Marrakech is one of those cities that we’ve always dreamed of visit. Its colors, its characteristic historical center and its culture so different from ours have always intrigued us. So, in June we decided to book 3 days in this magical city and last weekend we finally took the flight! As soon as we arrived, we’ve been welcomed by a beautiful blue sky and 20 degrees, nothing to do with the rain of Milan! So, could we ask for a better start of the holiday?
Marrakech is divided into two parts: the old city and the new city. The first, within the walls, is undoubtedly the most characteristic and “true” one. Known by all as Medina, it hosts the largest outdoor market in Morocco, the world famous Suq. The second, also known as Ville Nouvelle, is located outside the walls and is the area where the most famous hotels of the city are located. Both areas are very large and in three days it’s really impossible to see everything. We’ve done our best! Here is our itinerary…
Our first day in Marrakech could only start from the Medina. We got lost in its narrow streets and let ourselves be carried away by the sounds, the colors and the fragrance of spices that pervade them. For this first part of our tour, we relied on a local guide, so that we could better appreciate the history and culture of this city. The Suq is very chaotic and finding your way around is very difficult. Thanks to Abdul we were able to move better and faster inside it, discovering also the less touristy corners. If you want to buy something from the many stalls that populate these streets (you will really find everything here), you will have to be very good at bargaining! In the Medina area, we first visited the Museum of Marrakech, located in one of the oldest buildings, and then the Secret Garden, an oasis of peace within the old city.
Our visit continued to the iconic square of Jemaa el-Fna, the nerve center of Marrakech. We suggest you come here from sunset onwards because these are the moments when the place comes alive. From mid-afternoon starts to be populated by many stalls and with an evocative background music the atmosphere becomes really incredible. If you want to fully enjoy it, go up to the terrace of one of the surrounding cafés and admire the show. Throughout the journey, Abdul told us very interesting anecdotes and curiosities. So, if you want to experience the city at 360 °, rely on a guide!
The first stop of our second day in the city has been Majorelle Gardens, known for being the home of Yves Saint Laurent. Villa Oasis, inside the gardens, has been the home of the French designer and his companion Pierre Bergé. Yves Saint Laurent was so attached to this city that his ashes were scattered in the rose garden of the villa and a memorial was built in his honor. We advise you to go as soon as the gardens open, so you avoid the queue at the ticket office and enjoy the beauty of this botanical complex. By purchasing the combined ticket, you can also visit the Berber Museum and the YSL Museum. This one is located next to the gardens and in our opinion it’s worth the visit.
Coming back to the center, we stopped at the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest one in Marrakech. This has been the last stop of the day, before coming back to the Riad and getting ready for the evening in the desert.
Our desert experience has been really unforgettable. Staying only 3 days in Marrakech, we certainly could not visit the Sahara Desert (more than 5 hours from Marrakech). So, we decided for the Agafay Desert, just 40 minutes far from the city. Among the many camps in this area, we chose the Inara Camp. We booked everything from Italy, and we were not disappointed. At 5pm, a private van came to pick us up and took us to the camp. Here, a beautiful area was waiting for us, with a tent for dinner and a small patio outside to enjoy the sunset by the fire. It was such a perfect atmosphere. Of course, we would recommend this experience to everyone!
On our last day, we decided to visit two of the most important buildings in the city: El Badi Palace and El Bahia Palace. They are close to each other and are really majestic and evocative.
Like the first day, we got lost in the streets of the Medina. We believe that in this city is so important lost the way in the narrow streets of the center, being guided by the colors and fragrance of spices to fully immerse yourself in a wonderful culture. Marrakech has really bewitched us.
