The Medina, Mojitos and Madness of Marrakech
I have always wanted to go to Marrakech. For as long as I can remember I’ve yearned to meander in the medina and souk it all up. I’ve longed to sit on an embroidered leather pouffe in the cool courtyard of a riad, eating a homemade tagine surrounded by glowing lanterns. Probably wearing a fez. And so, last week, my African ambition finally became a reality as he and I touched down in Marrakech Menara airport ready to begin our Moroccan adventure. Any my, what an adventure it was.
I fell in love. Instantly. From the moment Hamid, our happy smiling taxi driver, began the frenzied cart-avoiding and moped-dodging journey to our riad, the crazy city stole my heart. The people were friendly and exceptionally welcoming; the food was stunning, the weather beautiful and the shopping, well, the shopping was heavy. Two pouffes, three tagines, three hand painted bowls, pestle and mortar, lantern, candle, clutch bag, purse, five bangles and three bracelets heavy. We were immersed in a vibrant sun soaked film set of laden donkeys, skilled craftsmen and bustling markets. Every sense was stricken by the colour, spice and cacophony the magical city is overflowing with. I could babble on and on about how mind-blowingly, breath-takingly fantastic it is and how everyone should go, immediately. Alas, there are only so many times I can say GO, book it, book it now! Instead, I have whittled down the highlights.
The only thing better than the exquisite ‘little darling’ P’tit Habibi is Wafi, the riad manager. Taking care of our every whim, from arranging taxis to organising excursions and booking restaurants, he was wonderful. When we arrived unexpectedly late after our delayed flight he ordered us a tasty takeaway of cous cous and chicken pastilla. Serving it under the stars, we sat amidst lanterns eating, chilling and drinking our complimentary bottle of chilled wine. Each morning a homemade Moroccan breakfast was served to us on the rooftop terrace, setting us up for a hectic day in the souks. The decor, whilst striking Moroccan cool in the day, comes alive at night with a mass of twinkling lanterns. An oasis of calm and comfort from the frenzy outside, the rooftop pool, Space Invaders mirror and mouth-watering Moroccan salads mean that when I next visit, there is only one place I would stay. In fact, as Wafi told us the day we sadly had to leave, we now have friends in Marrakech.
When you pay £60 for four cocktails, you expect them to be good. They weren’t. They were amazing. The incredible La Mamounia is indescribably beautiful. I’d heard whispers of the ‘dangerously strong’ mojitos served at Le Bar Churchill so that of course is where we headed. The whispers weren’t wrong, they were indeed dangerous and the carpet was leopard print. I’d come home. Once the mojitos had been savoured we fancied a change of decadence so we were led to Le Bar Italien. Bit of a blur from this point, all I will say is, Best. Cosmopolitan. Ever.
A bit of research had told me that the best tagines were to be found at Le Foundouk, a hidden gem of a restaurant in the medina. We were led to the first floor where our table overlooked the impressive candlelit chandelier. Our hands were washed in orange blossom water, our menus were delivered as scrolls and our belts strained under a wonderful chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives. Whilst it is not a local’s restaurant, it is beautiful and the food is delicious.
When the heat of the midday sun became too much, Le Jardin Marjorelle was a welcome retreat. Famed for its collection of rare plants and cacti, the lush garden is the ideal place to cool off and chill out. Particularly helpful after the blood pumping purchases made on Rue Yves Saint Laurent. Just along from the garden sits a row of chic shops, the chicest of all being the intriguing concept store, 33 Rue Marjorelle. Stocking an eclectic mix of quality jewellery, purses, bags homeware and clothes, my shopping craving was well and truly sated.
Straying from the old town was something we only did the once. Whilst the new town is contemporary and cosmopolitan, it can’t hope to possess half of the charm of the medina. However, what it does hold is Grand Café de la Poste which with its charming staff and frozen mojitos is a relaxing respite when you’re all cous coused out. They do a bloody good club sandwich too.
I’m not too good at asking for a discount, I find it embarrassing. When I was a student, using my NUS card made me twitchy, so the thought of bartering filled me with dread. It’s the done thing, I was told, and there is no option other than to play the negotiating game. Nope, no way, I couldn’t, there is just no chance…or so I thought. I entered the souks, I spotted what I liked, I marched over and from nowhere, I was suddenly wearing my haggling hat. They offered me 500 dirhams, I offered 200, they laughed at me, they said 400, I laughed at them, I said 250, we settled on 300. Done. My biggest triumph had to be paying 400 dirhams (about £30) when the original price quoted was 1450 (approx. £105). It’s a game, it’s fun, I would always offer less than half the original price and nine times out of 10, we’d both happily meet somewhere in the middle. And if not, I walked away. I was delighted with everything I bought, happy in the knowledge that not only can I barter with the best of them, but that each piece has its own souk story to tell.
Whilst we were away every meal was fantastic. I gorged on tagines, cous cous and pastillas, I devoured dates, pomegranates and sweet pastries, washing it all down with mint tea and mojitos. But sometimes, a girl needs a burger. And whilst the traditional Moroccan cuisine served at Le Comptoir looked fantastic, the original Comptoir burger was just what I needed. A lively exciting venue, a surprise treat was the gyrating belly dancing show that kept us entertained whilst we sipped a pink mojito and classic gin fizz.
Marrakech is manic, noisy and energetic. It is a place where you’ll be jostled by a donkey’s saddle bag in a sandy alley one minute and be dipping your feet in a mosaicked pool as a waiter brings you drinks the other. I was dazzled, stunned and worn out. Every sense was battered and I adored every second. A city of contrasts, the feverish medina is remedied by the tranquil riads which are only an intricately carved door away. A concern about finally visiting the place you’ve always wanted to go is whether it will live up to expectations. Marrakech exceeded every one.