4 timeless days in Marrakech

The imperial city in western Morocco has nothing to envy its seaside cousins. Cosmopolitan and radiant, Marrakech is a concentration of wealth and light. The noise, the comings and goings and the haggling make this destination a veritable cultural melting pot, punctuated by exchanges and encounters at the gateway to the desert. The Place Jemaa El-Fna is the scene of Marrakchi life, with street vendors selling juice, snake charmers and big tables... This place comes alive day and night. In a more solemn setting, the medina is home to religious buildings and bears witness to the influence of the previous civilisations that ruled the city. Between the rocky Haouz plain and the desert lies the Marrakech oasis, dominated by the eternal snows of the high Atlas peaks. This region is particularly good for hiking, and more and more travellers are exploring the wild foothills of Mount Toubkal. Further south, the valleys offer picturesque landscapes, punctuated by red earth kasbahs and palm groves with Berber accents.

The Koutoubia minaret in the Medina district, Marrakech, Morocco.

- © Balate Dorin / Shutterstock
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Day 1: Discovering the medina

Jemaa El-Fna square, the heart of Marrakech

On your first day, there's nothing like soaking up the atmosphere of the city. Marrakech is vast, with a palette of intense colours to match. But it is on the Place Jemaa-el-Fna that the heart of the city beats most strongly. This mythical square is the high point of the Almoravid capital.

Day and night, this cultural crossroads oscillates between tradition and modernity as people come and go. To see it from a different, more peaceful angle, we recommend going there before Marrakech wakes up, at the crack of dawn. During the day, you can escape the hustle and bustle of this business centre to admire it from a little higher up, and climb onto one of the surrounding terraces while sipping a local speciality: mint tea. The Zeitoun café is one of the esplanade's prettiest bars.

View from a rooftop terrace over Jemaa-el-Fna Square, Marrakech, Morocco.

- © Tupungato / Shutterstock

The souks, a trail of temptations

Head for the typical markets, which are such an important part of the medina that it's impossible to miss them. The souks are a jumble of alleyways dotted with stalls of all kinds, and occupy a large part of the centre. You're bound to get lost here, and that's all we hope for!

This never-ending series of lively streets is a bath of culture, with stallholders approaching you to try and lure you into their Ali Baba caves. And once you're inside, it's almost impossible to resist the colours and materials. Babouches, spices, fabrics, jewellery, handbags... you name it. It's a veritable labyrinth of temptations!

A succession of typical stalls in the souk near Jemaa-el-Fna square, Marrakech, Morocco.

- © Balate Dorin / Shutterstock

Historic monuments, a return to calm

The medina is the historic centre of Marrakech. This is where you'll find the main buildings, remnants of the past. Among them, the Bahia Palace is housed in a sumptuous building that bears witness to the era of the viziers. Spectacular and brilliant, the richly decorated wooden frameworks are a sight to behold.

Interior of the Bahia Palace, Marrakech, Morocco.

- © Miguel Moya Moreno / Shutterstock

The Mouassine district hides a magnificent green setting that is like a paradise on earth. The secret garden, aptly named, is an iconic site dating back to the Saadian era. In fact, it's hard to believe that this monument is over 400 years old, so intact has it remained. The materials used in its construction are of the highest quality, and were certainly put together with a great deal of elbow grease. The luxuriant natural surroundings and lagoon-coloured ground leave an indelible impression. It is even said that the place was directly inspired by a passage in the Koran describing paradise...

The secret garden, Marrakech, Morocco.

- © Dobroslav Grygar / Shutterstock

We continue our exploration a little further down to admire one of the city's most beautiful mosques. The Koutoubia, open only to the faithful, is not to be boycotted. This great gathering place is one of the most important mosques in the Islamic world and owes its reputation to the former booksellers' quarter, where the Koutoubia means "booksellers" in Arabic.

The Koutoubia Mosque in the medina district, Marrakech, Morocco.

- © monticello / Shutterstock

Where to eat?

Le Jardin is a restaurant right in the centre of the medina. Just around the bend in an alleyway, you'll find a small doorway containing an old riad that has been converted into a restaurant. The garden is a green setting right in the middle of the medina, decorated with small green zellige tiles, very typical of Morocco. A cosy place that we recommend for a good kefta tajine or just a drink. A victim of its own success, it's best to book a table before coming here.

Where to sleep?

Dar Salam Palm Marrakech
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Dar Salam Palm

This guest house offers pretty, traditionally decorated rooms, a Moroccan restaurant and even cookery classes.
8.9 Superb
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£74 / night
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Day 2: A nature break in the ochre city

Head west of the city, to the chic Hivernage district, home to one of the city's oldest gardens. The Menara gardens are a cool oasis for Marrakchis, a place to cool off when the heat becomes unbearable. Dating back to the Almoahades dynasty, this space was used to supply water to the neighbouring olive groves.

Today, it's a favourite spot for family walks. At the centre of this green island is an impressive stretch of water surrounded by olive trees. A haven of peace set against a backdrop of blue skies and palm trees. It takes just a few minutes by taxi to reach the path, or 45 minutes on foot for the more sporty types.

