Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A long weekend in: Marrakesh

28 May - 2 June 2015

I'm hustled out of the car and immediately my senses are alive at the market trade taking place on the floor or the small square. Distracted by some little aubergines I almost crash into a passing cyclist. Better gather yourself Claire! We wind through tiny streets and through an equally tiny door and suddenly we are surrounded by plants, a pool and the sounds of birds. Its like something from a fairytale walking into a Riad; the hustle of the street could be 10 miles away! Welcome to Marrakesh!

We decided to stay at Riad Edward before Millie and before we knew about the British owner, whose patriotism extends to a rather large painting of the queen in reception. We were welcomed with traditional Moroccan Mint Tea (something I've been waiting to try for a long time) with freshly squeezed orange juice and delicate biscuits. And not a minute too soon after a 2am alarm and a 6:25 flight from Gatwick.

Welcome tea, juice and cakes at Riad Edward
"You're room is nice and tucked away" we are told as we wind up the narrow staircase to the roof. And so it is; our room is secluded with a private outdoor seating area and no neighbours.

It's comfortably furnished with enough pillows for a Berber camp and a bath bathed in the light of the coloured glass of the window. "We got it Booking right!" we tell ourselves as we freshen up ready to explore the city!

Private seating area

The Medina

Marrakesh Medina or old city is made up of thousands of tiny winding streets that are sure to have even the most experienced navigators nervously scratching their head. Lucky for us, our Booking.com reservation got us a free travel guide with offline map from their app. This meant we could spend a little less time arguing and drawing attention to ourselves as lost tourists and more time to see the city knowing we could never really get too lost. There are also lots of signs to Jemaa El Fna square, and plenty of "helpful locals" ready to walk you almost anywhere for a few euros.

Once you take your focus off the map, the city is beautiful and the narrow streets lead to stunning mosques. Take it all in at a terrace in Jemaa El Fna over a cool drink or from the street with a 30p Orange juice. From the square you can see snake charmers, get henna or have your picture taken with a poor nappied monkey, none of which I'd recommend. Instead order a drink at the quiet Aqua bar and watch as the square stands still during prayer and the muezzin call sounds out in echoing waves, minaret by minaret across the city.

Taking in the atmosphere at Cafe Aqua, in Jemaa El Fna
After a long days travelling and walking (twice as far with all the wrong turns) we were certainly in need of a good meal. I'd booked us a table on the roof terrace at Le Foundouk, and after getting very lost on the way we arrived late and hungry.

"Je suis tre desole" (a phase I'd use much more than normal on this trip) I said as we arrived. We were shown upstairs and passed the menu and a traditional splash of rose water for our hands. The attentive service of the staff made us feel very special and we enjoyed our Briwatts and Tagine over a bottle of Moroccan red wine (not at all bad) and the sound of the starlings.

The following day we had booked a trip into the Atlas Mountains to Kasbah Du Toubkal. Again, we booked this before we spotted Daniel Craig and Mark Strong had enjoyed a bromantic getaway there some months before.

Kasbah Du Toubkal

After shockingly oversleeping I was pleased I booked the private tour as this gave us the time we needed to eat some breakfast before the day began. Our driver Ysef was patient and once on our way informative about the mountains and what we could expect. We drove out of the city toward the snow capped hills, spotting fruit trees, perilous bridges and properties owned by Richard Branson.

At the village in Ansi we stopped for a quick tour of the market. No hidden agenda to make a sale from the tourists, just a slice of real Moroccan life, goat heads and all. At Imlil we joined the Kasbah staff for a short walk up the hillside to the serene Kasbah compound which is blessed with panoramic views of the valley, waterfalls and Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. As we bathed in the view we were served a lunch of Moroccan salad, lamb and fig Tagine, cous cous with chicken and vegetables and fresh watermelon. The Tagine was out of this world! Fall off the bone lamb with onions, figs and tomato. Satisfied and with no other plan but to enjoy the view, we camped out Berber style on the terrace to take in the view and calm.

