Marrakech: Our Trip

Our Trip:

We started our journey in Marrakech from the Airport. We caught a taxi to our hotel, the Almas Hotel, in the New Town. See more information about catching taxis to and from the airport here.

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We spent our entire day exploring the New Town, near our hotel. We stayed in a neighborhood known as “Gueliz” (Guh-leez). You can find all sorts of beautiful gardens, cafes, fountains, and shops in this area. It feels a lot more like a European city than Marrakech; it’s not at all the same as the adjacent Old Medina (i.e., old town).

Our hotel:

We stumbled across an outdoor market right across from the main square in the New Town, then ventured into Parc El Harti, a serene and calm escape from the city. We walked all around the gardens and eventually looped back to the main square. The main square was lined with shops and cafes and the floor was created with beautiful marble. The attire ranged from traditional to casual to formal. There were all types of people in this neighborhood, but it was apparent there were more young professionals in this area than in the old city.

Upon reading reviews for restaurants online, we found our way to Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant. This neat little place is a non-profit organization that helps disadvantaged women gain work experience by training them in the preparation of Moroccan and international food. This was our first experience with traditional Moroccan food, and we were lucky to score a table without a reservation.

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 We started with traditional Moroccan salads (green bean, sweet potato and onion, carrot, eggplant, tomato/cucumber, and lentils). They were amazing and we developed an immediate love for the food.

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 After this, we enjoyed plate of “breaded” prawns. They were coated in some sort of sweet and savory wrapping. The inside was filled with a shrimp and bell pepper mixture and was served with a side of yogurt sauce. As you can imagine, it was equally as delicious as the first dish.

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 We ended our lunch with a large tagine of lentils and chicken with a traditional Moroccan crepe.

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 As always, the meal was served with a circular bread for dipping and mopping up sauces.

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 Being in a Muslim country, we were incredibly limited in terms of finding establishments that served alcohol. We wandered for quite some time, researching places on TripAdvisor where we could get a nice, cold beer. We finally found a place called Kechmara, a trendy fusion food restaurant that served beer. We opted for a local beer, Flag Speciale. It was nothing special, but it hit the spot served ice-cold. Beggars can’t be choosers. Cheers!

Like the true Italians we now seem to be, we went to a Carrefour grocery store to buy some wine to enjoy in the room. We opted for a bottle of local Moroccan red. With very low expectations, our expectations were met. We were just happy to be relaxing with a glass of vino!

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Dinner on our first night was to a restaurant three doors down (hey, that’s a band!) from our restaurant called Snack Al Bahriya. They were known for their seafood, so we ordered a mixed grilled plate of fresh fish. Their fish was on display and they cooked it as soon as you ordered it. We were also treated to a starter of breads and dips on the house, as was customary for every customer. Of course, there were olives (always). There was also an eggplant dip, a picante dip, and a giardiniera of sorts with stewed bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes.

The next morning, we woke up early and were ready to explore the city. Upon conducting extensive research on the interweb, I had located and secured a full-day tour guide to explore the city. We also had another tourist from Sweden with us on our day-trip. Yousseff was our guide’s name, and we were immediately impressed with his professionalism, English, personality, and knowledge about the city. The first stop on our tour was to the Jardin Majorelle (Gardens). Read more about the gardens HERE. We were so impressed by the greenery and gardens. We also enjoyed the museum inside the gardens dedicated solely to the Berber people (i.e., Natives to Morocco).

Our next stop was to the Kasbah. We were given information about the Islamic religion, about the daily traditions of the Moroccan people, and about the old city walls.

From here, we visited the tombs. You can read more about the tombs HERE.

Next stop was to the palace. This was an interesting place. It was beautifully tiled and filled with in and outdoor living areas.

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It was then time for lunch. We enjoyed a traditional meal of Moroccan salads, harira (traditional soup served with dates), and kefta tagine (a slow-cooked dish made with minced meat and tasty sauce, topped with an egg) from a rooftop terrace overlooking Prince Avenue. We washed our meals down like the locals, with fresh mint tea.

 Next, we started to head towards the souks (i.e., markets). We were happy to have a knowledgeable guide here because everyone tried to hassle everyone here. The gigantic Jemaa El-Fnaa square was just beginning to get busy, already full of vendors selling freshty squeezed juices and goods, and others charming snakes and displaying their trained monkeys. We were sure not to snap any pictures, though, because they will demand money from you!

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After touring the souks and learning more about Moroccan culture, we stopped in a shop where I could buy saffron and Argon oil. We were given a demonstration and somewhat ruthlessly sold on many items we didn’t need, but I got what I came for and left with a bottle of 100% Argon oil, saffron, and a couple other Moroccan spices.

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 Here are some other cool pictures from our day trip.

Mules everywhere:

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Hammam (i.e., baths) furnace:

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 This is a man’s shop where he fixes a variety of random objects (e.g., shoes, lamps). He claimed his shop was organized chaos and he knew where everything was.

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Yum…

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Entering the souks:

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They love their king (well, most do):

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Here were some hooves left over from the leather factories:

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Examples of some of the goods you can buy at the souks:

Next, we went to the Ben Youssef school, an old boarding school for school-aged boys. At this school, they were taught various subject areas, but all students were taught to memorize every single word in the Koran (verbatim) during their time here. It’s no longer in service as a school, but it is an important historical building and is beautifully decorated.

