Featured Destination: Marrakesh, Morocco
There’s an unwritten rule for walking in Moroccan souks. It is imperative to stand on the right or risk being run over. And then there’s the pecking order of who has priority starting with mule carts and traders, mopeds, housewives shopping for the daily meal, and finally tourists. But getting lost in these labyrinthine corridors of intense trade is all part of the Moroccan experience.
I was in Marrakesh, otherwise known as the Rose Red City. The mud bricks of the medina give it a distinctive hue and character amongst the chaos of the souk. There are traders hammering away at metal lamps in the Blacksmiths Souk whilst the smell of the leather bags and slippers fills the streets in another part. One of the most intriguing parts of the souk is in the Rahba Qedima or the apothecary’s souk. This is like something from Harry Potter where snakeskins hang next to mysterious jars. Walk into the spice merchant here and you’ll see remedies for snoring, colds, and Moroccan Viagra. There’s a hint of black magic in the back of some of these stores too with an array of potions and pots with indecipherable labels. It is, however a superb place to stock up on tagine spices.
Cookery lessons are a fabulous way of getting under the skin of Morocco and I walked the food souk with a traditional Moroccan dada who was an expert at haggling, finding the best preserved lemons, and selecting a live chicken for the pot. She pointed out the bread seller, the mint trader, and the olive man. Each quarter in Marrakesh and other Moroccan towns has a water fountain, a madrasa, a hammam, a mosque and a communal bread oven. Back at the dada’s kitchen I learned to make tagine and pastilla, - and dined on the feast.
But Marrakesh has a bigger feast to enjoy, apart from the wonderful restaurants. Each evening the main square comes to life with food stands sizzling up delicacies from snails, to fried sheep brain, and fabulous kebabs. You can sit out under the stars and watch the world go by. This is one of the greatest meeting places on earth and lies between the Sahara Desert and the sea. There are snake charmers, acrobats, and storytellers all entertaining the crowds. You’ll see Berbers and Tuareg tribesmen making a deal, and friends meeting for mint tea as the sun goes down.
Marrakesh has many places to chill out after the chaos of the souks. One of the best is the Jardin Majorelle, a beautiful garden restored by Yves St Laurent. The brilliant blue ceramics contrast with the flowers and plants here and it is a delight to explore. Or, take a horse drawn caleche ride through the city past the old Medina walls. After a day of haggling and chaos the hammam is a superb way to unwind. Many hotels have a traditional bath or there are local ones to try. You’ll be scrubbed clean by the attendants who will find dirt you never knew existed.
There are many beautiful places to stay in Morocco including grand hotels and riads, or traditional town houses. Above all, you’ll be enthralled by the hospitality of the Moroccan people and the beauty of the country.