Seven days in Marrakech
Marrakech is a rude wake-up call to your senses. Make the most of a week in this city of many sides with our seven-day guide.
Snake charmers, steamed snails, drummers, story-tellers, goats' heads, endless rows of slippers and speeding motorbikes all shrouded in smoke. Welcome to Marrakech. It can be overwhelming, but doesn't have to be. Take the time to do a bit of research and your ideal week in the city of spice might look something like this:
Morocco is only an hour ahead of London, but a world away in sights and sounds. Take a taxi from the airport to your hotel (hardened hagglers should pay no more than Dh80 (£4.80/$9.50)). The brand new Heart of the Medina hostel (website: www.marrakech-hostel.com) is ideal for budget travellers. Those with a bit more to spend but still watching their pennies should check in to the popular Riad Jnane Mogador (website: www.jnanemogador.com). For old-school elegance, take the lead from Churchill, Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle and Nelson Mandela and head to La Mamounia (website: www.mamounia.com). (Re-opening late 2007 following refurbishment.)
To get your bearings go to Jemaa el-Fna and wander around the souks at the square's northern recesses but don't be tempted to buy anything just yet. Haggling in Marrakech is an art and to get an idea of what you should be paying it's a good idea to first visit the fixed price Ensemble Artisanal, Avenue Mohammed V.
Afterwards get lost within the old town's terracotta labyrinthine walls and refuse to get worked up by the frenzy of sounds, vehicles and locals offering directions. (Hint: they're not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts!) When it all gets too much, find a romantic spot on a roof-top terrace around Jemaa el-Fna, order a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice and serenely watch the crowds from above as the sun sets.
Tuesday: Cook Marrakeshi style
Moroccan food is just starting to be recognised as the culinary star of Africa so jump on the bandwagon and enrol in a cooking class.
Riad Lotus Ambre (website: www.riadslotus.com) offers classes with their head chef, Rabiha, from Dh450 (£27/$53). Students are introduced to typical Moroccan ingredients and cooking techniques before eating their creations on the riad's beautiful roof-top terrace.
If you're able to move after your feast, there's always something more to see in the old town. Head to some of Marrakech's main attractions such as the beautiful centre of Quranic learning, Ali Ben Youssef Medersa, the mind-boggling Palais de la Bahia and the stork-infested Saadian Tombs.
In the evening eat at one of the food stalls brought out to fill the square at sunset. Choose a colourful array of food from the disturbing to the comforting such as kebabs, fried aubergine, goat tongue, egg pitas, snails and chips. Stall 65 is particularly friendly.
Wednesday: Hike in the mountains
By now you're probably ready for a break from the hustle so head to the Atlas Mountains you've been admiring across the rooftops from your hotel's terrace.
Itinerance Plus (website: www.itineranceplus.com) run a number of trips to the mountains, desert and coast, ranging from one day to a number of weeks. They will tailor-make a trip or you can join a pre-arranged tour. Otherwise most hotels will be able to arrange something for you, although they may charge a commission.
Imlil is about an hour's drive away in the High Atlas and is the starting point for a number of scenic trails twisting through cosy Berber villages. In winter and early spring the mountains will still be covered in snow, an absolutely breathtaking sight.
After all that exercise you'll need a hammam. The basic package is a gommage: a vigourous scrub down with a rough glove and black soap. Public hammams do it properly so go armed with a towel, plastic flip-flops, a change of underwear and gritted teeth.
Many hotels have a hammam attached but for a serious sore-limb fix it's worth going to a more luxurious place. Hammam Ziani (website: www.hammamziani.ma) will do a gommage, massage and seaweed wrap for Dh250 (£15/$30). They also have a spa.
Later, walk to the very edges of the souks, away from the tourist tat surrounding the square. Souq Sebbaghine, the Dyers' Souk, is filled with fluttering threads of freshly-dyed wool. Criée Berbère is the famous carpet souk and the place to go for rug displays with glasses of mint tea. Visit Souq Hadadine (Blacksmith's Souk) and Souq el-Kebir (leatherwork souk) to see the craftspeople in action. Souq Smata is where the famous slippers are made.
Round off your pamper day with cocktails in a piano bar. La Mamounia (website: www.mamounia.com) is home to the most celebrated, Le Churchill, named after its most famous patron. Closer to the medina, Les Jardins de la Koutobia (website: www.lesjardinsdelakoutoubia.com) serves beautifully-presented cocktails to the sounds of a baby grand from about 1700.
Friday: Time travel
There is more to Marrakech than souks and snake-charmers. Explore beyond the ramparts to the districts of Guéliz and Hivernage where you'll find plenty of boutique shops favoured by well-heeled locals and those who can't be bothered to haggle.
There are also lots of street-side cafes and elegant bars. Marrakeshi nightlife can be somewhat limited, but here you'll find most of the city's clubs. Be warned that lots of places close from lunchtime on Fridays.
In the evening, treat yourself to an elegant fusion of French and Moroccan food and exotic entertainment at the decadent Le Comptoir, Avenue Echouada.
Saturday: Head to the coast
Follow in the footsteps of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and visit Essaouira on Morocco's southern coast. It is a picture-perfect coastal town with blinding white-washed walls and rolling Atlantic breakers. Obviously, stoned 60s rockers weren't the main influence on this town. The Berbers, Carthaginians, Portugese, English, Bambaras and Jews all played their part.
The medina is a Unesco World Heritage Site where local artisans create and sell their wares. The soft sandy beach is a world away from the hustle of Marrakech and a great place to stretch those legs unhindered by touts and careless motorcyclists.
Sunday: Last minute bargains
It's your last chance to pick up all those bargains you've been eyeing up for the last six days. If you're all shopped out, head to the Marrakech Museum or walk around Yves Saint Laurent's Jardin Majorelle.
It's unlikely, but if you haven't yet seen Koutoubia Mosque up close do it now! Non-Muslims cannot go in but they can walk through its beautiful gardens. Listen out for the call to prayer - one of the few non-recorded calls left. Then take the time for one last mint tea in that unforgettable square before heading home.
(From top to bottom)
Koutoubia Mosque from the gardens © Emma Field
Sunset over Jemaa el-Fna © Craig Fast
Rahiba and Moroccan food © Craig Fast
Atlas Mountains hut © Emma Field
Spice stall © Emma Field
Koutoubia Mosque at dusk © Craig Fast