The Menara gardens west of Marrakech, Morocco.

- © Kevin Nirsimloo / Shutterstock

And since the red city has not said its last word, it will also satisfy the desires of the little ones. The Oasiria park offers a host of attractions suitable for all the family. With its heated outdoor pool, gardens, restaurant and... kids club, it's a paradise for children and parents alike! In total, this water park has around twenty attractions, 8 pools and 17 thrilling descents. For climbing pros, there's a 25-metre climbing wall, the first of its kind in Africa.

The park is open all year round, every day from 10am to 6pm. As for the attractions, they are only accessiblefrom 31 March.

🚌 Getting there: take a taxi from Place Jemaa-el-Fna

📍 Address: 4 km, Route d'Amizmiz, Marrakech, Morocco

👛 Classic fare: Adult (Dhs130/€12); child (Dhs90/€9); senior (Dhs90/€9)

👉 Day pass: Adult (280 Dhs/26 €); child (150 Dhs/14 €)

Day 3: Visit the Ouzoud waterfalls

This is a superb excursion to take if time permits. Get out of the red city and explore its equally rich surroundings. It would be a shame to reduce Marrakech to the status of a mere city, as its surroundings are so magnificent.

The Ouzoud waterfalls are among the most spectacular sites to see during a stay in Marrakech. Located around 3 hours' drive from the village of Tanaghmelt, the attraction takes around 10 hours to complete and keeps us busy all day. It is possible to take a tour directly from the city centre or from your accommodation.

Ouzoud waterfalls surrounded by vegetation, Marrakech, Morocco.

- © Alberto Loyo / Shutterstock

On the way, take time to admire the scenery, the centuries-old olive trees that line the road and the typical Berber villages. Once there, you'll be able to enjoy the natural surroundings and crystal-clear water, which you can either swim in or cross in a boat. This green setting is home to small monkeys, which can be seen from time to time. Beware of these little animals, who are very clever and... a little thieving. The site is free and open every day from 9am to 7pm.

The best spot to see the Ouzoud waterfalls! Marrakech

The best spot to see the Ouzoud waterfalls!

Discover the Moroccan waterfalls that flow over the red sandstone by boat with an experienced tour guide.
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Sleeping nearby

The Ouzoud Kasbah Marrakech
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The Ouzoud Kasbah

Situated near the Ouzoud waterfalls, the hotel boasts a swimming pool, lush gardens and sunbathing terraces.
9.1 Fabulous
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£72 / night
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Day 4: The Atlas mountains and their Berber villages

Despite what some holidaymakers may think, Marrakech is not by the sea. And while an excursion to Essaouira is highly recommended during a stay in the beautiful ochre city, it's more in the direction of the High Atlas that we're going to take a look. In fine weather, the Atlas Mountains offer a superb backdrop to Marrakech, a constant call to join the coolness of its summits.

Luckily, it couldn't be simpler. It's very easy to set off on an excursion to discover the Ourika Valley, one of the most beautiful in the High Atlas. The grandiose natural scenery, the adobe hamlets clinging to the mountain slopes, the traditional Berber way of life and the terraced fields all reflect a facet of Morocco that is a must-see. A foretaste of the treasures the country has to offer trekkers.

The High Atlas is a mountain range in Morocco.

- © saiko3p / Shutterstock

Discover the traditional dwellings of Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains on a full-day excursion from Marrakech that explores wide valleys and lush orchards with views of Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. Ride a camel through a wide gorge, take a tea break in the Imlil valley, then head to the remote village of Ait Souka to share a meal in the home of a Berber family... these activities are the richness of the Marrakesh region.

Throughout the day, admire the magnificent mountainous landscape where terraced gardens climb steep slopes, tumultuous waterfalls tumble down the valley and a few alpine kasbahs are dotted here and there. Enjoy a day away from the hustle and bustle of the city, organised by a local guide. Most hotels provide sightseeing tours for visitors at an additional cost.

Where to sleep?

Kasbah Ait Bouguemez Marrakech
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Kasbah Ait Bouguemez

Between the medina and the High Atlas, this establishment offers an exceptional experience with pretty, comfortable rooms, a garden and a terrace.
8.8 Superb
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£30 / night
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Practical information

👉 When to go?

Although the region can be visited all year round, the best times to explore Marrakech and the surrounding area are from March to May and June to September. Beware, however, of July and August, which can reach very high temperatures.

👉 Points to watch out for:

Beware of the "coup de la panne" on the High Atlas road, a rather widespread practice in Morocco. The principle is simple: people sitting on the verges simulate a vehicle breakdown and even open the bonnet of their car. They ask passers-by to do them a small favour by leaving a message calling for help at a specific address. Once there, the person thanks you warmly and recommends a hotel where you can stay at a very competitive rate. In fact, there's a very good commission in it for the touts if they manage to convince generous tourists.

Advice from the editor :

We recommend that you bring a fleece for the High Atlas, as it can be very cold.

by Val HANCOCK
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