The ‘Must See’ Site in Marrakech – Jemaa El Fna

An amazing description of a vacation in Marrakech, sit back and be transported!

Landing in Marrakech, we were boldly presented with our names scribbled on a whiteboard. A sigh of relieve came over us as we realized our email exchange in pidgeon French had done the trick!

We were staying in a riad (a traditional Moroccan house with a central courtyard situated in the old town) and were soon to find out why they offered the free pick-up. We had considered hiring a car but decided, as we wouldn’t be venturing too far out of the city, taxis would suffice. After several near misses weaving through traffic, the ten minute journey took us into the medieval Medina – the ancient heart of Marrakech.

Everywhere around there was the sound of footsteps, the tooting of horns and a general hubbub of activity. All cars, scooters and donkeys were circulating around the vast central square, Jemaa El Fna.

Marrakech is full of life and excitement.

The square is utterly captivating, and completely crazy. Everywhere you look there’s something to catch your eye, such as Berber apothecary’s with their displays of tinctures and teas for every kind of ailment, the castanet-clanging water sellers in their brightly-colored hats, the tooth-pullers with their gruesome collections of aging teeth, snake charmers, dancing monkeys, henna painters, story tellers and orange vendors, they all clamor and jostle for your attention as you try to squeeze your way past. Wherever you’re heading, don’t plan on getting there anytime soon.

We were thankful, then, to be met by the French lady who owned the Dar Andamuare riad we were booked into. She insisted on doing this because the Medina is a labyrinth, and we would have never, ever have found the place on our own. Street signs are hit and miss, and once you veer off the square into the warren on little streets beyond, there’s a very high possibility of finding yourself lost. Now is probably a good time to mention it: YOU WILL GET LOST. Enjoy it.

We spent the afternoon lounging on the roof terrace of the riad, which is something that most of the riads offer. Up there you can soak up the sun while enjoying an unobstructed view of the impressive Khoutoubia minaret while listening to the melodic call to prayer that rises up from the city five times a day.

On clear days you’ll also be able to see the stunning Anti Atlas and Altas mountain ranges that ring Marrakech. As we watched the sun set with an illicit beer procured by our French hosts, our stomachs started to rumble…

Boiled vegetables and Berber whiskey

Enjoy the amazing views from the rooftops

Probably the most famous image of Marrakesh is that of the enormous steaming night market that sets up once the sun goes down and carries on until around midnight. We walked around taking in the sights and smells until we could resist it no more, and picked a stall at random. It really doesn’t matter which one you pick. As one Moroccan hawker put it, “all the food here is fresh, it’s quick and it’s insanely cheap. It’s bloody brilliant.”

Marrakech is beautiful at night

Now, as someone who loves their food, I should probably add here that while there are many excellent things that might lure you to Morocco, the cuisine is not one of them. The diet seems to consist of four main food groups – Tagine, Cous Cous, Kebab and Sausage. The food is all simply cooked with very subtle use of spices and fruit for flavor. The vegetarian options are particularly limited (to Tagine and Cous Cous, alas) and vegetables were often presented boiled beyond recognition.

The drinks fared slightly better. You’re never far away from a deliciously fresh orange juice (which I still miss) or a refreshing sweet mint tea, which we heard called ‘Berber whiskey’. During our time in Marrakesh we ate food from the night market and street vendors as well as the higher-end restaurants such as Salama and Le Foundouk. Personally, I found it wasn’t worth forking out the extra, unless you’re in particular need of the sumptuous, dusky ambiance that Arabic restaurants conjure so brilliantly.

Beautiful, brash, and completely and utterly bonkers – that’s how we’ll remember Marrakech.

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