I had a notion about travelling to Morocco as two of my colleagues raved about it following respective successful Easter trips to Marrakech. I enjoy Moroccan cuisine, but that was about the extent of my Moroccan related knowledge. I did a bit of research i.e. read some swish five star travel logs online and managed to convince Áine to accompany me.
Both of us were quite ignorant as to how Muslim the country is, packing unwisely, drawing unwanted attention to ourselves. This was only really a problem in the Medina – the old part of the city – which is like stepping backwards into a medieval realm – albeit there is Wifi in most restaurants. We chose to stay three nights in the Medina in the wonderful, “Les Riad de Les Deux Portes.' Samir and his colleagues welcomed us with traditional mint tea and gave us an excellent guide to all the neighbourhoods in Marrakech, The Medina, Gueliz, The Palmerie, Hivernage etc. This information was invaluable as the Riad is nestled within the bustling souks on the periphery of the world famous Djemaa el Fna. While Riad was exceptional – the breakfast in particular was a triumph for a pastry lover (yours truly), I would only recommend two nights in the Medina – unless you’re staying in a swanky Riad with a pool, which I unfortunately wasn’t – as it can be overwhelming. A chronic hive of activity - oh so sweaty.
For the second leg of our holiday we ventured out to the Zone Touristique to stay in the charming 'Albakech House', which is a hybrid of a hotel and B&B with an in house Hammam and generously sized pool. The bedroom was fit for two queens and was equipped with a TV that had multiple decent movie channels – which would never usually be a prerequisite for accommodation but by the time I got to Albakech House, my Tonsillitis had reached it's peak and I was in severe need of TLC and questionable movies. Being a former hotel worker I have high standards when it comes to accommodation but my expectations were surpassed – all of the staff at Albakech were extremely pleasant and helpful.
I’m not embarrassed to admit my holiday was in parts spoiled by my maladies but looking back it was a wonderful holiday – when my body was filled to capacity with ibuprofen, codeine and Clarithromycin. The following are my personal highlights from my trip and must see parts of Marrakech.
Djemaa el Fna & The Souks
When we arrived we were dropped outside the square (Djemaa el Fna) by our Taxi driver while we awaited our Riad Host. The place heaves from morning to noon, transforming into the illustrious night market following Sun down. While it is a spectacle full of wonderful items to look at, I distained for the poor monkeys that are seen throughout, wearing baby clothes, their owners targeting tourists for pictures with the poor primates. Here you can also find snake charmers, ladies offering henna and the odd exorcism. Animal welfare aside, the market and souks are fantastic for picking up trinkets and fake gear – if you’re into that sort of thing, which I obviously am. Be prepared to bargain hard with your Souk seller, they will try to convince you that they are selling, “a real fake”, the irony. I managed to drive a fake YSL bag down from €200 to €35, and a Longchamp from €80 to €20. Looking back I wish I bought more things like pillowcases and home wares as the colours and intrinsic details of items offered deep in the souks were unlike anything you would ever find in Ireland. If you can handle the painfully annoying sellers, a trip or two round the souks is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon pottering around Marrakech.
The former home of painter Jacques Majorelle, was later owned by French designer Yves Saint Laurent. The vivid cobalt blue is synonymous with the garden, which also features beautiful mosaics, topiary and peaceful ponds filled with Koi fish.
The palace is a vast clay former stronghold of the Moroccan aristocracy. Nowadays the derelict palace is home to Storks which take up residency on the walls surrounding. There’s lots of interesting underground tunnels to explore here. Tip – don’t go during the middle of the day as it’s extremely exposed with very little shade. So wait until after lunch or bring the factor 50.
The resting place of Saadian princes – it is located close by to the Palais el Badhi. A serene location, that is quite small so go early or late in the day to avoid queues
I had been talking about treating myself to a massage for ages, so when I realised our hotel had an in house Hammam, I figured it would be rude not avail of the service. I opted for Hammam, Gomage and Massage which lasted an hour and cost a mere €39. Gommage involves scrubbing one’s body to the brink of severe pain. Tip – don’t go wearing fake tan – you will return from your retreat bán and your Masseuse will laugh at your orange peely skin. Gommage is then followed by Hammam which is like having a giant adult bath with funny potions. This all took place in a large steam room complete with a cistern of warm water that is repeatedly thrown over you with a lunch box. Following this I was brought to an Aladin inspired room and listened to pan pipes while the Masseuse undid 24 years’ worth of stress and anxiety. I can’t recommend a Hammam experience more – although I don’t think I’d brave a real municipal Hamman.
I stopped off in London on the way home and met with Órla. Please see below for obligatory Gherkin selfie.