Marrakech allures with otherworldly charm. The city is coined in patterned dyes and handmade rugs stacked one on top of the other, higher than the walls of the Medina. It’s impossible not to lose yourself while wandering dusty paths to the sounds of donkey carts past spice markets and sparkling candle lights. The complex beauty of Marrakech stems from a rich cultural heritage, so do yourself a favor and prepare with these 10 tips…
Respect the Culture
Pack appropriately: even in the high heat of the summer, it’s advised to cover up. Morocco is an African country, but more than 99% of the population follow the Muslim religion. Men usually head to the Mosque (where women aren’t allowed) up to five times a day to pray. Find a terrace overlooking the Djemaa el-Fna or get behind the Koutouba Mosque at sunset to take it all in.
Marrakech is an easy flight from Paris, and French is the country’s unofficial second language. “Marrakech has always been a city of travelers. It’s had this French vibe and influence since the late 70’s, of course with YSL starting to come here, making it a trendy place.” Says Julien, co-owner of Riad Jardin Secret.
The Medina is like a maze. It encompasses the entire old-town of Marrakech and is walled off from the rest of the city. Definitely book a stay inside the Medina (old town) and wander towards to the artisan Souk. You’ll see herbalists, spice sellers, metal workers and rugs galore. There are really no words for the souk; it’s disorganized, but at the same time, organized. You just have to experience it.
The word Riad originates from the Arabian term for garden, and creative expats from around the world have spun this concept into stunning boutique hotels. Book a comfortable place to stay, like Jardin Secret. The co-owner Cyrille says, “You have to digest everything from the outside in. It’s important here to have a place where you can calm down. Your eyes and mind need time to reorganize all the things they have seen.”
Historically, the Berber people migrated from North Africa and inhabited Morocco for centuries before the first Arab invasion in the seventh century. The indigenous population of Morocco is still alive and in rural areas, different Berber tribes continue to pass down tribal carpet weaving traditions. If you’re in the market for a carpet, venture towards the Atlas Mountains where you can buy direct from the makers.
A tajine is a slow-cooked savory stew prepared inside a clay pot with a pointed top. Morocco is famous for spices, and tajine spares no flavor. Beef or lamb tajine with prunes and fried almonds is a popular (and mouthwatering) must-try.
As part of the Islamic religion, alcohol consumption is forbidden. That being said, the religion doesn’t forbid the production of alcohol… so it can be found in shops outside the Medina. It’s difficult to find a restaurant that will serve you a drink, but if you’re looking for a night out try Le Salama in the new city.
Cleanse and Detox
Do as the locals do and treat yourself to a day at the bathhouse. This traditional weekly ritual is essentially a way to detox and cleanse. A full Hammam experience includes a steam, exfoliation and a soak. There are a multitude of options in Marrakech, from the super high end La Sultana to the secluded Le Bain Bleu.
If you look like a tourist, locals will hassle you on the streets. The Medina is not an easy place to navigate, so give yourself at least half a day when venturing into the souks. Being in a hurry will do you no good in Marrakech. Take time for everything. Be upfront, clear and kind with anyone who approaches you. A polite conversation can sneakily turn into a transaction before you even realize what’s going on. No thank you is ‘Non merci’ in French and ‘La chokran’ in Arabic… this phrase will work wonders.
At some point, a stranger will invite you into his or her home for mint tea. Moroccans are famous for their hospitality, and it is proper etiquette to offer tea to anyone stopping by. Don’t be surprised if your new friend starts laying out carpets for sale in front of you. It’s not rude to bargain for a better price if something catches your eye.