Monday, 3 March 2014

Marrakech

We have been asked several times "why are you going to Morocco?!" The honest answer - we don't know! I (S) have wanted to go for many years - again, I don't really know why, it has just always strongly appealed to me, and I adore Moroccan lanterns!
So last week we escaped our cold, grey home city of Birmingham, for our holiday to Marrakech. The holiday seemed to come around really fast, and suddenly it was Wednesday morning, and time to drive down to Stanstead airport, stopping on the way at the Starbucks drive through!

We got to Marrakech airport around 4pm and decided to take the bus to our hotel - our bus driver was so friendly and helpful, and we found this was a common occurrence in Marrakech - everyone was so lovely!
The bus journey was a quick education to the crazy pace of life and relaxed attitude to rules in Marrakech - camels randomly on the side of the road, and the traffic is insane! No lanes or traffic lights, people wandering in and out of traffic to cross the road, and lots of motorbikes, often carrying more than one person - usually as well as a child, a dog, or whilst playing a musical instrument!
We arrived at our hotel and were pleasantly surprised - we had low expectations due to trip advisor reviews but we can't imagine what the bad reviews were based upon - the hotel was beautiful.


Traditional in Moroccan decor with mosaic walls, an indoor waterfall, and lots of beautiful Moroccan lanterns. The receptionist checking us in even gave us an upgraded room with a very pretty balcony overlooking the pool, as she said we were so happy and smiley!


That evening we ventured out to a restaurant we had read about that was very near to our hotel - it served only cheese and wine! We had honey roasted Camembert, filo pastries, and a delicious cheese fondue, with lots of red wine.
The next day after a delicious breakfast in the hotel gardens, we walked from Gueliz, the newer, more modern part of Marrakech where our hotel was situated, to the old part, Medina. Our first stop was the Majorelle Gardens, a beautiful garden of brightly coloured tropical flowers, palm trees, bamboo and ponds of koi fish. Home now seemed worlds away!


We love gardens and parks, and spent a while wandering around the beautiful grounds in the sunshine. We also visited the museum of Berber culture within the gardens, and Yves Saint Laurent's memorial stone.


Also located within the gardens was Yves Saint Laurent's 'Love Gallery'. The prints reminded me of the kind of style Lauren loved when I met her, and of our old flat in Leeds! We also bought a small postcard of the '2004' print - the year we met and became a couple.




We then had lunch in the gardens, and tried our first Moroccan mint tea! Poured from a height from an ornate silver teapot into little glasses, we loved it. It is offered widely in Morocco, and it's considered rude to decline it.


We then made our way into Jemaa El Fna, the main square (which isn't square!) which features stalls selling juice, spices and home ware in the day time, but at night comes to life with street performers, acrobats, snake charmers and food sellers. We managed to get a table at the front of a balcony terrace in a cafe over looking the square. We watched the craziness of the square, the beautiful sunset, and the lights of the market come to life below us. It was an amazing evening, a real once in a lifetime experienc, we didn't take our eyes off the scenes below us!




The next day we had arranged a package tour, comprising of sight seeing in the morning and a spa in the afternoon. Our guide Nabhil spoke excellent English, and picked us up in a taxi from our hotel. He spent the morning taking us to a beautiful Islamic school, museums, the Bahia palace, the Saadian tombs, the Koutoubia mosque, and most fascinating of all, through the local community.



He took us through winding narrow streets, stopping to point out things through doorways, such as bread being baked in the community bakehouse. He spoke to us about real community living, and the way traditionally in Marrakech you live with large family groups, and your neighbours become extended family. It is not uncommon to cook dinner for the whole street, and take it in turns to make the day's bread in bulk. Women visit the hammam together once a week and spend a couple of hours enjoying a good soak and scrub. We carried on our walk, ducking into little shops that turned out to be huge rooms full of multicoloured glass lanterns, teapots of all shapes and sizes, or Aladdin's caves of jewellery and mirrors.



