Since we started planning our trip to India later this year, our thoughts have turned frequently to our visit to Morocco in 2009. Prior to that trip we had only been to western Europe. As foreign as Paris can seem when trying to order lunch from a stoic French waiter, it’s nothing compared to getting off the plane on the tarmac at Marrakech Menara airport and instantly being overwhelmed by the scent of spices in the air, and having your passport stamped in Arabic for the first time.
Morocco was challenging, enlightening, and ultimately one of the most rewarding places we’ve ever visited. Truthfully, it’s what has made us crave something more each year than croissants and pubs. (Though croissants and pubs are awesome.)
No amount of reading and travel-show watching really prepares you to step into another culture. We spent much more time in the medina – the old, walled city – than the Gueliz, the new part of the city, which is quite cosmopolitan, with grand avenues, glittering western chain hotels, and high-end boutiques. Perhaps our impression of Marrakech is lopsided for that, but it’s no less real. Wandering through the souks, exploring alleyways, watching people buy fruit, herbs, nuts, listening to the sounds of a world so different from your own are really intoxicating. Although we undoubtedly took a few missteps, it was a fantastic experience, and I had tears in my eyes as the plane rose up over the rose city to take us home. We know we will go back someday.
Here are some of the places we enjoyed most during our five days:
- Les Bains de Marrakech – A decadent, co-ed hammam experience. So fantastic we visited twice. Read about it here.
- El Badi Palace – Built in the 16th century, and now mostly ruins, but still an impressive sight, this was originally the diplomatic palace of Ahmed el Mansour.
- Saadian Tombs – Also constructed under Ahmed el Mansour, with magnificent tile work, Arabic script and carvings.
- La Sultana – We had our Christmas day lunch here. Part of a hotel, the chairs are gorgeous, massive carved wooden things, and overlook an internal courtyard and pool.
- Les Jardins de Koutoubia – A great romantic lounge for a drink, especially Moroccan rosé. A little pricey, but really lovely. They also serve food but we only had drinks here.
- Cafe Arabe – We found this after a day getting lost (literally, completely lost) in the souks, and it couldn’t have been a more welcome oasis. We had a delicious tagine lunch sitting in a courtyard-like space, with filtered light coming in from the opening in the roof several stories up. A rooftop lounge area with long, soft couches and lots of pillows is a great place to watch the sun set.
- Djemaa el Fna – the grand central square in the medina. Read more about it in this post.
- Kozybar – This restaurant near the Badi Palace has a rooftop seating area, from which you can hear, at noon, the calls to prayer from three mosques simultaneously.
- Day trip to Essaouira – This seaside town is about a three or four hour drive from Marrakech, depending on the road conditions that day. Beautiful views of the Atlantic coast, and fresh seafood. The city is delightfully picturesque with whitewashed buildings and bright blue accents. An artist colony area is fun to explore for a unique souvenir. We enjoyed it greatly, but would consider staying overnight if we did it again – eight hours in a car makes for a long day, and with little time to explore.
We would also recommend the riad we stayed in – Riad Lorsya – a small riad with only four rooms. We stayed in the Rose Room, which was lovely. Breakfast was fantastic and hearty, with traditional breads, yogurt, fruit, and freshly squeezed juice served in the central courtyard every day. The house manager was extremely helpful and accommodating, and arranged a private car and driver to take us to Essaouira for a day.