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Jardin Marjorelle

2 days in Marrakech

Anyone that’s travelled with me will probably grumble about the early morning flights I choose. That was no exception for my trip to Marrakech in May 2019. Our flight was at 6.10AM so it was a very early start to the day. Luckily for us (the us on this occasion being myself and my daughter) the flight wasn’t full, so we were able to spread out on the plane a bit and get a couple of hours kip.

 

After arriving at our Riad, enjoying a light breakfast and some mint tea (there is more on our hotel in Part 1 of this blog) we checked into our room and changed. With Morocco being a muslim country, modesty is essential when choosing what to wear. I wore a long blue dress, it was slightly too thick for the heat which was very hot, around 42C/107F but I persevered in the name of fashion, ha-ha!

The Riad arranged for their driver to take us to our first destination, Jardin Majorelle. This is a stunning botanical garden with a wide variety of cacti set against brightly painted structures. There was quite a queue to get in, but it went down fairly quickly. It was crowded but there were some quieter areas as you walked around and some areas of shade to get out of the intense sun when needed. There are a couple of shops inside and a restaurant too. The cost to get in is 70 Dirhams (roughly £6). We spent around an hour and a half walking around before the heat got too much for us but could have stayed a bit longer. We went to a nearby café and ordered some sodas whilst waiting for our driver to collect us. There are some lovely gift shops in the area and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum is close by too, but we were ready to get back to the hotel and cool off by the pool for a little while.

 

After a bit of down time we went off in search of the souks and the main square, Jama El f’na. Our Riad was around a 5-10-minute walk from the main area of the Medina. It’s worth studying a map to get some bearings in the maze that awaits you. And I recommend making a mental note of your surroundings  or take quick snap shots of them on your phone as it can be tricky to navigate. Street signs are very minimal, and all the winding alleys can look the same. I knew that we had to turn left, left again then left when the path forked and that would lead us straight to the centre but it was still pretty confusing.

Mopeds and carts trundle up and down the pathways and they have right of way so be cautious, stick to the right as we were frequently told by well meaning locals. Another thing to note is that most of the roads and paths don’t have a real surface, it can be sand, or rubble or dirt so leave your heels at home and wear something that will support your feet on these uneven surfaces.

I was so excited to explore the souks, but we chose to see the square first. Fruit and juice stalls abound here, and you’ll see lots of snake charmers and men with small monkeys that they will try to sit on you and demand money. If you’re not interested, don’t make eye contact as you walk past, don’t stop to look at the animals or just politely tell them no. On the far side of the square there are horse and carriage rides and beyond that is the Koutoubia Mosque which was cordoned off during our visit, I'm guessing it was something to do with Ramadan.

It was time to get out of the heat for a moment and enjoy a cold drink. We chose a café overlooking the square and had a drink that was a tangy freshly squeezed orange juice with ice cream, it was so refreshing and cooled us down sufficiently to go shopping.

The souks, what can I say? It was like winding back time and entering another world. It was so magical. The winding lanes here are even closer together and sheltered under makeshift canopies of matting and reeds. Inside you’ll find a treasure trove of unique leather, silver and linens sitting amongst rugs and lanterns. Then there’s all the beautiful smells assaulting your nostrils, spices, incense, perfumes and oils. Again, bikes and scooters weave in and out so be careful and stick to the right as you walk around. If you see something you like, then don’t be afraid to haggle on the price, it’s pretty much expected but don’t be silly in your request, A few Dirham to us is just pence but it adds up to them.

Don’t worry about getting lost, and it’s likely you will, but eventually you will end up back at the main square where you can get your bearings again. Note; If you’re blonde you are very likely to be ogled so be prepared for it. It’s mostly inoffensive smiles and asking if you’re married. Just smile back, they’re just being friendly, but it can make you feel uncomfortable.

As you walk around, shop owners will invite you into their stores, it can seem a bit in your face and daunting at first but just a polite no thank you is fine if you don’t want to look. Some are pushier than others but just remain polite and firm.

Also be respectful in how you dress, and you’ll draw less attention to yourself. You’re not required to dress like the locals but keeping knees and cleavage covered, and shoulders if entering places of religion. It’s not your typical crop top and shorts destination despite the heat. Obviously if you’re staying a resort then it is perfectly acceptable to dress how you like there. Just keep it modest when exploring the old town.

