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                                                                                                                        MARRAKECH




     Souks city
       & the



                                                                                                                                                                 Moroccan National Tourist Office
 I Musicians in Djemaa el Fna, the city’s main square


                                                                                                             crooked lanes I saw gates and lanterns being
         From its mesmeric souks and lively main square to its                                               beaten out on blacksmiths’ forges and
        enchanting gardens, Marrakech is a feast for the senses,                                             newly-dyed wool and cloth in bright
             as Debbie Ward discovered. Except perhaps                                                       oranges, pinks and greens being strung out
                                                                                                             to dry above the rickety roofs of the market
               a tanning process using bird droppings…                                                       stalls.
                                                                                                                The labyrinthine souks of Marrakech
                                                                                                             spread from the north side of the city’s




“P
                        eegeensheet”, my                      Apparently, this unusual marinade helps        famous Djemaa el Fna square, its social and
                        guide kept repeat-                 season the hides in the early stages of their     touristical heart, and browsing them is one
                        ing, pointing at the               transformation into leather belts and bags.       of the greatest shopping experiences in the
                        stinking stone vats                Working my way around the site I peeped at        world.
                        of     Marrakech’s                 the results of this age-old process through          Once you’ve tracked down your purchas-
                        back street tannery                the bunch of mint leaves I’d thoughtfully         es by heading for themed sections such as
where all around me animal hides were                      been given to sniff.                              basketware or spices, the fun really begins
soaking. The phrase, and indeed the smell,                    It’s behind-the-scenes in the famous           because the locals excel not only in crafts-
seemed familiar but it was only when he                    souks of Marrakech’s Medina or old town           manship but sales. The general rule of offer-
resorted to the French expletive “merde!”                  where, if you’re prepared to get a little lost,   ing around a third of a seller’s first price then
that I was sure: the vessels were indeed                   you’ll find some of the most memorable            haggling to a midway point has no truck in
filled with pigeon excrement.                              sights (and smells). Elsewhere among the          Marrakech. Most traders insisted I named a
Background image: Bahai Palace decoration/Peter Ellegard

March/April 2009                                                                                                       The Travel & Leisure Magazine                 23
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Top tips
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        When choosing your Marrakech
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        accommodation, do consider a romantic
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        riad. From boho B&Bs to plush boutique
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        hotels, riads are converted from
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        traditional homes with inner courtyards
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        and are plentiful in the old town.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           One particularly upscale homage to
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Moroccan design is the palatial La
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Mamounia hotel
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        (www.mamounia.com) which reopens
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        this spring after major refurbishment.
                                                                                                                                                                                      I Guitar
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Notable for its location, the nearest
                                                    Peter Ellegard




                                                                                                                                                                                                  Peter Ellegard
                                                                                                                                                                                        heroes,                                                                                                                                         major hotel to Djemaa al Fna (it’s
                                                                                                                                                                                     Marrakech                                                                                                                                          virtually on the square) is the all-inclusive
                                                                                                                                                                                          style                                                                                                                                         Club Med Village Marrakech La Medina,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        one of three Marrakech resorts from this
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        company (www.clubmed.co.uk).
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Morocco is a Muslim country so if
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        you’re a light sleeper you may prefer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        accommodation in the new town,Ville
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Nouvelle, rather than the medina where
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        a higher concentration of mosques sound
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the dawn call to prayer.
                                                                                                                          Peter Ellegard




                                                                                                                                                                                                  Peter Ellegard




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Peter Ellegard




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Peter Ellegard
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I Orange juice stall
    I Get around Marrakech by horse-drawn caleche                                                                                                                                                                   I Koutoubia minaret                                                                                                                              in the main square
                                                                                                                                              I Spot the pots at Jardin Marjorelle


