A weekend in Marrakech

A weekend in Marrakech

When my friend Jas asked me if I wanted to escape to Morocco for the weekend, I decided to just do it. Living in England we are so lucky to have so much on our doorstep and I definitely do not take advantage of it enough.

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Weather / Currency

When we visited Marrakesh at the beginning of March, the weather was about 24 degrees celcius – kinda amazing considering it’s only a three hour flight from London.

The main currency is Dirham, but people also accept euros. I’d recommend googling the conversion rate as this obviously changes all the time.

Flights and accommodation

We went onto lastminute.com and booked a 4 night stay in a Riad in Marrakesh with flights for just under £200 each. I love my job, but one of the real cons about being self-employed is the inability to plan my schedule, so it was just typical when I got booked for a shoot on the Friday, which was the day we were due to take off.

I contacted lastminute.com to try and alter our flights and accommodation, and whilst the staff were friendly, the flights and accommodation were non-refundable and unchangeable; this was kind of frustrating and meant I had to buy an extra pair of flights through easyjet.

I actually love flying with easyjet because it’s quite literally very easy. They have an app that allows you to check in online and have your scannable boarding pass on your phone so there’s no messing around at the airport. The flight may not be luxurious, but it’s simple and clean making it perfect for affordable short haul travel.

Riad Sidi Mimoune

We found the Riad Sidi Mimoune through a very cheap deal with flights lastminute.com, and had a really lovely time here. The staff – an older Mohommed and a younger Mohammed – were so kind to us and made us feel really welcome. We were greeted by a very friendly Mohammed (senior) when we arrived and he helped us chase off the gaggle of men that were annoyed at us as we didn’t have any change to give them for carrying our suitcases. We were given mint tea in the beautiful entrance before being shown up to our room – the room was small but simple but clean.

The rooftop of the Riad has a pool, a really cute chill area for drinking tea, and also a big table where you can have breakfast or dinner at night (breakfast was included, but we were told dinner was €17 which seemed rather expensive given that we ate in the square for about £2 per head). Admittedly the breakfast was a little disappointing consisting of cakes and pancakes, I would have liked some fruit or a healthier option, but that’s just me.

The Riad is located about ten minutes from the medina, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it meant that we had a little further to walk to get into the hustle and bustle of the city, it’s not necessarily a bad thing I just wanted to make you aware of that.

One other thing worth noting is that we were charged an extra 30 dirham each when we checked out because of a ‘city tax’ – again, we weren’t aware of this until the very end of our stay.

Check out the Riad Sidi Mimoune here.

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Riad de Joya

Unfortunately we didn’t stay overnight at the Riad de Joya, but after spending the day there for hammam, I would definitely recommend it and I got to have a good old snoop around. We honestly could not have asked for a more welcoming reception and attention to detail to make our time there relaxing and enjoyable.

Admittedly we found it really hard to find the Riad because it’s tucked away down a side street right in the middle of the Souk and even google maps doesn’t know all the side streets in the medina apparently! But the moment we arrived we were greeted by the friendliest staff and manager – they thought of everything including the immigration cards we needed to fill out for our return flight to avoid queueing at the airport! They lent us a mobile phone with the number of the manager for us to have during the day in case we got lost on our way back to the Riad, and they even walked us to our taxi as there’s no access to cars in their part of the Medina.

We stepped through a door from the busy hustle and bustle of the market into what appeared to be a mini paradise. There was a water feature right in the middle of the square courtyard with lots of flowers and plants everywhere. We were shown into the reception room where we were given fresh mint tea and some delicious Moroccan biscuits (they have spices in them, which I love!) before being shown up to our room.

The room was so clean and spacious  with high ceilings, and it looked onto the courtyard. I asked to view some of the other rooms too, and each one was totally different. I particularly loved the gold bathtub!

The Riad has a spa where you can get hammam, but I will tell you about that later in the post.

My absolute favourite part of the Riad de Joya is it’s incredible and tranquil rooftop. It was the most peaceful haven surrounded by plants, and the perfect place to chill in the sun and have some mint tea. Guests staying at the Riad can have breakfast up there too.

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Hotel les Jardins de la Koutoubia

We unfortunately didn’t stay in this hotel, but went for a drink here one night. It’s located just next to the main square and is so beautiful! I can’t recommend it enough. I’d love to have stayed here one night as it looked very luxurious, but we sufficed with a very satisfactory glass of red wine as the sunset.

You can check out the Hotel les Jardins de la Koutoubia here.

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Safety. 

After booking our flights a few of my friends were surprised to hear we had booked a trip to Morocco being only two girls, and many said that without a boy in our group we would get harassed a lot on the street. Another friend told me she was wanted to go on a trip to Morocco but her parents told her it was unsafe.

It was worrying when we arrived at the airport and were charged €30 for a ten minute taxi to the the city centre (we later found out this should have only cost us about €7 – grr), and then the taxi driver handed our suitcases to some people in the street who took us to our Riad then demanded we pay them for this service.

And so we learnt very quickly that in Morocco nothing is done for free and people will take you out of your comfort zone and impose their services onto you so that they can get money out of you. When crossing a river in the dessert two children took each of our hands, despite our oh-so-British polite protests, to help us get to the other side. Once at the safety of the river bank they demanded money and were very rude to people who didn’t have change to give. When we were trying to find the second Riad we were using Google Maps and people were trying to find out where we were trying to go and lead us there so that they could get money for it. If you tried to take photographs anywhere, the owners of the shops or stalls would come and demand money for the photograph. It was a blogging nightmare as I couldn’t take as many photographs as I would have liked!

