One more postcard from our trips and wanders around the world. This one will guide you through the streets of Marrakech the red city of Morocco. I want each postcard to bring you the same taste a real postcard in your mailbox would bring. I love tradition, but I also like the digital age when it’s about improving convenience and comfort. Allow me to send you not one image but many of them and tell you a bit more about the streets of a city that is dear to me.
Marrakech for me
I’ve stayed in Marrakech many times in the past two decades, and if each trip brings a new city as it’s continuously evolving, the people and the feelings stay the same through the years. Marrakech has changed a lot since I first visited, just like any other city does. The latest noticeable change I’ve witnessed though is not my favourite. The very famous Jemaa El-Fnaa square has been revamped to be cleaner, tourist-proof, more modern.
My purpose is not to judge here, because selecting the stalls that are allowed on the square while making electricity available for them may be more comfortable for Marrakchis. I don’t know about that. What I know is last time we visited, the square had lost its old soul. Only big fancy food trucks were in its middle, with comfortable long tables and benches if you want to seat while eating. In a corner, some seller where offering the typical souvenirs for tourists, and one or two ladies were drawing henna tattoos. Apart from that, the place was empty. We did not enjoy walking through it at night like we used to do. Instead, we tried other places in the city for dinner, rather than overlooking Jemaa El-Fnaa square. Just for the memory, this is the square at night a few years ago.
The fact that the square did not charm us as it used to do was a good thing in the end because we discovered many new places. Nevertheless, I feel a little bit sad for all the magical memories we had there.
The dark side of Marrakech
I will never say it enough, Marrakech is not the perfect baby pink and turquoise blue paradise we can see on Instagram. It is not, there are some fantastic blue doors, and beautiful pink houses, but not only. If you don’t expect some more unperfect aspects from the city, you would be so disappointed when you first discover it. It’s not what I want to create with this post. I love this city so much that I would like anyone who deliberately chose to go and visit it to be instantly charmed.
For this purpose, I will be straightforward: Marrakech is beautiful. But you must know that it’s also smelly (a lot, and I’m not talking about spices and fresh fruits here), dusty (no tarred road except for the biggest ones). Depending on the hour, it’s also very very busy (if you want to take photos of empty streets, try to wake up early, it’s worth it). That said, Marrakech is one of the few cities I would love to go back again and again because most of all Marrakech is charming, and I find it perfect like she is.
The people of Marrakech: the Marrakchis
They are welcoming, for sure. But you must respect them, and also you must show that you are worth their respect. Behave adequately at all time. Ladies, I would advise forgetting about these very short shorts, which are just covering what they wouldn’t even allow for bathing suits. Same for the tanks, they are okay but don’t show your low neckline. Keep in mind that bare shoulders will be understandable as you are a tourist, but it’s not their way at all.
We’ve spent a lot of time in Marrakech, in the small streets, the Medina, at night, during the Ramadan even, and never had any trouble. We have never been bullied or embarrassed, never been robbed. Not in the streets, nor in our bedrooms. We can’t say so about developed cities such as San Francisco or Paris! So, I don’t understand when I read that Marrakech is dangerous and that you must only expect to be cleaned of your possessions if you are not keeping them close.
On another hand, we have always been careful not to show our phones or money openly (motorcyclists are sometimes driving very fast in the souk). We don’t wear fancy clothes, bags or jewels (don’t worry about them, they know very well what Louis Vuitton is, even if they are living in a home with no running water).
If I’d choose one word for Marrakchis, it would be “friendly.” They are welcoming, most of the time they are willing to show you some secret places in exchange for a couple of euros or Dirham. Play the game because what you’ll learn is worth it: it’s not on TV or in a book, it’s real life happening here.
My favourite places in Marrakech
The tanneries neighbourhood
First thing: we always go and visit a tannery. The smell is strong there; you’ll be offered a handful of fresh mint to breath when you visit to cut the smell. Honestly now I’m used to it, but I also like the smell of the fresh mint, so I always accept it. It’s real craft that you can discover, and this is very precious in our modern world. 100% natural leather treatment, no machine, everything is handmade.
You have to wander the streets in the neighbourhood. Be sure that the tannery will offer itself. Someone will come and invite you to visit one. The visit is free, but it will end in the family shop. Then you are expected to buy something. A far better way to find a little souvenir, even if it’s only a small thing than going to the big tourist stores. If you are on the minimalist side like we are, we try to find something you will use. We have a bedspread made with silk and wool that we’ve been using for literally anything for more than 10 years. It still looks brand new. We also used to buy “babouches” (local shoes) as slippers for the kids when they were younger.
Maison de la Photographie
It’s a little museum displaying some very old photographies taken in Marrakech and surroundings. A lot of history is happening here all in images. The house is also a perfect example of typical Marrakech architecture. Don’t miss the rooftop restaurant. Its tajines are fantastic, and the view is excellent to enjoy a mint tea.
Madrasa Ben Youssef
“The Son of Joseph School” is a most beautiful building which once was a Koranic school. It was built in the 16th century. It’s gorgeous; you will learn a lot. If you go early, it won’t be too busy. It’s also a cup of fresh air during the warmest days.
Check before going, because for now, the school seems to be under renovation. (April 2018)
Le Jardin Secret
It’s one of the few real Riad remaining in Marrakech. If you are staying in a riad when you are in Marrakech, most chances are you are in fact in a “Dar,” a house. Sometimes, the larger Dars are in fact two Dars that have been joined to have more space in the middle and add a fountain or a tiny green square. You can know that’s the case when you see two front doors for your riad.
This Riad is a real one. It was almost destroyed when the idea of restoring it came to life in 2008. If you want to read more about it: “Trip to Marrakech and its riad garden renovated” by Flo’s History. The most important thing to know is that only ancient technics have been used to renovate this place.
La Terrasse Des Epices
We discovered this restaurant during our last stay. If there is one place to try, it’s this one. Honestly, we’ve decided to try several ones we didn’t already know, just because they were popular on Instagram. We were a little disappointed. The quality was okay, but the service was far from friendly. And the cost was higher than other similar places, not “Insta-famous.”
Try this one instead; we loved it, the owners and the staff are welcoming. The food is fantastic; the view is just “WOW!”
One thing though: don’t use the online contact by email to book a table for the same day. Chances are your request won’t be seen, but you will believe your table is secured. We had no problem to find a table last minute, but it was not the busy season. I think this restaurant is going to be very popular as it’s a must-go.
This one is in a different neighbourhood, but it still is downtown. Same as Madrasa Ben Youssef here: the architecture of the place is fantastic, except that this time it’s a palace, not a school. You’ll discover amazing mosaics, gardens and many other gems from the 19th-century Islamic style.
Now some more photos
It’s time to let the images talk by themselves, enjoy the end of the trip!