Marrakech: The End..

Marrakech signposts

Here you are already skim-reading – you may not want to travel to Marrakech – just in case I’ve written something saucy. Well, I haven’t.

So why have I written three blogs on Marrakech, without so much as a token toilet joke? Well, because my notes were originally intended for Wanderlust magazine – an On Assignment project down in Morocco with Lyn Hughes. And it seems a shame to waste this remaining material that didn’t make it into print.

If it doesn’t interest you, I totally understand. Don’t worry, for the next post we’ll return to flippant analysis of the rock and roll industry – something safe like persecuting poor old Namibian, perhaps. See you there instead.

Marrakech Photography Course

Learn how to capture photogenic Marrakech with Suzannemarrakech photography course Porter’s Photo Experiences. As a rule, Moroccans don’t like to be photographed…so Susanne will take you on a three-hour guided walk explaining how to respect the culture whilst still taking great shots. She can offer as much or as little technical advice as you require, as well as introducing you to characters you’d never meet on your own.

Prepare to traipse through pigeon poo at the leather tanneries and duck through arched doorways to discover Tardis-like bread ovens. You’ll also be loitering on specific street corners, gradually blending into the background so that the locals become used to the camera lens. ‘Keep your eyes open,’ says Suzanne. ‘Or you’ll miss something interesting happening down an alley. And never think, I’ll come back for that photo. Take it there and then.’

Suzanne is flexible with the tour; she’ll tailor more history/ points of interests or photography tips according to group requirements. Having lived in Marrakech – and travelled extensively in North Africa – she has oodles of relevant stories. By the end of the tour you will have a more rounded knowledge of the medina, and some killer portrait shots. And Suzanne will probably have a camera bag full of fruit – she tends to trade rather than give money for photos.

Marrakech: Where Can You Drink Alcohol?

marrakech restaurant

For a licensed restaurant on Djemma el Fna (the main square), the only choice is Le Marrakchi. The food is a little more expensive than its competitors, but worth it if you want a bottle of wine with dinner. Definitely reserve beforehand (pop up the stairs during the day) – Table 6 in the window is impossibly romantic. At this candlelit table for two, overlooking the nightly spectacle below, you’ll feel like film stars.

On the top floor there is live entertainment in the form of drumming/singing, and sometimes belly dancing later on. The menu is in French but outside it is also in English…so have a good look before you head up the stairs! The tables (apart from 6) don’t offer a view of the square so you’re paying the extra for the chilled ambience and alcohol.

The Marrakech Dining Experience

Very few things in life are ‘must do’, but dining al fresco at marrakech bread ovensone of the nightly food stalls on the main square comes pretty close. Tourism is such a huge draw here that hygiene is paramount; you needn’t worry about unclean food. The biggest concern is which stall to eat at.

‘117 – Straight to Heaven,’ calls one canny vendor. I swivel and smile. ‘Yes sir, air conditioned. Five Star Michelin,’ beckons another. At Stall 42, the cook, wearing a sprig of parsley in his ear, gives me a killer smile whilst ladling steaming couscous. He’s got us; we can’t resist. The adolescent waiter starts laying the table and setting out flat breads before I’ve even glanced at the French menu.

Most stalls sell a similar selection of fish, meat and vegetables but there are a few surprises in the middle for those with more adventurous taste buds. And if you order too much, offer your surplus bread and uneaten sausages to one of the beggars walking past the tables, or one of the cute little children selling packets of tissues. Heady, insistent drumming accompanies the rising plumes of barbecue smoke – you’ll never forget the experience..

A meal in Hamburg…

Well, strike me down with a lipstick. Watching Michelin Mat’s brother, Nick, order a meal is like witnessing the build-up to penetrative sex. He deliberates agonisingly over the menu, fingering the page as though silkily caressing a woman’s thigh – the slow, erotic preliminary to the certainty ahead.

‘The portion is very big,’ says the affable German waiter. Nick gives a breathy, approving response, then champs at the bit while the waiter scurries off. When the colossal dish finally arrives, his eyes goggle, aflame with gluttony, as though a troublesome brassiere clasp has finally broken free to reveal unfettered splendour. ‘Diet starts tomorrow,’ he lies, and he plunges in unreservedly.

