Marrakesh: The Red City
Why is Marrakesh the Red City for? Is it the color of the sweltering heat? Is it the spices of cinnamon, saffron, and harissa? Is it the interlocking terra-cotta bricks and clay tagines? It is all of it, Marrakesh has it all: culture, food, architecture, and shopping.
We landed in Marrakesh Menara Airport as our entry point into Morocco. We took Transavia airlines from Amsterdam. Transavia is the low cost airline owned by KLM. We decided to fly to Amsterdam first and then to Morocco, instead of going directly. This was because the flights were cheaper and we were also able to tour Amsterdam in the same trip. I will write a separate blog post regarding Amsterdam.
The airport was quite easy to navigate. Immigration was easy and US citizens don’t need a separate visa. The baggage claim and customs was also problem free. Although it is a muslim country, there is still an allowance for alcohol for non-muslims. There was also a duty free store at arrival selling alcohol but the stores in Amsterdam were less expensive. While we had our hotel arrange a driver for 25 Euros, later we found out that a normal pink taxi with a meter or tabled price would have been much cheaper. As a reminder, don’t forget your convertors from US to European plugs.
We began our stay in Marrakesh at the vibrant Riad WOW. Riads used to be stately homes of wealthy citizens of Morocco. They are normally multi-stories around an Andalusian-style courtyard, and the Riad Wow was no exception. It is well located a few short blocks from Jemma el Fnaa, the main market square. At check-in we were greeted by the warm Moroccan hospitality with mint tea and biscuits. Our room was very spacious and accommodates families well. There was a separate room with two twin beds for the kids. The cable TV was fairly difficult to navigate with mostly German channels but my husband did find CNBC Europe.
The first night, we went to one of the best restaurants in Morocco and it was only a couple blocks from the Riad Wow. We went to Maison Arabe (9.2 on Foursquare.com). They had a great Moroccan and international menu as well as great wine and drinks. The restaurant is within Hotel La Maison Arabe. The hotel also looked fabulous with a nice pool, lovely architecture, great patio, jazz bar, and spa.
The breakfast that was included at Riad Wow was also a real treat on the rooftop. The fresh orange juice in Marrakesh is fantastic. The hotel offered egg omelets and lots of different local breads as well. The cappuccinos were from powder, but the coffee and espresso were good.
For the first day, we ventured into the city straight into the Souk markets. The markets are a visual feast! There are specific sections of the market and the section for rugs is well hidden and is near Café Des Epices. In the markets you can find everything. We saw baby manta rays that are used for aquariums, to turtles, to chameleons used as house pets to eat flies. There are a lot of shops selling traditional Moroccan clothing, housewares, and spices. The pricing was reasonable, but the trick is to ask for a price that is 50-60% off their starting price, and stick to your guns and be ready to walk away! That being said, if you like something, buy it, because finding the same store again is almost impossible.
We stopped for lunch at Le Jardin. It was a very charming courtyard restaurant embued in shades of green. The kefta sandwich was divine.
After twisting and turning through the market, we finally came up on the main square and encountered the famous snake charmers. These charmers were the highlight of the square, but they can be quite aggressive for you to play with the snakes and pay for the privilege. Before engaging them, I highly recommend setting a price with for what you want to do with their snakes. They will bargain hard!
After the main square, we walked all the way down to Bahia Palace. While the palace was not furnished, the architecture was very authentic and exquisite. The doorways, ceilings, fountains, courtyards, were all photo worthy.
After the palace we stopped for a sweet break at a local family owned bakery, which was a delight.
At night we returned to the souks to find a whole different ambience as the lights and colors amplified. It was clear local Moroccans come to the Souks to shop at night, when it is much cooler. Our objective of winding through the Souks was to dine at Nomad.
Non-muslims are not allowed into mosques, so we only took pictures from the outside.
We became friends with one of the pink taxi drivers who offered us to take us out of the city for a very low cost as well. Our driver was Youssef. His english was very broken but he was nice guy. I would be happy to share his contact if you need. Just email me.