  price first or they themselves picked a fig-                       Get high…                                                             watch the epic transformation as carts stacked                          paste, watching my calamari, kebabs and           with it towering minaret is a landmark near                       plant pots grace your patio they will almost
  ure so outlandish I couldn’t guess where                           To really appreciate the world of the souk it’s                       with metal poles swiftly become hundreds of                             melt-in-the-mouth aubergine slices being pre-     the Djemaa el Fna worth further exploration,                      certainly have been inspired by the city’s
  they’d finally settle.                                             best to get high. Not in the way Marrakech’s                          food stalls strung with lights, and street per-                         pared “live” on a charcoal hob.                   as is 16th century Ali ben Youssef Medersa,                       Jardin         Marjorelle        (www.jardin
     Quizzing other tourists on their purchases                      first wave of tourists, the hippies, did in the                       formers appear to charm snakes, tell stories                                Like the ubiquitous Moroccan tagine of        Morocco’s largest theological college, which                      majorelle.com/en), which was owned by
  helps, as does the old trick of feigning only                      60s and 70s but by finding a roof terrace.                            or pull themselves into impressive human                                steamed lamb or vegetables with couscous,         is known for its fine stucco work. Also in the                    fashion guru Yves Saint Laurent from 1980
  casual interest in a desired item and walking                         Café des Epices (www.cafedes                                       pyramids.                                                               it’s a dining experience not to be missed while   Medina, Bahia Palace, said to have once                           until his death last year. The garden was once
  away if the price remains high. I finally                          epices.net, French only) affords great peo-                              When the giant outdoor nightspot is com-                             in Marrakech, but do check you’re paying for      housed a harem, has 160 rooms boasting fine                       reproduced at Chelsea Flower Show and its
  emerged triumphant with a colourful glass                          ple-watching opportunities over a small                               plete, slip down amongst the twisting char-                             what you actually ate and politely query any      ceramic work and painted ceilings set around                      bold blue fountains, walls and pottery sparked
  necklace, two hand-woven baskets and, my                           square within the souks. From here I viewed                           coal smoke and you’ll find the fresh orange                             discrepancies as substantial over-billing and     a series of courtyards.                                           a wave of garden centre reproductions that
  visit falling just before Christmas, an array                      veiled women creating intricate henna tattoos                         juice and date purveyors of the day have been                           short-changing is rife at eateries in and             You’ll recognise the distinctive Moroccan                     continues to this day.
  of chunky candles and metal patio lanterns                         on tourists’ arms and a hat seller leading                            joined by rows of others selling bowls of                               around the square.                                decorative style from its humbler forms at                            It’s thanks to a centuries-old underground
  for presents. The lanes are stuffed full of                        would-be purchasers back to his wares with                            snails (a legacy of French rule) and meze-                                                                                home: star-shaped lanterns, coloured tea                          irrigation system that gardens like Majorelle,
  much more: handmade hats and bags,                                 the promise of his “best price”.                                      style Moroccan delicacies.                                              Palaces, mosques and museums                      glasses, geometric patterned tiles and their                      as well as the city’s palm trees, can thrive in
  embroidered slippers, patterned pottery, silk                         As the sun starts to sink however, it’s the                           “Jamie Oliver is my brother!” claimed the                            Handicraft shopping and food are key ele-         like have evolved from student bed-sit clutter                    the arid landscape. You can wander and won-
  rugs, even studded doors and swords. I                             terraces around the vast Djemaa el Fna (Cafe                          proprietor of one makeshift restaurant as I                             ments of the cultural experience of               into fashionable home furnishings in recent                       der at this cooling respite from the city with
  almost literally bought the kitchen sink                           Glacier’s is a top spot) that are the place to be.                    passed. It had the desired effect of making me                          Marrakech but for finer arts head for some        years.                                                            its shady paths and trickling water (and get a
  when a beautiful beaten copper basin drew                          Here, with a sugar-laden mint tea, you can                            stop and laugh and I was soon seated before a                           of its palaces, mosques and museums.                  What you may not realise is Marrakech’s                       giggle from the much-photographed giant
  my eye.                                                            rest your camera on the balcony edge and                              spread of bread, olives and spicy tomato                                   The 12th century built Koutoubia Mosque        influence on your garden. If any cobalt blue                      phallic cacti near the entrance).


