Morocco has been the most magical trip I’ve had so far. It’s special in many ways and no doubt will now forever hold a special place in me. We started with Marrakech and made our way up to Fez via the Sahara Desert, then made it to Chefchaouen and lastly Tangier. It’s been an absolute journey, to say the least. So let’s start off this little Morocco series with our first stop of the trip: Marrakech.
Marrakech (3 Days)
It possibly could be a love-hate thing with Marrakech. People romanticised it so much on Instagram but behind the scenes are the chaotic hustle & bustle at the medina souks and Jemaa El-Fna. But once you walked into a garden or terrace, it all suddenly turned into tranquillity and timeless beauty. It may be a little shock to the system at first instance, but as you spend more time in the city, you get to love it a little more day after day.
It’s a mixture of various factors to make one fall in love with Marrakech. From culture to architecture; to the rich history and diverse mix of influences; and to the intriguing contrast of glamour and chaos – Marrakech has it all.
We didn’t exactly have the best start to the trip as we missed our flight! Thanks to a classic train delay in the UK, we missed our flight. We ended up arriving in Marrakech extremely late at night and crashed immediately after we arrived at Riad Chams.
The next morning didn’t kick off with a great start either. As soon as we left our riad, a guy approached us appearing very friendly and offering directions. But then, soon after, he started demanding money! When we refused to pay, presumably his “backups” tried to surround us, coming out of nowhere from the streets, to make us pay. After some heated arguments, we reluctantly paid them at a negotiated price and walked away. It really was a terrible start to the trip. Though I would like to emphasise that these people are not a reflection of Moroccan hospitality at all. The majority of people we met are genuinely super nice and friendly.
Where to stay in Marrakech
Marrakech Hotel Recommendations:
- Riad Utopia Suites And Spa – £-££
- Hotel & Spa Riad El Walaa – ££
- Riad Jaaneman – £££
- Riad El Cadi – £££
- La Sultana Signature Hotels – ££££
- Es Saadi Marrakech Resort Palace – ££££
- La Mamounia – ££££
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What to do in Marrakech
We spent a total of three full days in Marrakech. Here’s our itinerary:
Koutoubia Gardens & Mosque
After the little chaos and faff for getting lost in the medina, we reached the Koutoubia gardens. It was an absolute relief to finally get out of the mania of the medina and enjoy a little more peace and quiet.
The Koutoubia gardens surround the Koutoubia Mosque, which is the most iconic landmark of Marrakech. It’s even nicknamed “The Marrakech Eiffel” as in it’s as iconic to the city as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.
The Koutoubia Mosque remains the highest structure and largest mosque in Marrakech today, with local laws restricting any new building projects from exceeding the height of the minaret.
Lunch at Al Fassia
Then I booked us a nice lunch at Al Fassia, one of the highly-rated restaurants in Marrakech. I even pre-ordered their signature roast lamb a few days before we fly out! The meal was lovely and you can read the full review here. It is the Gueliz branch that we visited, which was convenient for us to go off from there to explore that side of Marrakech.
The medina of Marrakech is all about history, whereas the Gueliz displays a much more modern side of the city. The Gueliz area was built during the French colonial era so is comparatively more new and hence more modern. Instead of souks, Gueliz is where you’d find modern malls and plazas, as well as more upscale restaurants. Strolling down the streets, you’d see lots of familiar luxury fashion brand names as well as the likes of H&M and other mainstream brands.
From Gueliz, we popped over to visit the Majorelle Gardens, the famous botanical garden and artist’s landscape garden in Marrakech, Morocco.
The gardens were serene and absolutely beautiful. What amazed me the most is the striking contrast between the hustle & bustle of the medina and the peacefulness of the gardens. The gardens exhibit a range of exotic plants, which are carefully manicured across lanes of zigzag alleyways and against a backdrop of majorelle blue (i.e. the specific shade of blue colour on the buildings in the garden).
