Please note- there are many images in this blog entry due to Marrakech being such a photogenic place!
After years of waiting for an opportunity, I took the 1 hour flight from Seville to Marrakech which is not where this children’s story is set but the photos I’d seen and all I’d read about it evoked this mystical, dusty and glittering land.
Morocco is a Muslim country and conservative dress is expected of women but it would still be around 20 degrees even in October.
I had to consider my wardrobe choices carefully, opting for linen trousers and shawls that covered my shoulders.
“Marrakech is of course famous for its markets. They house a grand plethora of hand made treasures, spices, potions, leatherware and silverware, lamps and embroidered carpets and so much more.”
After holidaying in Turkey and Egypt in the past, I had prepared myself for the inevitable bartering of the market touts but I did not expect it to be within seconds of stepping into Jemaa el-Fnaa Square.
I was sprung upon from all angles with locals offering me everything from jewellery, leather and fresh orange juice; you learn how to handle the constant sales pitches and bargaining after a couple of days but at first you can get a bit flustered.
Taking a break from the shopping, Moroccan food is gorgeous. The flavours of their cuisine are usually based on cinnamon, almond, raisins, tomato and dates with the most common dishes being tagine, cous cous, tabbouleh and salads.
The first meal I ate there was a chicken tagine which came with soft bread they had made right there on site along with juices from locally grown fruit including orange and pomegranate.
Minor culture shock now passed, it was time to enjoy all the exciting sights, sounds and experiences I had been looking forward to for so long.
Marrakech is of course famous for its markets. They house a grand plethora of hand made treasures, spices, potions, leatherware and silverware, lamps and embroidered carpets and so much more.
Haggling is a technique that some are better at than others and I will admit right here than it is not a strength of mine.
I did however pick up a nice bracelet, leather cushion, some lanterns and various other trinkets (including an ornamental genie’s lamp- the 10 year old me begged me to).
After a couple of days exploring the Marrakech medina, I jumped a taxi to Le Jardin Majorelle which is the beautiful floral garden that belonged to Yves Saint Laurent. He left it to the city of Marrakech in his will so it could be open to the public to enjoy too.
Palm trees line the pavement which guides you along rare species of plants and flowers with YSL’s chosen colour of a strong cobalt blue painted all around, leading up to a mini palace where you’ll find a gorgeous café and souvenir shop.
There are other architectural wonders to see such as the Bahia Palace, El Badi Palace and the Ben Youssef Madrasa (Islamic college).
Moroccans are experts in crafting intricate mosaic-like wall tiles and ornate stucco walls and doors with stained glass windows. If you’ve ever been to Andalusia (southern Spain) then you will probably recognise this Moorish style of architecture and design.
On the last night, I booked myself into a street hammam. Not one of those fancy, serene, Instagrammable sanctuaries you see but a real, raw, no-fuss place which promises the genuine Moroccan bath-house experience.
This is no place for delicate pamper and rose petals- within seconds you are handed a pathetic paper thong and told to strip right there in front of everyone. In French only. I relied on my high school level French and the women’s impatient gestures to follow what she wanted.
After sitting in a steam room for what felt like forever, I was summoned to the massage table where I pummelled in a wrestling ring rather than massaged. I was pulled and bent into positions I didn’t even know I was capable of and the language barrier meant any polite requests to be more gentle weren’t understood anyway.
When I say that every last centimetre of you is washed- take my words literally. It was the cleanest I have ever felt, almost as if I had been born again and baptised.
You have to overcome your cringe barriers within minutes to survive this. It is awkward and there are a few ‘pinch yourself’ moments but believe me, it is worth it for the cleanest, softest skin you’ve ever had.
Yes, my nose stud was accidentally knocked out while the woman attacked my face with a coarse loofer and I was momentarily shocked when she pulled away the paper thong to give me a final ‘once over’ everywhere but there was something so communal and almost maternal about it.
I’d definitely recommend it for the authentic, ritualistic experience but perhaps not for the squeamish and easily mortified.
On a more serious note, my main tips for survival are to not fall for the seemingly helpful men who offer to guide you to places (they will direct you somewhere totally inaccurate and demand all sorts of money from you), dress conservatively yet comfortably for the heat and to maintain firm boundaries when the market sellers jump on you with the hard sell.
I stayed in a riad (guesthouse) but unfortunately I can’t remember its name. Definitely stay in a riad if you visit Morocco for a more authentic and beautiful experience. They are built around an internal patio usually with water fountains and flowers and vines crawling everywhere.
The lovely man who hosted me served the best breakfasts I’ve ever had with Moroccan omelettes (with cheese, spring onion and cumin), fresh Moroccan orange juice, Arabic coffee and typical pastries with almonds and pistachios.
So, did Marrakech live up to the fantasy images I had built up in my mind of flying carpets and genie lamps?
In a nutshell, yes.
Marrakech is a land of colourful fantasies and harsh realities rolled into one gorgeous haze.
This city will lift you right out of your comfort zone and show you sights, smells and sounds you’ve probably never known before.