On visiting Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains

A mountain of pre-Christmas work compels me to keep this post relatively short and sweet, but I wanted to share with you some photos from a recent trip to Marrakech (despite the fact that I still haven’t got round to posting pics from my Hong Kong trip a year ago!!). It was so interesting and so different from the places I normally visit that I wanted to make sure it was documented on here and to share some tips for what we did on a four-night visit.

The riad

First things first, where we stayed. I normally don’t bother talking about hotels in my travel posts, but the riad concept is so central to the experience of staying in Marrakech that I couldn’t not mention it. I spent ages deciding on where to stay, as we wanted something authentic and well-located. In the end I picked Dar Doukkala Riad and Spa, which I have to say was wonderful (despite the fact that the spa was actually at another riad five minutes’ walk away!). Our room was lovely, with huge ceilings, an open fire and a massive rolltop bath. It opened out onto this peaceful central courtyard, where there were orange trees and exotic birds. The staff were superb, and nothing seemed too much trouble – they even came and lit the fire in our room again when I neglected it and it went out!

We never made it into the pool, but most of the time it wasn’t actually warm enough!

The rooftop terrace was lovely, done out like a Berber tent and with gorgeous views over the city towards the Atlas Mountains.

The souks

The main Marrakech experience is, of course, exploring the souks. This will stretch your navigation skills to the absolute max: they’re a real maze of alleyways, and most streets have no signs giving the street names, making it difficult to reference where you are on a map! But getting lost is all part of the fun, and there are endless shops selling rugs, lamps and all manner of other interesting things.

I didn’t take many photos in the souks because they got quite crowded, but this was a sight that immediately caught my eye.

Having haggled our way through various stalls we suddenly found ourselves in the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, where we found a nice little rooftop restaurant for lunch.

As well as the main square, this mosque is the primary landmark. One thing I hadn’t been expecting was to be woken early every day by the call to prayer, which is blasted out on the loudspeakers you can see in the windows at the top. This happens five times a day from mosques throughout the city, beginning with a rude awakening at about 6.40am!

The weather was a bit variable unfortunately, and we got caught out in a few deluges – which only happen a few times a year. On the plus side, they resulted in the most spectacular rainbows!

The food

Of course we ate lots of delicious tagines, but my favourite thing was the orange juice, which we were served freshly squeezed for breakfast everyday. It was the sweetest and most delicious I’ve ever tasted!

Pomegranate juice is another delight, which we bought from this chap and sipped while we explored the souks.

On one of the evenings, we went on a food tour of the southern medina. It wasn’t the best food tour I’ve been on – and the rain didn’t help – but it was an interesting insight into Moroccan cuisine nonetheless. See the pink stuff at the bottom of this photo? I had thought maybe it was pink Himalayan salt, but it’s actually frankincense! I had no idea it looks like that.

Olives feature quite a lot in Moroccan cooking.

These pancakes, freshly cooked on the side of the street, were among the goodies we sampled on the food tour.

The hammam

One of the highlights of our time in Marrakech was a trip to the neighbouring riad for a traditional hammam and massage. In fact the hammam bit was a surprise, as we hadn’t booked it, but it turned out to be the most wonderful experience. You sit nearly naked (bottoms only!!) in a steamy room and get scrubbed, bathed in lovely hot water and totally pampered, and then it was the massage straight after. I have never felt so relaxed, and my skin so soft!

The Atlas Mountains

Everywhere you go in Marrakech there are tantalising glimpses of the Atlas Mountains, so for the last day in Morocco I booked this tour, which began in the Agafay Desert between the city and the mountains. Riding a camel in the desert had long been on my bucket list, and although the scenery wasn’t quite the rolling sand dunes I’d envisaged, I was delighted to be able to experience a camel ride for the first time!

The camels seemed docile and were each tied up to the one in front, so you didn’t have to worry about steering them or them running off!

Unfortunately the weather left much to be desired, as it was cold and rainy, but here I am mounted on my noble steed!

After that it was up into the mountains, where the scenery became more spectacular the higher we went up the narrow, winding roads. Just out of shot in this photo is Richard Branson’s Kasbah.

Lunch was a hearty tagine served on a sunny terrace with a snowy mountain view. It was so cold, but we just about thawed out in the sun!

After lunch we walked about half an hour to another Berber village, enjoying views like this one along the way.

You can see one of the villages in the background. It felt rather remote. I thought back to the time when, as a teenager, I’d admired the adventurousness of a family friend who’d visited the Atlas Mountains. I couldn’t believe I was there myself!

After a long and cold day, it was so good to get back to the riad, pour a glass of wine and sink into that big rolltop bath to get warm again! I really enjoyed Marrakech, and if you’re prepared for a little bit of a culture shock then I’d definitely recommend a visit.

Comments are closed.