Arriving into Marrakech, the red city (so named for the Medina’s pink walls) was quite an experience. Our driver was having a little trouble finding the right spot but came through, dropping us in a car park and pointing. Thankfully we had the maps app to assist us to navigate our way to our hotel without the need for one of the hundred locals offering their services to show us the way.
Arriving at BE Rhiad was like arriving into an oasis. The place was stunning with its two pools, beautifully tiled interior, lovely furnishings and rooftop terrace. As nice as it was it didn’t take us long to get settled, quizz Mehdi for the key sights and embark on the souqs.
Before going too far we decided we needed food to sustain us for our shopping so settled into Cafe Arabe – one of the stylish bar/cafe/restaurants of the old city. We then shopped and shopped wondering if we’d ever find our way home from the maze we’d entered. We all gasped as Leigh proceeded to help with an “eeniminiminiemo” rendition but thankfully all ended well!
We’d planned a tour the next day but I’d been sick all night so the girls graciously agreed to delay it a day. We stuck reasonably close to home and shopped.
We had lunch/dinner at the hip Nomad, just off the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa. Nomad had a really lovely vibe but unfortunately it’s pretension came with pretty poor service and average food but was still good to experience being on the rooftop near the square. Leigh finally gave up on the shopping – not surprisingly; she’d been an awesome passive shopper!
Tan and I continued on….like I could ever get bored of shopping?!?! Turned out Tan had my shopping stamina!
The initial focus was on shoes for Tan. One of the guys must have noticed I was a bit of a passenger on this one and said “no problem I have big ones”. I replied “what, to match my mouth?” But he didn’t quite get it.
Next stop carpets. It wasn’t intentional; I’d gone in to look at their leather ottomans only for us to find ourselves surrounded by beautiful rugs. After a bit of hard bargaining we each walked out with a small hall runner. Tick!
The next morning we had our tour with Yussef. He showed us a pit area that doubles as the fire to heat the adjoining hammam and an oven to cook up the offel so loved by the Moroccans. There was certainly little wastage in this culture.
Next stop was the secret garden – a riad with two beautiful gardens (an exotic and an Islamic) fed by an ancient underground hydraulic system. The water is a real focus because of the significance that water plays in the Islamic faith, evidenced by the ablution rituals.
The garden had fallen into ruin in the 1930s after a relative of the chamberlain of the sultan started to divide it up. Thankfully some Moroccan entrepreneurs had recognised its value and so had gone through the process of buying back the parcels of land to restore it back to its former glory and magnificent it was today.
We then ventured into the square which was bustling with sellers, monkey tamers and snake charmers. We glimpsed a guy having a snake put around his neck because he wasn’t prepared to pay for the photo he’d just taken of it. Those who know me will appreciate that I was staying well away from that action!
Once yussef realised the serious phobias in the group he made sure we skirted that area of the square ensuring no unexpected encounters.
El Baldi Palais (the Baldi Palace) was next on the agenda with its ruins giving some impression of the former structure with its sunken gardens and pools. It was said to once be embellished with precious metals and stones, which were later looted by invading forces.
The Palais Bahia was quite a contrast; beautiful (which it’s name reflects) with elaborate parquetry panelling, wood carving, tiles and painting. The gardens were also lovely. We only saw the front of the eight hectare property and what we saw was really impressive.
Yussef offered to take us to the ‘only place he would recommend for genuine Argan oil’ and assured us he would give us back the discount that he would otherwise get in commission. As it turned out, we got the oil …he got the commission!
After a bit more shopping we were done and ready to hit the town. Tan, Leigh and I took up the option of going into the new city to check out the nightlife. Karen was keen to just hang and enjoy the Riad. Destination Arkech rooftop bar! What a hoot we had. We started on the rooftop bar with our own table fire, some tapas and local beers and wines. Leigh was so distraught by our neighbouring table not eating their meal that as they left she couldn’t help herself from muttering (rather loudly) “could we have your burger?”. Hilarious.
The waiter from the bar below kept coming and asking if we’d like to go downstairs to enjoy the live music. All obviously trying to get enough patronage to secure their employment. Feeling the pressure we ventured downstairs. I got up for a little Colombian salsa while Tan entertained Anass (the Moroccan model who’d come home from Paris to look after his sister after his mother’s death 2 years ago…he certainly had the looks for it but we were a little dubious of the tale). We drank cocktails and we went off to Best of You by the Foo Fighters thanks to a bit of requesting by Leigh. They’d obviously never seen anything quite like it as even the chef came out when he could hear all the clapping. We were just lucky the bar was empty or it could have been a tad embarrassing!
