It was a cold, chilly morning in Newbury, one hour west of London. I was visiting from Australia on a long overdue catchup with my cousin. It was 8am. ‘Why don’t we go to Morocco?’ By 11am airfares were booked, accommodation was arranged and we were ready and set for an adventure!
It is one of the benefits of UK living that Australian travel fanatics (like me) drool over. A smorgasbord of countries and cultures right on your doorstep. Girls, we’re off to treat our five senses in Marrakech!
Moroccan Spa magic
Within two hours of landing the three of us were lying on stone slabs, stark naked, covered in mud! Now that may not seem like your everyday welcome to a new country, but we had decided to make our first stop a Hammam.
A Hammam is a steam room where Moroccans go to cleanse themselves (usually weekly). Public Hammam’s are used by the locals, however the tourist market has opted to offer more private facilities for individuals or small groups like us.
The process was performed by silent Moroccan women dressed head to toe (unlike us), covering each of us completely in mud, followed by an invigorating exfoliant rub. Buckets of warm water were splashed all over to wash us down, followed by a luxurious massage!
The whole process took two hours, and after a refreshing Moroccan mint tea in the lounge we left the Hammam feeling very relaxed, well rubbed, and ready to explore Marrakech.
The tantalising tastes of Marrakech
The traditional tagine dishes that any self-respecting foodie would be itching to try in Morocco can be found easily in restaurants in the Medina (old town). Be sure to try the delicious salad and vegetable plates that are also part of a traditional Moroccan meal, they are delicious.
However, eating with the locals in the Djemaa-El-Fnaa (the famous town square) is a must. Late each afternoon there is a flurry of activity with food stallholders setting up tables and people flocking in for their evening meal. Pull up a bench seat, mix in with the locals, and you’ll soon be served by friendly young Moroccans eagerly serving up plenty of delicious local food to keep their guests happy and satisfied.
Sights to see in Marrakech
The mosaic tiles on the walls of the traditional buildings are bight and beautiful with their striking patterns. Visit the Ben Youssef Medersa, a school built in the 14th Century, and the 11th Century Koutoubia Mosque – both provide a taste of the history and architectural style of the city.
Le Jardin Marjorelle, the boldly coloured home and expansive gardens previously owned by the late Yves St Laurent, were given to Marrakech and preserved for the enjoyment of locals and tourists. They are a welcome break from the dusty city streets.
A wander through the souks (markets), behind the Djemaa-El-Fnaa, are everything you’d expect from a Moroccan street scene – busy, bright, bags of spices, rugs hanging from the ceilings, a thousand tagines of all sizes and colours, brightly woven clothing and lots of exotic treasures. The maze of pathways seem to go on forever – take a map!
The unique smells and exotic sounds of Morocco
What a surprise when you see camels and mountains! I always associated camels with the desert but the Atlas mountains rise into the sky from the edge of the Moroccan desert, so it is possible to get camels and mountains in the same photo!
A day trip up to the Cascades d’ Ouzoud near the mountain village of Tanaghmeilt is highly recommended. Ask at your hotel for a reputable guide you can hire for the day who will take you to favourite spots and introduce you to the locals.
It’s a nice personal way to see the sights rather than the usual tour bus grind. There are numerous ‘restaurants’ lining the mountain stream by the roadside, with chairs and tables literally right next to the stream so you can almost dip your toes in the water while you enjoy your lunch.
So what does that have to do with smell you say…try getting up close with the camels!
Just stand for a minute and soak up the sounds in the Djemaa-El-Fnaa. The town square in Marrakech is one of the most famous in the world. Listen to the babble of different languages passing you by, the exotic sounds of the pungi (the snake charmer’s flute) as they entice the cobras out of their baskets, the traders at work busy selling their wares, the locals scurrying by going about their daily business.
Marrakech hints and recommendations
I highly recommend the old town section of Marrakech (the Medina). Stay in a Riad (a traditional house with a central courtyard that has been turned into a small hotel).
The old town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, so if seeing a more traditional side of Marrakech is your thing this area is a good choice to base yourself, rather than the new town which is full of fancy hotels, restaurants, and fancier shops.
We stayed at the Riad Hotel Assia – just a few blocks from the main square and around the corner from the Hammam. We paid approximately $15 per person per night for three nights, for a room with three single beds and bathroom. Breakfast up in the rooftop garden overlooking Marrakech was included, and a wonderful way to start the day.
It was basic but perfectly adequate and the staff helped us with everything we needed, including a reputable Hammam and personal guide.
Marrakech is lively, colourful, exotic, frantic and alive! Its a treat for the senses and a fabulous place to visit. I can’t wait to go back to discover more!