7 wonderful Christmas rituals around the world
29 November 2023
Exotic and alluring, Marrakech is steeped in history, commerce and romance. It may not be Morocco’s capital, but it is the major draw for most visitors to this intriguing country. There is no shortage of things to do in Marrakech, and many come to browse the souks, get lost in the medina and soak up the intoxicating atmosphere.
A short flight away from most European cities, Marrakech is an ideal long weekend destination for those seeking warmth and African culture. Although a great target for a short break, you could easily spend a week here without tiring of the ever changing street life, centuries of culture, and the exquisite architecture.
Marrakech should definitely be a priority on any tour of Morocco. Firstly because it is unrivalled among North African towns in terms colour and charm, secondly because it basks under blue skies almost all year round, and lastly because it enjoys a fantastic location within easy reach of the dazzling Atlas Mountains and the breezy Atlantic coast.
Expect the unexpected in Marrakech, it is not all slippers and snake charmers! Dig a little deeper and unearth some of the unconventional delights of this intriguing city…
The streets of Marrakech are a haven for any foodie traveller. Street vendors, their carts piled high, sell everything from succulent clementines to dates and prickly pears. Nuts and roasted chickpeas are a delicious and widely available on-the-go option, ideal fuel for a day of sightseeing. Follow the mouthwatering aroma of grilled meat to find hole-in-the-wall kebab vendors cooking tiny skewers of beef, chicken or lamb over hot coals. Generous portions are served tucked into a flatbread with plenty of salad. Hot square msammen breads are delicious straight from the griddle, plain or with chilli paste stuffing, and make a filling snack similar to a parata. If you are feeling brave, hunt out a snail broth stall – announced by a hanging net of empty shells. Jostle into position alongside the schoolboys for your bowl of hot snails, served with a pick to winkle them out of their shells.
For a special meal in opulent surroundings, opt for a palace restaurant. Many of them are housed in beautiful old buildings which are adorned with the finest stucco, carved cedar and zellij mosaics. There are also plenty of rooftop restaurants with great views over various bustling corners of the city. Moroccan foodie staples include various couscous recipes, grilled meats, and tajines; usually with chicken, beef or mutton. Rich and flavoursome, they are accompanied by vegetables, olives and occasionally fruits. Tajines are a clay version of a slow cooker and the food inside is invariably tender and tasty. The sit-down food stalls on the Jemaa el Fna square offer a good selection, even sheep’s brains if you are in the mood!
Founded in the 11th century, the medina of Marrakech is a labyrinth of souks, dead end alleys, and sudden open spaces where you least expect them. The most uninviting facades often hide delightful riads dripping with greenery, intricate tile work and tinkling fountains. As you wander around, you may come across an open doorway and catch a glimpse inside of an intricate mosque or an elegant courtyard. Many of the finest riads are now upmarket places to stay, allowing some insight into life in the medina. The call to prayer floats up to the roof terrace and the scent of mint tea is everywhere.
Some of the most important cultural aspects of the city have been grouped into themed walking routes, such as artisanal workshops, specific souks (such as metalworking souk or dyers souk) or historic buildings – each route well marked with colour-coded signs and informative panels at key junctures. These are a great way to see the best of the city, and take you to some areas you probably wouldn’t find otherwise. Don’t miss the chance to visit the Ben Youssef Medersa, a school for students of Islamic scripture and stunning example of Moroccan architecture. The Bahia palace is another fine example of Arabic domestic architecture, albeit rather grander than the homes of many in the medina. Venture out into the Ville Nouvelle to the oasis that is the Jardin Majorelle, a tribute to 1930s style which was owned by Yves Saint Laurent.
Feeling tired and dusty from a day pounding the streets? Dive into one of the hundreds of hammams dotted throughout the medina, checking first whether it is a male or female session. These hideaways offer a real insight into local traditions and culture.
At the mesmerising Jemaa el Fna square, the sinking sun brings performers and storytellers who arrive and unfold chairs, limber up, or coax their animals from a snooze. Clusters of locals begin to huddle into groups ready to be entertained, and a steady stream of people fill the square. This is the heart of Marrakech and, as darkness falls, it becomes ever busier with tourists, locals, hawkers, beggars and everyone in between. All are here to marvel at the spectacle of snake charmers, pigeon fanciers, acrobats, musicians and magicians as they put on their nightly show. It’s a mesmerising sight and, when you need a break, there are several rooftop cafes around the square where you can enjoy the show with a mint tea or fresh juice.
When you’re refreshed, head into the souks – the further from the Jemaa el Fna the more interesting they are – where every manner of handicraft is available, and much more besides. Ceramics, leather goods, jewellery and textiles are some of the best souvenirs. Its nothing short of heaven for shoppers and browsers. Make sure you take your haggling skills with you, you’ll need them!
With its intoxicating atmosphere and plenty of things to do, Marrakech is an ideal location for the curious traveller. Get in touch with our brilliant local experts in Morocco, who will put together a bespoke itinerary based on your requirements. Whether it’s a few days in and around Marrakech, or a grand tour of the whole country, they will be happy to help.