If you’re a fashion lover, the Majorelle Gardens is also home to the YSL Museum. Yves Saint Laurent, the legendary fashion designer behind the internationally brand YSL, fell in love with the gardens during his first visit to Marrakech and ended up purchasing the gardens and residing there. That’s why the gardens house the fashion museum dedicated specifically to his work.
We stayed till the gardens close for the day and head back to the medina where our riad is. We grabbed a simple dinner at a random restaurant we picked on our way back, headed back to our riad and enjoyed some mint tea at the rooftop terrace, and called it a day afterwards.
The next day, we went to see the Bahia Palace after breakfast at our riad.
The Bahia Palace means the “palace of the beautiful, the brilliant”, built in the nineteenth century by the grand vizier at the time with the intention for it to be the greatest palace of its time. Whilst it may not be the Versailles, the architectural intricacy of the place was phenomenal. We were both very fascinated with all the architectural influences at the palace, uncovering how the palace’s architecture embodies a mix of influences. There’s the obvious Moroccan and Islamic architectural styles but you can also see plenty of little hints from the East. If you think about it the history of the Moors and the Islamic Empire, it would make sense to see Eastern influences as far as Morocco!
Lunch outside of the palace
After the delightful visit, we grabbed lunch at a nearby spot just outside the palace. I didn’t take note of the name of the place. It’s a super casual spot and we enjoyed some delicious Harira Soup and Kofte Tagine. I must say, from here, I was absolutely hooked on kofte tagine for the rest of the trip.
A casual random stroll post-lunch then got us arriving at the next spot which is infamous to the city.
So, the infamous Jemma el-Fna square.
In my honest opinion, this place was truly something else. I thought it was going to be something similar to a Turkish bazaar but it’s definitely more than that. There was a lot of shouting, a lot of haggling, a lot of people. To me, it kept flickering between vibrant and chaotic. While the place amazes me with its liveliness and character, it also breaks my heart to find some of the vendors brutally dragging monkeys around to make money. Summing up, we both got a rather mixed feeling over Jemaa el-Fna. I suppose it’s infamous for a reason. It’s best to see this place with your own eyes and decide for yourself!
Ben Youssef Madrasa
On the next day, we kept things really chilled. We wanted to visit the Ben Youssef Madrasa but we found out it’s closed for renovations when we got there. I must say I felt slightly gutted not being able to visit as the madrasa has really been deemed as a cultural gem. It was founded in the 14th century and was the largest Islamic college in North Africa during its height, housing up to 900 students at its peak. Another time perhaps, inshallah.
So instead, we popped to a nearby rooftop restaurant, Jad Jamal, for a leisure lunch and soak up the views.
Lunch at Jad Jamal
At Jad Jamal we picked a table on the terrace that offered a direct view of the Ben Yousef Madrasa. I had the Harira Soup and the Tangia (a Marrakech speciality, not to be confused with tagine!). Both were incredibly lovely and I loved it. Although it did leave me slightly confused why the tangia was served in tagine-style?! Anyway, it tasted good so no complaints here.
Medina, Souks, and Museum of Women
We then walked around the souks and medina after lunch. It’s much quieter than our first-day experience, which was pleasant. After some time wandering (not as lost this time as well), we visited the Museum of Women. It’s a cute little exhibition showcasing Berber women, chronicling their roles in the nomadic villages and showcasing their skills. It’s a small and humble museum but fascinating nonetheless.
Then as nighttime falls, we picked a random rooftop restaurant in the medina for dinner. We enjoyed some lovely Tangia again (this time served in a tangia urn) overlooking the beautiful night view of Marrakech.
Other sights and restaurants we missed but wished to visit
- El Badi Palace (historical sight)
- Saadian Tombs (historical sight)
- Le Jardin Secret (garden)
- La Maison Arabe (restaurant)
- Grand Café de la Poste (restaurant)
This marks the end of the first stop of our Morocco trip. On the fourth day, we were up super early in the morning for the next leg of our trip. Check out part 2 here.