VOYA’s guide to the ancient Medina of Morocco, Marrakech.
With a thousand years of history packed into narrow streets, bustling squares and colourful souks, Marrakech is one of the most atmospheric cities in Morocco. An ancient trading hub on the edge of the Sahara Desert, backed by the soaring Atlas Mountains and just as alive as it was in centuries past, Marrakech combines Middle Eastern, African and European influences, all in one place.
Make a bee-line for the warren-like souks if you want to dive right into heady local life. Hectic, loud and filled with trinkets you never even knew you needed, these marketplaces are divided into different souks, with the largest called Djemaa el-Fna. Browse pyramids of colourful spices, intricate metalworks, fabrics, rugs, lanterns and everything in between, it really is one of the best things to do in Marrakech.
For architectural splendour, this old imperial city never fails to delight. Prepare to be amazed by the marble splendour of the 16th-century Saadian Tombs, built by Sultan al-Mansour. You’ll see he was a man of luxurious taste when you stroll around the ruins of his Badi Palace, with its serene pools and sweeping views. For a more intact residence, try the Bahia Palace for tiled courtyards, decadent concubine quarters and painstakingly delicate wall and ceiling carvings, it is a wonder to behold.
The Kutubiyya Mosque is also well worth a visit. The 77-metre high tower was built in the 12th Century, and the minaret is one of the central landmarks of Marrakech. Green gardens and attractive courtyards flank the sandstone mosque, right in front of one of the largest squares in the Djemaa el-Fna souk. It is considered one of the best places to visit in Morocco.
There is always something happening in the ancient medina of Marrakech, whether it is snake charmers or traditional dancers, meat being barbecued, sweet mint tea being served or fortune tellers touting their wares. One man who fell in love with the vibrant city in the 1960s was Yves Saint Laurent and you can visit his brilliant blue house and beautiful garden as well as the Berber Museum where you can discover his private collection of indigenous jewellery and clothing, which all had an influence on his designs.
Marrakech enjoys a hot semi-arid climate, which means winter lows of 12C and highs of around 35C in summer. Although there is plenty of seasonal rainfall, spring and summer are dry months with very little rain. The best time to visit Marrakech is probably during March or April, when the days are sunny but not too hot.
The official language of Marrakech is Arabic, with many inhabitants speaking very good French too. Plenty of hotel owners, taxi drivers and waiters will also speak some English.
VOYA FAVOURITE PLACES TO VISIT INCLUDE
The Menara Gardens offer a peaceful moment away from the busy city, with sprawling gardens and an open central pool, backed by the Atlas Mountains. These botanical gardens were built in the 12th Century. Located six kilometres away from the city centre, a visit here is a great way to relax after a hectic day in the markets and one of the best things to do in Marrakech.
VOYA FAVOURITE PLACES TO STAY INCLUDE
Marrakech is liberally sprinkled with traditional houses called riads. These grand properties are set around a shady central courtyard and show the architectural beauty to be found in the city. For a touch of luxury and an oasis of calm in a bustling metropolis, try Villa des Orangers.
VOYA FAVOURITE DISHES TO TRY
The most emblematic and delicious dish in Moroccan culture can be found all over Marrakech. Tagine is a slow-cooked stew, with meat, poultry, vegetables and fruit. Served with the omnipresent couscous, this is a hearty and tasty meal, cooked in a beautifully shaped conical dish.