It was after 5 PM, and our tour was then over. Ryan and I got a ride back to our hotel and decided to seek out a place for a beer (surprise!). Our tour guide recommended Le Renaissance for a rooftop drink, and so we obliged. We enjoyed a different local beer, Casablanca, and took in the views of the New Town.

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Per the recommendation of our guide, we chose to go to a restaurant called “Al Fassia” for dinner. We lucked out by scoring the last table available that night. What a great place! We started with the salads, as always. We were brought 14 separate small plates containing 14 different salads to enjoy. What a treat!

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I ordered a lamb tagine and Ryan ordered the couscous. Both were amazing, but the couscous was ridiculously good. Later in our vacation we actually found out that Al Fassia had the best couscous in town, according to locals.

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On our third day, we decided it was time to explore outside of Marrakech. We hired Sahara and Atlas Tours to take us on a private full-day tour to the Asni Valley and to the High Atlas Mountains. We started our day by driving to the mountains, about an hour and half away. We enjoyed a mint tea on a roof top terrace in the mountains before embarking on a two and a half hour hike.

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We hiked at a moderate pace through the beautiful Atlas Mountains and through multiple traditional Berber villages.

I snapped some pictures of the animals – each family owns at least one mule, usually a sheep or a goat, and often a cow.

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Check out these beautiful waterfalls:

Very near our lunch destination was “Kasbah” Riad (hotel). This is where seven nights in Tibet with Brad Pitt was filmed.

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We enjoyed a (huge) fresh and delicious lunch on a rooftop patio following our hike. We started with a mix of Moroccan salads and spiced lentils before being presented with a large chicken and seven vegetable tagine. To end the meal? Mint tea, of course.

It was time for the second portion of our day to begin. This consisted of riding camels through the Asni valley. I can honestly say I’ve never been so terrified in my life. I must not have a very scary life, but I’m serious when I say that camels are scary! They are so tall. They are so ugly (but cute at the same time), and they make the most disturbing noises. Like a low, throaty, grunt/growl. It didn’t help that my saddle was falling to the right-hand side, either. Needless to say, riding camels was not my favorite activity. It was possibly the longest hour of my life. On the bright side, my terror and discomfort provided Ryan with incredible entertainment, and he spent his hour laughing at me.

After getting home, we took a brief “siesta” before heading out for dinner. We went to a place down the street from our hotel called Restaurant Bagatelle, a French, Italian, and Moroccan restaurant. We opted to start sharing meals, as our waistlines were slowly expanding.

We started with a traditional cucumber and tomato salad, then shared a gigantic bowl of seven vegetable and chicken couscous. Couscous is always served with a broth for a sauce as well as Harissa (a spicy, pickled, north-African condiment). It’s even better when they bring you delicious caramelized onions with raisons to mix into your dish. YUM!

 

Our fourth day was sadly our least favorite. You could say it was somewhat of a waste. We organized transportation to the Ouzoud waterfalls through our hotel. The bus picked us up around 7:45 AM and drove around the city for over an hour picking up guests from other hotels before dropping us off at some sketchy looking bus in the old Medina at a gas station. It was weird. Then the trip to the waterfalls took an additional 3.5 hours on a very full bus with an unnecessary 45 minute stop at some gas station. To make things worse, as soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the rudest, most confrontational, abrupt tour guide I’d ever been in contact with. He also made it seem like he was included in the tour, but in reality he was just one of hundreds of “guides” at the falls – he had nothing to do with our tour. Ryan and I were incredibly put off, and explained we would be doing the falls by ourselves. He was not happy about this and this made us even more confident in our decision.

Luckily, we knew a guide was not at all necessary at the falls from doing previous research. We took off in our own direction and admired the beautiful falls. We stopped for a quick lunch overlooking the cascade of water before embarking on our brief yet beautiful hike. The hike basically went in a circle and was filled with picturesque scenery.

We were done much quicker than anticipated and ended up killing time by having a mint tea until our bus mates got back. Then, we lost one of our bus mates…. And we had to wait an additional hour standing around until he finally made his way back to the bus. Then it was another 3 hours home.

SO…. Were the falls beautiful? Absolutely. Was it worth 7 hours of travel and some unsavory company to spend 2.5 hours there? No. I would not recommend this trip to others. There are plenty of other excursions available near Marrakech with much more to see and do.

We ended our night having another wonderful dinner at the seafood place by our house.

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Our last day in Marrakech was dedicated solely to rest and relaxation.

We ended our trip with a traditional hammam and spa day. It lasted three hours and consisted of a hammam (read more about that here), a one-hour massage, and a facial (and a foot massage for Ryan). It was the most relaxing day of my life, I think. Ryan’s even sold on the spa now. I highly recommend Heritage Spa for their professionalism, services, and establishment. What a wonderful day.

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We went for a good long walk after our spa treatments to the Manera Mall. It looks pretty from the outside, but there was nothing inside. Being a relatively new mall, shops were few. I’m glad we saw it, though, because I was very curious about it the whole time.

We decided to spend the rest of our day relaxing. We enjoyed another delicious lunch of couscous and salads, and for supper we had two different tagines – one was kefta (described above), and the other was chicken with preserved lemons and olives.

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The next morning, we were in a taxi by 5 AM to go to the airport. We enjoyed our stay immensely and have a whole new appreciation for Morocco, its people, and its culture. We learned a lot, explored a lot, ate a lot, and had a wonderful vacation.

Until next time, Marrakech….

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