An Unexpected Taxi Ride
Having purchased four incredibly cheap Easy Jet tickets, we were off to exotic Marrakech for a few days with our friends Anton and Ian. It was February when we flew into the fabulously warm land of Morocco. We had booked to stay at a riad in the old city. They were supposed to pick us up at the airport, but apparently there was some mix-up, so we took a taxi into town.
Mint Tea at the Riad
Our taxi drove through the busy traffic, until finally we were skirting the walls of the old city. When we arrived at the riad, the brother owners made up for their transgression by plying us with mint tea while we sat in the splendour of the courtyard. The colours of the riad were amazing and there were intricate designs everywhere we looked, from the chairs to the lanterns.
Jemma El Fna
We dumped our backpacks in our equally colourful rooms, and headed out to explore the city. Walking through the streets, we passed the Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret and soon came across the Jemma El Fna. It’s a massive square surrounded by restaurants and stalls and full of storytellers in flamboyant costumes, monkeys, snake-charmers and tourist laden horse-and-carts. We had lunch in the square and headed through the adjacent souks that were brimming with fascinating temptations.
The lanes leading off the Jemma El Fna had an ambience of mystery. We spotted a hooded figure wearing a djellaba (a traditional Berber robe) unlocking an ornately painted door with a large key and couldn’t help but wonder what was behind the door. There were splashes of vibrant colour everywhere, the doorways, the window frames and brightly coloured carpets hung out of windows to dry.
Food Stalls Galore!
By dusk we made our way back to Jemma El Fna enthusiastically assisted by a small boy who demanded a big tip. We sat at a rooftop restaurant with drinks as the light faded. It was an incredibly exotic scene, made more so by the soundtrack of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Scores of food stalls set up in the square, mini kitchens along with tables and chairs while touts armed with menus attempted to entice passers-by to their stalls.
Wine and Nibbles
We wandered back to the riad where one of the brothers magically conjured up a couple of bottles of wine for us to enjoy on the roof terrace. (Finding wine in Marrakech was no easy task, but we persevered and on a number of occasions were successful!) Whenever we were served alcohol, it was always accompanied by a delicious array of olives, almonds, pistachios and walnuts.
The next day we managed to find a place that served alcohol that we had read about in Lonely Planet. It’s called Kozy Bar, and although a little tricky to locate, it was definitely worth the search. It’s a great wine bar/restaurant with a roof terrace overlooking El-Badii Palace. An added bonus is that you can watch nesting storks from the terrace. We made ourselves comfortable and ordered some excellent wine and tasty food. It was a gorgeous breezy, but sunny day. We got through a few bottles before we left several hours later.
Marjorelle Gardens – An Oasis in the City
The following day we left the old city to visit Marjorelle Gardens. We did get lost (as usual), but found it eventually. The gardens were an oasis of calm in the midst of the busy city – palms, bamboo. cacti and pools. There were pathways winding through the vegetation and huge brightly painted pots. The contemporary house was electric blue and yellow. The garden had been owned by Yves Saint Laurent, who had restored the gardens and whose ashes were now interred within. Without doubt, it was one of the highlights of our visit to Marrakech.
A Night Out in Marrakech
That evening we went to one of the best hotels in town where we sat by the swimming pool drinking cocktails amongst the palm trees. A local musician played traditional Moroccan music nearby. The cocktails weren’t cheap, but worth splashing out on for the ambience. We had dinner at a Moroccan restaurant. To be honest, neither of us really got into the local cuisine. Tagines, at least the ones we tried, didn’t really do it for us. The snacks were tasty though!
Into the Atlas Mountains
The next day we hired a car and driver to take us to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. About five minutes into the journey, on the outskirts of town, we ran out of petrol. Our driver had to call a guy on his mobile. He eventually showed up half an hour later on a motorbike, clutching a a petrol can. So, we set off again.
The Inevitable Carpet Shop Stop!
Our first official stop, not surprisingly, was a carpet shop. We didn’t seem to be given an option about this although we all knew there was a zero chance of any of us making a purchase and told our driver this. The carpet seller was at first charming, unravelling carpet after carpet. Of course, some of the carpets were lovely, but we weren’t buying. When the carpet seller finally realised this, his attitude changed and he became sullen, barely able to say goodbye when we left.
Driving through several tiny Berber villages, we continued on until we reached Ourika valley. A river snaked its way through the village and a waterfall ran into the fast-moving river. We crossed the river on a rickety bridge and hiked up to the first level of the waterfall on a rocky trail passing huge boulders.
It was a lovely setting, but was slightly spoiled by the crowds of day trippers from Marrakech and a fair amount of rubbish that had been dumped alongside the trail. The driver had passed us onto a guide. It was the type of situation that we were always resistant to, as we liked to be independent, especially with something as straightforward as a short hike.
Afterwards, we sat at a cafe, having a drink with our driver. We headed back, stopping off at a place selling essential oils and perfumes (again, not out of choice). It was an enjoyable day and we saw some nice scenery but due to time restrictions on this trip, we weren’t able to see as much of the mountains as we would have liked to.
Ali Ben Youssef Medersa
On our last full day, we went to Ali Ben Youssef Medersa, an Islamic school until 1960 when it closed. It is a beautiful building with stunning mosaics and gave an interesting insight into Islamic culture. In the afternoon we returned to Kozy Bar. Due to heavy winds, the roof terrace was closed, but we sat inside in our own private section. The furnishings were typically Moroccan – heavy curtains, oversized cushions and rich colours. We drank an abundance of wine, Ian danced on a table and a fun last night was had by all.
A Last Dip into the Souk
On the day of our departure, we headed once more into the depths of the souk to make a few last-minute purchases. One of the nice things about being in Marrakech with the boys was that we didn’t receive any hassle at all! Instead of us, it was always Anton or Ian who were consulted or approached. I suppose we should have been insulted, but having been in many countries where the hassle is constant, it was a pleasant relief!
Marrakech is an atmospheric and exotic city full of vibrant colours, evocative sounds and mysterious alleyways. We will always have a special place for it in our hearts and would love to return to Morocco one day to explore further afield.