Every travel publication in the UK seemingly identified the walled city as one of this year’s must-do destinations, and the luxury hotels and boutique riads springing up across its maze of streets stand testament to its rediscovery by the jetset. For independent travellers, Marrakech has always been firmly on the map and remains entrenched, an enticing, enchanting and exotic whirl that will have your mind spinning with souks, salesmen and spice.
It’s all square
Few cities in the world revolve around their main square like Marrakech does its famed Djemaa el-Fna. It’s a bustling space that seems to be in constant motion, filled with snake charmers, acrobats, storytellers, musicians, henna artists, boxers, hustlers and enough orange juice stalls to supply a small armada. By night, the smoke and steam of food stalls cloud the air and the Djemaa el-Fna bursts into overdrive. You can order anything from the traditional tagine and cous cous to a local hariba soup or, for the more adventurous, a sheep’s head or some monkey brains.
riad me at hello
Staying in a traditional riad in Marrakech means stepping off the frantic, rabbit-warren streets and into a cool, calm and serene home away from home. These traditional residences, featuring rooms built around a central courtyard, are a welcome sight after a day of haggling in the spice souks or refusing the endless volunteering guides who are more than eager to show you their uncle’s shop. The sight of a gently flowing water fountain filled with rose petals, and a relaxing mint tea on the balcony is the perfect way to help you unwind after a day battling a city that can be as draining as it is remarkable. Riads can be expensive, but there are some good budget options that will be a highlight of your stay.
Worth a look
Don’t be a souk
Selling everything from exotic spices to traditional sandals, fabrics, snails, socks, soaps, food, meat, pâtisseries and even natural Viagra, the souks of Marrakech have an endless choice of goods. The olive souk, not far from the Djemaa el-Fna, has mountains of delicious fresh produce and the succulent pâtisseries, hovered over by buzzing bees, will send sweet tooths close to climax. The haggling is all part of the game, so treat it as such – don’t get too aggressive and never feel any pressure to make a purchase. But beware, the shopowners can be very, very persuasive and you might end up with a pink kaftan before you can say ‘sucker’.
Wham, bam, thank you hamam
A day squeezing the best bargains out of the souks in Marrakech can be a dirty business in the north African heat, but there’s no better way to scrub your worldy worries away than in a traditional Moroccan hamam bath. For around 50 dirhams (£3), you can get a rubdown and massage that will cleanse you to your very bones. Men and women have separate hamams, or share one but visit at different times. Some of the massages look more like wrestling submission holds, but the pleasure is worth the pain.