It was an insight into another world. Nabhil commented on how apparent our love of life and the world around us was, but it was impossible not to be completely enthralled by the sights, sounds and scents around us! Finally Nabhil took us to the Souks - somewhere we had wanted to experience, but had been a little nervous of navigating. Luckily he took us easily through the maze-like souks, his presence ensuring we invited little hassle.
We then went back to the tour operators office, and thanked Nabhil for an incredible morning. After enjoying mint tea with the staff, we then ventured out with a new guide, Gina, a Spanish lady who had moved to Marrakech from Majorca. She took us for lunch at a pretty roof top cafe, and then dropped us off at a beautiful, up market spa. After relaxing in the spa's beautiful surroundings with more mint tea, we were asked to choose our favourite massage oil from the many shown to us. We both picked orange blossom, as it reminded us of the little orange blossom pastries we had lots of in Marrakech. First we were given a traditional Moroccan Hammam treatment, involving your body being washed with black clay soap, then scrubbed, and your hair washed. It's a vigorous, refreshing treatment, but you feel cleaner and softer than you've ever felt afterwards! After the hammam, we were given an hour long massage - it was amazing. Surrounded by candle lit darkness, Moroccan soft music and the scent of orange blossom, the massages were pure bliss! Afterwards we were given orange blossom pastries, and more mint tea of course, on a little balcony together.


That evening we visited a Moroccan restaurant staffed by women only, apart from two doormen. Like everyone else we had spoken to in Marrakech, the staff were so cheerful and friendly, and the food in the gorgeous restaurant was amazing. It sparked much discussion from us (feminists and proudly so!) about women, and their rights, and how lives can be lived so very differently in different parts of the world, something Gina had also chatted to us about earlier that day. It is interesting to see a contrast arising within Marrakech itself - the burka clad women who don't work, can't read or write living in Medina vs the educated, western dressed, employed women of Gueliz. A restaurant staffed solely by women seemed only to emphasis this contrast. The food was beautiful, both ordering amazing tagines, and the staff were brilliant. It was a wonderful way to spend our last evening in Marrakech.
Saturday was our last day, and we were so sad about it! We decided to revisit the square and the souks, as being guided around it the day before had given us much more confidence. We had an amazing time looking at the stalls selling brightly coloured fabric, jewellery, dyed wool hanging to dry from the roof, spices piled high, dried fruit, teapots, tagine pots, and more! We bought bottles of argan oil for £4 each that would've cost £25 in England, fresh squeezed juice for about 25p a glass, and I bought a hamsa bracelet for 65p! I already have a hamsa bracelet as I love the design, but wanted a little souvenir of the souks as I sadly couldn't fit a lantern or teapot in my suitcase!





We ended our time in Marrakech with our favourite things - a mint tea, and a view of the square. We absolutely fell in love with Marrakech - the saturation of culture everywhere you look is incredible. Although I still can't say why I wanted to go to Marrakech, I can happily say the days I spent here were some of the best I've ever had - and I got to be in this wonderful place with my wonderful wife. If we weren't talking or laughing we were enthralled by the sights in front of us.
And as french is widely spoken in Marrakech - merci beacoup Marrakech, nous vous aimons!



2 comments:

  1. I have also wanted to go to Marrakech for ages, but some reports of how busy / pushy it was put me off? This post has totally reminded me why I wanted to visit though - the awesome food, culture and the sheer different-ness of the place. Would be great to know what tour company you used or how you found them if I do ever pluck up the courage to visit! Cx

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  2. Hi Carley! Cannot for the life of me remember the company name, if you do decide to go there are lots of tour companies on trip advisor. Pretty sure ours took us to shops owned by friends of his a couple of times but I think that's common!
    The sellers definitely are pushy, as one said to us, they are all in competition so need to push for attention. We found ignoring them makes them follow you, so a smile and 'non merci' usually helped. The haggling, hassle, banter and craziness is all part of the experience - definitely not for the faint hearted, we loved it though! S xx

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