With Tan’s suggestion of a third cocktail we knew it was time to go!
The next day we were having another treat in a Moroccan spa. This time Tan, Leigh and I had opted for a 2 hr package and Karen for a massage. The Hammam was a completely different experience to what we’d had in Chefchaouen. For one, our scrubber was fully clothed even if we weren’t and secondly the Hammam was set up so that we were washed with the running water from the trough. It was pretty hot and a little disconcerting when we tried to open the door only to find we’d been locked in. Luckily after only a few knocks our scrubber appeared with some cold waters for us. The whole package was divine. Tan and I shared a room for the massage and it was pretty funny to hear my tummy gurgling at the same time as Tan’s snoring!
We headed back to the riad with plans for Tan and I to visit the Marjorelle gardens and the Yves-Saint-Laurent museum. On the way out we encountered a guy with animal heads on the front of his bicycle. He obviously picked up my confused face and so turned around and muttered an “oink oink”. We didn’t think pigs were on the menu for Muslims but maybe we were wrong.
Both the gardens and the museum were a lovely visit despite the intermittent downpours of rain. YSL had spent a lot of time designing and living in Marrakech and it was evident in the designs. Might have inspired my later leather purchases in the neighboring streets!
We got a recommendation to visit Dar Marjana, just a little down from us and the food proved to be delicious; although giving me two cones of ice cream when I asked for two scoops of ice cream left me feeling a little glutinous!
There were still a few things on my shopping hit list so Tan generously agreed to accompany me for a late whirlwind tour of the closing shops. The main square was absolutely buzzing; it had such a good vibe. We were intrigued when we saw a few cooked goats heads and then got invited to sit for a feed of tongue, breasts and brain..ahh, no thanks!
Our morning of departure was a bit of a shamozzle. We’d woken early enough for our bootcamp but hadn’t anticipated that the government had decided in the preceding days to keep daylight saving through winter. Was a little rushed for everyone to get their stuff packed when our driver came a knocking! Nonetheless we pulled it together and were on our way to Casablanca only 15 minutes behind schedule.
Our lovely Casablanca Airbnb host, Myriam, checked us in and gave us some tips for dinner and then we were off again. We went via the mosque but unfortunately the tours were finished for the day. Next stop Ric’s Cafe (Casablanca was filmed entirely in the US but this cafe was reputed to replicate the famous bar in the film) it we were too early for it. Turns out we wouldn’t have got in anyway with the advertised dress code prohibiting sports shoes!
While we stood on the steps of Rick’s we were showered with a hail storm – we’d seen it all this holiday!
We missed the Medina and instead headed for Myriam’s recommended restaurant with water views. It was a little further than anticipated and while we got a little wet and windswept along the way we managed to miss the cyclonic weather that hit a couple of minutes after we walked through the doors of La Cabestan.
The view were lovely – think Icebergs! Unfortunately the service didn’t match Icebergs. Turned out it was the haunt of the wealthy gulf Arabs – they obviously have lower expectations despite their Cayenne car choices. Nonetheless we enjoyed a meal and our Casablancas in Casablanca before negotiating for a 3 seater taxi to take the four of us back home!
Up early for our last bootcamp…I really will not miss the pushups!
I was keen to see the inside of the world’s third largest mosque (Hassan II – built to commentate the former King’s 60th birthday) and so took a taxi to the mosque for the first tour of the day. It was one impressive building. The mezzanine with its ornate carved balustrade was for the women and there were glass tiles embedded into the floor to allow glimpses of the ablutions below. The interior of the mosque can accommodate 20 000 people and is embellished with Moroccan marble and wood while the chandeliers are from Murano, Venice.
I was keen to get back to the apartment as quickly as possible given our airport transfer was arriving at 11am. I started to get a little worried when at the end of a one way street we encountered a rubbish truck bin that had spilled its contents onto our road but in traditional Moroccan style a number of people just lifted the bin to allow my taxi driver to drive over the rubbish they were trying to collect. Classic!
All went well with the transfer to Casablanca airport and so we were on our way home.
What a trip! We had laughed together, shopped together, screamed together, danced together but best of all together we had gained an appreciation of a culture so different to ours. I had certainly had a hoot and had a feeling I might be traveling with these girls again sometime into the future.
My final note, as they say in the souqs, “You’re welcome, thankyou”.