So what are we doing in Hamburg, you ask? Well, two drivers have returned from bumbling up to Oslo in my truck for a Taylor Swift show up at the Spektrum. And now they’re back again. It seems I have time for a sociable snifter – mulled wine with Amaretto – before toddling down to Oberhausen for Taylor’s next concert. Oh dear, as though I didn’t have enough to drink in the Cotton Club last night.

Sneaky Cigarette in the Restaurant

‘Roll me a fag, would you Kev,’ says Surfer Steve, another double driver, from across the table. ‘Is it Golden Virginia tobacco?’ Nick is up to his larynx at this point – gorging himself and beginning to look worryingly pregnant – and can barely voice an objection to smoking at the dinner table. (Germany seems to be overtly flouting the smoking ban in this particular restaurant.)

Kev passes Steve a pre-rolled cigarette from his little gay case. ‘Amber Leaf with a charcoal filter,’ he boasts. ‘My missus rolls them with her thighs.’ Steve recoils momentarily, yet exercises laudable self-restraint and talks wildly of rounding off the evening with a hot chocolate. He’s caffeine-free, you see, and jolly proud of it, too.

Redbush Tea

‘Caffeine-free is definitely the way to go,’ says Kev, bald as a coot and squinting through his spectacles. ‘I’ve drunk Redbush tea for ten years now and look at me.’ Hmm, I’m not sure he’s even joking; he looks expectantly at us. Nick simply basks in a blissful afterglow, a man sated and ready to turn out his bedside light.

Cockney Russ, a man with the voice of a Billericay bulldozer, suddenly puts down his fork and delivers the killer quote of the evening: ‘The only red bush I’m interested in is attached to a six-foot ginger bird.’

You know, I’ve almost missed these chaps over the winter. Almost..

Relaxing holiday in Marrakech?

Chilling may well seem like a pipedream whilst threading your way through the hubbub of Marraech’s souks. But here are five places to totally relax:

Marrakech Djemma el Fna1) Head to Terrasse des Epices and stressful thoughts of haggling and bustle will soon evaporate. This rooftop terrace restaurant, catering well for vegetarians is a veritable oasis above the markets, and is beautifully lit at night. In fact, it is an institution – it was featured in Easyjet’s in-flight magazine as an essential place in Marrakech to have coffee.

There are airy, cushioned snugs to relax in, or open-air tables with parasols. The owner, a charismatic entrepreneur named Kamal who speaks at least six languages fluently, also has two other establishments within the medina walls. “I started with a small guesthouse serving tagine and tea,’ he says. ‘But I thought, why not serve food outside? So I opened a café, and then this restaurant.’

2) His Café des epices is smaller than the Terrasse, though it is spread over three storeys. From each floor, you have a great view of an open-air market, selling everything from carpets to tortoises and chameleons. This is the place for a simple sandwich, a juice…and a rest.

Outside Marrakech’s Medina

3) Marrakech is just as much about the New Town as the medina. So check out the Grand Café de la Poste for some serious slouching – on leather cushions and footstools galore. With myriad candles casting a sMarrakech - a giant Aladdin's caveoft light upon the terracotta-potted palms, it’s hard to believe this was once a sorting office, built in the twenties during the French Protectorate.

A blend of smooth jazz wafts as breezily as the stunning, demure waitresses that are on hand at all times. But don’t doze off – the buffet table downstairs, comprising exceptionally generous nibbles, is included in the price of your drink. Top tip: if you sit on the chairs outside, you won’t be served alcohol.

4) Just round the corner is Azar, a well-recommended restaurant doubling as a nightclub. Beautifully lit, this is an up-market establishment offering Lebanese and Moroccan cuisine upstairs, and live ‘Oriental’ music downstairs nightly from 10pm.

Above the sofas in the nightclub, a row of black camel heads, like sphinxes keeping vigil, are fixed to the wall. Fatima’s Hand hangs from each collar, and every head quirkily bears a fez.

On the night we visited, an infectious fusion of chromatic jazz floated over a bed of synthesised Moroccan pop. This is the perfect place for a mojito and a sheeshah. The attentive, black-clad waiters replace the coals in the dark, almost without you noticing. It is a high-class joint, dripping with chill factor, and very safe for women without men.marrakech - beldi country club

Pamper Yourself In Marrakech

5) Eleven kilometres out of town is the immaculately-cultivated Beldi Country Club. Run by Frenchman, Jean Dominique, and his daughter, Geraldine, this is a complex oozing relaxation.

