Marrakech, Morroco 72-Hour Vacation
Souks and Cool Kasbahs
By Meera Freeman
pink Medina of Marrakech
Imperial city of Marrakech is the gateway to the south
of Morocco. With its exotic red buildings, rose gardens
and palm groves set against the dramatic, snow-capped
Atlas Mountains, the city is Morocco’s primary
tourist destination. The weather in Marrakech is good
throughout most of the year. Even in the coolest months,
December and January, temperatures rarely drop below
40 degrees at night and 65 degrees in the daytime. The
only months to be avoided are July and August, when
average temperatures hover around 105 during the day
and 70 at night.
is divided into two main sections: the traditional walled
city, Medina, and the modern city,
the Gueliz, built during the French
protectorate which lasted from 1912 to 1956. The Medina
with its souks (markets), kasbah and Mellah (Jewish quarter), all located
around Djema l’Fna Square, must
be explored on foot. For longer trips, take a “petit
taxi” (horse drawn carriage) or hire a bicycle
or mobilette from one of the city's many outlets.
You can also hire a guide to escort you around, so you
get an idea of the town’s layout before venturing
out on your own. This is also a good solution for one
of the many excursions to the Atlas Mountains;
the town of Essaouira on the Atlantic
coast; or a trip over the High Atlas via one of the
mountain passes to Taroudant and Southern
Morocco; or Ouarzazate and
the oasis-lined Kasbah Route to the
dunes of the Sahara Desert.
Mamounia: a hotel favored by royalty
and the international jet set
offers a wide range of accommodation options. Most of
the international hotels, with their swimming pools
and glamorous facilities, are situated in the Hivernage
area of the new city. The prestigious and expensive La Mamounia, built in the palace of
an Alaouite prince, has breathtaking gardens and is
located just inside the ramparts. There is a large selection
of hotels in the Gueliz as well. Those preferring to
be in the thick of all the Medina activity should consider
staying in a riad, or guest house,
built in restored traditional dwellings inside the city
walls. Riads range from basic to luxurious, the latter
category often having their own Moorish bath, or hammam,
where you can get all kinds of spa treatments and massages.
Once you’ve decided when you want to visit, be
sure to book your accommodations in advance, as the
city caters to many international conferences and can
be very crowded, especially during the New Year and
Easter holiday periods. Eating and shopping are two
activities that will take up quite some time during
your visit to Marrakech, so bring a good appetite, your
bargaining skills and half-empty suitcases!
the day with an early morning familiarization tour.
Take a caleche for a leisurely ride around the red city
ramparts, with their beds of flowering rose bushes,
and through the city’s lush orange and olive groves.
Check out some of the city’s nine gates, especially
the beautiful 12th-century Bab Agnaou,
which leads into the kasbah. Ask the driver to take
you for a tour through the Hivernage area where, during
the French protectorate, many luxury villas were built.
These days it contains most of the city’s luxury
slippers or babouches
you have time, stop at the Menara Gardens to see the large reservoir and pavilion (or go there
in the evening for the sound and light show) and end
the caleche ride at the Koutoubia garden.
Visit the ruins of the original 12th-century mosque
with its iconic minaret, a magnificent example of Almohad
architecture and the first of such structures, the other
two being the Hassan tower in Rabat and the Giralda
in Seville, Spain.
From the Koutoubia, continue South, entering the Kasbah
through Bab Agnaou and then follow Rue de la Kasbah
to the 16th-century Saadian tombs,
built to house the remains of Mohammed Ech Cheikh, the
founder of the dynasty, and other members of the royal
family and their dependents. The complex contains two
beautiful mausoleums and a fragrant garden containing
many tiled graves of other members of the Saadian court.
The magnificent architectural features of the complex
have been extraordinarily well-preserved as it was walled
up by the Alaouite sultan Moulay Ismail in the early
17th century and was only rediscovered in 1917.
at Majorelle Garden
visiting the tombs, make your way to the ruined El
Badi palace built on a grand scale by the Merinid
sultan Ahmed al Mansour. This palace was so magnificent
that its renown spread far and wide. It was systematically
stripped over ten years by Moulay Ismail, who used its
fittings and furnishings to adorn his palace in his
new capital, Meknes. Each year, in late May or early
June, the El Badi palace is home to the two-week long Festival National des Arts Populaires with
performances held every evening.
for lunch just near the Palace at Douirya Restaurant,
which serves some of the most delicious Moroccan salads
and tajines in Marrakech. It is set in a grand 19th-century
mansion that belonged to a leader of the Jewish community,
and which abuts the entrance to the markets of the Jewish
quarter. Weather permitting, ask for a table on the
terrace where you can enjoy views over Medina. You can
also choose a light lunch at Ryad Tamsna where
you can browse in the bookshop and boutique featuring
homewares and clothing, much of it designed by owner
Meryanne Loum Martin.
lunch, make your way via Riade Zitoune el Kedime to
the Djema l Fna Square. Stroll through
the various market stalls and get a first impression
of the performers, snake charmers and fortune tellers
before heading into the souks. You may like to engage
the services of a guide for your first foray into the
souks to help you get around and protect you from being
hustled by unofficial guides. Rue Souk Smarine,
just past the potters’ souk, leads into the depths
of the souks and then opens up into the small square Rahba Kedima before branching off into
two minor lanes, Souk el Attarine and Souk el Kebir. Souk Smarine sells mainly
clothing and textiles. Rahba Kedima leads to the wool,
sheepskin, apothecary and carpet markets. Follow Souk
el Attarine and you will soon arrive at the dyers’
souk, followed by those of the carpenters and blacksmiths.
Souk el Kebir leads to the jewelry and leather markets.
These two lanes are joined by a web of covered stalls
or kissarias. You will easily lose yourself
for a couple of hours here, browsing and haggling. Prices
are negotiable in most places and bargaining is a national
you’ve had your fill, make your way back to the
Djema l Fna and have some mint tea at Café
Argana or Café de France.
If you are lucky, you will be able to secure a table
on the terrace, so you can watch the goings-on in the
square. Here crowds of locals gather as night begins
to fall, to listen to story tellers, watch the acrobats
or have their fortunes told as the many food stalls
set up for the evening. Start your Djema l Fna adventure
with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice from one
of the stalls on the periphery of the square. Then,
stroll around and check out the fare on offer. You could
have a bowl of snails cooked in aromatic broth with
herbs, or some harira soup accompanied by a small dish
of dates or chebbakiah, fried cakes dipped in honey.
For meat lovers, Stall 10, Jaafar,
is a good choice. Make your selection from tangia,
a specialty of Marrakech—lamb with saffron, spices
and preserved lemons cooked in an amphora, kebabs or
steamed sheep heads! Many of the stalls serve fried
fish, salads and couscous and the competition is fierce.
Spruikers will direct you to their stalls, so be firm
and have a good look around before deciding where to
eat. A glass of spiced Chrife—khodinjal with some sellou or cooked flour sweet with
sesame and almonds at Stall 4—is a delicious tonic
to ensure you get a good night’s sleep after your
exciting first day. Continue
to Day 2