A country rich with history and culture, Marrakech blew us away with its unbelievable diversity.
We made a spur of the moment decision and booked return flights for 6 nights from Seville, Spain to Marrakech, Morocco. This included accommodation at a riad which is a traditional Moroccan home located in the Marrakech Medina or old city. After leaving the campervan at Seville airport parking, we departed for North Africa.
The Medina sits inside the walled old city and this is where you’ll find the action. Arriving at our riad, ‘Dar Touyir’, we wasted no time and set forth to get a feel for this fabled city. The streets were teeming with pedestrians, cars and bikes and donkey carts; all vying for space. This was certainly a different pace than we were used to!
Jemma el-Fna Square
Firstly, we joined the throng heading towards Jemma el-Fna Square which is a square and market place in Marrakesh’s Medina quarter. By day snake-charmers, monkey handlers and fruit stalls inhabit the square and it is moderately busy but come nightfall, the square fills with locals and tourists alike. The animal handlers retire and make way for the food stalls, the story-tellers, performers and musicians. You can really feel the energy ramp up!
At the southern end of the square sits the imposing Koutoubia Mosque and minaret, Marrakech’s largest mosque. We sat on the terrace of the Cafe de France and watched the sunset over the square. Magic!
At the other end of the square you find yourself on the doorstep to the many different souks which are a maze of market streets that stretch away from Jemma el-Fna. Prepare for a sensory overload! The multi-coloured wares on sale, noisy motorbikes and bicycles whizzing by in the maze of narrow souk alleyways with the different smells all overwhelm the senses. On top of this, the vendors ask you ‘Where you are from?’, ‘Come into my shop!’, ‘Just take a look’! All vying for your attention. It’s gets pretty hectic!
Le Jardin Secret
The magical gardens of Le Jardin Secret date back to the 16th century and lie a short walk north from Jemma el-Fna Square but still within the Medina. The fully enclosed gardens represent an oasis of peace with beds of plants from all over the world. A wooden portico with beautiful murals sits in the middle of the grounds. Further on is a tower which gives fantastic views over Marrakech and the distant Atlas Mountains.
Medersa Ben Youssef
Although we wanted to visit the Medersa Ben Youssef Islamic school, known as a jewel of the architecture of Marrakech, it was closed for renovations. By the looks of it, it wouldn’t be open anytime soon. That’s ok, there was plenty of other attractions on our hit list.
Beware of Scammers
Just a word of warning. Around the area of the Medersa Ben Youssef and the Tanneries, young men approached us many times offering directions for free. They said that they were going in our direction to work or had a friend going in our direction. We had read about this type of thing beforehand. It is a scam where they elicit money afterwards. We had to firmly repeat many times that we did not need help. The main languages spoken are French and Arabic so a firm “Non merci”, or “La shukraan” help the situation.
When you have a camera and hold a map you definitely look the ‘tourist’ so be prepared for the approach. If in doubt, ask directions from a shop owner.
Cyber Park Moulay Abdessalam
Taking a westward direction, we walked the spectacular grounds of the Cyber Park Moulay Abdessalam. Don’t let the name put you off, it is a beautiful park of citrus and palm trees and a great place to escape the busy Medina. Slow down, breathe and absorb the serenity of these quiet surroundings. With plenty of seating and being fastidiously maintained by the groundsman, the 6 hectares are an absolute pleasure to wander around.
Bar Agnaou and Badi Palace
Walking south, close by the Medina walls, we passed through the Bar Agnaou. This is an impressive 12th century gate forming part of the ruined, walled Badi Palace. This royal entrance is also home to storks whom have taken up residence by building huge nests atop the Bar Agnaou gates.
Passing within the Palais Badi, you enter the inner grounds. It must have been a majestic place in its day. The palace construction was completed in 1593 and adorned with gold, marble and onyx. However in the 1600s it was decimated of its wealth and then left to decline. The palace was thought to have 360 richly decorated rooms. The huge pool measuring 90m x 20m claims the centre spot.
Close by is the Bahia Palace, meaning ‘brilliance’, and was meant to be the greatest palace of its time. It was built in the late 19th century and combines both Moroccan and Islamic style. Encompassing 8 hectares, including gardens, the workmanship required to produce the intricate designs is just awe-inspiring. This place deserves its name.
Venturing outside the Medina, a short 20 minute walk took us to the Majorelle Gardens. This 2.5 acre artist landscaped garden was originally designed by French artist, Jacques Majorelle. It took more than 40 years to create. Vibrant hues of blues and green fill the garden as well as the special bold cobalt blue colour now named after the artist as ‘Majorelle blue’.
Following his death, the property went into disrepair but was later purchased by designers Yves St Laurent and Pierre Berge who breathed new life into the property.
Day Trip to Ouzoud Waterfalls from Marrakech
Marrakech to Ouzoud Waterfalls return trip is around 5 hours. Being 110m in height, the waterfalls are a spectacular sight. The walkway on one side of the falls takes you down on a dirt track past olive trees. At the bottom you can cross either by the river boat or using stepping-stones. The ascent then takes you past some cafes where you can have lunch overlooking the falls. Walking a little further up the rise you have the opportunity to surround yourself with the local, friendly Macaque monkeys. Don’t be surprised to find them on your shoulders or on top of your head. They are generally harmless and just looking for some food. We had the foresight to bring a bag of almonds which ensured we had plenty of friends all around us.
Day Trip to Ait Benhaddou from Marrakech
Marrakech to Ait Benhaddou return is an 8 hour round trip from Marrakech. Along this route you cross the Atlas Mountains through the pass of Tizi n’Tichka at an altitude of 2260m. In fact, this is the highest road mountain pass in North Africa and follows an old caravan trail. Beyond the pass, the road descends into the stony Sahara Desert. An hour or so later, you will gaze upon the amazing Ait Benhaddou. These fortified dwellings are earthen buildings with defensive walls. To get there you can either cross the river walking on bags of sand or use the bridge. After entering Ait Ben Haddoud, the initial walk is past the individual fortified kasbahs. The path then takes you to the summit which gives an amazing uninterrupted 360 degree view of the surrounding desert. This has been the set for many a good movie. In addition, make sure you don’t miss out on a visit to a Berber Kasbah Museum. If you are lucky (like us), a local may invite you into one of their Berber homes for tea.
Returning each day to our accommodation, at the Dar Touyir, we were warmly welcomed and nothing was too much trouble for the accommodating staff members.
Overall, our six nights, seven days were amply filled with wonderful sights and with enough time to see what we had planned without the need to rush. Next time, our trip will be a longer stay because we have our sights set on a lengthy Sahara trek. Until then, ‘Bslama’!
Being an Australian boy brought up in the country, I learnt at an early age to enjoy the freedom and beauty of nature. Leaving Australia at the age of 20, although I didn’t know it then, would be the beginning of a life of adventure. So join me here on our travels and see the world through my eyes.