MARRAKECH: travel guide

Friday, August 29, 2014

the noir collective marrakech travel guide

In the midst of craziness that is Marrakech, it is easy to lose hours and days. Depending on your purpose of travel, this can be both inexplicably good or an unfortunate state of circumstances that would make you miss the once a week flight out back home. As first time travellers to Morocco and a first time to Africa for myself, the short stint in Marrakech was the wind down part of our holiday and the complete disconnection with time was very welcome. Plan what you want to spend before setting off for the day, as we later learned every service and purchase is grounds for barter and prepare to get lost and change plans, there are very deep, dark parts of the Souk where Google maps just won't guide you back to exactly where you started from.

Shop

Souk: The labryinth madness that goes on in the Souk is probably not for everyone albeit the frustration you may encounter will be worth the visit and your overall impression of Marrakech. The best thing to do to prepare yourself is to know what you're heading in to buy, or you will leave with a 30kg table you never intended on purchasing for far more Dirhams then you thought you had. All sorts of small "presents" is the only thing I recommend leaving yourself a vague description for. The stall owners are serious salesmen and there wasn't a time we left a stall enquiring for a price and leaving without something.

Entering the Souk is best done from Jemma el Fna, the slightly less overwhelming tourist based square (which is best to use as a reference of getting back out). Start exploring the outer most stalls for an idea of the atmosphere and the style of goods you want to buy, generally the stalls that are deeper in the souk will have the same type of products with varying quality and prices. Once you're happy with what you've seen, take a deep breath and step into one of the narrow alleyways leading in. Of course this all depends on how quickly you get acclimatised to a place, but the tiny alleys and nooks can quickly lead you off the beaten path. Our first visit of the Souk was a relatively calm and easy one, our second led us into a group of relentless guides offering their services, being followed for about an hour wasn't the most pleasant experience but trying to escape them saw us end up in the metal works part of the Souks. Not a part I initially planned on visiting, it was definitely a whirlwind of metallurgy and art, all of a sudden I pinned for an enormous metal grate to have in a garden I don't even own.

Other parts of the Souk include fruit and veges, spices, textiles such as beautiful leathers and silks, art and various homewares. All in all we ended up with a tea set, sisha, several art works, a myriad of cotton clothing, ceramics, jewelry and an enormous rug/throw I spent over an hr bartering for. To anyone who's never had to haggle, the process is a long and draining one. But there's also something unique about the experience when you're after a piece you've fallen in love with, the notions of a westernised set price go out the window for both the owner and customer and you end up in some sort of ritualistic dance which usually ends in you walking away with that can't leave without it holiday piece.

Tips? Know how much you want to spend and keep your offer way below that, even name a ridiculous price to start a joke with the seller, a sense of humour and friendly chat between the two of you will go a long way into a 40 minute haggle. As a rule of thumb I knew I'd ended up with a good final price when the total was about 40% of the sellers first price. Also, drink the mint tea if you're offered some, its a good communicative gesture and you get real dehydrated real fast being cooped up in a stall (its also delicious, some of the best mint tea I've had wasn't at a cafe but in a little stall made by a tailor). And finally, be prepared to say no and walk away, this will get you into the down and dirty end of the haggle session, but more likely than not you'll get the price you wanted and the owner will call you back. Don't show them that you're too in love with the piece, seem disinterested and be polite.

When it all gets too much, head over to a stall selling fresh orange juice for a glass of the cold pulpy stuff. And yes, as we later found out, you can barter for these too if you're so inclined.


Mustapha Blaoui (142-144 rue Bab Doukkala) part showroom part microcosm of what you'd expect to find in a carefully edited representation of the Souk, prices are generally higher but so is the quality. This is the perfect place to get your shopping done in one hit if you're short for time.

Nightlife

For us, Marrakech came after a week of dedicated partying in Ibiza and we were as they say all partyed out. Locals recommend Jemma el Fna by night theatrics and clubs outside the Medina, depending on your taste in music. We were lucky enough to have a terrace overlooking the city so we settled for a bit of deep house into the Marrakech sunset surrounded by the lights and sounds of the city.

Marrakech interiors; riad Dar Donab Eat

Al-Fassia (55 Boulevard Zerktouni) was probably the dinner highlight of our trip, I sneakily asked my travel partner if going there again the following night was overkill? Try the pigeon pastilla which is a unique mix of sweet, spicey and meaty flavours and the lamb shoulder with almonds to share.

Patisserie des Princes (32 rue Bab Agnaou) is located just of Jemma el Fna, and although we didn't try any of actual baked goods, I had come back several times for the icecream (which constituted as a its too hot to eat a proper lunch how do I cool my brain immediately meal), highlight flavours were cinnamon, fig and date.

Bagatelle (103 Rue de Yougoslavie) was a hit with us for its Paris reminiscent meals and atmosphere surrounded by locals, it took us more than a few google map checks to find this place but the steak and notable selection of wines was on point.

Restaurant Loft (18 Rue de la Liberte) was stumbled upon by complete accident after a failed attempt to find pizza, a mix of French and Moroccan cuisine, we opted for silky pata negra iberico. Skip the cocktails and head straight for the red wine.

See

Museum of Marrakech
Berber Museum
Palais la Bahia
Jardin Majorelle
Place Jemma el Fna

Other notable mentions

Heritage Spa (40 Arset Aouzal). A hammam is no everyday westernised spa experience, prepare to get naked (really really naked), have some delectable things rubbed into your skin and contemplate life in a warm marble chamber.

donkey outside Museum de Marrakech

Wear

Temperatures were a scrotchy 40+ on our visit so I opted for light cover, long silk pants to take the direct heat of your skin and a scarf on my head at all times. Avoid black at all costs and take siesta from 3-5.

Burberry silk print scarf, Derek Lam tshirt, Zara leaf print pants, Ancient Greek sandals
Burberry silk print scarf, Derek Lam tshirt, Zara leaf print pants, Ancient Greek sandals

Any personal travel tips and recommendations welcome in comments!

photos: Ben Youssef Madrasa,
Textile Souk,
Patisserie des Princes,
Marrakech hardware,
Palais Dar Donab,
Donkey outside Museum de Marrakech

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