This mysterious and chaotic city is a fusion of the ancient and modern. The character of the old medina or “Red City” is nicked named due to the 19 foot red wall it is incased in. The old town seems untouched by time except for the wealth of satellite dishes and being only a stones throw away from the new modern Marrakech, first developed by the French in 1912. The wonderful palaces and mosques filled with moroccan tiling and inlaid with intricate trellis patterns unite you with this historical place. Whilst the lavish mansions known as riads allow escapism to a sanctuary of a traditional Moroccan house. The peaceful courtyards are a real retreat from the turbulent hustle and bustle of the outside, hidden away from the busy dusty side streets overrun with scooters, taxis and locals pointing you in the direction of the main square. Whilst the picturesque backdrop of the contrasting foothills of the High Atlas mountains provide a unique combination that makes Marrakech a rich and exotic place.
My adventure started in the heart of the medieval medina with trendy roof-top bars which unite with the souks and the hectic main square. The markets provide a sense-stimulating experience, but be prepared to bargain and haggle for an abundance of lamps, wooden boxes, shoes, mint tea, silverware, dried dates/fruits/nuts, leather ottomans, carpets, argan oil and spices. At night the Djemaa el Fna is transformed from orange juice and dried fruit sellers to a mayhem of non-stop entertainment. Legendary storytellers, magicians, henna artists, dancing Cheleuh boys, acrobats, snake charmers, and trained monkeys provide an abundance of activity along with many food stalls that turn the square into one huge open-air restaurant with local specialties.
The city has many gardens but I found the most colourful to be the secluded private Jardin Majorelle just outside the city walls, which has been described as ‘one of the twentieth century’s most mysterious gardens. It is a place of rare individual expression and mystical force’. First created in 1924 by the french artist Jacques Majorelle it was opened to the public in 1947, but recently acquired and restored after his death by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge. The cactus, bamboo and exotic flora thrive amongst the cobalt-blue art deco decoration providing a cool, tranquil and blissfully escapism.
The trip out into Ourika Valley was a 45-minute drive south-east of Marrakesh, towards the High Atlas mountains. The mountain drive of Berber villages and colourful grey and red rock being breathtaking. But the latter part of the trip with bridges tied together with rope and planks leading to riverbank restaurants full of chairs, sofas and carpets spread next to the river was a sight to be seen. At the valley’s end is Setti Fatima village leading to walk to the seven waterfalls, a hike well worth the view although a very precarious cliff to climb at the top!
Despite tourism here, Marrakech still manages to feel rooted in a world of tradition with centuries of old customs and an air of the simple way of life, an experience that I would definitely recommend.