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The ochre city

Jun 21, 2018 comment(s)

We rushed to the bus station in order to get to Marrakesh. We were waiting for this weekend for a while. Annabelle already visited Marrakesh several times and she was dying to share the experience with me. During the last 3 days, she has been preparing me to the lifestyle and the challenges of the souk there.

Day 1

We arrived late afternoon in an amazing blue and white riad, typical Moroccan style - the Hotel riad Essaouira. It is located just next to the Jema El Fna square, in a small and quiet street of the Medina. 

We drank a freshly squeezed orange juice on the rooftop of the Café de France - the best view being at the top floor - from where we could see the entire square getting ready for the night. 

We had traditional and vegetarian diner not too far from there, at Chegrouni. The veggie couscous and tajine were delicious. Of course we had a traditional mint tea to digest all this !

Day 2

We spent the next morning visiting Majorelle garden as well as Yves Saint Laurent’s (YSL) museum. Both are just next to each other. The garden belonged to the artist Jacques Majorelle and was abandoned when he died. Pierre-Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent’s Foundation restored it in the 80s.
It is really beautiful, lots of plants, cactus and fountains always with that specific blue colour. We also visited the Berber museum which is located inside the garden. It is full of information about this ethnic group and their traditions (clothes, jewels, tools, etc.).

The YSL museum is really surprising. Its modernity contrasts with the rest of the city. It explains key moments of the famous fashion designer and highlights impressive dresses. The room is completely black, even the manikin. Only the dresses are under the light.

We then stopped at the Cantine des Gazelles, were we had a delicious sweet and sour tagine

For the rest of the afternoon, we wondered in the alleys of the souk. The streets are really tight and motorbikes passe right next to you! In the souk, sellers are regrouped by categories: olives, slippers (babouches), craftsmen, spices, sportswear, leather, etc. Every stand is overloaded and colourful. Each seller has its own technique to attract you into their shop. From the very classic “Welcome to Marrakech”, to the original “Come, here it is cheaper than free” or “It’s free until you have to pay”. There was also the ones who asked us what we were looking for and then tried to sell us what we didn’t need or want. Annabelle loves to negotiate with the sellers, even though she doesn’t always buy. Therefore every shop is an occasion to try to make a deal. You would have understood, we spent hours and hours walking and talking to locals. It was also the opportunity to contemplate the architecture and all those riads in ochre. 

We did well though, we only bought a pair of snickers for me and a ring for Annabelle. Doing a round world trip, we are quite limited in space…
For the evening, we chose to go to Chez Zaza’s rooftop in order to watch the sunset. A magic moment.

Day 3

We took our breakfast on the rooftop of the riad. It is the bee season and there are lots of them. Annabelle being scared as hell by them, it was a quick one. 

We then headed to the Riad Zitoun School on the Ourika road, approximately 30 minutes away from Marrakesh by car. Annabelle’s grand parents used to live in Morocco and some friends of them run this school. It is specialised in the education of young girls from countryside. They teach them tailoring and hospitality. It was the end of the year for the school and a big party was organised. On the agenda: songs, danses, graduation. There was a very nice atmosphere and very interesting to share this with the kids. The contrast between them and the huge amount of tourist in the city is a bit disturbing. 

For the afternoon, we visited the Bahia palace, astonishing by its architecture, size and colours. The ceilings in cedar are amazing by their level of details. There are numerous rooms and you can sometime be alone without any other tourist. It was really peaceful and relaxing for the end of afternoon.  

We went back to our riad in order to get pimped for the night. Indeed, we had book a table to the Jad Mahal palace. Each night, there is show of Arabian nights: fire eater and belly dancers. Meals were delicious, softened light, place was magic and dancers beautiful! It was an excellent night.

Day 4

For our last day, we slept in and organised our day during breakfast. Still dealing with the bees. We decided to visit the Saadi tombs. When we arrived, the place was already packed with tourist - disadvantage of a lazy morning. However, it was filled with a spiritual atmosphere. In the main room lie the tombs of 3 kings. The architecture is unique. Weirdly enough there were 2 turtles taking a sunbath outside around the tombs. 

On the way back, we stopped at the Mamounia palace, the most luxurious hotel in Marrakesh. There is a big beautiful garden surrounded by battlements. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering again in the souk. We met with Ayoub, spices seller and also Annabelle’s friend. They met a few years ago in this souk. 

Finally, we had an orange juice at the square and enjoyed the rooftop of the Ancien Café, waiting for our bus to Casablanca.

Marrakech is definitely different from Casablanca. Folk, authentic and intense are the 3 words that I think describe it the best. Weather is hot and despite the ongoing agitation there is always a rooftop or garden where we can rest. Locals are really friendly and even after rough negotiations we always leave them with a smile on the face and with a new “friend”.
We will definitely come back!