Morocco– One Thousand Secrets
Take a deep breath and let evocative scents of spices and restrained mysticism wash over you. Morocco and the capital Marrakech is a dream destination for those of you who like colour, shape, bustling bazaars, history, relaxing hammams, secret gardens and palaces; all part of the ancient and modern fairy tale, One Thousand and One Nights.
When you arrive you already get a hint of what Morocco has to offer.
The airport is new, trendy and at the same time a mixture of modern architecture beautifully blended together with traditional elements.
The red sandstone walls surrounding the city and once entering; BANG! Bustling streets filled with merchants selling spices and vegetables on the side of the street, kids playing, donkeys pulling colourful handcraft to the market, business men and women in suits on their way to work. This dynamic patchwork of a city will leave you with an urge to explore, divulge and come back for more.
Where to stay
Riad Dar One, 19 Derb Jemaa El Kebir is a sacred place that offers peace and tranquillity in the heart of the Medina. The staff is attentive and charming and the interior will make you want to go home and create the same style of walls and bathroom. Owner Jean Peres carefully renovated the riad in a contemporary minimalist style with raw bathroom fixtures, cubic leather furniture and boldly striped textiles. His behaved dogs Loukoum and Tosca follow him loyally wherever he goes and creates a very homely feel. Jean visits the riad every morning to help guests plan their day and he is great at giving insider tips on where to go and where to shop.
Restaurants & Bars
Restaurant Al Fassia Guéliz, 55, boulevard Zerktouni serves the best traditional Moroccan a la Carte food in Marrakech. At Al Fassia women run the restaurant, which makes it quite unusual in a male dominated culture.
The dining room is elegantly done up in rich tones, set off by crisp white cloths. Book one of the tables with a cushion-strewn banquette for a more relaxed meal.
Grand Café de la Poste on the corner of Boulevard el-Mansour Eddahbi and Avenue Imam Malik, Marrakech has a beautiful1920s decor with wooden blinds, potted palms swaying in the hot breeze and wicker chairs and big fans in the roof which shrieks colonial Morocco. The food is a blend between French and Moroccan cuisine and is very tasty. How about a croque monsieur or grilled sardines? Head here for lunch or an aperitivo, especially at weekends, and you’ll find the covered terrace packed with locals and expats.
However the best Moroccan food is found at home, not in restaurants.
Unless you can hustle your way into a local’s home, your best bet is to dive into the maze-like medinas and head to the food souks. Ask around and the vendors will guide you to the best food that Morocco has to offer such as Kefta tagine or Zaalouk. The best cities for street food include Fez (head toward the Achabine area), Marrakech (in Djemaa el-Fna and surrounding streets) and Essaouira (near the port end of Place Moulay Hassan).
The only bar you need to visit is the Churchill Bar in the breath taking Mamounia Hotel, Avenue Bab el Jdid. Named after the hotel’s most famous guest, the piano bar at La Mamounia is one of the great drinking spots in Marrakech. Its jazzy, Art Deco décor of red velvet sofas, leopard-print chairs, a backlit bar and leather studded walls sets a decadent tone for evening.
What to do
There is so much to see, do and to explore but to me there are a few must-sees such as Ben Youssef Medersa, a Quran school, dedicated to the teaching of Islamic scripture and law, which was founded in the 14th century. The place is tranquil and offers the eye visual beauty in its cedar windows, exquisite marble and ornaments.
French painter Jacques Majorelle’s flourishing homage to the plant world that later became the house of Yves Saint Laurent is a much sought-after colourful and shady retreat from the bustle of Marrakech’s Medina. The lemon yellow and the striking cobalt blue together with the palms, the aloe and the multi-coloured planters, seduce visitors.
To experience Marrakech at its most medieval state visit the tannery district. The tanners have been here since the city was founded and their work remains a pre-industrial process, using hundreds of vats full of foul liquids to cure animal hides. The eventual products can be seen and purchased at the leather shops near the gate, and all over the souks. After this indulge yourself in the nearest hammam such as Hammam de la Rose, 130 rue Dar El-Bacha, which is an affordable oasis with friendly staff and nice deco.
Away from the city
If you are looking for a picturesque seaside town there is no better place to go than quaint and charming Essaouira, which is located only 2 h and 45 minutes from Marrakech. If you are in search for a real panoramic adventure rent a car and drive towards the Atlas Mountains. Take the Tizi-n-Tichka pass through the High Atlas Mountains, where Berber villagers enjoy life at an altogether slower pace. Visit the UNESCO-listed Kasbah Aït Ben Haddou and take pictures that will leave the viewer in awe. Slowly make your way to Ouarzazate, nicknamed “The door of the desert” and enjoy a lunch in the shade on the terrace of restaurant Douyria, 72 Ave Mohammed V. Drive the last bit to the land of the Thousand Kasbahs and there nestled in the heart of the palm grove of the Draa Valley you find the beautiful guesthouse Kasbah Azul. A real “Garden of Eden” for those who love nature and are in search of a peace of heaven. Echoing the surrounding nature, this beautiful house is built of natural materials in the pure tradition of ancient techniques of southern Morocco. The couple that runs the Kasbah Azul are engaged in an ecological perspective, which means that they grow their own vegetables and fruit following the seasons. The cooking you get here is top notch and if in season ask them to bring you some figs from the garden. Other than unwinding with a book you will enjoy a stroll in the town of Agdz and the Draa Valley. Experience the ancient Kasbah and enjoy the play of light and shade on the muddy walls. Here the time has not changed the daily life and the pace is slow and relaxing. If you got the time take a guided tour to the desert on a camel back and enjoy camping under the stars.