24 The Travel & Leisure Magazine                                                                                                                                             March/April 2009                      March/April 2009                                                                                                              The Travel & Leisure Magazine              25
   Beyond Marrakech
   The Atlas Mountains, snow-capped in
   winter, make a scenic backdrop to
   Marrakech and the area around North
   Africa’s highest peak,Toubkal, is near
   enough for a day trip.
      Imlil, about two hours from the city, is a
   popular starting point for treks to Berber
   villages where you can join the indigenous
   people for tea in their homes or a haggle
   in a market.Alternatively, take a camel trek
   into the Sahara lead by a Taureg guide in




                                                                                                                                            Peter Ellegard
   distinctive blue robes or visit the scenic
   port of Essaouira, 180km from Marrakech,                                                                      I Marrakech street scene
   with its sweeping beach, white-washed
   houses and artisans workshops.
      Excursions of a day or longer can be
   booked through UK tour operators or
                                                                          Marrakech facts
   your Marrakech hotel, or you can arrange
   a “grands taxi” for a day-trip to Imlil.          When to go:
                                                     Spring and autumn have the most comfortable temperatures
                                                     (it can reach up to 40°C in summer) though as winters are
                                                     mild Christmas and New Year breaks are popular.
  Scrub up clean
  Another cleansing escape can be sought in a        Getting there:
  traditional hammam. The public version will        Airlines serving Marrakech include Atlas Blue (www.atlas-blue.com),
  see you scrubbed, massaged with oily soap          British Airways (www.ba.com), easyJet (www.easyjet.com), Ryanair
  and sloshed with bucketfuls of very hot            (www.ryanair.com) and Thomsonfly (www.thomsonfly.com).
  water (wear bikini bottoms, girls) in a tiled
  communal room with men and women divid-            Accommodation:
  ed by different sections or sessions. Among        Book accommodation through companies including Octopus Travel
  the public hammams near the square is              (www.octopustravel.co.uk) and Hip Marrakech (www.hipmarrakech.com).
  Hammam da Pacha on Fatima Zahra, which
  has a traditional dome studded with light          Tour operators:
  holes; it helps if you can speak French or         UK operators offering Marrakech and beyond include Explore
  Arabic to the rather grumpy attendants. For a      (www.explore.co.uk), Classic Collection (www.classiccollection.co.uk),
  more modern, gentler, spa experience still         The Adventure Company (www.theadventurecompany.co.uk), Bales
  incorporating the traditional use of steam,        Worldwide (www.balesworldwide.com), Ramblers Worldwide Holidays
  look to your hotel or one of the private ham-      (www.ramblersholidays.co.uk),Walks Worldwide
  mams you’ll be handed flyers for.                  (www.walksworldwide.com) and Nomadic Expeditions
      Your skin aglow, you may decide you want       (www.nomadic.co.uk).
  a little more from a night on the town than
  Djemaa el Fna has to offer, in which case          Excursions:
  head for one of Marrakech’s modern                 Local excursion operators include ItinerancePlus
  nightspots. Among the most popular is Pacha        (www.itineranceplus.com) and
  (www.pachamarrakech.com), a restau-                Berber Adventures (www.berberadventures.com).
  rant-cum-club sister to the Ibiza icon. It’s a
  classy joint, with a swimming pool on its out-     Getting around:
  side terraces; though be warned, you may           Many medina sites are walkable and taxis are readily available

                                            TL
  find the drinks prices as hard to stomach as a     (check the meter is running). “Grands taxis” seating up to six can be hired
  whiff of peegeensheet.                             for longer trips. A more atmospheric option is a horse-drawn carriage or
                                                     caleche, available round touristy areas like the Djemaa el Fna.

   Travel journalist Debbie Ward’s top tip for       Tourist information:
   Marrakech is don’t trust guides who tell you to   Moroccan National Tourist Office: call 020 7437 0073,
   go the full monty in the hammam – attendants
   will take your towel and laugh…                   www.visitmorocco.com




26 The Travel & Leisure Magazine                                                                                   March/April 2009

				
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