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A Marrakech city guide – rose-tinted architecture, chaotic souks and peaceful gardens

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Rose colored buildings and dusty, ochre streets bake under a North African sun, the Atlas Mountains shimmering in the distance. A cavalcade of beaten-up cars, taxis, bikes and donkeys hoot, bray and force their way through traffic jams, threatening to run over any pedestrian in their path. At the center of it all, the Djemaa El-Fna, or Place of the Dead, is a constant theatrical show. Marrakech is an assault on the senses, but it is pure joy to experience it. 

Imad Elbehri

My Destination local expert on

Marrakech

What to see and do

 

The Djemaa El-Fna is a baptism of fire, but provides a quick introduction to Marrakech culture. Navigate your way past henna tattooists, street dentists and snake charmers and into the souks – the large and maze-like network of markets selling everything from leather goods to rare spices. The El Badi and Bahia Palaces display the old grandeur of Marrakech, with dazzling Islamic patterns and splendid royal mausoleums. The Jewish Quarter, or Mellah, offers an intriguing insight into the small Jewish community and is a tranquil breather from the chaos of the rest of the medina. Another place to seek respite is in the Majorelle Gardens, on the edge of the Ville Nouvelle.

 

Where to stay

 

Though it seems at first that the buildings of the medina are ramshackle and densely packed, look more closely and you’ll find a hidden world of riads – Moroccan guesthouses facing into a tranquil courtyard. These range from luxury royal residences to basic hostels, but either way, you’ll be at the heart of Old Marrakech, in amongst the souks and close to Djemaa El-Fna. The Kasbah area, around the palaces, offers a more spacious and calm street scene, close to the expansive Agdal Gardens. For a more modern hotel, stay in the Gueliz district, or in one of chic, upscale resorts of Palmeraie.

 

Where to eat

 

The home of lamb tagines and fragrant couscous, Moroccan cuisine deserves to feature more highly on the global gourmet list. Marrakech has an ever-growing and ambitious food scene. You can opt for an adventurous meal at the evening food stalls in Djemaa El-Fna, or play it slightly safer in the traditional Moroccan restaurants of the medina. For French fusion and haute cuisine, visit Gueliz, the colonial Ville Nouvelle. To sample Marrakech’s most exciting food trends and international influences, visit the most modern district, south of the old town. Be sure to pause for mint tea in the medina – it’s a cultural experience you won’t forget.

 

Where to shop

 

The souks provide the essential Marrakech shopping experience. Be prepared to be dazzled and dazed by the overwhelming array of goods, and haggle to strike a good bargain. Each new alleyway presents another surprise. For quality local produce with sustainable credentials, visit one of the Women’s co-operatives. These are micro enterprises to help women out of poverty. If ceramics and homeware are on your list of purchases, head to Akkal, a warehouse in the north of the city, selling high-quality Moroccan products at a fraction of Western prices. For a break from the overwhelming souks, visit Gueliz to shop in Marrakech’s modern stores.