh. There is a feeling of glamour in every corner; there is good food, lush gardens (with red cacti and palm trees!), delicious cocktails, a luxurious spa, sparking fountains and detailed woodwork. There’s nothing that won’t make your visit unforgettable and the services is faultless, making you think how high are the standards of the hotel!
I truly hope one day to be in a position to visit and stay in one of their rooms, but until then, a girl can dream!
ARE YOU VISITING MARRAKESH ANYTIME SOON? HERE ARE SOME USEFUL TIPS::
- Marrakesh might be one of the top tourist destinations in northern Africa, but don’t let Instagram deceive you thinking you can walk down the streets wearing shorts. Morocco is one of the most relaxed Muslim countries but it is best if ladies cover up and dress appropriately showing respect to the ways locals have been accustomed.
- The main square of Marrakesh – Jamaa el-Fna is a big tourist attraction but if you look closely there is loads of animal abuse on display. Do not visit if you are sensitive about such matters and if you do, please do not encourage animal exploitation by taking a selfie with the baby monkeys. USEFUL TIPS for visiting marrakesh
- Staying in a riad or a hotel in the Hivernage area is the wisest option as far as accommodation is concerned. Read the fine print to avoid surprises that relate to your marital status once checking in and make arrangements beforehand for taxi airport drop-offs to avoid extra payments. USEFUL TIPS for visiting marrakesh
- Avoid encounters with street vendors as things might get suddenly aggressive and they might demand money for things that you haven’t even touched but you ‘accidentally’ damaged. USEFUL TIPS for visiting marrakesh
- Know the taxi ride prices and agree on the cost beforehand. Generally, 1km of ride = 10 dirham, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, tourists are expected to pay 7-10 times this price. Do not be afraid to barter and if you are not happy with the price walk away. On most occasions they will chase you and give you what you want on the price you asked.
- Use only hotel and airport ATMs as street ATMs are difficult to track down and you might find out that you have been charged more than what you withdrawn! Also, spend all your money before reaching the airport as you won’t be able to spend it anywhere else.
Happy Friday friends, if you have reached up until here, thank you for reading!