Pimp My Weekend: Marrakech
Bursting with life, steeped in history, and the perfect place to enjoy a short break that has something for everyone.
With its noisy souks and slightly ropey reputation, the idea of Morocco conjures up images of a land too far and too exotic to think about for a weekend away. But it’s easier to have an adventure in this North African country than you’d think.
A thrifty three-and-a-half hour flight from London, Marrakech is a colourful, bustling oasis nestled between the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and the Saharan desert. It’s bursting with life, steeped in history, and the perfect place to enjoy a short break that has something for everyone.
Here’s how to make the most of it…
Shop until you drop
The city’s medieval medina is intimidating and enthralling in equal measure. But once you get used to the cacophony of shopkeepers constantly trying to catch your eye and show off their wares, take a moment to look around and see what’s on offer.
From delicious-smelling spices to elaborate robes, ornate jewelry to cute, pointed Moroccan slippers (babouches), intricate handmade carpets and colourful ceramics, it’s impossible not to be seduced by the glittering goods on offer. And, unlike in post-Brexit Europe, there’s no need to fear the exchange rate either. Those beautifully painted tea glasses are excellent value for money, and yes, you should definitely by six of them.
Eat until it hurts
North African cuisine probably means tagine, tagine, and more tagine to most people. And they wouldn’t be wrong. But by GOD it’s good. At Le Foundouk’s rooftop restaurant, soft cubes of lamb are slow-cooked to melting tenderness and drenched in a gently-spiced sauce sweetened with dried apricots and dates. It’s a sexy food experience, with endless variations. But Morocco has more to offer than a culinary cliche.
Flakey, cinnamony deliciousness is basically the only way to describe B’stilla, a traditional Fassi pie of spiced pigeon meat, almonds and eggs wrapped up in paper-thin pastry and dusted with icing sugar. Zaalouk is a garlic smoked aubergine dip, seasoned with actual magic, and a steaming bowl of harira soup will warm even the coldest cockles.
But amid the snake charmers at Djemaa el-Fna square is where you’re going to have your foodie epiphany. The lively, bustling night market is a street food haven, where you can sample anything from offal kebabs to grilled sardines, deep-fried potato balls, and snails cooked in a spicy broth. Sit at one of the many stalls, sip a glass of sweet mint tea, and dig in.
See all the ancient sights
There’s no shame in being a tourist for a day, and more enjoyably, most of Marrakech’s major sights are walkable, meaning you can soak up the city’s atmosphere while you wander from breathtaking monument to fascinating museum.
The ornate 19th Century Bahia Palace and gardens offer perfect examples of gorgeous interiors built by the countries top artisans. Going further back in time, the ancient Saadian Tombs is a beautiful walled garden and the resting place of Sultan Ahmed El-Mansour. But towering over the city since the 12th Century, the Koutoubia Mosque is the crowning glory of Marrakech. Not only is the minaret visible from every part of the medina, five times a day, one voice rises above the din as the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer.
Outside of the medina’s walls, it’s worth the taxi ride to visit the peaceful Majorelle Gardens. A small sanctuary cultivated by French painter Jacques Majorelle, who accessorised his exotic green space with lemon yellow, cobalt blue and burnt orange accents to create a peaceful retreat. Next door, the recently opened Yves Saint Laurent museum exhibits some of the celebrated designer’s most beautiful creations and is a must for fashionistas.
Treat yourself to a Hamam
Trust us. You can’t experience true relaxation until you know the freedom of allowing a super friendly, extremely thorough masseuse with absolutely no boundaries whatsoever scrub your mostly naked body to within an inch of its life before dousing you in warm water and kneading each at every one of your overtired, knotted muscles into submission.
This is Moroccan Hammam, an ancient bathing ritual designed to relax and revive the mind and body. The custom has been a weekly part of Moroccan culture for centuries, and though you can easily find a Turkish Bath in the UK these days, there’s nothing like the real thing.
Escape the city
There’s more to Morocco than Marrakech, and one of those wonders is pretty much on the city’s doorstep. Less than an hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of the medina, nestled in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, sits The Capaldi. A quiet, peaceful retreat, the hotel offers a perfect opportunity to see something a little different.
The pools, spa, private cinema and excellent restaurant would be appealing enough to any potential visitor, but the friendly and welcoming staff are more than happy to show off the local area - and it’s worth seeing. The picturesque lake Lalla Takerkaust is a short walk away, offering breathtaking views of the mountains, and a perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine with an uninterrupted view of the sunset. The more adventurous traveller might prefer quad biking or camel trekking in the nearby Agafay Desert, while a short hike into the mountains to meet the Berber villagers still living in the area is a must for anyone keen to experience a new culture. It turns out that even in the middle of nowhere, this magical country has surprises to uncover.