The Stylish Travel Guide To Marrakesh

I left my heart in Marrakesh…

Is it just me or does it seem that e.v.e.r.y.b.o.d.y with an Instagram account has been to Marrakesh recently? I can hardly blame them though – you know a holiday was a successful one when you’re looking at every photograph with a sinking feeling in your chest, thinking That’s the lasting impression that Marrakesh left on my heart. From the hustle and bustle of the medina, the enchanting call to prayer sounding out from the mosques across the terracotta tone cityscape, the winding jungle of treasures in the souks, and watching Jemaa el-Fna square come alive as the sun sets – I can honestly say I feel as though I left a piece of me in that city. So it’s time for a travel instalment on Fashion Slave with the Stylish Travel Guide To Marrakesh. 

The thing is, Marrakesh is full of surprises. You’ll find yourself down a street that feels busy, dusty, lacking any glamour, but take a step in a low wooden door and find yourself transported to an enchanting oasis of palms and nature. You never know what’s behind each door, or every turn. It could be a dead end or it could be something amazing. It’s a city full of treasures waiting to be unlocked and explored, a city where you make stories.

Things you need to know before you travel: 

1) Dress appropriately – men can dress how they like, but women ideally need to dress more conservatively. Keep your shorts and vests for in the resort!
2) Be wary of people offering you help – there’s a lot of children about who’ll offer directions and say they will take you places, then demand money for doing so after.
3) Nothing is ever free – you may get a lady offer you ‘free’ henna. It won’t be free! As before, they’ll try charge you after.
4) You’ll get approached a lot – learn to say no and wear sunnies to avoid too much eye contact that can encourage them. It’s just a part of culture over there to try and get you in to make some money from you. I was told it’s best to just ignore people rather than say no outright, but then even this caused some issues (a woman said “you are not a good girl! So rude! Just say no!” when I ignored her henna advances…)
5) All female groups can often attract more attention 
6) Avoid going during Muslim holy days – it can be hard to find places to eat during Ramadan
7) Brush up on your French – the locals speak a mixture of Arabic and French mostly, so put your GCSE language skills to the test and it’ll be much easier! Times like this I really regret doing German…
8) Animals – there’s a tonne of stray cats that seem relatively looked after. But you’ll find monkeys in the square on chains that you can sadly pay to have photographs with – that was particularly hard to take in.

Going to Marrakesh as a Woman 

“You are the best piece of ass in Marrakesh!” – er, thanks, dude in the hat in the medinas. Notttt. You already know my feelings on things such as catcalling, so I thought I’d find going to a country where foreign women can get a lot of unwanted attention would be slightly troublesome. Before going, and on arrival at the riad, I was repeatedly told I would get harassed. I actually found it okay and I wasn’t particularly hassled much – not enough to be bothered anyway – despite the fact that so many people warned me it would happen. Perhaps it’s the fact I was with my 6 foot 3 muscle man of a boyfriend that scared them off a bit? Either way, it helped. It sounds ridiculous, but I found it a lot easier to brush off than he did, and I can’t help but think it’s because men aren’t as used to having to ignore people’s advances in the streets as us women are!

Where To Stay

Riad Spa Dar 73

The easiest starting point for your trip (after booking flights! Ours were only £130 each, return) is of course where to stay! So for a four night trip, I’d highly recommend staying two nights in a riad in the centre, then moving on to a resort a little bit further out. Originally this plan was made because I like holidays where I get to explore, and Simon likes to chill, so we were just making the compromise, but it’s actually the perfect choice because the centre is a lot to take in. It’s busy, it’s loud at night (not that you can tell when you’re tucked away in your riad!) but it does feel nice to escape the hustle and bustle and  r e l a x  in a resort. Our riad  was in Mellah, the Jewish district – which we were only told on the last day by a taxi driver is the ‘dodgy’ area. Oops. That said, our riad was beautiful. The Riad Spa Dar 73 – a little boutique building with 6 suites decked in contemporary mixed with traditional Moroccan design. You enter through a small wooden door in an alleyway (how very Marrakesh!) and find yourself transported into a tranquil oasis of chic and calm. Dreamy!

Sirayane Boutique Hotel & Spa

After two nights there, we head out to Sirayane Boutique Hotel & Spa, and I can’t tell you how this place took my breath away with the stunning architecture, thoughtful decor and beautiful touches. They run a free shuttle service to and from the centre throughout the day so you don’t feel entirely cut off from all of the excitement. If staying here or at a similar resort out of the centre, I’d suggest taking the shuttles in for either lunches or dinners to save yourself some money as the food here is expensive.

Get Your Bearings 

 Marrakesh – at least, the old town – is a maze. With narrow winding roads, you’ll find yourself fighting for space with mopeds whirring by. Many of the locals try and stop you and give you directions if you look lost, then ask for money, so to avoid looking like a clueless tourist, take some time to find your bearings and work out where things are. The old town is relatively small, so you’ll cover a lot of ground quickly! Plus, it’s the best way to explore! 

Culture & History

Le Jardin Marjorelle

Located at the far north of the city, in the newer part of town, you’ll find Le Jardin Marjorelle. Many of you may know it as the YSL Gardens, as it was acquired by the late great designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge to stop it from being turned into a hotel. Inside the humble walls, you’ll find a cacophony of bursting botanics: blush toned lilies and a whole host of cacti (always on trend) and a villa painted in ‘Marjorelle blue’ – a shade of electric cobalt named after Jacques Marjorelle, who created the gardens. It truly is a slice of paradise – an oasis – from the baking hot and dusty streets. 

