Thursday, 20 December 2018

Luxury in 48 Hours: Marrakech, Morocco.

Marrakech is somewhere I have been wanting to visit for close to ten years. For one reason or another it just never happened; from a boyfriend who didn't want to go way back when I first decided I needed to visit, to my parents who also didn't want to go, and then a cancelled trip two years ago when surgery prevented me from flying. But finally, FINALLY I was boarding a plane to Marrakech. And then we landed and were told the Moroccan police were coming on-board to question a few passengers. Oh.



"This is it!" I wailed inside my head. They're going to deport me back to England. I'm NEVER going to see Marrakech! Obviously it wasn't me they wanted to question (and if you've seen my Postcards from Marrakech you'll already know they let me into the country!), because there was zero reason why they would. But the over-dramatic voice in my head told me it was me. All me. Then they escorted a few drunk passengers off the plane, and before I knew it I was standing in the rain being greeted by my lovely driver from La Sultana! I was in Marrakech!!

I'm better at understanding French than I am speaking it, so my driver told me in French what the local sights were that we were driving past, while I responded by telling him what it was called in English. A short ten minutes later we arrived at La Sultana where Jemima was already waiting for me. She had arrived that morning, while I decided to work in the morning and get a late afternoon flight out. By the time I arrived at the hotel it was 9pm, which meant we had exactly 48 hours in Marrakech to see and do everything we wanted to!

The race was on.

And we won.

We began with a bedtime mint tea in the stunning courtyard of La Sultana, sat by the pool with the lights from the Moroccan lamp twinkling above us. We decided to get a reasonably early night as we were planning to be up bright and early the next morning!



Unfortunately my phone alarm didn't go off, so we woke up an hour late and then it was a mad rush to get up and ready! Thankfully it all worked out fine though, so...

Where to stay: La Sultana, Marrakech




Day 1 in Marrakech


11am: Jardin le Majorelle & Yves Saint Laurent Museum

At the very top of our list for Marrakech was Jardin le Majorelle and the Yves Saint Laurent museum. We bought the combo ticket and loved both the museum and the gardens which were a little way down the road from the museum. The museum itself is full of Yves Saint Laurent's dresses and outfits, and famous photos of his work. It was fascinating seeing how he took so much inspiration from Marrakech and North Africa, and how much the style of Saint Laurent has changed in recent years. Gone are the bright colours and patterns, with a much larger focus on monochrome these days, which made me a little sad.

The gardens are absolutely STUNNING and of course feature the famous blue house, which is actually the Berber Museum which was tiny but really interesting!



1pm: Lunch at Cafe des Espices

This was actually recommended to me by Jasiminne, and although we loved the view and mint tea, I was a little disappointed by the tagine :'( I had the chicken tagine which was essentially just a couple of chicken legs in a tagine pot...it barely had any sauce and didn't come with any cous-cous or anything to eat with it. BUT, the view was incredible and it was also well priced. What did look amazing here, and what I got major food envy of, was actually the huge sandwiches on the table next to us, haha. Also make sure you fill up on food before exploring the souks as they're quiet exhausting and you need to keep your energy levels up!



2:30pm: Haggling in the Souks

We absolutely loved haggling in the souks! Sadly the prices aren't as cheap as they once were, and instead of offering half, you should now offer a quarter of what the seller first tries to sell an item to you for. Apparently the sellers got wise to the tourists so raised their prices significantly.



Also, I found the best technique to go in speaking basic French or Arabic (things like hello, how are you?, how much?, thank you, goodbye etc), and then when they tell you the price in French/Arabic, ask for the price (make sure you ask for the price in dirhams not euros) in English (i.e. anglais, sil vous plait?). I noticed that when I spoke French or Arabic they were MUCH more likely to take my offer or haggle lower than when we spoke solely in English.

It also helps if you charm the shit out of the sellers. Now is not the time or place to be a feminist, ladies. I happily gave away cheek kisses in return for a free plate with my bowl:
(he started the price at around 900dirham for a large Safi-made plate and a bowl, then he came down to 550, and we eventually got down to 350, which meant the huge plate I wanted was essentially free).
Seller: "550dirham and one cheek kiss"
Me: "350 dirham and three cheek kisses"
Seller: "OK!"

