Part 2: Marrakech
Beep! Jay pulled me quickly to his side as a scooter turned a sharp corner and zoomed passed me. Children playfully called to one another. Shoppers bargained for spices, meats and dates in an idyllic mixture of French and Arabic. Locals huddled near doorsteps leisurely sipping tea conversing with their neighbors. Lost in wonder, a warm feeling of content overcame me, I smiled, and we began to navigate the twisted passages of Marrakech’s Old Medina. Just minutes into our stay in Marrakech, I had fallen in love with the city, it’s people and it’s charm.
Riads of the Old Medina
To help us find our way to our riad – a traditional Moroccan house with in internal garden or courtyard – a member of the riad’s staff met us at the gates of the medina with a small cart to walk us to the Dar Hanane, a tranquil and romantic refuge from the busy surrounding souks. Upon arrival, the welcoming, warm staff sat us down in the orange tree-filled patio for mint tea (a Moroccan tradition). Our simple, yet elegant room sat right off the patio. We could hear birds chirping as we woke each morning. The en suite bathroom – re: no doors on the bathroom or shower – took some getting used to, but with a little planning, didn’t bother me too much by the end of our stay.
We chose to take our full Moroccan breakfast (included in the room rate) and afternoon coffees/happy hour up on the terrace, which featured 360 degree views of the medina. Breakfast included freshly-squeezed orange juice, tea, coffee, yogurt, fruit and a selection of bread and crepes with honey and jam.
Vibrant City Center – Place Jemaa el Fna
The Place Jemaa el Fna (the medina’s central square) comes to life at night. Row after row of food vendors line the square. Street performers play drums. Sing. Juggle. Tell stories. Charm snakes (the snake charmers come out during the day too). Engage passersby with games. On our first night, we found a spot at one of the food tents, ordered $3 worth of meat, which came with bread, olives and a coca cola. Hands down one of the best meals we ate in Morocco. It was also the cheapest.
Outside of the square we explored more of the medina – popping in and out of different alleys, looking at rugs, purses, jewelry and spices while sipping fresh-squeezed orange juice (10 cents each). I bought a bright red shawl and Jay purchased a warm hat (best price for best friend customer! the merchant claimed) to take with us to the Sahara. Jay even negotiated a hair cut with a local barber, who spoke no English, but still managed to cut his hair just as his barber at home does.
Relaxation at Beldi Country Club
After our Saharan adventure (check back for Magical Morocco Part 3: Sahara soon), we decided to spend one more day in Marrakech lounging at the French chic Beldi Country Club on the outskirts of the city overlooking the Atlas Mountains. We wandered the luscious grounds featuring rose gardens, an oasis of olive trees and four palm tree-lined pools before lunching on oysters, mussels and mojitos in over-sized straw hats on their sun patio. We lazily ventured over to the spa for an afternoon in hammams (a steam room where we were scrubbed clean of dead skin from head to toe and our hair washed with oil) before our massages. Relaxed, and remarkably clean of any remnants of the desert, we happily boarded our plane for Spain.
Tip 2: Most Moroccans don’t consume alcohol, so it is sometimes hard to find. Most big restaurants will serve it as well as hotels and bars. (FYI, women in bars are typically considered to be either foreigners or prostitutes.) Our riad had an “honor” bar in one of its parlors, but Jay and I purchased several bottles of wine in Rabat, and would pour a glass on the terrace each afternoon and listen as the evening prayers reverberated around the medina. We normally drink wine (or beer) with dinner when dining out, but didn’t always while in Morocco out of respect for local traditions.