3 days in Marrakech
3 Days in Marrakech. For a long time I dreamed of visiting Marrakech, one of the most vivid and evocative cities in the world, and finally the right opportunity presented itself. The architecture, the colors, the smells of spices, the atmosphere of A Thousand and One Nights: everything fascinated me about this city and seeing it live did not disappoint my expectations… Continue reading to discover my travel diary, complete with useful addresses and tips!
What to see in 3 days in Marrakech
To reach Marrakech I flew with EasyJet from Milan Malpensa. It is the only direct flight we have found (lasting three and a half hours), and there were also only a few timetables to choose from: the outward on Monday afternoon at 2:15 pm, while the return at 10:50 am Friday morning. So we stayed three full days there. The passport is required (except for those traveling with a tour operator: in this case the ID card is ok) and both to enter and to exit you must fill in the visa paper indicating your address in Marrakech (remember to bring a pen with you!). Menara Airport is very close to the city, but entering the medina, or the old part, requires a little more time because of the narrow streets and traffic that is formed with the passage of pedestrians, mopeds and bicycles! To reach the medina you must cross the city walls: what is most striking is their incredible pink salmon color and the state of excellent conservation, although they are very old (dated 1120).
The first two nights we stayed at Riad Dar Darma, which is located a few steps from the souk, in a central location. Riad (literally meaning garden) is the name now used to indicate the traditional Moroccan houses that have been restored and converted into tourist accommodation. They have a very special charm: they are presented as buildings that show nothing from the outside, but with rich decorations inside. They are built around a garden or courtyard and divided into spacious suites, equipped with every comfort and all overlooking the courtyard. Chandeliers in copper, brass or iron, carpets, velvet sofas and poufs, terracotta amphorae are the typical elements of the Moroccan style. And then there are the doors. Dar Darma had reserved for us the Blue Suite, a suite of 120 square meters, furnished in blue and gray, consisting of a living room (with fireplace) and two rooms with a four-poster bed, each with its own bathroom. I fell in love with it even before I entered, when I saw the wonderful carved wooden entrance door. I then discovered that all the doors, even the internal ones, are entirely made of wood decorated with beautiful patterns and closed with the bolt (but don’t worry, the door of the room can also be closed with a maxi lock).
As I anticipated, the soul of the riad is in the gardens and inner courtyards, true oases of peace and tranquility (and shade, much appreciated in the summer months of scorching heat, in which they told me that the temperatures are around 45° C). They are often enriched by the presence of plants or fountains, as well as tables and chairs in order to take full advantage of this space.
For our first Moroccan dinner we decided to stay in the Dar Darma riad and sit at the table in front of the fireplace. The chef Maria had prepared for us some dishes made with cooked vegetables, including courgettes, aubergines and carrots flavored with cinnamon (I had never experienced this combination and I loved it)! Then briouates, a plate of inviting puffs filled with vegetables or cheese (the most delicious I’ve ever eaten throughout the trip), chicken and Arabic bread as an accompaniment. To end the dinner, the first of a very long series of cups of mint tea (it’s their traditional drink)!
The next morning we discover that breakfast is served on the rooftop or, for people sensitive to cold like us, in the room or in the hall in front of the fireplace. We chose the latter option because, waking up early and going to breakfast around nine o’clock, it was still too cold to eat outside. How are the temperatures in Marrakech in January? There is a strong temperature range: you go from 3° C in the night to about 20° C during the day, and in the early morning there are about 10° C. At Dar Darma breakfast is served at the table and is always different, as prepared with fresh ingredients. There are different types of bread and crepes, to be served with butter, honey and jams, and then omelettes and a wonderful vanilla flavored yogurt. American coffee and fresh juice as drinks…
… It never misses the mint tea, served in a very scenic way inside silver teapots with a very long spout: tea, boiling and suitably sweetened, is poured into typical glasses from a certain height, to let the infusion cool quickly. It has an exceptional flavor: I suggest you to order it already sweetened and not with sugar apart, because it will never be as good as the one sweetened by them!
For our first day in Marrakech we decided to rely on a local guide to accompany us in the souk and to discover the medina. We were advised to do so because we were told that in the souk people are very insistent in selling to tourists, and then you risk not being able to visit it with the right calm and the right frame of mind if you were not with a local person. And then it’s nice to have someone who knows the best shops and knows exactly where to take you! We asked for a guide at the evening of our arrival and the Riad Dar Darma took care of everything, finding one speaking in Italian language. We were lucky because she was a really nice girl who has lived in Italy for many years and therefore knows perfectly our language: in case you need a guide, she is called Hanane Chouquir and you can contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
The tour started from Riad Dar Darma, where Hanane came to pick us up: from here we crossed the Medersa of Ben Youssef, the Koranic school with its peculiar architecture that unfortunately we could not visit as closed for restoration (and I will still be throughout 2019) and we passed the Marrakech Museum before entering the souk itself. There we found ourselves among a multitude of objects, colors, fragrances and different voices. With each step something new caught our attention and it was really hard to resist the urge to buy everything!
