The southern heart of Morocco, Marrakech has long been a magnet for travelers and trading. These days we’re more likely to arrive by plane than camel but the trading is just as fierce and wonderful.
The longevity of this city is evident the minute you set eyes on the time-weathered ramparts of the old fortified city – the medina. These days Marrakech has spread well beyond these walls into a modern city of over a million people. It has the largest market (souk) in Morocco and the main square Djemaa el Fna is filled with performers including acrobats and musicians, water sellers and, of course, tourists. At night, it becomes a huge restaurant as all the open-air food stalls open for business.
Day 1: Lanes, Palaces, Gardens
Marrakech can take a bit of getting used to. It’s busy, it’s hot. Get a feel for the place and its rich history by heading into the medina. Visit the beautiful palaces including the 19th century Bahia Palace, intended to be the greatest palace of its time. Wander the maze of narrow streets and try not to be overwhelmed by all the activity in Djemaa el Fna square. Linger here until evening and sample the local foods. If gardens are your thing, or if you just need to see trees rather than people for a while, head out to the Majorelle Gardens, designed by expat French artist Jacques Majorelle. Or go marvel at the orchids and olive groves of the Menara Gardens.
Day 2: Shopping in the Souk
Of course, you must go shopping in the souk! The markets here sell everything you can imagine and it’s as much about performance as trade with haggling raised to an artform. You can buy everything from fruit and vegetables, to spices, clothing, leather, jewelry, furniture, and of course, souvenirs. Marrakech is also about hammams, relaxing and healing through water and massage. If you’ve shopped til you’re ready to drop, head for a spa.
Day 3: Head Out of Marrakech
The Atlas Mountains are close by and full of amazing sights. Visit the UNESCO heritage-listed medieval, red-earth village of Ait Ben Haddou, and Taouirt Kasbah, the palace of the last sultan of Atlas. Travel through breathtaking Tichka Gorge and the desert of Ouarzazate, setting for films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars and Gladiator. Follow the old Berber trading routes into the mountains and desert, or see life lived at a desert oasis in the Ourika Valley. If you’re craving the sea, visit the old port town of Essaouira and see the citadel of this ancient city of the arts and crafts, particularly jewelry. These were the people who supplied the Roman emperors with that splendid purple dye!
Marrakech will surprise and delight, exhaust and nourish – it will never, ever bore you. And who knows what treasures you’ll find in the souk – just don’t forget to haggle, it’s part of the fun.