WHERE TO STAY
The first decision to take after booking a flight to Marrakech is where to stay. There are the hotels, usually located in the new city, and there are Riads, typical Moroccan houses that rise within the Medina. We chose to stay at Riad Star, a few steps from the Suq and about 10 minutes walk from the crowded Jemaa el-Fna Square. Riad Star is characterized by a fusion of typical Moroccan style and modern elements. Like all Riads, even this boutique hotel is spread over several floors and the rooms, only 13, are located around a central courtyard. We stayed in the Josephine Junior Suite, the only room to have a window to the outside. Here lived the jazz star Josephine Baker, invited by the Pasha of Marrakech in the ’40s. It’s said that some children were paid by the Pasha to sit outside the window of the room and read to Josephine during a period of convalescence! On the ground floor, there are two beautiful patios where you can have breakfast, lunch or dinner (all you have to do is choose the time). The first is characterized by a swimming pool in the center, while the other, completely white, often hosts cooking classes, yoga classes and meetings. Both can be covered by a sliding roof. In this way, they can be used throughout the year.
Another strength of the Riad is the SPA. If you are tired after an entire day in the streets of the city, don’t worry. Book a massage and relax! What struck us most about the Riad was undoubtedly the panoramic terrace from which you can admire a beautiful sunset on the roofs of Marrakech, sipping the typical and delicious Moroccan tea. From here, on cloudless days, you can even see Mount Atlas!
For those staying at the Riad, the staff provides a van for transfers to and from the airport. Inside the Medina, cars cannot circulate because the roads are very narrow. A staff member will accompany you from the transfer to the Riad and vice versa. In this way you will not be afraid of getting lost in the network of narrow streets of the historic center. Mike and Lucie, the owners of the Marrakech Riad chain (of which Riad Star is a part), have designed a very useful app for their guests (you can download it here). The map can be used both with and without connection, so it’s really helpful when you are strolling around the small streets of the center. Here, you can find the other four Riads belonging to the same chain, the main places of interest, taxi stations and a series of restaurants. It has been so essential for us!
WHERE TO EAT
Le Jardin: fusion restaurant/cafe based on traditional Moroccan cuisine. It’s located in a quiet courtyard with a very beautiful and well-kept lush vegetation. Recommended for lunch if you’re close to the Secret Garden. Both couscous and chicken tajine are very tasty and good.
Nomad: very famous and known restaurant with panoramic terrace in the heart of the Medina. Very trendy and lively atmosphere. The cuisine has a Moroccan imprint with European influence. The quality is very good. Recommended for both lunch and dinner as it offers a spectacular view on the roofs of Marrakech.
Le Salama: : it’s located a few steps from Jemaa el-Fna Square. The location is very fashionable and characterized by hanging plants. Always very crowded, we recommend it for an aperitif as it’s one of the few places in the center that serves alcohol. However, the quality/price ratio is not the best for the city.
Comptoir Darna: iconic venue for nightlife. It’s located in the new city and the prices are higher than average. Here, you come not just for food, but above all for the atmosphere that is created throughout the evening. You live a real dinner show with belly dancers and music that animate the entire local.
Riad BE Marrakech: when in Marrakech, visiting at least one Riad is a must. They’re traditional Moroccan structures on several floors, mostly used as hotels, which often offer a panoramic terrace on the roofs of the city. We visited Riad Be, taking advantage of its lunch pass which includes a traditional fixed menu with access to the panoramic terrace, the two patios and the swimming pool (€35). It’s located in the heart of the Medina, it’s very clean and the staff is very kind.
Currency: the official Moroccan currency is the Dirham (10 Dirham correspond to 1 euro). We recommend changing the money at the airport, even if there are many exchange offices in the city. Many places and attractions also accept euros.
Transport: in Marrakech, there’s no metro or tram. Taxis must be used to get around, especially from the old city to the new city and towards the airport area. There are so many taxis in Marrakech, they can be found in all the areas of the city. Unfortunately, not everyone has a taximeter so pay attention. We suggest you negotiate the price with the driver and agree on it before boarding.
Safety: Marrakech is a safe city, even at night in the Medina. The streets of the center, especially those in which the Riads are located, are controlled by guards. Pay attention to scooters that run during day and night, even inside the Suq. Always try to show you with a rapid step, even when you are afraid of being lost. Many guys try to take you to your destination asking for money in exchange.
Disclaimer: we have been hosted by Riad Star on a complimentary stay, but all the opinions expressed in this article are absolutely our own