Despite all of this, we felt very safe on our trip, just be prepared to haggle and be very stern if you do not need help from someone.

Wardrobe

Morocco is a muslim country so bring respectable clothes making sure your knees and shoulders are covered. There are many tourists in Marrakesh so people are relavtiely relaxed there and I did see men and women walking around in T-shirts and / or shorts, so you could if you really wanted to, but for me it’s more of a respect thing, plus you may get unwanted attention!

Food

The food in Morocco is amaaazing! Couscous, tagine – there’s something for everyone whether you’re a meat eater, pescetarian, or vegetarian.

I would really recommend eating street food in the main square of the medina, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, at night. The square is transformed into hundreds of restaurants with long tables and stools, and the charming waiters charm you into their restaurant to eat. It’s amazing to be sat down and watching how they pull people into their place, celebrating when they attract large groups, and using colloquial English such as “come have a gander”, “It’s just like Sainsbury’s”, and “well jell”. We chose lots of small dishes and tagine to share – the aubergine was incredible! IMG_3739IMG_3745IMG_3737IMG_3971

For lunch on our final day we were recommended to eat at Cafe l’Arabe by the manager of the Riad de Joya. The restaurant is located right in the middle of the bustling market, but as we entered we were shown up to the roof where we enjoying tranquil views over the city. The menu contained lots of Italian dishes, so I flicked straight to the back-page for the Moroccon specialities and ordered tagine, surprise surprise! The meat was so soft it literally melted in my mouth, and the vegetables were amazing too.

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Activities

We spent the first day just walking around the market and the main square of the medina, Marrakesh’s old city. There is honestly so much to see and take in that you can easily spend a whole day lost in its cultural offerings.

The main square, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, seems to be the central point for both tourists and locals and I loved its transformation from day to evening. In the day time the square was full of stalls selling orange juice and dates – I tried both, which were exceptional! There are also lots of entertainment, from snake charmers and monkeys, to live bands; just make sure you’re prepared to part with your cash if you want to watch or take photographs. In the evening the square is totally transformed to an outdoor restaurant, with hundreds of stalls competing for your custom. There are also lots of activities going on in the square – with locals playing games, socialising, and performers and monkeys for the tourists! I loved the buzz!

The souk, or market, carries on for miles and miles and we got lost aimlessly wandering it. There’s everything imaginable from shoes, clothes, pictures, jewellery, sweets, argan oil (famously from Morocco and great for dry skin and damaged hair), and natural remedies and cosmetics. I bought my friend a natural migraine cure – you just have to sniff the grains and it’s meant to keep them at bay. I hope for her sake it works! It’s rather frustrating that I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I’d have liked but I think they show you the real flavour.

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Desert

On Sunday we woke up super early to take a trip to the Sahara desert, paying €30 each for a twelve hour round trip – this was arranged by Mohammed at our Riad. There were about 12 of us in the minibus and as we set off into the Moroccon desert we stopped off at various places along the way to take in the views and soak up the culture.

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The highlight of this trip for me was when we arrived at the Kasar Ait Ben Haddou, which is a very old city (kasar) along the former caravan route between the Sahar and Marrakesh. Whilst most residents now live in the new city on the other side of the river there are still five families that live here, and it was amazing to witness this fortification – it’s so old it’s a World Heritage Site and it’s also been the location for many films including Gladiator, Troy, and Game of Thrones.

Despite having paid for the trip in advance we were told on entering the Kasar that we had to pay an extra 30 Dirhams, an entrance charge, but it was totally worth it.

Next we made our way back to the other side of the river and enjoyed lunch – I had tagine, of course! IMG_3808IMG_3854IMG_3839

After lunch our next stop was the Kasbah de Touret, where we were told we could pay to go into the Kasbah or to the Musee du Cinema. We payed 20 Drh to go inside the Kasbah, and it was very underwhelming. We walked through the empty corridors into empty rooms that had paintings up that we could buy looking around for what the thing to see was. Apart from some nice views on dissimilar to the views we got from the bus there was nothing. If you end up coming I’d recommend spending your time drinking some fresh mint tea in a cafe.

We then made our way back to the hustle and bustle of Marrakech. I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t see the desert, as that’s what we’d paid for, but I think that was miscommunication and I’m so glad we did the trip. I’d say if you have longer then it would be worth doing the two or three day trip – I would love to have ridden some camels through the desert!

Hammam 

For our final day in Marrakech, we wanted to experience Hammam, otherwise known as a Turkish bath. We decided to go to the Riad de Joya after reading some good reviews online, and I am so glad we did.

Jas and I were told to put on a bikini and put on a dressing robe in the room then make our way down to the treatment room. We were greeted by the lady who would do our hammam or told us to take off the dressing gowns and enter the room. The room was a little bit like a steam room, but rather than steam it was water, and the lady split her time between us both applying the different products to our skin. Cleansing, exfoliation, and massage were all incorporated into the treatment – I’m not sure exactly what was in the products apart from argan oil, spices and eucalyptus but my skin, which is often very dry felt amazing afterwards! The only thing I found weird was that after the treatment was over we were given moisturiser or oil for our skin – it’s always great to moisturise when your skin is soft and supple! That said, what an amazing treatment – apparently Moroccans do it once or twice a week. It was the perfect end to what was an amazing weekend away in Morocco!

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I can’t believe it’s so close and easy to get to from London. I felt like I’d been away for much longer because there was so much to do and it was so very different to London or other European cities.

I’m already excited to plan my next trip away with Jas – where would you recommend?

Speak to you soon,

with love from ashley black

 

Ashley James

Ashley James

Let me know what you think...

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