Sunday, 3 January 2010

Lifting the veil of Marrakech

It's the second time I travelled to Marrakech. Twelve years ago I remember being annoyed by the constant hustling of the souk vendors, trying to drag you into their shops to buy a carpet or some other object you don't need.

This time was very different. The first thing that struck me was the sheer intensity of light. Glorious clear blue skies and warm December temperatures in the "red city" made for a perfect escape from the cold European winter.

It's difficult to say what I liked best: the bustle of the colourful souks; the ritual bargaining; the sensory overload of the Medina; Jemaa el-Fna dressing up for a night out on the town; the palaces, medersas and other jewels of Islamic architecture; the beautiful parks and gardens smelling of orange trees and spring; or, the delicious Moroccan cuisine.

Here, in no particular order, is my Marrakech pick for a short trip to this imperial city:

We stayed in the exquisite Riad Khabia tucked away just behind the royal palace and a stone's throw away from the Palais de la Bahia and the Palais El Badii. The rooms are beautifully decorated and the calm of this Riad is a welcome change to the craze of the medina. There's hardly a better place for a post-souk snooze than the rooftop overlooking Marrakech and admiring the views of the snowy Atlas mountains in the distance. But it's no doubt the hospitality of Dany and Julien that topped off our experience, making us truly feel at home - something I have very rarely experienced.

My other highlights included the Café des Épices on Rahba Lakdima smack bang in the middle of the souk.

The narrow three storey Café des Épices looms over the spice square, and has a great rooftop view. Don't be deterred by the queues to get a table, they dwindle quickly. The staff are super friendly and a veggie & cheese sandwich with a mint tea is exactly what you need to recover strength for your next bargaining duel.

If you'd like a more elegant recovery then head to the Café des Épices big sister Terrace des Épices. This airy and very stylish restaurant on a terrace overlooking the Cherifia Souk serves up light, simple Moroccan fare. The food is delicious and the place is so inviting we wiled away a whole afternoon lazing in the sun.

For a real Morrocan tasting experience we went to Le Tanjia. The food was very tasty and well presented, the decor is sort of 1001 Nights and the belly dancing show surprisingly fun.

My friend Yoko from Japan forwarded me the latest GOOP newsletter with a list of the most "in-the-know spots" of Marrakech. Kasbek was certainly a real discovery. Aussies Cassie and Rebecca sell new and vintage Kaftans with details handmade by local craftsmen. The cloths are beautiful, and after hesitating between bright red & turquoise, light green & orange or black, I decided to get all three...

For culinary shopping we were told to check out the Marrakshi institution Patisserie des Princes for the best petit-fours and Morrocan sweets. You can buy their fresh and deliciously gooey cakes starting at 5 AM.

Finally I would recommend going to a hammam. We went to the Hammam Ziani right by the Palais de la Bahia. It caters exclusively to tourists so it's not the most authentic hammam experience, but steaming up, scrubbing down last year's skin and indulging in a fantastic massage was a great way to start the New Year.


Barbara 14 March 2010 at 16:20  

Here's a good article about Marrakech in German by Christian Krug

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