My first foray into Northern Africa truly was a dream come true. I had long admired Marrakesh from afar- its chaotic souks, the luxurious riads, the vast desert.... All of this appeal combined with its close accessibility to Europe make Marrakesh hot property for travellers seeking out an exotic destination without wanting to stray too far from their comfort zone.
In deciding where to station yourself in Marrakesh, consider your riad to be your sanctuary from the sometimes tumultuous city. There are so many beautiful riads to choose from, including my riad of choice- Riad Yasmine. The staff and owners (along with their loveable cat, Bowie) treat every guest as family, providing wonderful recommendations and an unrivalled level of hospitality- as well as serving up the most delicious tagine you can get your hands on. The stunning design of the riad speaks for itself, and it's easy to see why it has long been a hit with travellers and bloggers alike.
Heading out to explore the city's rich culture and unique buildings is a clear starting point for any first time visitor. Start off your trip by exploring Ben Youssef Madrasa- an old Islamic college showcasing many aspects of Moroccan design (think arching windows, intricate tile work and mazes of rooms to explore). The entry fee is minimal and allows you to explore the premises at your leisure whilst snapping some beautiful pictures. Another must-see for the eager explorer is the grounds of Bahia Palace. The building is considered a major attraction of the city and showcases an unmatched grandeur of Moroccan architecture around every corner; each door, window, fountain and mosaic sequence is truly a work of art.
No trip to Marrakesh would be complete without getting utterly lost amongst the intertwining chaos that is the souks of the medina. Rows upon rows of hand-woven rugs, colourful lanterns and cheap leather goods can both excite and overwhelm you. Bargaining is a must and it's an integral part of shopping Marrakesh style. You'll quickly become accustomed to the rhythm of things and be haggling for handbags like a pro. Some caution must be exercised in the souks and surrounding areas, as situations can arise which may be a little bit confronting for some travellers (me included). Keep these following tips in mind:
Never accept free samples or gestures of 'good faith'. Or, like me, you may soon find yourself paying an $40 for a henna tattoo after going in for a polite handshake.
Navigating the souks is impossible. My riad owners very wisely advised me to download the maps.me app and follow it religiously (the app can be used offline, and is generally a really handy addition for your travels). Firmly and politely insist you know your way and don’t accept offers of guidance.
Be realistic when bargaining. Although you may be aware of your buying power try to remember this is someone's livelihood- is it really worth arguing over a few dollars with local merchant? Probably not.
Once you've conquered the souks be sure to visit the bold grounds of the Majorelle Gardens. Exhibiting an array of plants and florals (and cacti for the succulent-obsessed ) it truly is an oasis amongst the desert-scape that characterises the city. The garden's most iconic feature is the technicolour building nestled amongst the greenery. The site was a constant source of inspiration for Yves Saint Laurent (the eventual owner and restorer of the gardens) which make it an enchanting destination for both nature and fashion lovers alike.
No matter how far and wide you roam, the tantalising scent of Moroccan spices wafts through the air. Nomad is one of the trendiest spots to dine in Marrakesh for good reason. The food is authentic with a modern twist and the rooftop offers a striking birds-eye view of the city. It can be a challenge to find the restaurant (and does involve tackling the disorganisation of the souks once more) but it's undoubtedly worth the extra effort. A less-touristic dining spot fusing together some Moroccan classics with Italian flavours is Limoni. Tucked away just off the Medina, Limoni boasts a welcoming open courtyard layout that feels eclectic and homely. Another huge bonus for westerners is the ability to buy wine with your meal, as not all resturants will serve alcohol for religious reasons.
Marrakesh was, for me, a foray into the unknown- an entirely new cultural experience that was both enchanting and confronting. There are definitely some precautions that need to be taken (particularly for female travellers) but the city itself will have a lasting impact on you with its chaos, craftsmanship and charisma after only a short period of time.