From the time you exit the airport your senses come alive with a kaleidoscope of colours, the strong smell of roses that line the streets, and the hum of people going about their business. This is Marrakech, and it’s magical.
The city sits at the foot of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and shimmers under the winter sun. It’s the perfect time to visit Marrakech. Temperatures are delightfully warm during this time of year, averaging 21°C during the day.
The Medina and Ville Nouvelle
Marrakech is divided into two distinct areas. The Medina is the historical city, and Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle is the modern district with a distinct European influence. In the old part of the city you’ll find a labyrinth of winding alleys, bustling squares, and souks (markets) where you can take part in some serious retail therapy.
In the Medina the best place to start exploring the city is in the main square: the vibrant Jamaa el Fna. Here you’ll find snake charmers, potion-sellers and water-sellers dressed in colourful traditional costumes. At night Jamaa el Fna turns into an extraordinary scene of storytellers, dancers, musicians and pavement cafes. It’s a magical and alluring place and in spite of the crowds everyone still has room to breathe. Just remember, if you take photos of anybody they will expect you to pay up.
If you can tear yourself away from the hive of activity in the main square, you should head through the labyrinth of alleys and experience the best of Marrakech souks where you can buy leather goods, carpets, jewellery, pottery, perfume, brass and copper goods, spices, lanterns and traditional slippers (babouches), among other things. The sellers in the souks are masters of manipulation but if you’re willing to haggle you’re bound to get some great deals.
It’s worth leaving the charming and fascinating streets of the old city to enjoy drinks, dinner and art galleries in the ville nouvelle. Just looking at your restaurant options you’ll see the legacy of French, Spanish and Arabic influence, that has mixed so agreeably with the indigenous Berber and nomadic Tuareg cultures.
Don’t Miss It
There are a few things that you can’t miss on a winter break in Marrakech. Do take time to visit La Mamounia, Morocco’s most renowned hotel. Winston Churchill once referred to the hotel as “the most lovely spot in the whole world”. The famed hotel is set in almost 20 acres of exquisite gardens that display an amazing variety of flowers and trees. The interior of the hotel screams sophistication and opulence and is definitely worth a visit, if only to sip a cocktail there.
Be sure to visit the Saadian tombs, located just near the Kasbah Mosque in the Kasbah district, as well as Marrakech Museum, the peaceful Menara Gardens and a hammam (traditional Moroccan spa). Day trips to the rural villages of Ait Benhaddou, Setti Fatma and the town of Ouarzazate are well worth the effort. You’ll get a taste of traditional Moroccan life and some great photo opportunities.
The contrast of old and new, the honey coloured streets filled with friendly locals and the endless opportunities for haggling are just some of the reasons why Marrakech has such a feverishly charming and unique atmosphere. When you’ve returned from Marrakech, you’ll quickly find another reason to go back. Best of all, easyJet, Ryanair and ThomsonFly all provide cheap flights to Marrakech, so what’s stopping you from taking a winter break in magical Marrakech?
Photo by soyignatius