Here you can enjoy a hammam in the spa area. Allow yourself to be doused in warm water on a marble slab strewn with herbs and rose petals. The ubiquitous black soap is then applied before your skin is scrubbed with a black mitt. Guys can wear trunks or the offered nappy-like covering; girls go naked – hooray!

Soothing pianoforte is piped throughout the rooms whilst you relax afterwards in a dressing-gown, sipping sweet mint tea.

Within the resort, there are two swimming pools – one for hotel guests staying in the buildings made from mud and straw, and one for day visitors. As a non-resident, you can lounge beneath the olive trees, beside a long, rosemary-flanked pool. The only sounds are birdsong and the occasional snip of shears from a straw-hatted gardener.

Lunches are sumptuous, served on rose-filled tables and tended by genial staff. The accompanying Moroccan breads can be dipped in olive oil made on the premises – from the enveloping olive trees. Alcohol is available here.

There are cooking and pottery classes on offer, too, as well as boutiques, tennis courts and a home cinema. Geraldine also organises ‘picnic chic’ (a picnic excursion in the medina), plus parties at the big lake out the back.

Intoxicating Marrakech..

Marrakech traffic‘This way, sir – lubbly jubbly.’ Amid the tumult of helmetless motorcyclists riding pell-mell through a gaggle of school children, a phlegmatic babouche seller catches my attention with his snappy badinage. Armed with my rehearsed ‘Salaam-Alaikum’, I falter. But we shake hands and smile as an imperilling, throttle-zealous wrist passes within two inches of a child’s eye. ‘Bonjour. Salut,’ call the beaming brown-eyed kids, insouciantly disregarding any threat of maiming.

Unguents, spices and two-stroke fumes needle my nostrils; slippered women saunter effortlessly amongst the throng, exotically bedecked in vibrant, hand-embroidered finery; the sun’s rays peep through the rusty slats of corrugated iron sheltering the street. The medina’s enrapturing assault on my senses temporarily overwhelms me…and I need tea. I’m in the right city for it.

Nice Cup of Moroccan Tea

riad in marrakech

Beneath a carpet of satellite dishes, I watch, transfixed, as the ornate teapot is lifted higher and higher. Despite pouring from a height of half a metre, the café owner doesn’t spill a drop. Steaming, urine-coloured liquid, laced with enough sugar to warrant an imminent visit to a dentist, splashes into a small glass, forming a frothy head. “A tea without foam is like a Berber without a turban,” says Jamal, my tour guide. “But the tea has to be strong enough.”

Lounging on Moorish leather cushions, I reflect for a moment, with a cat atop an elegant footstool for company. We sit together awhile, watching the magic of this beguiling arena unfold before us. Rickshaw drivers loll in their carts beside listless mules; a boy of no more than ten cycles past, precariously balancing a huge basket of bread between chin and handlebars. His knuckles narrowly miss a heavily-veiled woman on the back of a scooter – encumbered with an unwieldy wooden cabinet, she clings on for dear life. It is a delicious chaos.

Enjoy Getting Lost in Marrakech’s Souks

Butting on once again through Morocco’s biggestMarrakech henna lady market, I begin to understand the minutiae of daily existence here. Rather than fleeing from salesmen’s patter, wary of protracted haggling, I start having fun with them and bandying pleasantries in schoolboy French. I nod to the artisans fashioning chess sets and backgammon boards in the streets. And I peer behind intricately carved doorways into a veritable Aladdin’s cave, stacked with gorgeous Arabic lanterns. This is a working medina, not a film set designed for tourists, and every nook and cranny is bursting with interest.

And then, like thousands before me in these labyrinthine passageways, I realise I’m lost. I fumble inexpertly and fruitlessly with a map, searching for clues on how best to reach my riad.  As the muezzins call last prayer from the minarets, my colleague, Gwen, happens to pass by and points me in the right direction. ‘I knew I’d missed the turning when I got as far as the goat’s feet,’ she says, laughing at our hopelessly improbable landmark. I know now what Herman Melville meant in Moby Dick, when he wrote, ‘It is not down in any map, true places never are.’

For more on this trip to Marrakech last November, click here.