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Aerial view of Jemaa-el-Fna square, Marrakech, Morocco.

- ©Kastelic/Shutterstock
Marrakech
Marrakech

Awakening the senses in the ochre city

Marrakech in short

As the sun sets over Marrakech, the fumaroles of the Place Jemaa-el-Fna rise, the Koutoubia lights up and the voice of a muezzin rings out. As the colourful markets begin to empty, Marrakchians head for the bustling heart of the city. The palaces are enveloped in a silence steeped in history. It is here that all the charm of Marrakech seems to awaken after a day spent in the torpor of the sun and the fumes of the cars. Situated at the foot of the High Atlas, the imperial city is divided into several districts. The medina, surrounded by imposing ramparts, is the most authentic. It is here that you will find the main attractions of Marrakech: the souks, the Bahia palace, the Saadian tombs...

Marrakech, Morocco.

- © Olena Znak / Shutterstock

This UNESCO-listed site is also full of riads, traditional palatial houses since converted into tourist accommodation. To the west of the old town, the Hivernage district is a residential area with luxury villas and prestigious hotels. To the north, Gueliz is a modern district with a large number of establishments, restaurants, cafés and European-style shops, mainly along Avenue Mohammed IV. Finally, the palm grove, about 10 km from the city centre, covers almost 15,000 hectares. Reduced year by year by tourist speculation, it now contains a large number of hotels and holiday clubs, as well as a prestigious golf course.

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For the more active, there is plenty of time for tennis, horse riding, quad biking, karting, hiking, hot air ballooning and skiing on the Atlas peaks. The climate makes Marrakesh a city to discover all year round. In winter, the nights are cool and the sun is generous. In summer, the heat can be stifling, especially with the dry, scorching winds from the Sahara. But that's what the purists will tell you.

Whether you are a family, a couple, a group of friends or a surprise hen party, Marrakech is the destination for you. Only a few hours away by plane, it is easily accessible and offers everything you could wish for. Sun, leisure and intoxicating scents will enchant you in this ochre-coloured city.

Marrakech, Morocco.

- ©Balate Dorin/Shutterstock

The medina, surrounded by imposing ramparts, has retained its authenticity. The old town, with its narrow, colourful streets, is a must. Popular and charming, this is where you will spend most, if not all, of your time. Between its historical monuments, its popular market and its hidden treasures, this district is a real gem that teems with life by day and continues to amaze us at nightfall.

Marrakech, Morocco.

- © Chica/Shutterstock

When the dark sky settles over the ochre-coloured city, the famous Jemaa el-Fna Square changes its face and gives way to entertainment and street shows. A cheerful atmosphere hangs in the air and the smell of spices whets the appetite. The stalls are set up around large tables, where locals and tourists mingle to sample a typical homemade dish. A generous traditional cuisine that encourages sharing and conversation.

Marrakech, Morocco.

- © Matej Kastelic / Shutterstock

Often missed, the Ben Youssef medersa (Koranic school) is one of the most fascinating places to visit in the city, with its many tiny student rooms and richly decorated courtyards. You can also visit the Dar si Saïd museum, which houses a collection of everyday objects such as children's swings, wedding dresses, jewellery and carpets.

Ben Youssef, Marrakech, Morocco.

- ©Nicram Sabod/Shutterstock

In a more urban atmosphere, the Guéliz district shows another side of Marrakech. The architecture is more modern, fashion boutiques abound, and the area developed under the French protectorate and originally housed an old market, the existence of which we no longer suspect. It now looks like a new city, more western but just as charming. The Majorelle garden and the Yves Saint Laurent museum are just some of the attractions on offer.

Guéliz, Marrakech, Morocco.

- ©Tupungato/Shutterstock

If you feel the need for nature, Marrakech is bordered by a vast expanse of palm trees and other exotic plants. The Palmeraie is a green setting and part of Morocco's natural heritage. It is also the perfect area for quad biking, camel riding or staying in one of the luxurious, tranquil hotel complexes away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Located just a few kilometres from the city, the tranquillity is a delight and the change of scenery is total.

