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World Travel Guide > Guides > Africa > Morocco > Marrakech

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33°C

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Marrakech Travel Guide

About Marrakech

Marrakech is an intoxicating city known for its souks, spices, snake charmers and hidden palaces, though these days it’s prized as much for its trendy art galleries, hip hotels and elegant hammams. Offering a tantalising taste of Africa within easy reach of Europe, it certainly lives up to the hype, and not only thanks to its fabled ancient medina.

It is to the medina, however, that most visitors will gravitate. The ageless city of blushing pink stone has waylaid desert caravans since the 11th century, with travellers succumbing to the charms of its bluesy Gnaoua music, calls to prayer and elaborate feasts. Its dark, narrow alleyways are full of artisan workshops, shrines and sprawling markets, and riads. These traditional courtyard guesthouses range from palatial oases to smaller, more intimate affairs.

Once you’ve had your fill of getting lost (not to mention the relentless street sellers and reckless mopeds), head to the open space of Jemaa el Fna. Thronging with locals each evening, the legendary central square hosts dozens of stalls serving up sheep's head soup from vast cauldrons, as well as grilled aubergines, ubiquitous mint tea and spicy cakes. Meanwhile, a mix of musicians, fortune-tellers, dancing cobras, storytellers and acrobats keep the crowds entertained until late. Towering over the scene is the stately minaret of Koutoubia Mosque, built in 12th century.

Beyond old Marrakech, a modern, 21st-century city is fast developing, particularly in the pulsating district known as Guéliz, and the wider Ville Nouvelle. Indeed, the city that lured hedonists and idealists in the 20th century now attracts fashionistas and trendy couples in search of luxury spas, chic bars and clubs. A flourishing arts and music scene is also firmly stamping Marrakech on the cultural map.

It’s this contrast that makes today’s Marrakech so interesting. With its maze of lanes and entrancing past, the medina will always have its appeal. But as you sip cocktails on a rooftop terrace watching the sun smoulder behind distant peaks, remember Marrakech’s legacy. This is the gateway to the immortal Atlas Mountains, and the vast Sahara beyond.

Key facts

Population:
794620
Latitude:
31.627575
Longitude:
-7.998990

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Featured Hotels

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Riad L'Etoile D'Orient

Restored in 2010, this tastefully appointed riad mixes the modern with the traditional, meaning guests can upload snaps of the refined Moroccan decor using the speedy free Wi-Fi service. Just minutes from Jemaa el Fna, rooms here include flatscreen TVs and gorgeous bathrooms. There's also a rooftop terrace to enjoy.

Riad Al Massarah

This riad is the definition of Marrakech cool, with its blend of traditional lofty architecture, handsome custom-made furnishings and ultramodern bathroom fittings by Philippe Starck. Proprietors Michael and Michel are blazing the trail for responsible tourism with clever use of natural light and solar energy, contributions to local charities, and standard-setting wages for staff.

Riyad El Cadi

This elegant guesthouse is a maze of historic riads set around five courtyards and faceted with private balconies, terraces, staircases and light wells. Each of the rooms has its own décor scheme (stay in the cupola-capped Ottoman suite with Turkish tile and latticework harem balcony). It also has a pool with Jacuzzi, subterranean hammam and well-stocked wine cellar.

La Maison Arabe Marrakech

Opened in the 1940s, La Maison Arabe was a popular dining place for the rich and famous (Winston Churchill was a patron). It closed in the 1980s but reopened in 1998 as a hotel with Italian blueblood and African antiques collector Frederic Ruspoli at the helm. His collection is now the centrepiece of the hotel's luxuriously restored suites and rooms.

Les Jardins de la Koutoubia

Tucked behind the Jemaa el Fna, this lovely hotel has 100 rooms and suites, clustered around a palm-filled courtyard with a large pool, decked out in a modern Moroccan style. Other major draws include the serene spa, offering traditional hammam treatments, and the piano bar and rooftop terrace, perfect for that evening sundowner.

La Mamounia

Set within lush gardens (once the royal grounds of the Saadians) and with fine views of the Atlas Mountains, this art deco luxury hotel has been the place to stay in Marrakech since it opened in the 1920s. Winston Churchill was a frequent visitor and has a bar named in his honour. Expect beautiful rooms, succulent on-site dining and world-class spa facilities.