The view from Kasbah Du Toubkal
By the end of such a long day, we wanted to stay close to the Riad for dinner. We'd noticed I Limoni as we came home the previous evening and after seeing it's reviews on TripAdvisor decided to give it ago. We only wanted a small meal after all the Tagine at the Kasbah; or so we thought.

Seated among the lemon trees and listening to a mix of chill out, a small meal turned into 3 courses. I Limoni offers a mixture of Moroccan and Italian dishes, so we were spoiled for choice! We were greeted by a run down of the specials and served fried vegetables and bread which we enjoyed with lashings of olive oil and balamic vinegar. We shouldn't have ordered starters, but it was too late, and now I was faced with a huge pastilla. Pastilla is a sweet or savoury dish, wrapped in filo pastry. Mine was chicken, with a delicate sweetness to it, and dusted with cinnamon. Sounds weird but tastes delicious. I was only sorry I couldn't eat it all! I followed this with lemon and Rosemary pasta which was the simple but tasty dish I needed. Mark had gnocchi Gorgonzola which he enjoyed. After nearly the whole bottle of Cuvee President, the dessert menu tempted us back with tiramisu and we were glad we decided to share. It was massive! We were invited to finish our drinks on the terrace and left feeling very full but very happy we'd chosen to come.

The following night be returned to I Limoni for lamb Tagine and chocolate and pear tart! Equally delicious and we even got a lemoncello to finish it off with!

Sightseeing in Marrakesh

We'd reserved our last day in Marrakesh for some much needed sunbathing and book reading on the roof, so the Sunday was all about sights!

Marrakesh is a city you can explore in a weekend, but when pushed for time we think a day is just about enough to tick the important boxes depending on how much you really want to see. I find being flexible with what you can and can't leave without seeing is important to exploring any new place and makes the whole experience more enjoyable.

I'd wanted to ride a camel since I came home from Egypt without having had so much as an opportunity to ride one, so with a little French interpretation, I booked us a camel each around the Palmerie. We were dressed up in the semi traditional looking garb and walked about for an hour quite happily with our guide/photographer happily chatting and snapping away.

Camel riding in the Palmerie
Back in the medina, we hotfooted it over to the tanneries. This corner of the city is where the leather is prepared and, although not particularly enamoured with the idea of a tour, we did pop out heard around the corner for a quick peek.

We pit stop for chicken sandwiches (amazing) and an orange juice on our way to the souks at Terasse La Medersa. Around the corner the souks entrance beckons us in. As we are on a tight schedule, we follow the main avenue of the mess of alleys and corners from one end to the other, glancing at trinkets, tea pots and slippers.

Marrakesh souks
The souks are a maze of colours and explorers bargaining for a keepsake or two. I'm not quite sure if there's anything I want to part with my money for, but as we negotiate over a leather belt for Mark, a backpack which I know will age well catches my eye. Sadly it's too much than I'm willing to spend, but half the price later I'm a happy lady with a leather backpack for the equivalent of £14.60! We pick up a few novelties for our friends before emerging the other end of the souk happy and about ready for another orange juice.

Our next stop is the Saadian Tombs. Inside this tiny sight we find beautiful mosaics and a lush garden and after a peaceful walk around its time to catch the caleche to our final stop of the day, the Majorelle Gardens.

Saadian Tombs

Saved by French fashionista Yves Saint Lauren, Majorelle Gardens seems to be some kind of fashion Mecca, and it is here outside of the medina walls where we find flowing dresses among the cacti! The gardens are lovely and the blue as deep and walk as you've come to expect, but for the price this was certainly more new than old Marrakesh!

There were other sights I would have liked to see, for example the Mamounia, but I think after my slight disappointment with the Majorelle, I'd be happier with a more time in my magical Riad anyway!

On our final day we bathe under the sun and indulge is breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Riad, all topped off with a massage that boarders on being a little naughty!

Sunset views of Koutombia Mosque from Riad Edward

It's been a strange sort of a trip in some ways, as I forget myself, am constantly late and feel like I'm making mistakes I really should have sorted by now. There are parts of the city that remind me of Vietnam and Cambodia, by being completely open to tourists but still maintain a distance from them. Eventually as with every trip though, it's time to go and as we jet off I feel relaxed and ready for my next adventure!