A weekend in…Marrakech
Marrakech is the perfect mix of ancient and modern, exotic and strangely quirky. Camels, snakes, monkeys, a family of four on a moped…it's wild. But without question, Marrakech is the most culturally invigorating place I've ever visited.
So you've landed – the easy part is over. It's fair to say that the roads in Marrakech aren't run of the mill – they're an experience in themselves. Never before in my life have I seen a man hanging onto the side of a bus, or a motorbike and sidecar fashioned out of a moped and child's bike.
It's an adventure for most and slightly frightening for others, but no trip to Marrakech would be the same without a journey on a packed Moroccan bus or in one of the hundreds of taxis weaving their way precariously between those brave enough to risk using the roads.
The city is made up of several districts, but it can be roughly divided into two main regions – the Medina (old city) and the Ville Nouvelle (New City).
The New City encompasses a number of appealing districts, including the Gueliz and the Hivernage, with their modern bars, cafés, restaurants and hotels, which is probably best reached by taxi.
But the best way to see Marrakech is undoubtedly on foot, with several of the most popular sights within walking distance of each other in the historical Medina – the walls of which are worth a visit in themselves.
Sights to see
Number one on my list of places to visit is what many call the heart of the city – the market square based in the Medina (old city) – Djemaa el-Fna.
The square is predominantly made up of orange juice stalls (well worth a glass), snake charmers, chained monkeys (in waistcoats), tooth pullers, story tellers, food stalls and perhaps – most absurdly – dancing boys (men dressed in traditional Moroccan women's clothing, prancing around for the crowds).
A souk (photo: thinkstock)
As darkness descends across the city, crowds – both locals and tourists – fill the night market and haggling becomes the language of choice.
I found the best place to go to see the market at night was the scruffy, rather unassuming café terrace known as Café de France. The furniture is miss-matched, the waiters are slow to say the least, but the view of the lit-up square is a sight to behold.
Or, if you're in the area during the day why not take a short stroll across to the Koutoubia Mosque? It is both a landmark of the city and a spiritual symbol.
Unfortunately, entry is forbidden to non-Muslims, but the exterior more than justifies a visit.
Or if you fancy getting out of the sun for a while, why not take a trip to the oasis in the desert city that is Marrakech – the Majorelle Gardens (Jardin Majorelle)?
Majorelle Gardens (photo: thinkstock)
The gardens are beautiful, the buildings are interestingly painted, and the café within the gardens offers a selection of Moroccan cuisine; it's the ideal opportunity to have a refreshing pot of mint tea, whilst taking in the surroundings.
Food and drink
As they say, when in Morocco, 'do as the Moroccans do', or if you're feeling less cultured you can always settle for one of the many French or Italian restaurants.
Marrakech offers a variety of restaurants, cafés and food stalls across the city – although I'd be wary of the latter if you'd rather avoid a dodgy tummy. If you dare take the risk though I was told to choose disposable cutlery as opposed to the knives and forks supplied and – if at all possible – eat off paper rather than plates.
Or if it's a sit down meal you fancy, you can try one of the many high class restaurants across the city.
If you're in the Medina, Le Marrakechi is an absolute must. The Moroccan salad is a brilliant, the selection of breads and the pigeon pastilla (sweet and savoury pigeon pie) are wonderful and the kaftas and tagines are an absolute necessity.
A tagine (photo: thinkstock)
And as with the majority of high-class restaurants, the night is topped with entertainment from belly-dancers (which, men, you are allowed to watch without risk of scorn).
And when it comes to drinking, do bear in mind that Morocco is an Islamic country so you may end up paying slightly over the odds for alcohol, but with the hustle and bustle of the city you'll happily pay the price. The case is unfortunately the same for spirits, but you can find a decent glass of wine for a good price.
But as with any holiday, one memory always comes to mind. Mine involved being sat in a rooftop café with the sun setting across the city and the haunting call to prayer echoing through the streets – adding spiritual weight to the experience. I'm not going to lie though; the locally brewed beer in my hand added that final touch.
by Mark Astley
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