As you head along the small twisting roads and alleys of the medina in Marrakech, you experience true sensory overload as motorcycles, bikes and donkey carts dart past you. Souks line the streets selling everything from aromatic spices and beauty potions to elaborately decorated pottery and striking jewelry. Cats wander about unbothered (they know their role) and the smells from the food stalls fill the air. As you pass the giant doors of the riads, it’s fun to imagine the gorgeous gardens and courtyards that lie behind them.
destinationsSpotlight on Marrakech
One thing that strikes you in Marrakech is how sandy everything appears to be in tone and texture. However, as you look closer you'll begin to spot the little detailings and splashes of color all around the city that are not so noticeable at first blush.
Below, explore a few of the many highlights Marrakech has to offer.
The palace was built for Bou Ahmed, the Grand Vizier to Sultan Moulay el Hassan, over the span of 15 years by a legion of master craftsmen brought in from Fez. This extravagant complex is truly grand with gilded and inlaid cedar ceilings, intricate zellij tiling and lush courtyards. The harem, where the wives and concubines would spend their days, is opulent and features stained glass windows, woven silk panels and intricate veneers. Not all the rooms are created equally, however, as each one varies in size according to the importance Bou Ahmed deemed of the wife or concubine.
Designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge rescued Jacques Majorelle’s gardens from being turned into a hotel complex in 1980 and restored this tranquil respite in the middle of Marrakech. As you stroll through the bamboo groves and coconut palms, the couple’s villa stands as a deep blue beacon in the middle of the greenery. The designer loved the gardens so much that his ashes were scattered in its rose garden. (A memorial to him now stands there.) After seeing the gardens, you can learn more about Morocco's indigenous cultures at the Berber museum. There is also both a bookshop and a great boutique where you can purchase such high-end Moroccan artisanal products as jewelry, scarves and silk slippers.
The heart of Marrakech is Jemaa el-Fna with its famous snake charmers, musicians, acrobats, food stalls and vendors. It’s a great spot for photo ops, but remember it is customary to tip the performers a few santimat for their trouble. There are also a number of cafes with rooftop seating where you can grab a cold drink or a traditional mint tea to watch the goings-on from above. The square has a great view of the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest in the city and the oldest (it was built around 1150) of the three great Almohad minarets remaining in the world.
An all-day excursion, the trip up the Atlas Mountains to a Berber Village never fails to be a major highpoint of our time in Morocco. Whether you hike up or go by donkey, you will be treated to the incredible sandy landscape of the mountains and the houses perched in the cliffs along the way. While getting there is half the fun, the other half is being greeted with music, dance and a delicious traditional meal at the end of your ascent.