Guys, have I ever been more obsessed with a place than I am Marrakech? Probs not. What a vibrant, lively, beautiful, crazy place filled with kind, outgoing people, with so many wonderful smells and bright colors.
I have been dying to go to Marrakech ever since we moved to Italy. Though we love traveling throughout Europe, there was something that just drew me to Marrakech — maybe it was the beautiful rugs that constantly popped up on my computer screen, or the flavorful food that I loved so much, but I have never been so aesthetically inspired by a trip. Everything, down to the concrete walls in the shower of our riad, or the hand-painted ceramic tiles lining the walls, or the beautiful colors found in the woven textiles sold in all the souks, inspired me in some way, to cook or make or live differently.
It didn't hurt that the weather was amazing (I have never been to the desert before and I am sold on the arid climate, y'all, and so is my hair) and the people were some of the most kind, patient and hospitable folks I ever met. We drank Moroccan mint tea with many of the merchants after making a purchase, just chatting and learning about each other in a leisurely way, appreciating such an old and respected custom. We talked to so many people of different backgrounds on our trip — people we sat by on the airplane or next to in a restaurant, or in the souks, and had so many conversations with perfect strangers that, in the end, we became what seemed like close friends.
Our first trip to Africa was such a success. It has inspired me so much to travel to non-Western locations and experience all that the world has to offer — especially if the people are as kind and the surroundings as beautiful as they are in Marrakech. I can't wait to share all that I learned about Marrakech with you!
THINGS WE DID:
- Lounged in luxury at Riad Berbère: Hands down, I have never stayed in a nicer or more relaxing place than Riad Berbère. Now, y'all know my love for Airbnb, but I had heard from some friends about staying in riads, which are traditional Moroccan homes that used to be owned by wealthier families. They are often two stories tall (or more), and the building surrounds a courtyard, which often has a pool and a garden in the middle. So, I booked our riad through booking.com (though I'm sure Airbnb has some also), and let me tell you, I spent weeks going through options because everything looked seriously so amazing. I finally just booked Riad Berbère because everything looked so fabulous, and I'm SO glad I did. Ingrid, who ran the riad, curated everything in that place so meticulously, from the maid's uniforms, to the fluffy white pillows, down to the golden hammered soap dishes. Our room was cozy with fluffy white rugs and beautiful orange concrete walls and floors, but our favorite parts were the terraces covered in large white pillows and the courtyard, with its relaxing pool and banana trees. Many riads also have hammams, or spa/bath houses, and ours offered spa services, so yeah, I got a (very inexpensive) massage. We spent our entire last afternoon in Marrakech just reading on the roof and getting pampered. Also, there were cats, so it was basically perfection.
- Stocked up at the spice market: A lot of things I read about Marrakech told us to go to Jemaa El Fnaa, the large market in the Medina. However, I was honestly not a fan of it. It felt very, very touristy to me, with people constantly bothering you to take pamphlets, to come to their restaurant and to buy junk. It was worth it to see — yes, there are folks playing pipes to rattlesnakes — but it was also kind of depressing seeing the monkeys chained up so you could take a picture with them. I much, much preferred the spice market, surrounded by herboristes and piles of spices and women asking you if you'd like some henna. We sat at Café Des Épices, a great place for a burger and a drink with terrace views, as we people watched and refueled until we were ready to shop some more
- Drank with a view at NOMAD: My favorite place that we ate in Marrakech was right off the spice market, and is apparently one of the only places in the Medina (the old city) with alcohol, so we picked well. NOMAD just feels ~so super cool~ when you're there, with their black and white tiled tables and elaborate terraces overlooking the market, but their food is also so good. We drank mojitos and ate couscous and tajine and chatted with a table of French and Moroccan folks next to us. And I took food photos galore.
- Took photos galore at Majorelle Gardens: If you've seen photos of Marrakech, most likely you've seen pictures of the cobalt and saffron walls of the Majorelle Gardens, the grounds that Yves Saint Laurent revived. It's 70 dirham to enter, and it's worth it just to wander around the forest of cacti and sit in the luxury of the beautiful fountains and architecture. It's a very pretty place, and you'll walk away with a new profile picture, most likely — and isn't that what's most important?
MORE THINGS WE DID:
- Got fancy at Le Fondouk: I do a little bit of research on restaurants and shopping before I leave on trips, and usually I just email myself a mass list of restaurants with addresses and quick descriptions like "Go for drinks" or "SUPER HIP PLACE." Le Fondouk was not far from our riad, and we were feeling lazy one night, so it served to be our go-to dinner spot, plus it was on my list as a fancy spot with great terrace dining. The interior was super beautiful, with like 3 levels of dining and a lot of fancy, cozy nooks with booths for dining. If you're a planner, definitely make reservations on the rooftop and dine up there. But don't bother with their cocktail menu — the drinks weren't great.
- Ate among the plants at Le Jardin: This place is worth it to go just to see, as it's decorated all in green everything and you literally sit in the middle of a garden. It is cute AF. Their food is just okay, but their iced mint tea is bomb and their decor and ambience is worth it. If you're lucky, the restaurant turtle might show up!