The next day, we left the city and went to our next hotel in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, Kasbah Bab Ourika http://www.kasbahbabourika.com/ The property was a paradise in the desert mountains. Once again, we were greeted with a tour of the lovely property and some mint tea on the terrace with a lovely view of the mountains. The hotel was high enough to experience a refreshing whisp of the desert breeze. Once again, we had a great room that accommodate our family of four. It was almost our own private level with a view of the mountains. The property offered a lot of great options to relax and enjoy. There were lots of games for the kids and the pool also had a picturesque view of the mountains. The service at the pool was great, including a surprise fruit sorbet. The vegetation on the property included plenty of different fruit trees and an olive grove. We had all of our meals at the Kasbah on their patio terrace. All the meals were delicious and reasonable. Moroccan wines were also very light and refreshing which suited the climate. They also had food options for the kids.
We also arranged our camel trek through the kasbah. While it was scary when the camel begins to stand and starts walking downhill, we also soon accustomed to our friends and appreciated their gracefulness. Their caretaker had a clear command over their behavior, down to the occasional stare at them to keep them in line. We took our camel ride down to the Ourika river and back to the kasbah.
The Moroccan breakfast at the hotel was extremely special. The omelet came in a sizzling tagine. Our visit to the mountains was very short and there was a lot more we could have explored with waterfalls, gorge, and a 5 hour drive to the sahara. Our itinerary was to head back to the outskirts of Marrakech.
We went to Palmeraie neighborhood about 10 minutes outside of Marrakech. It was a great choice to continue our relaxation at very clam and peaceful hotel called Dar Zemora http://www.darzemora.com/ The hotel was originally constructed as a home of a local lawyer and was later expanded and converted into a hotel by an English couple. There are only a few suites, so the experience was very intimate and you get to know the other guests as well. The food at the hotel was spectacular as well. Once again, our room was almost like a home, with room for all of us. We had a lovely patio outside of our room as well. Each afternoon at the hotel, you are welcomed with mint tea and biscuits. Again, there was great food options for the kids, including dessert.
We took a taxi with our favorite driver Youssef to Le Jardin Majorelle. This garden was created over many years by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre. It was lovely to walk through the beautifully curated gardens which seem to reflect all o the colors and life of Marrakesh. It was a great blend of modern and traditional style. The garden also included a very interesting museum on Berber culture as well. There was a beautiful boutique and café as well. After two great nights at the Dar Zemora, we went to our next hotel…
For our final couple days in Marrakesh, we stayed at La Mamounia http://www.lamamounia.com. Instead of mint tea, we were welcomed with almond milk with rose water and dates. We were upgraded to a suite with a separate room for the kids and the room at a lovely balcony with a view of the expansive garden of the hotel. For our anniversary were also given champagne in our room! The hotel has a lot of high-end boutique stores, an indoor and outdoor pool as well as an indoor hot tub at the spa.
One of our most tasty meals at Marrakesh was at Al Fassia. It was a lot of food and very succulent. The restaurant only had women working there. We regretted that we didn’t get the multi-plate morrocan salad. The kefta tagine and the chicken kebabs were great. The desert was also very good.
The next night, we had dinner at another great Riad in the area called La Sultana. The whole hotel including the rooftop was very beautiful. The live, traditional Moroccan music really suited the ambience.
The next day, we also had breakfast at a café only a couple blocks from the hotel at La Table du Marche. Then we also had a great pre-airport meal at the famous Grand Café de la Poste. The ambiance was almost like being in an French African outpost. The food was very good, especially French curry monk fish kebabs.
At the airport, our Priority Pass membership allows us access to the Pearl Lounge. It was a nice pitstop before the night flight with plenty of food and drink. The kids were also busy on the available computers.
Morocco was a very inspiring trip. It was authentically colorful and really engaged our hearts and minds. We hope to return to Morocco one day to see Essoueira on the coast, the blue city of chefchaoeun, and the pink city of Ait Benhaddou which was featured in Game of Thrones.
While in Morocco, I also recommend getting a Hammam. It is a scrub of a life time. It is truly a unique experience. It is a must do while in Morocco.