 

Palais de la Bahia

The following day we set off on foot to visit the Palais De La Bahia. Entrance fee is 70 Dirham and it’s open from 8am to 5pm. We went quite early and it was just starting to get busy when we left.

Constructed at the end of the 19th century, this palace boasts an impressive array of mosaic and tiled courtyards. I took advantage of the empty courtyards to swirl around for a few pictures in another maxi dress. Maxi dresses in that heat may sound insane but they actually kept me quite cool as they swished around my legs, and obviously they look great in photos.

From there we walked the short distance to Palais el Badi built towards the end of the 16th century. Again, the price is 70 Dirham (it was cheaper than that when I went in May 2019, but they recently increased entry prices to a lot of their more touristy destinations). Don’t expect this to be as grand as Palais De La Bahia because it’s effectively a vast ruin, although I found it equally as impressive and it wasn’t hard to imagine how it once may have looked. Perched high up on the outer walls we spotted storks and their nests which was amazing to see too.

We were lucky that our visit there was during a quiet period with just a dozen or so people milling around so we had great fun getting some picture, although the harsh midday sun was against us.

There are some smaller souks in the nearby area and some cafes. We purchased some jasmine oil that is presented in gorgeous little blue glass bottles with silver lids. The lady that served us in the shop was very informative and offered us some mint tea as we browsed. She let us try some of the products and talked us through them before we made our decisions. She wasn’t pushy at all.

Ceramic shop in the souk

We took a couple of hours to chill back at the Riad then ventured back to the souks as we there hadn’t been enough time to get around all of it the day before. We stopped to look at something outside a little shop selling natural beauty products and again were invited in for some mint tea and to try some products, we accepted on this occassion. We were shown some solid perfumes and some face mask amongst other things. We both decided to buy a solid perfume and although I don’t wear it often, I do find myself just picking it up and sniffing it, lol, it immediately evokes fond memories of my time in Marrakech. My daughter opted to buy the face mask too and was gifted a bottle of rose water to mix it with. We were both gifted a funny little dried flower from Morocco’s Atlas region which they use as toothpicks, you just pull of a stem at a time to use.

 

From here we had our first and only negative experience on the trip and it’s a real lesson in trusting your instincts. Upon leaving the shop and continuing through the souks a young man reminded us to keep to the right, then engaged us in conversation, asking us if we had been to see the tannery yet and telling us it was a rare opportunity. Seeing we were keen, he gave us directions and walked away. We decided to go and have a look, it would be interesting to see how they prepared the leather to make products from.

We started to walk the way he said and a short while later he came past us, seeming genuinely pleased we had taken his advice. At that point a friend of his came past and said he was heading that way so could show us where it was. At this point I was starting to become a bit dubious, but he was polite, and we were in a heavily populated area, so we continued.

We stopped by the door of the tannery where we were introduced to yet another man who offered us sprigs of mint and invited into the tannery. The smell is overpowering, hence why they give you mint to sniff whilst walking around. He told us a little about the leather tanning process but there wasn’t really much to see, it was quite late in the day so maybe that is normal. We took a few pictures and I was ready to leave as it hadn’t been what I was expecting, and I was wasting precious souk shopping time to look at it, lol. But he offered to show us where the leather was dyed.

Up to now, everything had been okay, and my concerns had been unfounded so we decided as we had walked all that way we might as well take a look. But instead of leather dying, we were taken to a shop. Bingo! It was very pricey and the man from the shop was getting very annoyed with us as we were clearly not going to buy anything, so we decided to leave. The man who had taken us to the shop was waiting outside for us and demanded that we now pay him for the tour. This alleged tour had taken a maximum of 5 minutes and he wanted the equivalent of £20 each from us. I told him that we didn’t have that much. We had not asked him for a “tour” it had been forced upon us, but I would have tipped him had he not been so rude. When he realised I was not going to pay he got very verbally abusive, getting right in my face and shouting at me. We started to walk away quickly, and he followed us up the road, still yelling obscenities at me.

It left me feeling very shaken and annoyed that I had allowed us to be put in that situation. It put a bit of a dampener on the rest of the afternoon, but it has not put me off returning. Next time I know to 100% trust my instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

There is plenty more to see in Marrakech such as the Saadian Tombs, Menara Gardens, The museum, and of course enjoying a traditional steam bath and Hammam body scrub. I’d like to go to Fez next time I visit Morocco and visit the Ouzoud Falls and the blue city of Chefchaouen.

 

Lenny x