Visit Marrakech and you'll feel as though you've stepped into one of Scheherazade's Arabian Nights. Nicknamed the 'Red City' because of the colour of its ancient clay walls, Marrakech is still imbued with the same exotic magic and opulent tradition that inspired travellers a thousand years ago. Marrakech is now the capital of South Morocco, and it embraces cosmopolitan modern life whilst keeping a firm foot in its colourful past. In a recent article Alexia Brue commented of Marrakech, 'people swill mint tea and martinis in equal measure'.
Marrakech is a veritable hive of activity, and caters for every taste and pocket.
Go and get pampered at the traditional beauty spa, the Hammam, where you can choose from the latest hydrotherapeutic treatments. Indulge yourself with essential oil massage, oriental stone therapy, cocoa body scrub, sugar and honey depilation, sauna, manicure, pedicure…you name it, they do it!
Now you're feeling refreshed, take a stroll around Djemaa el Fna Square in the Medina (Old City). You'll be amazed by snake charmers, Chleuh dancing-boys, fortune-tellers, animal tamers, magicians, teeth-pullers, fire-eaters and Berber peddlers in colourful traditional costume.
Once you've been bewitched by the magic of the Medina, take a trip to the Majorelle Garden and its Museum of Islamic art. The garden was created a century ago by painter Jacques Majorelle, and has since been renovated by Yves Saint Laurent. The delicate scents of roses, orange flowers and hibiscus combined with vibrant birdsong and framed by the stunning azure blue mosaics creates a truly onomatopoeic experience – not to be missed!
The Marrakech architecture is utterly unique; the Koutoubia Tower must be seen to be believed, as should the delicate artwork of the Saadian Tombs, and the Al Bahdii and Al Bahia palaces.
And if you're feeling active, there are regular organised treks up the snowy Atlas mountains which overlook Marrakech. Climb 30 minutes to the picturesque Lake Lalla Takerkoust, where you can try your hand at a host of water-sports, or horse ride through the almond and olive groves. Alternatively, quad-bike through the green Ourika Valley, try the nectar-sweet tangerines and marvel at the seven waterfalls. During the winter months there are various ski resorts, golf courses and fishing lakes.
Marrakech is Morroco's shopping Mecca – a haven for shop-o-holics and culture-vultures alike. Home to the largest Souk (market) in the country, you'll find locals and tourists alike here.
Wander through the Medina and you'll be overwhelmed with colour and diversity. Shopkeepers will entice you into their Riads (old town houses) for a cup of mint tea while they show you exquisite carpets, Berber pottery, ethnic jewellery and exotic spices.
You can pick up a bargain here, but some advice – never accept the first offer, the Morrocans will always be open to haggle! After your retail therapy, quench your thirst with some local orange juice – it's the best you'll ever taste.
Nightlife and Eating Out
The night scene is as varied as it is distinctive in Marrakech. Nightlife starts later because of the hot weather; you go out to eat at about nine or ten, and clubs and bars only warm up after about three.
Morrocan cuisine is outstanding and very reasonably priced; try a plate of Mezze to begin with (samples of the local sweetmeats) followed by the local speciality Tanjia (slow-baked lamb in a clay oven) and couscous seasoned with traditional herbs and spices. If you still have room you may want to try the jaouhara (fried filo pastry with cream) – Marrakech is no place for diets!
Be warned: the water is rarely filtered, so to avoid stomach upsets steer clear of salads and fresh vegetables which may have been washed in unclean water.
In regards clubs and bars, the Djemaa el Fnaa Square is where you'll find the best ambiance. Live music, dancers, performing artists and various local cafés and terraces create a buzzing atmosphere. If you're a sworn fashionista saunter along to the New Town, the Gueliz. There you will find Paradise situated in the Palais du Congres, or New Feeling in the Palmeraie Golf Palace.
Marrakech also has the largest casino in Morocco, Le Grand Casino La Mamounia.
Tourist Information Office of Marrakech176 Boulevard Mohamed VTEL: +212 (0)43 20 97/43 47 97
Tourist BoardPlace Abdelmoumen Ben AliTEL: +212 (0)43 10 88/44 88 89