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Marrakech Travel Guide

About Marrakech

Marrakech, also spelt Marrakesh, is an intoxicating city known for its souks, spices and snake charmers, though these days it is also prized as much for its trendy art galleries, classy boutique hotels and luxurious hammams. Offering a tantalising taste of Africa within easy reach of Europe, it certainly allows visitors to immerse in a world where the hubbub of modern life whirs around its rich cultural traditions.

It is to the medina that most visitors will gravitate. This UNESCO-listed site has been welcoming Berber merchants and weary travellers since the 11th century. Today, its rich architecture from yesteryears – the Koutoubia Mosque, Bab Agnaou, gardens, monumental ramparts and gates – still delight many travellers.

To soak up the atmosphere, wander into the central square, Jemaa el-Fna, which is like a potent cocktail overflowing with colour and energy. Every evening when the setting sun casts a golden glow on the desert floors, food vendors set up rows of trestle tables and serve up boiled snails and grilled meats, along with fresh orange juice and sweet mint tea. Then come the musicians, fortune-tellers and snake charmers, all here to put on a show that has changed little since medieval times.

Around Jemaa el-Fna stretch the alleyways of the souks – a vast marketplace that sells everything from carpets to candles, tiny bottles of homemade concoction to big bundles of cinnamon. If you intend to shop here, remember that haggling is expected.

Beyond old Marrakesh, a modern, 21st-century city is fast developing, particularly in the pulsating district known as Guéliz, part of the wider area known as Ville Nouevelle. Indeed, the city that lured hedonists and idealists in the 20th century now attracts fashionistas and trendy couples in search of luxury shops, chic cafés and clubs. Guéliz's flourishing arts and music scene is also doing its part to solidify Marrakech's spot on the cultural map.

It is the contrast between old and new that makes today's Marrakech so interesting. With its maze of lanes and entrancing past, the medina will always have its appeal. As you sip cocktails tea on a roof-top terrace and watch the sun smoulder behind the distant peaks, remember Marrakech's legacy: this is the gateway to the immortal Atlas Mountains and the vast Sahara beyond.

Key facts

Population:
1,907,000
Latitude:
31.627575
Longitude:
-7.998990

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Riad Dar Aby

Situated just outside the Medina, Riad Dar Aby houses a number of en-suite rooms circled around a bright, tiled courtyard. The daily breakfast of Moroccan pancakes with lashings of jam provides a homely touch, while free Wi-Fi access, optional specialised tours and friendly staff complete the package.

Riad Cherihane

Notable for its vibrant rooftop garden where tortoises laze in sun, the well-priced Riad Chrihane is situated near the northern edge of the Medina, roughly a 15-minute walk from Jemaa el Fna. Though it can be tough to track down, due to its location down a quiet side alley, complimentary Moroccan tea and biscuits greet wearisome guests.

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.