I love a good ol’ city trip, especially to a warm and sunny place to escape from the cold here in the Netherlands. This time my city of choice was Marrakesh where I just returned from a full 6 days of shopping, sightseeing and eating lots of traditional Moroccan dishes. I had never been to Morocco before so I absolutely didn’t know what to expect from the city of Marrakesh. Now that I’ve returned I can describe Marrakesh in 4 simple words: Colorful, authentic, chaotic and vibrant.
Each city in Morocco has a nickname and Marrakesh is called the “red city” for the following reasons: Not only are most houses and buildings painted into a reddish color, but when the sun sets in the city the red color amplifies and Marrakesh glows “red”. Apart from the reddish glow, I feel like the colors of the rainbow somehow all come together in the city of Marrakesh: From beautiful architectural designs of the mosques to the colorful products on displays at the souks running from spices and carpets to lanterns, ceramics and traditional Moroccan shoes. I love colors and I love shopping and the souks where full of must-haves that were hard to resist! I wanted to bring everything home with me, but obviously I had to keep my cool and not overspend. Shopping at the busy Jemaa El-Fnaa square is a must when visiting Marrakech. During the 6 days in Morocco I’ve also developed a new obsession for colorful Moroccan doors, mainly from the mosques.
I have to say that my Moroccan experience started with my wonderful stay at an authentic riad (a traditional Moroccan-style bed & breakfast) where I got exposed to Moroccan culture and hospitality. From the moment of checking into the riad and served traditional Moroccan mint tea with sweets(complimentary on a daily!) to the details in the way the riad decorated beautifully, which made me feel welcome and at home in an instance. I realized from the start that taking care of guests and treating them like family is something Moroccans put high standards on. I would normally not stay in B&B’s, but for a city like Marrakesh I believe it’s something that everyone should try. I would highly recommend Riad Gallery 49 to anyone who visits Marrakesh. Aside from my stay at a riad, I also experienced traditional Moroccan food and one of the most popular dishes one has to try when visiting Morocco is Tagine. Obviously everyone has their own way of preparing this dish, but my favorite so far was at the tagine along the riverside of Setti Fatma (a small village in Ourika Valley just outside Marrakesh) after hiking the waterfalls of the Atlas Mountains. Apparently the tagine at Setti Fatma was the best of the region and I have to agree(compared to the ones I had in Marrakesh)! Something else authentic about Marrakesh that I have to mention is the signature smell of the city which is hard to avoid: From the moment you step out of the airplane till you’ve reached the medina you smell you’re in Morocco. This is a peculiar smell that’s anything from the scent of strong spices to henna to the overwhelming smell of the urine of horses lined up on carriages at the medina.
Chaotic & Vibrant
As soon as you step one foot out of your quiet little riad, the chaos of the city begins: From the crazy traffic(people really drive like cray!) to the chaos of Jemaa el-Fnaa( where it all happens!). Jemaa El-Fnaa is the popular square and market place of the old part (medina) of Marrakesh. During the day things happen, but not so much and as soon as the sun goes down, the square comes alive with vendors trying to sell tourists anything: From simple henna drawings and tarot card readings to taking a photos with monkeys, snakes and what not! There are also lots of food stands to eat quickly prepared Moroccan dishes and street performers entertaining the crowd. I would say that you can compare Jemaa el-Fnaa with Times Square in New York, but probably 10 times more chaotic! If you don’t like big crowds and people selling you stuff, the square is not for you. Luckily Marrakesh offers day trips and excursions to nearby cities and villages that are more quiet, like Essaouira and Ourika Valley(where I had the best tagine so far!). The hectic vibrancy is what makes the medina and the city of Marrakesh. I do have to say that in the beginning I was in a cultural shock, like most, but on the third day I got used to it and even had fun bargaining!
Marrakesh is not for everyone, but I still would recommend it as a must-see city for anyone who loves traveling and experience an authentic culture. I hope that I will visit Marrakesh soon again (inshallah, as Moroccans would say).
Have you been to Marrakesh? If so, how would you describe the city? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. xo, Jey.