From the labyrinthine souks, to the fragrant gardens and sumptuous food, here's your guide to making the most of a weekend in Morocco's capital city.
Jemaa el-Fnaa is a bit like Borough Market on acid.
Granted, that rather crude assessment of Marrakech’s erratically beating heart is as brash as some of the local souk traders, but it was certainly not intended to do a disservice to the bustling marketplace. Nor does it seek to tarnish the reputation of the Red City – Morocco’s thriving capital – as a whole.
Instead, for those who have sampled the cacophony of rumbling drums, piping horns and harking traders, and whiffed the enticing smells from busy open kitchens and stalls, it’s an apt description. The famous shifting streets of the souks are what draw the masses, and whether it is traditional Moroccan headscarves, kicks that would turn any sultan green with envy, or a fridge magnet to send home to mum, everything is for sale. Whether the price is right depends if you are the buyer or the seller.
The locals know the game and seem to relish would-be bargain hunters entering the fray, but bartering isn’t for the weak willed and designating someone to be in charge of the dirhams is a good way to keep spending under control.
Marrakech makes no apology for its frenzied hotspot, but while the Instagrammers of the world are clambering for the perfect angle for their next post, there are plenty of pockets of more serene scenes in which to escape the constant state of flux.
While much of the metropolis is dusted brick red, the man charged with designing the Eden-like grounds of Jardin Majorelle clearly didn’t receive the correct universally adopted colour swatch in the post.
Doing away with tradition, in 1923 Frenchman Jacques Majorelle opted to douse the pavilion in China blue, adding further splashes of colour with red tadelakt-plastered lanes, yellow plant pots, and a lush array of foliage that makes the concept of stumbling into the neighbouring Moroccan Sahara sound laughable.
A 16th-century necropolis probably doesn’t top many ‘must see’ lists when holiday itineraries are first drafted, but as the resting place of four sultans, the Saadian Tombs deliver a posthumous peak into the life of Moroccan royalty.
But if it wasn’t for a chance archeological excavation in 1917 – the burial grounds were sealed off by one salty sultan after his ascension to the throne – the grand tombs would still be lost to the ages. All the more reason to stop in, you never know how the next sultan is going to view his predecessors.
Kids are told not to play with their food, but that rule can be thrown out the window once you hit adolescence.
In fact the perfect way to sample the menu of Moroccan delicacies is to whip them up yourselves. Plenty of guides are on hand at the market to ferry you off to their kitchen, but not before a stop at the butcher, vegetable stall and local spice seller to gather ingredients. Tagines – a clay hotpot with a tall, conical lid in which to blend spiced meat and veg mixture – churn out succulent stews that are synonymous with North Africa, while b’ssara is a rich soup of dried broad beans usually topped with a dash of cumin, and served with fresh bread.
Of course, if you fancy leaving the cooking to the professionals, all the flavours of the country can be savoured at the dozens of numbered food stalls pitched up in Jemaa El-Fnaa, and for pennies per plate.
Just be forewarned that ‘a little bit of everything’ equates to a whole lot of food so come hungry.