Nestled at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, the geographical divide between the Mediterranean and Sahara Desert is Marrakech, a city revered for its exquisite blend of culture, history, food and scenery.
Recently, I spend 48 hours in Marrakech and sampled what this remarkable city has to offer.
History and culture
Undoubtedly the Medina of Marrakech, founded 1000 years ago remains the epicentre and heartbeat of the city.
The Medina is a sprawling network of small streets that feels like time has stood still. The alleys are filled with small shops and stalls selling everything from local spices to chickens and motorcycles, with the local traders bartering with each other.
In the middle of these alleys is Jemaa el-Fnaa, the centre of Marrakech.
In the evenings the square comes to life as locals arrive in their hundreds to sing, dance, eat and even charm snakes. The atmosphere is electric, the smells captivating and combined with the call to pray, ringing out from numerous mosques, it’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
Within the medina also lie a number of historical buildings. We visited two,the Bahia Palace and El Badii Palace. Both palaces exhibit beautiful Moroccan architecture and design and provide an insight into Morocco’s long and diverse history. You get a sense of the extravagant life of Marrakech’s elite over the past 1,000 years, especially when comparing the palaces with the alleyways of the medina.
Just outside the walls of the medina is the Majorelle Garden, owned by French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent. The one hectare garden not only showcases a breath-taking display of plants carefully collected over multiple decades, but it’s also home to an Islamic Art Museum, Berber Museum and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum.
Morocco is blessed with amazing, fresh local cuisine that has been fine-tuned over many generations. The truth is, it’s hard to get a bad meal in Marrakech. Two of our favourite places to eat were Nomads and Corner Cafe.
Nomads is an upmarket modern take on Moroccan cuisine, situated on a beautiful rooftop terrace with 360 degree views of Marrakech with the Atlas Mountains. The food was excellent and the setting spectacular. Corner Café is a local, no frills, family run restaurant with affordable prices. The tagine was beautiful and the owners were lovely.
Just over an hour out of Marrakech are the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. In summer, the mountains provide the locals with welcome relief from the scorching heat of the city, with fantastic hiking. While in winter, the mountains provide great skiing. On our second day we took a half day trip into the mountains. We went for a short hike, learnt about the importance of argan oil to the local economy and visited a local village. The scenery on the drive was spectacular with 4,000 metre mountains towering overhead, while the snow-capped mountains and green valleys provided a stark contrast from the arid plains around Marrakech.
Forty-eight hours was not long enough to really experience Marrakech, but it left us with the impression Marrakech is a city that thoroughly deserves its reputation as ‘a must-see’ destination.