How to Spend a Weekend in Marrakech
One of Morocco’s greatest lures is that it feels exotic, despite being just a three-hour flight away. Leave London in the early morning and you can tuck into a tagine or haggle over the price of spices by lunchtime. No jet lag or stiff necks from attempts to sleep on long-haul flights, just instant immersion in a world still filled with ancient tradition and vibrant colour, totally different from home. European capitals vie for the attention of UK city-breakers, but Marrakech certainly deserves a weekend visit.
The moment you step off the plane you’re hit by a wall of warmth. It’s a bearable, dry and dusty kind of heat, rather than a sweet humidity that pushes your sweat glands into overdrive, and taxis are ready and waiting to take you into town.
Start your morning at the Koutoubia Mosque
Marking the main entrance to Jemaa el-Fna, the famous square at the heart of the old, walled Medina, the Koutoubia Mosque is as much an iconic landmark as the square itself. Its towering minaret, one of the tallest around, is visible across the city and helps travellers and locals alike get their bearings when navigating all the winding streets. It's an impressive sight and the manicured gardens are well worth a stroll through.
Wander the souks
Hawkers and street vendors peddle their wares around Jemaa el-Fna, but it’s the markets in the spaghetti-streets of the souks that attract the crowds. The largest, Souk Semmarine, has an entrance off the square. Explore the goods on offer but save the purchases until tomorrow, and allow plenty of time to wander. Getting ripped off is likely, and getting lost is inevitable.
Jemaa el-Fna by night
The square flourishes with the setting sun. Tourists arrive in their droves to see the restaurant stalls pop up, ready to give in to the calls of cheeky salesmen tempting diners to their plastic tables with meals for under a fiver. Wander through it for the experience, but leave before one of the men parading monkeys tries to make you take a photograph with his pet (not an industry to be encouraged).
Drinks and dinner at Le Salama Sky Bar
To the south end of the square, head for Le Salama. On the very top floor of this elegant, colonial-style restaurant is a sky bar with 360-degree glass windows that sits a level above the surrounding rooftops and enjoys front row seats to a mean Moroccan sunset. Green plants hang from ceilings adorned with white fans, glasses of wine clink above the gentle hubbub (happy hour stretches through from 3pm ‘til 1:30am) and, when you don’t feel like leaving to find a restaurant for dinner, the lamb tagine is to die for.
Spend the night in a riad
To preserve its old-world charm, the Medina has no large glitzy hotels. Accommodation comes in the form of riads – traditional guesthouses that vary in luxury, with sheltered courtyards serving mint tea, individually designed rooms and heaps of character. Stepping inside, the bustle and noise of the street are shut firmly out by the closing of the front door and you’re left in a welcoming oasis of peace.
For the measly sum of 10 dirham (about £1), the shaded gardens, leafy courtyards and mosaic-tiled chambers of Bahia Palace are open for exploration. Head over to the Jewish Quarter of the Medina after breakfast to make the most of the softer morning light and avoid the midday crowds.
Actually go shopping
Turn right as you exit Bahia, follow Rue Riad Zitoun el-Jedid and lose yourself in the smaller streets south of the main tourist-trodden bazaars. The further you go, the more authentic the experience; you’ll stumble across leather workers tanning rawhide or stitching bags with ancient singer sewing machines and pass the odd blacksmith at work between tiny bakeries. Try your hand at haggling (offer half of what you’re willing to pay before meeting the salesman at your price, and be prepared to walk away), you’re more likely to snag a bargain in the quieter streets.
Lunch at La Famille
Halfway down Rue Riad Zitoun el-Jedid, a small sign hanging over a narrow entrance is the only evidence that La Familie exists. At the end of the corridor is a rustic courtyard restaurant, serving fresh salads with salted chickpeas and date dressing, and shading its guests with an array of leafy green plants. Chic and modern, yet authentic and relaxed, La Familie is a serene spot in which to press pause and relax. Here time barely seems to pass.
‘Pamper’ yourself in a Hammam
Once you’ve delighted in the heat and humidity and embraced the hustle and bustle, a traditional hammam leaves you refreshed and rejuvenated before your flight home. A kind of traditional spa experience, a steam room is followed by a soaping and a full-body scrub. Riads can organise one for around £35 or you can venture to a public hammam for a cheaper, local experience.
Check out our range of city breaks to start planning your weekend away in Marrakech.