The magic of the Marrakech Medina lies in its twists and turns. However, there is no need to get lost, simply follow my advice to find the best sights
Many a curious adventure can be had in the maze that makes up the Medina of Marrakech. Whether you are popping into the city for a whirlwind shopping spree in the souks, you’re an eager history boffin excited to take in the sights, or you’re a traveller interested in discovering the intricacies of a new culture, Marrakech is definitely a city in which you will get tantalisingly lost, exploring to your heart’s content.
Start your day lazily; you’re on holiday after all. Enjoy a breakfast of freshly baked breads served up with local honey and fig jam, fresh fruit and black coffee. Unwind as slowly as possible on the terraced roof of your riad; in a matter of hours you’ll be thrust amongst the chaos of Marrakech’s daily routine, so you might as well enjoy these moments of solitude.
A great place to begin your adventure is at the Koutoubia Mosque (corner of Rue el-Koutoubia and Avenue Mohammed V, closed to non-Muslims, gardens open 8am-8pm). It’s at the heart of the city and at the centre of the city’s heart. The minaret is the tallest building in Marrakech, and although it’s not always visible, because of the sheer density of the medina, it is a useful landmark to have. The Koutoubia’s history is shrouded in colourful legend and one favoured story goes that a son of the Almohad ruler, Abu Youssef Yacoub, desperately clinging to his father’s empire and in a bid to appease the encroaching Christian forces under the extended rule of Pope Innocent IV, climbed the Koutoubia minbar and declared Jesus the true leader of the faithful.
Wondering the dusty streets of Marrakech is an exhausting and thirsty business. Tall date palm trees and clay-red city walls provide scanty shade and do little to provide relief from the baking sun. When you’re just about clay-walled and red-carpeted out, buy some refreshments from one of the many hole-in-the-wall corner shops and enter the unassuming wooden door leading to the Saadian Tombs (Rue de la Kasbah, 8:30-11:45am and 2:30-5:45, Dh10). Dh10 is a small price to pay for this delightful little detour. Gorgeous and intricate mosaics cover every surface of the tombs, one rivalling the next for decorative and colourful splendour, and visitors are compelled to stare in awe from the entrance of each tomb. This burial place of the Saadian princes was hidden from history tellers until aerial shots revealed their existence in 1917.
Hidden down an alleyway in the ever-intricate medina is the newly established Maison de la Photographie or House of Photography (46 Ahal Fès, 9:00am-7pm, Dh40 – you’ll get unlimited re-entry with your ticket). This gorgeous gallery of photos from the period 1870-1950 depicting the culture and history of Berber tribes in Morocco is a definite must-see. Stroll from photo to photo along the cool corridors of the riad until you have exited on to the roof-top terrace. Here you will have an awesome view of the medina like no other to be found in Marrakech.
Resplendent in colour and geometrically pleasing lines, Jardin Majorelle (corner of Yakoub El Mansour and Prince Moulay Abdellah, open 8am-6pm June-September and 8am-5pm for the rest of the year, Dh30) offers the visitor an ideal place to recuperate in the heady afternoon heat after a long day of sight-seeing and shopping. The gardens were originally designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle and saved for posterity by Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. The moment you enter you are welcomed by the merry splashing of fountains, shady trees and anomalous plants. Sit on a park bench, take the weight off your weary feet and listen to the sounds of the garden while drinking in the array of colour from the blue painted walls of the main building to the pinks and oranges of delicate flowers.
At the end of a long day, join the rest of the residents of this magnificent city and head for the Djemaa el-Fna or ‘assembly of the dead’. Here you will be able to enjoy a great dinner at any one of the eateries surrounding the square, or eat a meal in the food market at the centre of the square where eager hosts vie with one another for your business and mountains of couscous, kebabs, lamb chops and tajines are gulped down by tourists and locals alike. After dinner stroll around the square, taking in the sights and sounds of this veritable outdoor circus. Mind the snakes and their charmers hidden among the shadows, shirk off the attentions of the henna tattooists and fortune tellers, clap in rhythm to the antics of the acrobats and head into the bright light of the souks for a spot of late-night shopping.
Where to stay
An affordable boutique riad hotel with a deliciously cold plunge pool and wonderful service to boot, Riad Nejma Lounge is a little gem. Decorated with a modern Moroccan flavour in mind, it is definitely somewhere you want to come home to after a long day exploring Marrakech.
If you’re stubbornly independent and tight on the purse strings then remember to arm yourself with a guide book, a map and a strong dose of perseverance.
Include 10-12.5 per cent for tipping in your budget – tipping is very much part of the culture and seems only fair when you consider how low the prices are compared to the real value of what you get.