I didn’t have much of an idea what to expect in Morocco before we arrived, which was unusual for me but enjoyable as it added to the adventure that we were about to embark upon. Having travelled to Spain, via England, from Jamaica my other half, Steve, suggested that we choose somewhere else nearby to visit and create memories. After looking at the list of options in and around Europe, aiming to go to a country neither have us have ever better to we jumped at the opportunity to go to Morocco.
Once the flights were booked I could only imagine myself eating a lot of lamb tagine with couscous but I couldn’t picture the landscape in my mind or what we would do when we weren’t eating (which wasn’t often). I began asking others and taking to the internet in order to have a better idea of what to expect but I am not sure any amount of research can help prepare you for the city of Marrakech, it is simply a place you have to experience for yourself because no description will do it justice and I believe each person has a unique visit.
Overall I had a great time in Morocco, I ate delicious foods that have inspired many recipes on TYT.com, bonded with my partner through our good cop bad cop bartering technique and walked away with custom-made sandals for my big feet. I met some truly memorable characters that will stay with me forever for their kindness and generosity. That is the most important characteristic of any place, it’s people, of course it’s people and it’s food, but luckily Morocco has an abundance of greatness in both categories. However as Steve rightly pointed it out, when you get it right Marrakech is an amazing destination but you can also get it very wrong so hopefully my itinerary will help you escape the latter.
1. Breakfast at Dar Les Cigognes
108 rue de Berima, Marrakech
We went to this hotel for breakfast on our last day and it was probably our biggest mistake because we would have wanted to begin the vacation meeting Pierre, the General Manager of this hotel, he has lived in Morocco for over a decade and his knowledge of Marrakech is invaluable. The breakfast is delicious, sitting under a canopy on the rooftop, the service is impeccable and I would recommend taking the tour of the food markets that they offer with their cooking classes.
2. Walk around the Medina
I recommend that the you use the first day to take it all in, get a good map and walk through the souks absorbing your surroundings and getting comfortable. Make sure you find Djemaa el-Fna, which you will because everyone will offer to show you the way to the “big square”, but end your afternoon here with a cup of tea or coffee at one of the roof terrace restaurants.
3. Dinner at Palais Jad Mahal
10 Rue Haroune Erracid, Hivernage
After have a day of getting used to the hustle and bustle of the Medina I was beyond grateful to be dining in the New City. Upon entering the New City you can immediately feel a change in atmosphere, gone are the terracotta buildings instead there are large store front displaying luxury goods, taxis are no longer dominating the streets but they are replaced with high-end vehicles and it feels like any cosmopolitan city. The décor at Jad Mahal is gorgeous, dim lighting accented with Moroccan details. The bar menu won me over with passion fruit cocktails and there is a lot of entertainment to keep you going through the night. It began with belly dancers, dancers balancing candles on their head and evolved into a stage show with singers and a band. If you want a nice quiet corner, this is NOT the place, but if you want delicious food and excitement definitely put this restaurant on your to-do list, I loved it!
1. Cooking class at Faim d’Epices
This class will take up your entire day but it is definitely worth it. They will pick you up and take you to their property, which is a little way away. I won’t give it all away but Michel, one of the founders, is an interesting character who will keep you thoroughly entertained while teaching you about spices. You learn an authentic main dish as well as side dishes from Nezha that you get to eat at the end of the class.
2. Have a nap.
3. Dinner at Jemma el Fnaa
We walked around at the different stalls to realise people were offering basically the same thing everywhere. We promised a few we would return and in order to uphold that promise we ordered small enough amounts to share between two. I think one of our favourites were 117, the soup man across from here and 93 rings a bell. The food is cheap but amazing, the meat is all cooked there and then and it is everything you hoped authentic Moroccan food to taste like. Oh and when you are finished eating do yourself a favour and say “yes please” when they offer you tea, we nearly missed out on the sweet, hot goodness.
Use your knowledge from day 1 to spot the good finds and remember that bartering is the name of the game. Here are some must-buys:
- Leather Bags
- Leather Sandals
- Leather Jacket (if you live in a cooler country than Jamaica)
- Silk scarves dyed using natural dyes
– Tagine: you cannot love cooking and leave Morocco without a tagine, but that heavy thing in your hand luggage and think about the delicious meals you will make each time it feels like your arm will break carrying that heavy thing.
– Spices: Using the knowledge from your cooking class stock up!
- Ras el hanout
Lunch near the leather slipper area of a souk, ask where the locals get lunch. Trust me once you’ve found it, turn a blind eye to anything that feels unhygienic and live in the moment. Allow yourself to be treated with Moroccan hospitality and enjoy the flavours of the lamb kofta and batbout (Moroccan bread). Honestly this is the dirtiest place I have ever consumed food but I’m so glad Steve found it.
Mingle in the “big square” aka Djemaa el-Fna before dusk. Have some orange juice, buy some raw cashews, experience a monkey on your head or run from the snake charmers. Head up to a different roof terrace and have some tea or coffee and watch as the square transforms from day to night. New entertainers will set up their spots for the night and more importantly loads of food stalls will get ready so that you can relive your favourite moments from yesterday’s meal before you get ready for your real dinner.
2. Dinner at Le Comptoir
Avenue Echouhada | Hivernage, Marrakech
Perfect for a late dinner, another restaurant in the New City with great food and entertainment. The service was particularly good with really friendly waitresses. The tagine was huge, we couldn’t finish it but that could have been due to our early nibbles. There were a mix of Moroccans and tourists at the restaurant creating a good atmosphere.
Some things I wish I knew before arriving in Marrakech:
- Le Tobsil is apparently the best restaurant in Morocco and Africa
- We didn’t get to go to Le Tobsil because the taxi man did not know where it was and decided to take us somewhere else without telling us. The point of #2 is don’t let the taxi drivers get to you and just accept that there is a flat rate for tourists, especially at night, so don’t even bother to watch the meter but agree the price with them first.
- Travel with bearded taxi drivers, they are apparently very religious and therefore trustworthy.
- Do not eat at restaurants that random young men carry you to, they are tourist traps that give the person that guided you there a commission.
- Yes Morocco is a Muslim country but you do not have to cover up from head to toe, it is a cosmopolitan city (that doesn’t mean you should be offensive).
- Put different denominations of money in different pockets to help your bargaining strategy, i.e. put a few dihram here and a few dihram there.
- Whenever you tip anyone you will often hear “this is nothing”, beware this response is designed to part you with more cash.