My travels over the Easter break could not have come sooner. The long winter spent hibernating away was still very much in full force when I left, and my body was crying out for some vitamin D. My long-awaited return to Africa was everything I’d hoped for, and more. Morocco is eclectic. A hodgepodge of cultures with strong Arabic, Berber, French and Mediterranean influences all combined to give the most wonderful mixture.
We spent our first four nights in Marrakech, arriving into the RAK and braving the local petit taxis to ferry us off to our Riad which was situated right in the heart of the old medinas, just south of the main Djemaa el-Fna square. The taxi dropped us as far as it could within the city walls, so the rest of the journey was up to us. Passing through the medina for the first time was overwhelming, being new to the culture and customs. You quickly acclimatise however, and the persistent shopkeepers beckoning you to admire their wares, and the seemingly endless mopeds and bikes which dart past you, narrowly missing your feet all add to the magic. Our hotel for the night, the Riad Dar More, was just off the Rue Riad Zitoun el-Kedim and was an ideal base for exploring the south of the city. A peaceful oasis amongst the commotion of the medina.
The rest of our Marrakech stay we spent north of the Djemaa el-Fna, in the Riad Moullaoud. Vigorous, slightly brutal traditional hammams followed by a full body massage on the terrace set us up for more exploring, as we ticked off all the must see tourist sites. The Maison de la Photographie, Saadian Tombs, Badi Palace, Koutoubia Mosque, the YSL Jardin Marjorelle, and of course, the bustling centre of the city, the Dajemaa el-Fna. Our breakfasts of pastries and fresh orange juice were spent on the hotel terraces, overlooking the snow-capped High Atlas mountains.
Every evening, circus performers or ‘halqa’, snake charmers, groups of singers, cross-dressing belly dancers and amateur boxing matches appear in this square, ready to entertain and amaze the tourists and locals alike. The energy of the square radiates, and it’s easy to see why it has been such an important area of the city since AD 1050. If you’re feeling brave, the street food stalls are particularly fun. The stall chefs will try to woo you with their grilled meats, bubbling lamb tagines, and other more adventurous dishes such as sheep’s brain and snails. Our final day in Marrakech was spent bargain hunting in the souks. One thing you have to get used to in the souks is getting utterly and hopelessly lost. I picked up a beautiful phthalo-blue hand-made carpet with white stitching and maroon edges in a carpet souk we happened to stumble across, which was so expertly rolled into a suitcase friendly package, no larger than a toaster.
After the bustle of the city, we were very much ready to head to the Windy City for a spot of sunbathing. The 3 hour bus trip there was incredibly comfortable and cost us 70 MAD each (around £5.50!). We decided to stay in two different hotels again, one beautiful spa hotel right next to the beach and close to the old town, Le Medina Essaouira, and one hidden away in the hills, Le Jardin Des Douars. Both incredibly relaxing and just what we needed.
Essaouira is beautiful. The coastal town is hidden behind fortified walls and ramparts, hiding the narrow alleyways of the souks and the and aromas of spices and thuya wood. Outside of the walls the smell becomes that of sea salt and fresh fish, and the beautifully vibrant blue fishing boats litter the harbour after bringing in the days catch. The daily fish market in the evening is not to be missed, and climbing the Skala du Port gives you incredible panoramic views of the city walls, the harbour and neighbouring Ile de Mogador. The synomic blue fishing boats and majestic sunsets have inspired many artists, and you can spend all day popping in and out of the galleries in the old town.
Morocco, you were wonderful.