The Maison de Babouches was the first stop. Slippers of all colors, one in a row to the other, covered the entire walls of the store!
And then the shops for lanterns, lamps and lights, home decor, colorful plates and glasses!
Finding the way is not impossible: there is a long covered avenue leading from the Museum Square to the most famous square of the city, Jamaâ El Fna Square and when you find yourself at a crossroads, look up and you will find a sign indicating the direction. More or less half way through the walk we took a detour to reach the Spice Square and to stop for lunch in one of the many restaurants with the roof terrace! We chose the Nomad, which offers the cutest straw hats with which to shelter from the sun: I recommend it because the food here was really good!
In the square there was a huge shop of carpets and lots of stalls selling items made of woven straw: bags, hats, decorative elements for home… All handmade: look at the colors!
The tour continued with a visit to the Jamaa el Fna Square, the giant market square and the city’s most famous square. With counters and stalls of all kinds, the guide explained that the best time to visit is in the evening when it is even more animated than during the day, with many street shows. Finally we reach the limit of the old city, outlined by the Koutoubia Mosque: it is one of the landmarks of Marrakech as it is the tallest building in the whole city, whose 77 meter minaret is visible up to 29 km distance. On its top there are three large copper spheres covered in gold. The Mosque divides the old city from the new one. Unfortunately, its interior can only be visited only by Muslims.
Now we come to one of the most frequently asked questions on Instagram: is Marrakech safe? In my experience, I say yes: I noticed a lot of police patrols that guard the city, the squares, the gardens and the souk streets. The guide also told us that there are many policemen in plain clothes and that it is safe to go around alone even in the dark, assuring me that the city lives of tourism and no one would dream of hurting tourists. The people of the souk try to sell you their goods, some perhaps with insistence, but just do not give them attention and nothing happens. It is always advisable to ask for permission before taking photographs: it is normally granted, sometimes a small tip is required. If you go with a local guide, you will be responsible for asking for permission and in most cases you will not be asked for anything. There are kids who ask you where to lodge and propose to escort you in exchange for a small tip: they may be insistent, but they are certainly not aggressive.
As for purchases in the souk of Marrakech: the currency is the Moroccan dirham (1 euro is worth a little more than 10 dirhams), but in most places the euro is accepted. Just pay attention to the exchange rate that they practice and do not forget to bargain the price!
After the tour, we returned to Dar Darma just in time to enjoy the sunset from the terrace!
For dinner, the Dar Darma chef had prepared one of the typical Moroccan dishes: tajin, a dish made with meat and / or vegetables that are cooked in a particular earthenware pot and then served directly in it. The pot consists of a low plate and a conical lid: inside the ingredients are placed together with water and a mixture of spices, and then placed on a low heat. Cooking is so slow and enhances the taste of the ingredients to the maximum!
The next day it was time to leave Dar Darma to move to a new hotel. We have to thanks Hicham, at the front desk, and all the staff: they really made us feel at home!
Our new destination was La Mamounia, a historic hotel of Marrakech, one of the largest and most well-kept in the city. Hotel that in 2018 won the Readers Choice Award of the prestigious Condé Nast Traveler magazine, which ranked it as the best hotel in the world! A place of incredible beauty, enclosed within walls and in the middle of a lush garden with plants of all kinds, a beautiful outdoor and an indoor pool, a spa with a hammam and even a tennis court.
The suite that had been reserved for us, located on the fourth floor, was nothing short of wonderful. It consisted of a walk-in closet, a living room, a double bedroom, two bathrooms and a double terrace with deck chairs and a lovely view that went from the hotel gardens to the pool, to the snow-covered Atlas mountains. If I can’t believe my eyes seeing the mosaic floor and the coffered ceiling made of turquoise colored wood, the bathroom left me even more speechless: entirely in white marble, including the shower in the tub, and an incredible atmosphere inside!
We then decided to go back to the old part of the city to make a further tour of the souk and have lunch in another really nice and typical place. It’s called Terrace des Epices and also this is located in the Spices Market Square (on the opposite side of the Nomad): even there the view from the terrace was nothing short of amazing!
We then came across a store of herbs and spices, so beautiful and perfectly ordered to immediately catch our attention. The owner was very kind and offered to let us sniff a lot of tea, herbs, essential oils and some of his goodies (such as eucalyptus crystals which, dissolved in a cup of boiling water and inhaled, serve to free the stuffy nose). I had Mary Poppins’ bag, believe me, I would have bought a jar of everything!