- Stock up with the herboristes: One of my favorite types of shops in the Medina was, weirdly, the herboristes, or the shops of folks in (presumably fake) lab coats selling spices, scents and natural products. We bought a crap ton of spices from them, including saffron at much cheaper prices than we could get back home. I also found a lot of solid perfumes, like amber, that I loved, plus some very colorful potpourri (as seen in the first picture), fun natural lipstick and argan oil out the wazoo.
- Got lost in the souks: First and foremost, our trip to Marrakech was for shopping. Now, let me preface this by saying that we're not a souvenir family. When we travel, we eat good food and take pictures, and those are our souvenirs. But I was incredibly interested (and obsessed) with a lot of Moroccan items, and wanted to go home with many of them. One of the best places to find things to shop — for things you need or don't know you need — is the souks. They're basically little booths that merchants set up and you wander down the streets and alleys of stalls, where they're selling carpets, shoes, poufs, spices, clothing, jewelry, ceramics, baskets — whatever! Some of the similar souks are grouped near each other, like the carpet souks, and some of them are all mixed in. The souks are all throughout the Medina. Yes, you will get lost among the souks, and you'll find things that you won't need but that you'll buy, and you'll have a good time doing it (see below about haggling!).
- Bought a freakin' rug: My goal in Marrakech was to come home with a rug, and I succeeded. We left Marrakech with a gorgeous 6x9 Beni Ourain Berber rug, made of plush, natural wool so soft I want to sleep on it forever. We stopped into a rug shop near our riad, Namous Art Expo. We chatted with the kind and patient Mohammed, who spent two shopping visits with us, going through all the types of rugs and kilims he had, explaining the differences between them, the tribes that made them, and the material that was used. Rugs are incredibly important in Moroccan culture, and are world-renowned. The Beni Ourain is especially popular at the moment, and I think I will love and cherish ours for the rest of my life.
TIPS & TRICKS:
- Bring enough trunk space: A lot of folks asked me how we got our 6x9 Beni Ourain rug back to Italy. Obviously, luggage! However, I received a fantastic tip before I left, which was to bring a bag filled with donations for orphanages (clothing, medicine, school supplies), leave the donations in Marrakech (our hotel actually asked if we would like to make a donation, so we left it with Riad Berbère), and then you've got an empty bag to fill with Moroccan wares! We paid to check our bag, but it was based on weight only, and we didn't have any issues filling it up with awesomeness.
- What to wear, ladies: I always worry about what to wear on any trip, but that's mostly based on how adorable my outfits are and what the weather is like. However, I was so concerned about modesty before we left for Marrakech, and was very worried that my clothing would not be appropriate. But, after spending a few days there, I worried much less about what I was wearing. Why? Because everyone could tell I was a tourist. Y'all, I'm white AF with freckles, I'm not blending in, so they could spot me a mile away no matter how much I covered up. No, you don't need to cover your hair. The local Muslim women (which most of them are), yes, follow Islamic modesty codes (typically, hair covered, and then body covered down to wrists and ankles). If you can cover your knees and shoulders, this would be optimal. But if you can't, it's not the end of the world — bring a scarf or a pashmina to cover your shoulders if you like, dress a little more modestly if you're traveling in an all-female pack or solo (especially in the breast and butt area), but don't ~stress~ about it. My go-tos were maxi dresses or maxi skirts with a scarf over my shoulders, and this worked super well.
- Haggle when you buy: I walked into Morocco with the utmost confidence that I would be fantastic at haggling in Marrakech (I'm so good at it in NYC, y'all!), and boy, was I wrong. These merchants are no joke! If they offer you a price, your next offer should be between 1/4 and 1/3 of their original offer. Their next offer will most likely be very close to their first offer (like barely any less), but stay firm! Go back and forth a few times until you can settle on a price, and don't stress about having exact change for your haggle. It's expected, and it's one of the cultural experiences of Marrakech.
MORE TIPS & TRICKS:
- Don't forget to tip!: Living in Italy, I seem to forget that tipping is a custom in many other parts of the world, because it's so much easier to not tip than it is to remember to tip. However, tipping can go a long way in Morocco, and you should give what you can. Many restaurants include a 7% service charge on your bill, but if they don't, including between 7-10% (in cash) is customary. Also, carry a little change for your taxi driver, the people who handle your luggage, and anyone else who might be especially helpful. Even just a few dirhams can go a long way to some families, as you will see a lot of poverty in your time in Marrakech. Also, before you leave, instead of trying to spend your last few dirhams on argan oil before you leave, consider giving it to the woman you've passed by every day begging in the streets.
- Setting a price with your taxi: Petit taxis are the "legal" taxis that you should take while you're in Marrakech, but for some reason, this doesn't mean that they'll run their meter or anything (or have seatbelts, apparently). Either ask your taxi driver to run their meter or set a price before you even hop in their car (our riad told us what prices we should expect during certain destinations). Most will oblige, and if they don't, simply walk over to the next taxi.
- Eat this: Mint tea (try it iced, too!), tajine, couscous, pastilla, cold Moroccan gazpacho, brochette
- Buy this: Leather poufs (haggle for between $15-$40, depending on the quality), tassles, leather bags, rugs (kilims or Berber rugs), woven baskets, jewelry, spices
Photos and text © copyright Katie Currid, 2016. All rights reserved.