It saved me about £20 and they were literally just air kisses. I also managed to get a lantern down from 850Dirhams to 100Dirhams (so £10 instead of £85) just by putting on my best puppy dog eyes and whining 'yallaaaa, habibi' ('Yalla' is Arabic slang for 'come on', and 'Habibi' is 'darling/love') to the seller. He was so impressed he laughed and said 'Ok, you tell me habibi I give it to your for 100'. #sorrynotsorry. In Marrakech, haggling is all about compromise and what you can barter. Then there's also the classic walk away technique.



It also helps loads if you buy more than one item, you can haggle down way more the more items you buy from one seller.

4pm: Walk through the Square

The square in Marrakech was the *only* place in the whole city that we found really overwhelming. There were snake charmers, men with monkeys in chains, and henna artists everywhere, and motorbikes zooming past you across the square every 2 seconds. It's the only place I felt unsafe, but it was also such a crazy experience and something you really need to see! Don't let the henna ladies grab your hand or arm, because the henna they use isn't natural henna and can cause chemical burns on your skin, and beware that the snake charmers and monkey owners will ask you for money if you try and take any photos!

It's also important to know how the snake charmers work before you go and why you shouldn't give them money. Apparently they charmers will find the snakes up in the mountains, and either remove the fangs or sew their mouths shut so they can't hurt the charmer. They'll then starve them and train them so the snake thinks it's going to get food when it hears the music, and that's the only reason the snake will rise up out of the basket - because it's so desperate for food!



4:30pm: Katoubia Mosque

The Mosque is really impressive to view from the outside, but we didn't go inside as we weren't sure if we were allowed. We had a sneaky peek through the doors though, but it didn't look anywhere near as impressive inside as Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Mosque!



5pm: Get changed at the hotel 

Head back to the hotel and get showered and changed ready for a night out, Moroccan style!

6pm: Rooftop drinks at Hotel Pearl

A friend of mine from work recommended rooftop drinks at the luxurious Hotel Pearl, and oh my goodness it was incredible! Not only is it an incredible circular building with a Louis Vuitton store underneath (and no, it wasn't any cheaper than anywhere else), but the rooftop has views across Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains. We arrived just after sunset and the dusky sky was just breathtaking. We sipped on Mojitos and really appreciated the complimentary cheese straws the waiters kept plying us with!



7:30pm: Drinks at La Mamounia

Of course, La Mamounia is one of the most famous hotels in the world. Known for its exemplary service and stunning Moroccan tiled spa, its grounds have long been featured by Instagrammers. The hotel itself is just like any other luxury hotel (and actually we much preferred our hotel, La Sultana), but it's the grounds and bars that are special and in the traditional Moroccan style. We started with cocktails on the terrace at La Marocain, the Moroccan restaurant set in the gardens, and then moved into the main bar in the main hotel for a hot chocolate (they do the incredible French-style Chocolat Chaud).



9pm: Dinner at Comptoir Darna 

After a hot chocolate to warm us up on the cool November evening, we walked across the road to Comptoir Darna, which was recommended to me by an old flame (you may remember Adam from the days of 2016) who is actually from Marrakech and has family there. Well, Jemima and I LOVED it. It was essentially Marrakech's version of Coya; sexy, atmospheric, and effortlessly trendy. The tagines and cous cous we had were INCREDIBLE, and far better than what we had experienced earlier in the day. The cocktails were also excellent and well worth the price.

After dinner there is belly dancing, and upstairs is turned into a bar/club. I was slightly overwhelmed by the club part though. It wasn't like a normal nightclub, it was literally just the restaurant upstairs with music and dim lights. Because of this space was *really* limited, cue my highly sensitive personality appearing and making me freak out. If you're not like me and don't get overwhelmed and panicky by large crowds in tight spaces, then you'll probably love it! But I was ready to go back to the hotel at this point and get a decent sleep before a busy second day in Marrakech.