In the afternoon we returned to the hotel and decided to take a walk in its immense garden: the paths are surrounded by plants of all kinds, including many olive trees, orange trees and rose gardens! Everywhere small areas of shadow formed by typical Moroccan columns decorated with zellij, or glazed ceramic mosaics in ultra-vivid colors. Even some floors resumed these colors: beautiful to walk there!
The next day we spent the morning at the hotel, starting from its famous SPA and the beautiful indoor pool.
As soon as the the sun was up in the sky, we also reached the outdoor, beautiful and gigantic pool. The temperature was pleasant and enjoying an hour in bikini with the feet in the water, after many months since the last time, was really nice!
There is a very special place in La Mamounia: it is called Black and White Salon and it is a courtyard with a marble floor and an imposing colonnade decorated with mosaics in shades of white and black… One of the most magical places of whole hotel! Its access is reserved for guests only and you must ask permission to enter it (the staff has the key to open the door and patiently wait for you until your return)!
The last stop in Marrakech was the Jardin Majorelle, an incredibly beautiful and vast naturalistic garden (over two hectares). At the entrance you cross a dense forest of tall bamboo to reach the cactus garden (of many different species), and then banana trees, palms and a huge bougainvillea that covers a whole pergola. Even from a certain distance you can catch a glimpse of the blue of the main building, the famous blue majorelle.
The gardens have a very special story. They were designed by the French artist Jacques Majorelle back in 1923 when, after undergoing some medical treatment, he decided to move to Marrakech for the period of convalescence. He bought the land with the intention of building a villa, which would become his home, and decided to paint it himself of this particular intense cobalt blue, which then took its name. All around, he gradually built a botanical garden inspired by traditional Moroccan gardens, and decided to open it to the public. After his death, the building and gardens fell into a state of semi-abandonment, until in the Eighties a very famous fashion designer did not rediscover them. This is Yves Saint Laurent (and his partner and co-founder of the fashion house, Pierre Bergé). In love with the structure, they decided to buy it and restore the villa and the gardens to their former glory.
Yves himself decided that at his death his ashes would be scattered right here in the rose garden. And a memorial was erected in his honor. Inside the gardens there is an interesting Berber Museum while outside, just 100 meters from the entrance, is the Museum dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent. You will find some beautiful vintage images that have marked the history of the French fashion house and also a hall dedicated to its iconic models. The double-breasted jacket, the Mondrian dress, the tuxedo and the safari-style jacket, just to name a few (unfortunately it was forbidden to photograph them). Absolutely not to be missed!
Do you recognize the location of this shot?!
The Jardin Majorelle and the YSL Museum are among the most visited places in all of Marrakech, and a long queue for ticket purchase is often formed. When I asked the La Mamounia concierge about the best times to visit them, they offered to go and buy tickets to avoid the queue! A service to be considered, especially if you have little time available. The cost of the garden ticket is 70 dirhams while the cost of the YSL museum is 30. The easiest way to get there is by taxi, whose price is about 50 dirhams each way (always negotiate it before getting inside).
We then returned to La Mamounia for our last dinner before returning to Italy. For the last night we had reserved a table in a very special and unique place: the Moroccan restaurant inside the hotel! The architecture of this restaurant is similar to the hotel’s salon: in the center a colonnade and all around the tables, enclosed in small rooms from which it is difficult to see the other guests, for total privacy. In the background a very pleasant live music, with a quartet of artists playing local instruments. The dinner began with a selection of bread to be sprinkled with green olive oil from the gardens of La Mamounia or with argan oil, and then dipped in spices: salt, paprika, cardamom or white pepper. For entrées a salad of cucumbers, cinnamon and almonds: a very nice combination (I do not like cucumbers generally)! Then a selection of briouates, Moroccan pastry filled with vegetables or cheese, and a pastilla, or a flan, made with vegetables and mushrooms. A super special guest came to visit us while we were having dinner: it was Samira, a beautiful blue-eyed siamese cat, one of fourteen cats hosted by the hotel! As main course we ordered tajin of lobster and vegetable cous cous, accompanied by tomato soup. Finally, cinnamon creme brulèe, fresh fruit with mint granita and orange blossom ice cream, and Moroccan cookies. All accompanied by a very last cup of mint tea! Both for the atmosphere and for the quality of the food, it was certainly one of the best dinners of the whole trip!
This is the end of my trip to Marrakech, but I’m already thinking about my next destination. A weekend in London, starting today! Follow me on Instagram @lauracomolli for the live of the trip! While here on the blog I’ll see you soon with all the photos!
Happy Friday and happy weekend to all of you!