Travel: Marrakesh

Spices in the souks 

Spices in the souks 

I went to Marrakesh last year with two aims: buy tonnes of divine bits for the house and eat lots of tagines. I managed to do both. However, in general, I found that a lot of the tagines I ate were a bit flavourless and tasted like volcanically hot vegetables, but I managed to find a couple of nice places to eat off the beaten track. Here are some things I’d recommend doing if you find yourself yearning for a trip there. 

When to go

I went in August, which was the wrong month to go in. Way too hot. Go March through May or from October through November. Much better months in terms of coping with the weather. 

Where to stay

We stayed in the Old Town; which is the most historic part of the walled city. It literally felt like we were in a different world. Each morning, stepping out of our riad was a culture shock to the system. It was incredibly loud, blisteringly hot and the buildings and roads had chunks taken out of them from years of disrepair. Mopeds would whizz by with its drivers carrying live animals, another person would be galloping down the road on a donkey, narrowly avoiding a speeding car with a car registration from the 1950s. There were women screaming at each other while their kids ran in and out of them playing – and also shouting at one-another. It was a constant attack on the senses, but I did adore how different it was to my calm (sometimes boring), Dublin way of life. It was a bit like Moore Street on ecstasy. After a few days, I found the constant level of noise and bustle a bit draining – also, considering we went for 7 days (a bit too long if I’m honest). But if it’s just three or four days, then stay in Old Town. It’s definitely an experience I’ll always fondly remember rather than regret. But if you’re staying any longer, stay in the New Town (outside the walls) and just visit the Old Town during the day. Get a riad on AirBnB – plenty of beautiful options. Or, if you’re feeling glam, stay in Richard Branson’s wife’s hotel.

How to get around

If you choose a riad on AirBnB (highly recommend), it usually comes with a private driver which will cost around €10 per day (no joke), which is the most ideal way to get around. Your driver will know the city inside out and is usually available at any time - day or night. 

Where to eat

Nomad: I often think/ drool about Nomad – it serves traditional, Morrocan dishes with western, culinary twists. It’s exactly the kind of food I adore; tagines exploding with flavour, koftas with stunning yoghurt dressings and gorgeous wines. All set on a gorgeous rooftop above the souks. Best time to go is sundown to hear the various calls to prayer rolling across the city. You'll feel like you're in Aladdin. 

Nomad

Vegetable tagine at Nomad

La Cantine Parisienne: The gigantic chandelier is reason enough to go here; a perfect Instagram moment. This restaurant was a gorgeous escape from the city’s bustle. Nicely air conditioned, a slick interior & divine bovine. 

The chandelier in La Cantine Parisienne

The chandelier in La Cantine Parisienne

Our food at La Cantine Parisienne

What do do

Camel Riding: Buy some traditional clothes and go glamel riding. It’s a great way to feel at one with the culture. That, and you’ll get amazing pictures. 

James, glamel riding

Glam riding 

Glam riding 

Jardin Majorelle: A trip to Marrakesh without a trip to Jardin Majorelle, which was owned by the late Yves Saint Laurent, isn’t a trip at all. It’s a beautifully tranquil garden with stunningly exotic plants and the bluest, blue painted walls. Get some lunch at the café in the garden – the food is very good, also, the automatic mist dispensers in the garden are great for cooling down. 

Villa Oasis, YSL's home at Jardin Majorelle.

Villa Oasis, YSL's home at Jardin Majorelle.

'The Love Gallery' at Jardin Majorelle. Yves made one each year he was there. 

'The Love Gallery' at Jardin Majorelle. Yves made one each year he was there. 

El-Fenn: It’s a bit on the pricy side to stay there, but you can get a day pass for €40 which includes access to the pools and a stunning lunch. Divine. 

El-Fenn

El-Fenn

Beldi Country Club: This place was so good that we went back twice. It feels like you’re on a film set for a James Bond movie. It’s so stunning. The staff all walk around in beautiful, billowing white fabrics. It also has poolside service, so no body movement needed. Make sure you explore the rose garden and the green house. You can get a day pass for about €40 and this also includes a gorgeous lunch. The bread baskets blew my mind; hot olive & tomato breads. Warning: do not get the shellfish; my friend did and was horrendously ill after. Why he got shellfish in such a hot, inland city though, I’ll never understand… 

James, in heaven,  at the pool in Beldi.

James, in heaven,  at the pool in Beldi.

The divine bread basket at Beldi. 

The divine bread basket at Beldi. 

The Henna Café: If you fancy some henna, pop in here. The henna is painted on your skin by local women and the money you give, goes straight into helping Moroccan people (those in need) pay for education etc. 

Go shopping: The souks are just amazing. Prepare to haggle for your LIFE. Never pay what they ask initially, but be fair. You'll get a bargain no matter what you end up paying because it's all quality stuff. Some of the haggling sessions I did seemed vicious, but the seller & I always ended the sale laughing and shaking hands - I think they love to haggle. I got some amazing traditional, gold trays that have worn beautifully. If you're a fan of Sex and the City, you'll recognise some of the souks from the second Sex & The City movie. They filmed here because they weren't permitted to film in Abu Dhabi. 

James with one of the sellers who appeared in the movie. 

James with one of the sellers who appeared in the movie. 

Be wary

Although we found the local people to be very friendly and lovely, there are some people with ulterior motives. Never, ever follow someone who is claiming to "take you on a tour" or bring you "to see something cool". They are frauds and are leading you to a potential mugging. Just stick with your friends or with your driver/ tour guide. You may also spot men with small animals like snakes and monkeys who will literally throw them at you and try make you pay for the experience. Be firm and direct with them and tell them you're not interested. 

PS: buy some fresh, orange juice every day from the street vendors. It's sensational.