Location: Marrakech, Morocco
Every year for my birthday, I love travelling somewhere new. Somewhere I have been wanting to go for a while and a birthday celebration is as good an occasion as any for a treat. This year was no different. For a long time, I have been wanting to visit Marrakech, specifically La Mamounia hotel – just because it looked like the dreamiest hotel I’d seen in a while. It also had a really interesting history to match – it was frequented by Winston Churchill back in the day! But La Mamounia is not what I wanted to write this article about (you can view more pictures of their luscious spa here and gardens here though!). I wanted this article to be all about the colours of Marrakech – a city that’s so vibrant and visually stimulating that it’s hard to think of anywhere that had a similar ambiance – from the spices and oils to the lanterns and carpets. This was not more evident than when walking around the main souk and stopping at a few notable sites along the way. So if you have a day in Marrakech, here are my recommendations. I intended this to be one post, but it’s so image heavy I decided to split it over today and Friday!
The Marrakech souks are not for the faint-hearted. They are the largest in all of Morocco and are a labyrinth of exotic market market stalls selling all kinds of wears. It is so easy to get lost here, so I recommend getting a local guide who can show you around. We used Najib Kabbaj – a tour guide who has been guiding tourists through Marrakech for the better part of the last 40 years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in booking his services. Ask him to tell you about the man that got him started as a tour guide – Ringo Starr! He will proudly show you the old photos are proof!
We began our walking tour with Najib through Parc Lalla Hasna, located just minutes away from La Mamounia and named after one of the Moroccan princesses. It’s a beautiful park full of greenery and water features, and of course you have the perfect view of the minaret Koutoubia. The park is free to enter and worth visiting – it’s a lovely place to just stroll through its two hectares of well-manicured gardens and to stop and admire the fountains. Najib then led us through some local shops just behind Koutoubia. He explained that it’s pretty normal to recycle household items like microwaves and fridges! I wish I took a picture of the mound of secondhand microwaves that we saw at one of these outdoor stalls!
It didn’t take long to arrive at the entrance to the old part of town, the Kasbah – note the eagle’s nest perched on each side of the wall! The Kasbah was another maze of narrow streets, mostly residential, but there were some vendors selling goods – from vegetables to live hens! I admit I struggled a little when I saw this so just be prepared if you have a hard time seeing live animals at butchers. Don’t lose faith here though, because next up was the Saadian Tombs – a mausoleum where around sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty rest. The intricately decorated tombs are surrounded by gardens where soldiers and servants were laid to rest. Worth having a quick look around.
It was then on to Bahia Palace – a 19th century palace that is considered one of the masterpieces of Moroccan architecture. Rightly so, check out the pictures! It is one of the main tourist attractions so visit early and after all, it translates to ‘palace of the beautiful’ so expect that hundreds of tourists come to visit each day. A small entrance fee is charged at both the Saadian Tombs and Bahia Palace, so be sure to bring some local currency with you. Try not to withdraw this from local exchanges as they do not always give the best rates! Also, if you need to buy sunscreen (like we did) remember that this is imported and therefore we found that the brands we knew were all three times the price of back home.
I’ll wrap up Part I here, but tune in on Friday for Part II!