Marrakech moments

Thanks to my mum and brother I spent a wonderful week in Morocco in September for my birthday. After a three-hour flight which I spent mostly drunk with sleep we arrived at the Marrakech Menara Airport and on my face appeared a wide smile, the same one I had when I landed in this airport three years ago. After two hours of long queues and the meticulous manner of the passport control staff, we exited the airport and were picked up by our airport transfer taxi.

During the 15-minute drive to our Riad, my eyes were glued to the window taking in the beautiful clay coloured city- vibrant and busy with life especially as we approached the medina (the old town) where Riad Aliya was located. We were picked up from the drop off point by a staff member who took us to our Riad hidden behind a series of alleyways and courtyards. It was just as beautiful in person- quaint, intimate and paired with the warm welcome we received from staff it made me feel like a guest at a friend’s house.
In trying to find our way to Jemaa El-fna square, we were approached by a young man in a football jersey who informed us we were going the wrong way and was kind enough to take us to the square but of course that was not without condition. We were ushered into a shop filled with hundreds of spices each serving a different purpose, argan oil, natural perfumes, herbs, leaves and more. Before I knew it, I had a cup of mint tea in my hand as is the custom whenever you visit someone in Morocco. After a 15-minute lecture on the products in the store and on the promise that we would come back to make a purchase, we were able to leave and finally begin exploring the square.

The square was the visually pleasing gift that kept on giving and I found myself standing still amongst the harmonious chaos for a minute to take it all in- vendors with carts full of fresh fruit, food stalls with inviting aromas of grilled meats and warm bread, stalls of gorgeous silver and gold trinkets and ornaments, rings, earrings and bangles made from burnished gold and silver.  And at night when the square came alive; street entertainers, snake charmers, women sat on stools skilfully drawing decorative designs of henna on the hands of eager visitors, souks filled with stalls selling stunning hand-woven rugs so intricately designed and rich and vibrant in colour. Babouche slippers in primary and metallic colours, woven basket bags, pashminas and kaftans are just a few more examples of items that were sold in market stalls.  

In the evenings, wrapped in the peaceful and comfortable silence of Riad Aliya I often sat by the pool side getting lost in a book or went for a late-night swim and allowed the water to cool my skin warmed from spending time in the hot sun. In the mornings, breakfast was served on the terrace- we indulged in a platter of bread, various jams and chutneys, Baghrir (semolina pancakes), crepes, harcha and fresh fruits all washed down with glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice and of course mint tea.

We spent the week visiting historical structures such as the Saadian Tombs conveniently located 3 minutes away from out Riad. One of the only remnants of the Saadian dynasty which reigned over Marrakech between 1524 to 1659. Walking through the minimalist garden burrowed between each mausoleum, I was enthralled by the beauty of Moroccan tiles which decorated the walls and floors of the tombs. The chamber of the 12 pillars was a glorious sight- Italian Carrara marble, gliding honeycomb muqarnas with pure gold were used to make this and it was no wonder why people queued up in large numbers just to catch a glimpse of this masterpiece. I got lost in the beautiful ruins of Palais El Badi- a palace built in 1578 by Saadian sultan Ahmed al-Mansur in celebration of the victory over the Portuguese army. 

Of all the places we visited the El Badi Palace was the most quiet and even though there was quite a number of visitors, we were swallowed by the vastness of the Palace. Our steps were slow and unhurried as we made our way through the ruins and one could only imagine what it must have looked like in all its former glory. Apart from the guards, the only other residents of the palace were storks perched on their large nests which could be found on top of the high walls. At the highest point of the palace we got a stunning view of the city below us; people zooming past on motocycles, horses trotting along carrying carriages of people and children running around being their care-free selves.

 On my visit to a spa I got to experience the traditional ritual of a hammam; sat undressed in a warm room, my attendant rubbed a Savon beldi (black soap) all over my body and rinsed it off. Then came the exfoliation, I was thoroughly scrubbed with a kess (exfoliating hand mitt) my attendant ensuring that no patch of skin was left untouched and when she was satisfied, I was rinsed down and left to lay down and relax. To fully enjoy such an experience one needs to leave their embarrasment at the door and let go of any awkwardness one might feel about being naked in front of a stranger.

Quad biking allowed us to explore Marrakech’s remarkable desert as we travelled through the palm groves, my brother the driver and I the passenger. His boyish excitement throughout the whole experience was truly adorable and contagious as even I couldn’t help but squeal as we scaled down the high slopes of sand dunes. We rested a while in a Berber village, talked to the locals and other tourist whilst filling our bellies with strips of bread dipped in the sweetest honey I had ever tasted and - you guessed it- mint tea.

At le Jardin Majorelle, we sauntered along shady lanes amidst exotic plants and trees: cacti, palm trees, thujas, weeping willows, jasmine, agave and bougainvillea. On the surface of bubbling streams and pools lay white water lilies and lotus flowers and swimming beneath were koi fish. At the end of our meander through the botanical garden we approached a building painted in stunning primary colours, the radiant intensity of the blue colour was mesmerising- a colour the artist derived from the Atlas Mountains- and the décor and architecture had a Moorish charm to it. Our visit to the garden was soothing and enchanting and despite its proximity to the city centre, we were sheltered behind its old walls, lost in time.

My time in Marrakech was splendid and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate my 24th birthday. Furthermore, besides the places we visited and things we did, the trip would not have been what it was without the lovely people of Marrakech who welcomed us with open arms. The staff at Riad Aliya were all friendly and extremely helpful and those at the spa had us feeling like new people after our treatment. I am also grateful to all the lovely men who were eager to show us around- without Isam we would not have found the spa! To the silver-tongued merchants at the square who left me with empty pockets and bags full of Morrocan treasure, their hospitality was unmatched and even when I left without making a purchase they still remained their charming selves. And of course I can't forget the sweet old man whose restaurant we stumbled upon one evening who treated us like old friends, gave us more food than our bellies would allow- some of which were on the house, and gave us warm embraces as we left the restaurant.

The day of our departure was a bitter-sweet one and as I stared out the window of our airport transfer taxi looking back at the beautiful city I was leaving behind, I knew that it wasn't "goodbye" but rather "see you later". There are still many places I'm yet to visit and other hidden gems to discover in the enchanting city of Marrakech.

I hope I managed to momentarily transport you to stunning Marrakech with this post! I totally recommend that you visit at least once to make your own memories and write your own story.

Thanks for reading
And until next time, take care and God bless xo