Day 2 in Marrakech


10am: Make use of La Sultana's beautiful spa

Spend the morning in La Sultana's stunning spa. Now is the time to experience your first hammam, or just laze about the pool and relax after your long day the previous day! After an hour or so get changed and ready for another busy day before you jet off home...



11:30am: Bahia Palace 

The Bahia Palace was one of our favourite places in Marrakech. It was just breathtakingly beautiful! The colourful tiles, the intricate woodwork, the arched doorways and exotic courtyards; I was in love. The entry fee is pretty cheap, and it's well worth it, I promise. Make sure you camera/phone is fully charged for this one - you'll want to take ALL the photos!



1pm: Lunch at Nomad

Nomad is just across the square from Cafe des Espices, and the food was far better. It was a little less traditional as they don't use tagine pots, they serve everything on plates, but the flavours were far better and you got much more food! We also felt less rushed here and could relax and enjoy the views from the rooftop without being made to feel like other people needed our table.

Also, the dessert we had was INCREDIBLE.



12:30pm: Haggling in the Souks

Come on, you need to buy more things! ALL the things! Personally my list of things to buy included; Safi pottery (the big beautiful patterned pottery that's made in Safi), embroidered cushion covers, glassware, wooden boxes, and lanterns. I also got an adorable small wooden camel for the boy (what on earth do you buy boyfriends?) which we have named Charlie the Camel (original, we are).



Morocco is famous for all of these things, but remember to picture where something will go in your home - if you don't have somewhere to put it, don't buy it. I was SO tempted to buy a tea set, but then realised I would never use it and had nowhere to display it. Don't bother buying things for your 'someday' home -  Marrakech will always be there, the souks will always be there, and you can easily get cheap flights in 5 years time when you actually have a place/space to put these things.

2pm: Saadiens Tombs 

We didn't actually visit Saadiens Tombs because we spent A LONG time in the Souks exploring them all, but the tombs were recommended to us and are right by La Sultana so very handy for hotel guests! Apparently the tombs were actually hidden for many years and only re-discovered in the last century.


3:30pm: El Badii Palace

This is another thing we didn't have time for as we actually woke up really late *oops*. But if you're more organised than us and set your alarm correctly, you can see far more than we did!



5pm: Pick up your luggage and head to the airport! 

Sadly, it's time to depart. We know, it's devastating, but thankfully if you're living in the UK like us, it's just a short three hour flight away, so start planning your return! From La Sultana



Practical Tips:

  • Morocco use the Dirham, which you can only get in Morocco. Take GBP cash with you and exchange it at the airport, or use a debit card to withdraw cash from the ATMs dotted around the city.
  • Taxis only accept cash, restaurants and cafes accept debit/credit cards or cash, and most of the sellers in the souks only accept cash (some take cards, but be wary of scams). 
  • Also, a Taxi should cost you 100 dirhams (£10) from the airport to La Sultana in the Kasbah, and about 50 dirhams anywhere in the city. We didn't realise this and were scammed a couple of times - two taxi drivers charged us 50 dirhams EACH, so we paid 100 dirhams instead of 50. The hotel staff told us this was wrong, so each time after that we just told the taxi drivers when we got in the car that we wouldn't pay more than 50dirhams.
  • Always, always haggle in the souks. If you're American or British and wearing nice clothes, the sellers will charge FAR more than if you're an Aussie/New Zealander or wearing backpacker style clothing (thanks for that tip Kelly!). So haggle right down and don't be afraid to start low. 
  • If you're happy paying a price for something and it's cheaper than you can get it back home, be happy with your purchase. Don't feel bad or like you paid too much. There isn't a 'correct' price for things, and it's whatever you're OK paying.

PIN FOR LATER:

Luxury in 48 Hours: Marrakech, Morocco. Marrakech is the perfect African city break for those who live in Europe. It's a short flight from most European cities but offers a wealth of culture and things to do. The souks make for a very fun shopping experience, and the Jardin Majorelle is unmissable!




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