Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
I’ve touched on it briefly in other blog entries about our time in Marrakech but I think it bears repeating again – Marrakech would be a lovely place to visit as a relaxing holiday if it weren’t for the overbearing stallholders in the markets. There’s nothing more stressful than being accosted with every step you take with women trying to grab your hands to henna them or men trying to pull you into their stalls to sell you spices. With the additional irritation of people calling after me with “konnichiwa!” or “Chiiiiina!” every so often, it only took one day for me to become sick of spending our time in the centre of the old city.
The irritating thing about that is that the pushiness of stall-owners turns you off from making any purchases that you might actually be interested in. There’s no way that I’m going to go into a stall that sells argan oil hand-creams and lotions if the seller is going to follow me around everywhere, grabbing my hands and forcing me to try different products. If they left me alone to shop at leisure, I’d be more inclined to buy something. I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling either – wouldn’t most of you prefer to do your shopping in peace and quiet, making decisions to purchase on your own without pressure from a sales assistant?
For that reason, we spent a fair bit of time doing other activities that didn’t involve walking past any stalls. One half-day was spent in the luxurious pampering of Hammam Rosa Bonheur with hours spent in the steam room, with body scrubs and massages. We spent another half-day in Hammam Ziani – a less ideal experience for us as a heterosexual couple as we were separated from the start by gender. I love going through a hammam with my husband, but don’t enjoy it as much when I’m sitting alone and lonely in the female-only steam room while other French or English groups of girl friends are all chatting away together!
Getting out of Marrakech was a highlight as well. We booked ourselves on a daytrip to the Ourika Valley, about an hour and a half out of the city to the Atlas Mountains. Sadly the tour wasn’t quite as advertised (lunch wasn’t included, we had to pay out of our own pocket), which meant that we ended up chasing after the tour operator for almost a month afterwards trying to get a partial refund. Aside from that though, the tour itself was incredible – we spent nearly two hours following our young and nimble guide up narrow and rocky paths through the mountains to get to secluded waterfalls and amazing views. One activity to wear your walking shoes for!
You don’t have to go as far as the Ourika Valley to get out of Marrakech though! We spent one afternoon at the Jardin Majorelle, a little green oasis created by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent outside the main city walls. I think it’s most famous for the vibrant shade of ‘majorelle blue’ which features heavily throughout the garden complex – a shade of blue that can barely be translated to screen colours. You really need to see it with your own eyes to understand how vibrant it really is.
We had a handful of good meals while we were in Marrakech. Nomad was a real highlight with its modern interpretation of traditional foods, and Café Mama Afrika was a great example of how Asian-African fusion food can work particularly well. Other places were less impressive – despite its good reviews, Roti D’Or was nothing more than simple fast food.
I can’t say that we’ll rush back to Marrakech. With the constant hassling you experience as a tourist on its streets, you really can’t have the stress-free relaxing holiday you might be looking for. You’re more likely to return home from Marrakech feeling more stressed than when you left!