I think everyone who visits Marrakesh has their own unique experience of the place, and for a lot of people this is place is like Marmite – you either love or hate it.
You could argue that the same is true of every country or trip you might take. But I think what people remember of this place, especially the medina, depends on the people you meet and the way you decide to go.
The place is a rabbit warren of roads and alleyways that pretty much all look the same. Finding your way around can be like a final orientating task you might do to complete your Duke of Edinburgh Award. Taking a wrong turn could bring you out into a beautiful looking row of shops, or a dark looking alleyway.
For us, we wanted to maximise our time in the city. Our trip to Morocco was only 3 days and we got married two days before we landed, so we craved a mix a culture and just relaxing by the pool. After a day of much needed reading and sleeping, we wanted to see as much of the place as we could. And so, this is our epic itinerary for Marrakesh in a day.
We started the day at the Majorelle gardens. Although we got here early, the queue was rather long, and it took around 30 minutes to actually get inside the grounds.
There are numerous parks and gardens in Marrakesh you can visit. The oasis was created by French artist Jacques Majorelle in 1924, but fell into disrepair after his death. It was rescue by French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent.
The garden has a great collection of plants from around the world, such as bamboos, cacti and palms, as well as fountains and a stream. You can also see Jacques art studio, unmissable, painted the famous Majorelle blue.
Although quite small, you can spend time sitting in the shade and admiring the view. The site also houses the Berber Museum, which we didn’t get to, but would have visited if time was on our side.
A word of warning – if one of the garden staff asks if you would like your photo taken, you will be expected to pay a small tip. They take most major currencies, so maybe take some small change left from trips to America or Europe if you only have large Moroccan dirham notes. To be honest, this doesn’t just apply to the gardens but to most of the city. We even heard a story of someone being asked for a tip by the cleaner in the airport toilets.
Jemaa El Fna & exploring the Souks
The souks are an amazing place, but can be full of wrong turns, bad advice and confusion, with the small streets looking similar to each other. Nevertheless, this is a place that must be explored, and I don’t think a trip to Marrakesh would be complete without even a little wander.
We didn’t stay long in Jemaa El Fna, and is meant to be best at night when it is a hive of activity. We did see some snake charmers with fang-less cobra and a monkey chained by the neck. As animal lovers, we’d seen enough.
The colours and smells that line the streets of the souks are astonishing. Shops overflow with everything, from leather goods and pottery, to clothing and metal work. I must admit, I was both gutted and glad that we had hand luggage only on our RyanAir flight. But just looking around and seeing everything was a gift itself.
We did, however, bring back some spices. Apparently guaranteed to make the perfect tagine. Watch this space!
Although we didn’t have a negative experience here, we heard stories from other travellers. One told us a person had approached them and said they couldn’t go down the street as it was closed for prayers. After being given directions they were followed into a small alley and asked for money. Another said they were pretty much followed by a man who pointed out things and offered to take them to a mosque (non-Muslims cannot visit mosques in Marrakesh) before asking for a ‘present’ – cash.
Keep your wits about you and enjoy exploring this other world. Don’t forget to haggle too.
Non-Muslims may not be able to visit the inside of mosques, but it doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate their beauty and importance from the outside.
The Koutoubia Mosque dominates the skyline. The French, during their rule over the country, passed a law stating that no building in the city should be taller than the Mosque.
It is also one of the city’s oldest buildings, dating from 1158 and most famous. Koutoubia means the ‘Mosque of the Booksellers’, named after the small market nearby that used to sell religious books.
The royal tombs of the Saadian dynasty lay hidden until they were discovered by an aerial survey by French officials in 1917.
The family ruled over Morocco from 1549 to 1659. They are best remembered for defeating the Portuguese and stopping the country from becoming part of the Ottoman empire, which covered most of Eastern Europe, Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq.
The site was pretty busy when we arrived with a huge queue to see into the hall of twelve columns, where Sultan Ahmed El Mansour is buried. It’s worth a visit to see the ornately decorated and carved walls, doors and ceilings.
In the corner of the site, there was a man demonstrating how to make mosaic tiles. It was fascinating to watch him chisel away into shapes by hand. For a small fee, you can take away your own piece of craftsmanship.
The nineteenth century palace has several rooms to visit, as well as a shaded garden with olive trees, palm trees, date palms, lemon trees and orange trees.
Follow the signs round and explore the lavishly decorated rooms, built for the grand vizier and his four wives.
There is another palace in Marrakesh, Badii, which is a lot bigger and older than Bahia. Sadly, we didn’t get chance to visit. Still, I guess its an excuse to return.
All this in one day?
I can’t quite believe it either. It was a bit of a rush getting round everything and we did miss out on the Berber Museum and didn’t spend too much time just wandering round. Kind of worked out for the best though, as Jamie has twisted his ankle so couldn’t really limp too far.