Together with two of my adventurous (and prrrretty) friends we jumped on a plane to wake up in the country of the bright green star.
Where to sleep?
Through the narrow peach-colored alleys of the old medina we reached the thick wooden door of Riad Farhan. Farhan means happy in Arabic and it turned out to be a pretty, little Farhan place. Hidden behind this door lies a beautiful courtyard with a small swimming pool that is surrounded by snuggle-up niches with beautiful thick cushions. It’s so quiet within this place that we felt zen right away. The lovely, small team helped us out throughout the whole week regarding finding a city guide, where to eat the best food and even to find our way back to the riad at night. (the old medina is a true maze). The woman who attained a special place in our hearts was the chef. She taught us how to turn our scarves into hijabs and offered us to learn from her spiced cooking skills. (heavenly cinnamon chicken in golden-brown filo pastry anyone?)
The room we had was a big surprise. It was so nicely decorated, spacious and at the same time it felt like a burrow. An absolutely great place to retire and recover from the incentives outside the thick walls of the riad. In addition, please choose to have your breakfast at the illuminated and cushy sun terrace upstairs. You’ll thank us later for that easy-going start of your day…
There are some good hostels as well throughout Marrakech but for a few dirham’s more you can enter the world of riads, (old family houses with courtyards turned into hotels) something that contributes a lot to the authentic experience of Morocco.
Where to eat/drink?
Our first lunch was at the Henna café Marrakech. This is one special place; all profits are donated to the local people in the form of free-to-participate classes. These classes encourage the students to strengthen valuable skills and to expand their creativity. All to provide lifelong tools and talents to help them to create a better life. They serve fresh and healthy Berber dishes and while you’re eating, a beautiful henna tattoo can be applied. I was very impressed by the goodhearted people who volunteered and the local woman that worked here.
Around 4 o’clock we started to think about some shnacksss and drinks to start off the evening. It’s quite hard to find alcoholic drinks in Morocco and of course it’s not something that is necessary. Nevertheless, if you give us the opportunity to have it, you’ll be rewarded with three smiling faces. To find the Zwin-Zwin Café you have to wander around the souks, but it’s so worth it. Walk all the way up, to the roof terrace and make sure you are there around sunset. Picture this; a strawberry daiquiri in your hand, soft white Moroccan bread with several exquisite spreads within hand reach, thick white cushions to disappear in, a pink-purple-golden sunset and a panorama of the city that you will never ever forget. Farhan in its purest form.
A lot is written in several blogs about Nomad. A quite famous restaurant in the heart of the medina. So we got up there on our first night all excited. They serve typical Moroccan dishes in an innovative way. It is true that the restaurant is nicely decorated and that it has a pretty deck but to be honest the food and environment weren’t that special. The modern twist of the dishes take away some of the magic that belongs to the authentic recipes. Sure you can have a nice night out at this place but we have eaten at better and more astonishing places these few days.
Moreover Cafe Kif Kif has a lovely atmosphere. This café is owned by a flamboyant French man and has several small floors. We kept coming back for their strong cinnamon and the dishes that passed us by looked delicious as well. The view from the beautiful Koutoubia mosque seals the deal.
Terrasse de épices we do recommend although it is run by the same owner as Nomad. It is a wonderful place to share your lunch. Lots of tourists and expats catch up here. Their tagines were prepared the way they are meant to be: the dish is cooked for 6 hours in an earthen jar buried under the hot ashes of a wood oven. The flavors of the spices sink deep into the ingredients and at this place we eat the second-best tagine. Oh and be silly, order a chocolate dessert of their own patisserie for lunch awwhhhh. Additionally it’s really nice to peek over the edge of the terrace and see the hustle and bustle of the colorful market that is going on at the square.
While you are strolling around the famous Jemaa el-Fna square lots of salesmen will come up to you. We were there in January (low season and a thin-jacket-kind of weather) and the men weren’t that keen on addressing us. We heard though, that they get more temperamental in the hot months of the year. If you don’t want to be bothered all the time the words “no, shukran” (thank you) accompanied with a smile, should be enough.
The smell of the market stalls make you drool and the food looks so tempting. Except for the sheep heads that you might bump into… We tried the famous Harira soup (red lentil soup) of a very kind man but that wasn’t a big success unfortunately. The same goes for the salads. We decided to skip the street food from then on, too bad…
Our absolute, on-top-of-the-list-favorite is Le Jardin. Behind an average looking door lies an amazing green tiled oasis. Birds are singing, plants everywhere and tasteful dishes for every carnivore, pescatarian and veggie lover. Ask for a table at their hidden deck in the back of the restaurant and enjoy lunch or dinner in the sun. The best tagines were found here.
Tasting all this wonderful food, made us eager to get our hands dirty and cook ourselves some spicy dishes. Luckily we got to know Gemma, a Dutch woman who lives in Marrakech since 2005. With her hotelier’s background, she started Souk Cuisine, a cooking course lead by her and several inspiring local women. In the morning you buy your biological, fresh ingredients at the farmers market. You smell, feel and taste the ingredients while working on your haggling skills.
Once you have arrived at the home of Gemma the tasks are divided and the cooking festivities begin. Spice mixes are assembled, fishes grilled and veggies steamed in their hot tagines. The highlight of the day is making your way through the medina with your tin full of home-made cookies to the open bakery a few blocks away. This course is one hell of a gem!
Where to zen?
Marrakech is vibrant but hectic. Loads of colors, crowded squares and salesman that make a fuss of you. If you want to sneak out of the crowded touristic streets, the area of Kasbah is a good neighborhood to go to. Here you will find quieter and more spacious stores with beautiful hand-made products. Many locals buy their groceries here too.
In order to start the day in a relaxed and conscious way, I like to get up early and meditate. If you’re lucky the roof terrace at your riad might be quiet during these early hours. You will be warmed up slowly by the rising sun while becoming aware of all the senses around you. Gratitude is in place when you realize in what an amazing place you are on this beautiful earth.
The ultimate relaxation moment can be obtained in one of the many hammam houses throughout the city. Les Bains de Marrakech provided us with heavenly massages. (make sure you make a reservation at the hammam in Marrakech and not at one of those that are located in France) This place must have looked like the bathhouse where Scheherazade had her skin taken care of in the days of sultan empires. A great way to end this short trip and head back all zen.
You won’t be surprised that we went home with a heart full of happiness. We won’t forget the hospitality, colors, smells and tastes of this amazing country. I can’t wait to discover more of its gems.
P.s. I hope you’re reading this blog before your trip and not in the plane with your bulging hand luggage. Because I’d like to advise you to bring an empty suitcase. Add up souks full of splendor (and cheap!) interior items, the tastiest spices and thousands of argan-oil beauty. Trust me, you’ll love it all.
We’ll be back for more beautiful Morocco, Inshallah.