Our second part to the honeymoon began in Marrakech, Morocco! We arrived to the Menara Airport in Marrakech and I instantly noticed how many roses there were. Roses lined the desert streets until we arrived closer to the Medina. Our cab driver pulled down a bustling and busy street and said “here.” I started to worry as “here” didn’t look like a hotel. To my surprise, the doors opened and I walked into the Jardin de la Koutoubia and was instantly at ease. This Riad, or estate-turned-into-hotel, was so peaceful with a gorgeous pool, gardens everywhere, and of course, red roses at every turn. We were greeted with delicious traditional Moroccan mint tea and pastries as we awaited our room.
Justin and I finally got to our room, which was in fact, a small apartment for USA standards. We had two floors, a lower patio and upper patio that both overlooked the French garden and cafe, and to top it off, a palm tree that the room was built around and extended outside. This room (picture below) was incredible! So enough about the room, we need to talk about the Medina with all of it’s sights, sounds, and spiced-filled smells that awaited us just a few blocks away.
The best way to describe the Medina – the Jemaa el-Fna – is that it’s a sensory overload in the best way possible! As you walk into the Medina (square), you are greeted with men wanting to take you for a camel ride followed by snake charmers playing intoxicating music that lure out King Cobra snakes. As you walk a little farther, you will start to see the orange juice carts (tip below), carts of spices and nuts, belly dancers and acrobatic men who honestly should be on (America’s) Got Talent!
The souks line the perimeter of the square and all have a theme to them – spices, leather goods, lanterns, foods, pashminas, etc. I need to insert a little personal point here – I LOVE souks but they aren’t for everyone. The items are beautiful and handcrafted but some serious negotiations have to take place for you to purchase these items. Thankfully for me, I married a master negotiator (similar to Samuel L. Jackson from the Negotiator movie) and he’s taught me a thing or two about how to negotiate in the souks. We prepared to shop in the souks by researching appropriate pricing for the different items that I knew I’d love – pashminas, leather goods, tea sets, etc. This was helpful to have a base point to begin the negotiations. I guess you can say I mastered Moroccan Negotiation 101 because I came home with so many items, Justin had to leave shoes and books in this wonderful country to account for my new luggage weight limits on our next few flights. ….Yes, he’s a good one! 🙂
When we weren’t shopping in the souks, we took a cooking class, rode camels in the Sahara, and visited a traditional Berber village in the Atlas Mountains. The fantastic cooking class was at the Riad Le Monceau on tagine cooking. It was truly a highlight for me as I love to cook! The class began outside in their garden where we chopped and mixed and then was finished in their kitchen as we cooked by candlelight. The class was led by Chef Rachida. She was so helpful as she explained every step and every ingredient! We finished the 4 hour class with a delicious meal at a beautifully-set table for the participants and all left with with full stomachs, new friends, and an appreciation for Moroccan tagine cooking. The next day, we rode out to the Sahara Desert and rode camels!! I would have never imagined I would ride camels in the Sahara, but it was the best experience! The only real problem we had with the camels were getting on and off of them. Our camels seemed to be friendly and one of them, Madonna, even had a baby camel that followed us. Justin’s camel was named Madonna and mine was named Shakira. 🙂 It was a hot trip but one that I’ll never forget!
Before we moved on to our next country, Justin and I decided to hire a private guide to take us to the Atlas Mountains and visit a traditional Berber village. The trip took around an hour from Marrakech and was approximately $100 for both of us. We had a very nice driver who took us to the Argan area of Morocco where 90% of the world’s Argan Oil is made. We watched ladies crack and crush the nuts to gather this precious oil that helps my hair not have massive amounts of frizz. We then carried on to the Berber village where we saw many locals living their life in the mountains. The mode of transportation is donkey, the traditional meal includes mint tea, goat, and vegetables, and the tongue is a version of Berber that is known only to that village. We walked around, saw the school filled with children, and hiked in the mountains for a few hours before we drove back to the “bustling” city of Marrakech. I say bustling as this trip back to Marrakech made it seem like we were in NYC compared to the Berber village. Prior to this trip, Marrakech reminded me of a city still in the 1940’s.
In all, everything that everyone says about Marrakech is true! It’s an incredible city rich of spices, exotic experiences, and amazing textiles. Justin and I have already planned a trip back and if anyone reading this would like to go, we are happy to join you!
Tips for cruising through Marrakech:
- If you order orange juice from the carts (and you should!), pay the extra $.10 per cup and get the plastic cup. They don’t always clean the cups to US Standards so the plastic cup is better
- When eating at restaurants, bread is always brought to the table but sometimes they charge you for every piece. Read the menu prior to accepting it if you don’t want it.
- Use bottled water whenever you can.
- Invest in a nice Riad. The experience of the Jemaa el-Fna is incredible, but it’s so nice to come back and not be overwhelmed with the city life outside.
- Attire for ladies should include covering your shoulders at all times. If you don’t have the right dress or shirt, buy a pashmina and cover up. The brighter the color of dress, the better.
- Covered shoes are recommended while walking through the souks.
- Our general prices (in US Dollars) from Spring, 2015:
- Cashmere Pashminas $8-12/per
- Tea cups, silver tea pot, water holder $35 for the set
- Camel silk 8′ table cloth $25
- Leather poofs $30
- General Lunches including tip $6-15 total for 2 people when eating outside of the Riad
- Orange Juice $.50/glass in plastic cup
Lobby of our RiadFirst floor of our room. The palm tree is on the left sideHoneymoon rose petalsThe pool at the Riad looking down from the Indian restaurantDifferent perspective on a Moroccan lanternPashminas everywhere! I’ll take them all!Justin and I with Chef Rashida at the cooking classCandlelight cookingTagines of chicken, lamb, or vegetablesView of the Jemaa el-Fna from aboveOrange Juice cartShakira and Madonna together! 🙂Oh hey there!Moroccan spices at the soukOur hike in the Atlas MountainsTassels everywhere! Did I mention I love this country?