Marrakech Travel Guide
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.