If you are a fan of trendy places, head to the Hivernage district. Palaces and luxury boutiques live side by side in this upmarket area in the west of the city. Treat yourself to a pampering break in one of the many hotel complexes, which offer access to the swimming pool, spa centre or even a chef's lunch for the day. In the evening, the attractive shop windows give way to social events. Restaurants organise dinner shows in a setting worthy of Arabian Nights. We loved the one at the Jad Mahal Palace.

la Palmeraie, Marrakech, Morocco.

- ©Todamo/Shutterstock

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How to get there?

Direct flights from the UK to Marrakech Menara airport are run by easyJet, Ryanair, British Airways, TUI, Wizz Air UK, and Titan Air and can be taken from London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Stansted, London Luton, Manchester, and Liverpool airports. The flight takes around four hours. Most other UK airports will have connecting services to Marrakech Menara.

Where to stay?

Accommodation is not lacking in the ochre-coloured city. From palaces to guesthouses, there is something to suit all tastes and budgets. Very popular are the riads, typical small houses that offer absolute tranquillity in the heart of the red city.

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Practical information

When to go

The inland city of Marrakech in Morocco has a semi-arid climate. If you can't stand the heat, it's best not to plan your trip during the summer, as temperatures in Marrakech exceed 39°C every day. On the other hand, the city is at its best between September and November. In fact, the sunshine rate in Marrakech is excellent in autumn, with an average of only four days of rain during the month. Spring is also an excellent time to visit, with the months of March, April, May and June enjoying ideal levels of sunshine. In addition, temperatures in Marrakech during these periods generally hover around 25-28°C.

Health

There are no compulsory vaccinations, but we recommend that you are up to date with the usual vaccinations. This will depend on your travel conditions, but in some cases vaccinations against typhoid, meningitis and hepatitis A and B may be recommended by your doctor.

Remember to wash your hands well before each meal and try to eat local food. There is less risk from eating couscous, tajines and méchouis, which are cooked en masse and served steamed, than from eating meat in a burger, tartar or other western dish. Remember to drink mineral water; the bottle must be opened in front of you. As for the toilet, there is no risk in brushing your teeth with tap water, but we advise you to use filtered water.

Safety

Marrakech is a relatively safe city, but we recommend that you take a taxi at night to get around the area. Some locals may be very pushy and want to show you the city, take you to your hotel or simply encourage you to buy something - firmly refuse! Despite their persistence, we do not feel unsafe and there is very little risk of aggression. It is important to remain alert without becoming paranoid.

Language

The language of education, administration and the media is classical Arabic; the language of everyday life is dialectal Arabic and Berber, spoken mainly in the Rif, Atlas and Souss regions. Most Moroccans speak French, as well as Spanish and English.

Electrical appliances

Sockets used in Morocco are type C and E, just as in most European countries. You will need an adaptor as they are not the same as the UK!

Currency

The official currency in Morocco is the dirham, abbreviated MAD. As Marrakech is very popular with tourists, it is easy to find an exchange office or even exchange money directly at the hotel; remember to check the exchange rate first. There are also ATMs everywhere. Most restaurants, hotels and tourist activities accept credit cards, so you can choose this method of payment.

Tips

Tipping, or bakchich, is a custom deeply rooted in the country's tradition. For some, it is the only source of income. According to the custom, it is better to tip little but often. In restaurants, expect to give between 10 and 15% of the total amount if the service is not included, 10% for taxis, between 5 and 10 dirhams for the hotel valet and the same amount for luggage. When you leave the hotel, you will be asked to pay a mini-tax, which goes to the Tourism Promotion Fund.

What to eat

Moroccan cuisine is excellent and offers a variety of dishes with subtle and varied flavours. Couscous is, of course, the most typical Moroccan dish, but you can also try lamb, beef or chicken tagines. The pastilla can be sweet, savoury or a mixture of the two. Bricks or chorba are appetising starters. The pastries will delight gourmets. And at the end of the meal, have a mint tea.

lightbulb_outline Editor's tip

In Marrakech, the souk is the temple of souvenirs. Lamps, Berber carpets, leather bags, slippers, spices, jewellery, henna, black soap, rhassoul... Everything is there. Bargaining is part of the Moroccan way of life, everything is negotiated, even taxis. Play the game and do as the Marrakchis do.

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