FUNKY OLD MEDINA
The call of Marrakesh is rising, with tour companies reporting a spike in interest in Morocco in 2018. Buoyed by solid bookings, four new departures have been added this year for Abercrombie & Kent’s Splendours of Morocco luxury small group journey. It might have to do with the locals, who are “friendly, generous and have a hilarious sense of humour,” says Hicham El Alioui. Born and raised in Marrakesh, Hicham has been guiding tours for Abercrombie & Kent for almost 11 years.
“I also love it because it’s so central to many of Morocco’s other fantastic destinations like the beach, the mountains and the desert,” he says. Before you touch down in the Red City, Hicham has these helpful tips:
IT’S A MAZE IN THERE
Marrakesh has one of the most outstanding medinas of Morocco. Rich with a variety of activities (cultural, artistic and historic), it’s the cradle of art and design and an amazing haven for shoppers.
I like to take my guests a little off the beaten track and visit local community bakeries, hammams, spice markets and local schools within the medina. One of the bakeries we visit dates back to the late 18th century and is still very successful.
PREPARE FOR THE SQUARE
The best way to approach Djemaa el-Fna (the main square) is to have a guided orientation tour, during the day as well as the evening. It gets busier as the day goes on.
The square is known for all the different artistic activities – from fortune tellers, acrobats and snake charmers to monkey entertainers and amazing storytellers. I like to give guests a brief history and then guide them through the labyrinth of souks. They really appreciate the presence of a guide for tips on haggling and the quality of the item being purchased. If you need a break, there are many rooftops and cafe terraces you can escape to. I recommend Cafe Glacier – a great spot for a sundowner.
Marrakesh, like other cities in Morocco, has tagines everywhere but it also has its own delicacies, among them “Tangia Marrakechia” – every visitor should try it!
It’s a dish of beef cooked inside a clay jar (tangia) with a concoction of different local spices together with saffron, ghee, olive oil, water and preserved lemon. It is cooked long and slow in the ashes of a hot fire.
The best places to try it are Al Fassia Aguedal, Dar Zellij, and La Grande Table Marocaine at the Royal Mansour Hotel.
SEE IT IN BLOOM
The best time to visit Marrakesh is in spring when the whole city blossoms. Known as a garden city, its streets and avenues are lined by citrus and other fruit trees while many of the riads (traditional houses) boast lush courtyard gardens and the famous Jardin Majorelle is alive with colour. I love Arsat Moulay Abdeslam Garden (Cyber Park), which dates back to the 18th century. It’s a peaceful place to relax after the medina.
VISIT THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS
It’s possible to visit the Atlas Mountains in a day trip from Marrakesh, but it’s best to start early in the day so you can split your time between trekking and resting in a typical Berber house.
Most houses are adobe constructions, usually perched on hills overlooking a valley of agricultural fields. Guests are invited into homes for mint tea while learning everything about the Berber lifestyle – from the way the house is built to family rituals.