Discovering the Red City
PUBLISHED: 12:38 20 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:50 20 February 2013
Charlotte Pitcher and her husband spent their annual holiday in Marrakech – famed <br/><br/>for its spices, The Souks and splendid riad accommodation
Charlotte Pitcher and her husband spent their annual holiday in Marrakech famedfor its spices, The Souks and splendid riad accommodation
Weve never been the kind of couple to spend an entire two weeks flat out on a beach; so whereas the thought of sundrenched white sand in the Caribbean or the Maldives might appeal to most, it wasnt really on the cards when we were thinking of where to go on ourholiday this year.
Were more your adventurous types exploring different countries; city breaks; safari holidays and such like and because we had gone abroad to tie the knot and indulged in a two-week-long stay in Rhodes already, we decided it would be just our kind of thing to spend a few days discovering Morocco, specifically Marrakech.
Just three hours from Bristol (nearly four from Heathrow), Marrakech may not be the first place to come to mind for a short haulholiday destination, but let me quash that thought from the off as in amongst the bustling narrow streets of the Medina (Marrakechs old town) you will find luxury riads to rival the UKs finest boutique hotels.
Hertfordshire couple Mike and Lucie Wood first visited Marrakech five years ago and fell in love with the city and its people. Now they spend their time between their Hertfordshire home and their two riads Papillon and Cinnamon. Papillon was the first to be completed and is in the trendy part of the Medina near Dar Bashah Palace. It has five stunning rooms to choose from as well as dipping pool and terrace overlooking the rooftops of the Red City.
We stayed in Cinnamon; again perfectly positioned in the Medina and completed in April this year. There are five stunning suites here too, all beautifully designed in Moroccan style using local crafts with high ceilings, luxury ensuite bathrooms and air conditioning.
Our suite, Meknes, had a Menzeh balcony overlooking the courtyard below, a queen-sized bed and upstairs snug with sofa and flat screen TV. The ensuite bathroom could rival any five-star hotel in the UK with opulent dcor, a spacious shower and double sink there were even fluffy bathrobes and slippers.
However its not just the accommodation that will bowl you over the service here is second to none. Yassine and Abdou are the two young gents who oversee both riads and believe me when I say nothing is too much trouble.
They both welcomed us on our arrival as we stepped out of the taxi on the edge of the Medina and took our luggage straight to the riad. As is tradition wherever you go in Marrakech, mint tea was ready and waiting on our arrival (and is complimentary at any time during your stay in the riad). Breakfast and lunch are served at your leisure wherever you choose to take it and is typically Moroccan: Berber bread, pastries, fruit, jams and omelette for breakfast (although your wish is their command if you have a preference), and tagines of chicken or lamb with delicious vegetables and bread for dinner.
The food at Cinnamon rivals the best you can find in the city. Eating at sunset on the roof terrace adds a touch of romance and serenity after a hard day shopping in The Souks or exploring the many palaces, museums and gardens.
Labour of love
Marrakech does come as a culture shock to the uninitiated. No amount of reading up before your visit can prepare you for the crazy driving (which you will experience first-hand on your journey from the airport), the heat and the multitude of smells in the narrow Medina streets. There are people, motorbikes, horses and carts and bicycles everywhere and no particular one has priority you have to have your wits about you at all times and if at any point you open your guidebook, be prepared to fend off the locals who are a little too willing to offer assistance.
The best way to escape the hustle and bustle is to visit the palaces. A walk to the northern edge of the Mellah (the old Jewish quarter) brings you to Bahia Palace. Built by Bou Ahmed (vizier to the royal court) in the 1890s, it is littered with paved courtyards, arcades, pavilions and reception halls with vaulted ceilings. You cant help but marvel at the level of detail in all Moroccan architecture: hand-carved window shutters, tiled walls and floors and intricate cedarwood doors. Its not just the palaces that receive this treatment; we also visited the Ben Youssef Medersa (once a school teaching Islamic scripture and law), the Muse de Marrakech and the fascinating Saadian Tombs all with their own tales
to tell about the citys colourful past.
Marrakech is certainly a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach; at every twist and turn there is a new building to explore, shop to browse around or restaurant to try. A staggering number of tourists flock to the city every year and you cant help but be drawn to its unique style and spirit. Theres nowhere so close to Europe so distinctly different making it the perfect place for aholiday adventure.
5 experiences to try
Its pretty much compulsory to haggle with the shop owners in and around The Souks. I read that the best guide is to halve the original asking price and go from there. If you go to walk away from the shop, you will no doubt leave with a bargain.
The food square
Many will think of Jamie Oliver the first time they eat at one of the 100 food stalls at Jemaa El Fna (the central square) in the evenings. Youre spoilt for choice and prices are cheap. Mind the salads though; the stallholders dont have a constant supply of fresh water to clean with.
The Atlas Mountains
If you dont have time to spend a few days exploring this dramatic mountain range, then try a day trip to see some of the highlights. Any trips can be organised by the riad staff and are surprisingly reasonable.
Pay a visit to the famous Majorelle Gardens. Owned by Yves Saint Laurent and designed by French artists Jacques and Louis Majorelle it is on the edge of the New City and has a stunning cacti display. Admission is 30dh (about 2.50).
There are a few hotels boasting some fabulous spas in Marrakech and its the ultimate romantic luxury. La Maison Arabe offers everything from pedicures and facials to a Royal Session, which lasts 75 minutes and includes a massage and body wrap for 800dhs. Ask about couple sessions too, where you can experience treatments together.
Accommodation: Riad Cinnamon. Cost: The Meknes Suite costs 160 per night. Visit the website for all room prices and great special offers. This includes breakfast. Dinner costs 200dhs per person per night. How to book: Visit marrakech-riad.co.uk for details on both Papillon and Cinnamon and to book online. Tel +447968063227 or email contact@ marrakech-riad.co.uk
When to go: Morocco is an all-year-round destination. In May there is still a spattering of greenery as the temperatures begin to rise.
Flights: A return ticket from Heathrow can cost from around 170 but some budget airlines are offering great deals depending on where you fly from.
Currency: You cannot change your sterling into Moroccan Dirhams in the UK but it is easy to do either at the airport on arrival or in any of the many banks in Marrakech.
The language: English is widely spoken, but you can also try out your French or even Arabic if you wish.