Morocco conjures images of exotic bazaars, vivid colours, alluring aromas, centuries-old history and magic; and it doesn‘t disappoint.
Known as the Red City for its exterior walls, which blend perfectly with the surrounding desert, Marrakech is a vibrant city with plenty going on.
At its heart is the old city, the medina. As in most Moroccan cities, the medina is crisscrossed by dizzying miles of narrow streets. They take you to bustling souks, or markets, where you can buy traditional Moroccan wares such as tapestries, pottery and metalware as well as spices and produce.
Every vendor will try to coax you into buying something – be firm or risk getting steamrolled. The middle of the medina is the Jemaa el-Fna, a large public square that comes alive at night. Musicians, storytellers and acrobats perform while food carts offer fresh juices and sweet pastries, and smoke rises from the red-hot grills.
In the narrow, high-walled streets of the medina, unassuming wooden doors hide the cool courtyards of riads. These traditional Moroccan homes, many of which have been converted into boutique hotels, offer a calm respite from the heat and noise. The colourful mosaic floors are a delightful contrast to the simple red exteriors. angsana.com/en/em-morocco-riad-collection
The Bahia Palace offers exquisite examples of Moroccan art and architecture. Ornate doorways and arches decorated in zellij (geometric patterned mosaic) tiles lead you into garden courtyards and colonnades support decorated ceilings. Ben Youssef Medrasa, the Islamic college, is another stop for Moroccan art. Islam forbids the representation of humans and animals in artwork; instead, calligraphy and arabesques create intricate floral motifs. palais-bahia.com/en medersa-ben-youssef.com/en
Terrace des epices is a rooftop restaurant above the souks in the heart of the medina, offering modern fare as well as Moroccan classics. terrassedesepices.com
and some tips?
- Get to major tourist sites early to beat the crowds.
- Agree on taxi prices up front, to avoid arguments later.
- Many locals do not like tourists photographing them; be respectful and ask permission.
- If you need or want a guide (recommended for trips in the Atlas), do your research and be sure the person has a professional licence or certificate.
- For travelling between cities, buy bus tickets at least a day in advance to ensure they’re not sold out.
- Generally the best time to visit Morocco is in the spring between March and May, or autumn in September or October.
See more of Morocco in our latest issue, Fresh Perspectives, on stands now.
Photographs and text: Piko Sipmala