My biggest tip: if you want to take the best photographs, arrive for when it opens at 8am. We arrived at 9 and it was already busy, and as we were leaving after 10, the queue to get in was all the way down the street!
Bahia Palace

For a taste of true Moroccan culture and history, step inside Bahia Palace. Simply meaning Brilliance, in Arabic, this breathtaking piece of architecture falls nothing short of it. It was made, originally for Si Moussa, the Grand Vizier of the Sultan, but ended up in the hands of Bou Ahmed, his four wives, and many concubines that lived in the harem (the rooms surrounding the expansive courtyard pictured). Now it boasts all the kind of tile goals anyone could wish for, and beautiful gardens to explore. 

El Badi Palace

 Less glamorous than Bahia Palace (there is a 300 or so year age gap between them!), El Badi palace is the ruins of something so inexplicably grand, it took 25 years to build and was crafted from gold, onyx, and marble. It’s worth checking out, to imagine the prowess this place would have once had.

The Souks 

No trip to Marrakesh would be complete without a stroll through the labyrinth-like souks. Take an empty suitcases, as it’s full of locals selling their goods – thinks from Genie’s lamp-style lanterns, to hand-woven rugs, to little basket bags (that are veryyyy chic right now) I went with the intention of buying a traditional Moroccan handira after seeing all the new interiors trends pop up on Pinterest and Instagram. A Handira is a wedding blanket, often bedecked with tassels and sequins, and you can use them as throws or rugs. Original ones have ties on to wear them as a cape (as they were part-intended) but newer fakes/copies don’t. Be prepared to haggle hard in the souks. I read that you should pay only 20-40% of what they initially claim as the price. But that’s all I can really offer you in the form of tips as I was generally a little crap at the whole bartering thing! 

Jemaa el-Fna 

AKA, the square. Here’s my tip (not my own, stole this one of the internet) head to Le Grand Balcon Cafe Glacier overlooking the Jemaa el-Fnaa an hour before sunset and get yourself a seat on the terrace (if you’re lucky!) and watch the sun set over the square. It’s a hive of activity all day long, but it truly comes alive in the evening. Terraces always seem to conjure the image of glamour but trust me, this place is very basic. It’s a self-serve, pay for a bottle of coke before you go in kind of jobby, but the views are worth it! Then head out into the square to really get a taste of the city. 
But be careful as it can be overwhelming, and the toughest thing to see is the people with monkeys on chains charging you for photographs. There’s a lot to take in – with people all around you vying for your attention, so you’ve got to be strong and firm with them! 

Where to Eat & Drink (rated with £’s depending on how pricey!) 

Le Jardin – ££

Escape the labyrinth of the medina and grab some lunch in the breathtaking Le Jardin. It’s bursting with wildlife (oh my god a tortoise!) and it was one of the best places I ate during my trip.

La Famille – ££

I’ll be honest – I’m one of those annoying types that doesn’t really ever feel like a meal is a real meal unless it has meat or fish in it. So, I was a little sceptical of vegetarian restaurant La Famille, despite the incredible reputation that preceded it. But, it changed my ways! Not enough to quit meat altogether, but good lord it was delicious, and similarly to Le Jardin, set back in a beautiful garden off a bustling street. It actually felt very LA, rather than Morocco, but take that as you will. 

Grande Cafe de la Poste – £££

Now, this is where you go if you’re feeling a bit fancy. The 1920’s build, checkerboard floor, wicker furniture and potted palm trees scream colonial Morocco. The food is more French, and lies on the pricier side. I’d recommend you come here for drinks on the terrace on an evening, or brunch at the weekend. It’s frequented by plenty of famous people so keep your cool, even in the Marrakesh heat.

Cafe Kif Kif – £

Just around the corner from La Koutoubia Mosque and Jemaa el-Fnaa, cafe Kif Kif is an adorable new set up which serves some of the tastiest (and cheapest!) food. With terrace seats and and airy location, it’s the perfect place to refuel and people watch! 

Aicha (No.1 Jemaa el-Fnaa) – £

The square comes alive at night, as do all of the street food vendors. Honestly, don’t pass on the humble street food markets for all of the swanky places as you will miss out – Aicha is stall number 1 in the food market (number 1 by place, number 1 in nature!) and is well worth a visit for cheap eats. You really get to soak up the vibe of the square sitting on the benches, watching your food be freshly grilled. Soak up the sights and the smells!

And finally, go for drinks at La Mamounia 

Or… you could stay there. This stunning hotel has become the backdrop for many an Instagram shot (is it any surprise!?) and hast the most beautiful gardens to take a wander down. Head there for drinks on the terrace overlooking the gardens in the afternoon for a little bit of downtime (after getting that instashot though, of course!

And finally… I can honestly said I fell in love with city, but that said, it wouldn’t be entirely fair to share my opinion without sharing that of my travel buddy, Simon’s. Whilst I would go back there in a heartbeat, he said he wouldn’t go back, simply because he didn’t like being constantly approached and hassled by people. That, and the monkeys! Which is a fair point. It all depends on what kind of holidays you are really into. But if you both prefer slightly different things on holiday, there’s no saying you can’t do both in Marrakesh – our split of riad/ resort and culture/ chill worked perfectly.

And there’s my stylish travel guide to Marrakesh! If you find that piece of my heart that I’m missing, don’t bring it back x

Photographs by either me or Simon White.

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