Sunday, May 6, 2018

Guide to Marrakech

Hello friends!   It's been quite a while, hasn't it?  Over a year, actually, and I'm sorry I've been so MIA.  I fell out of blogging for many reasons but mostly because I was so exhausted putting effort and energy into something that wasn't totally fulfilling me.  I felt more obligated to be posting versus letting it come naturally and given everything else I had going on, it just fell to the bottom of the priority list.  But here we are and while I can't tell you how often I'll be posting because there's still a ton more important things going on, what I can tell you is that I'm super excited about this Guide to Marrakech post.  I was extremely fortunate enough to go for my birthday last year and lately I've had an insane desire to go back.  While I'm not quite ready to make that happen yet (aka many more places at the top of my travel list!), my friend Preston is headed there (tomorrow) and I have said for months (literally) that'd I'd do a guide post.  So without further adieu... 

Marrakech is a combination of craziness, beauty, romance and adventure.  Crazy because it can be sensory overload (especially walking through the souks) and there are so many people, motor bikes, donkeys pulling carts, and shops that it can get quite overwhelming.  Beautiful because, let's face it, if you've seen any pictures on instagram, the architectural details and colors sprinkled throughout the city are like no other.  Romantic because there's just something in the desert air that's intoxicating.  And adventurous because no day or route through the souks was the same.  I went with my best friend from high school, Margot, and she was the perfect travel companion because she was down for anything.  And was a lot less affected by culture shock than I because of her travels to India and through Central and South America.  We spent 8 nights in the country which was the perfect amount of time for what we had planned (we had some things pre-arranged but also just went by the seat of our pants and it was the perfect balance).  I only felt unsafe once because some man tried to give us unsolicited directions, demanded we pay him and gave us a hearty "f*ck you" when we said no.  Otherwise, I loved the people in Morocco because they are so hospitable and kind.  As far as what to wear, I just went by the general rule of thumb to stay fairly covered up with loose fitting clothes (considering I'm a blond Western woman, it felt like the best approach).

Here's a highlight reel of our trip!

Where to stay: we stayed at Riad Carina because I wanted a really authentic experience.  Riads are small bed and breakfast/boutique-type hotels that are usually 5 - 12 rooms with a rooftop.  Riad Carnia is inside the old city walls (the Medina) but it's in the southwest part of the Medina which just so happened to be on the other side of the souks from a lot of the places we went to eat and do things at.  Next time I'd stay more in the northwest part of the city (or outside the Medina completely to have it feel a little more relaxed and vacation-y).  Our friend Abbie stayed at Riad Adriana and highly recommended it.  

What to do:  shopping in the souks is a must and no, you don't need a guide.  You just need to be comfortable negotiating, knowing how much you want to pay for something and being able to walk away if they won't meet your price.  There will likely be another vendor with the same pottery, textiles or knick knacks.  Some of my absolute favorite places we bought things at: Hanout (a boutique I purchased a handmade wool jacket from), Blaoui Abdelghani (where I purchased my insane fruit bowl - they had the most beautiful pottery!), Jad (for candles), and all the shops below Terrasse des ├ępices (where I bought a blanket and all my pottery and drinking glasses).  I went a little crazy but I had just moved into my apartment and was very excited to buy decor for it!  There's also a great book I wish I had resourced before we went called Shopping in Marrakech.

If you can swing it, I highly HIGHLY recommend making it out to the Sahara desert.  We did a three day guided tour with one overnight in the desert but if I did it again I'd plan to hire a private driver and stay at a more boutiquey camp.  Not that ours was bad but it was quite an experience (very authentic berber experience).  We booked our trip with Viator and I was not expecting the 13 hour car ride back from the desert (we took our time getting there and coming back was just an insane amount of time in the car).  With a private driver you'd be able to kinda make your own schedule and make more stops if you want.  If you don't want to trek all the way out to the Sahara desert, there are a ton of other options closer to Marrakech where you can still feel like you've escaped the city a bit.  

The day after we got back from the desert we went to a hammam (Le Bain Bleu) and spent $60 on the best scrub/massage (traditional duo) I've ever had in my life.  We had our riad call them so we could make a reservation.   

The morning of my birthday we did a sunrise hot air balloon ride with Ciel d'Afrique and it was like nothing I've ever experienced.  It was the most perfect sunrise and definitely worth the 4:30 AM wakeup call. 

We also did tea at La Mamounia (which I could honestly take it or leave it, it wasn't what I expected but a fun way to get in and see the grounds) and visited Le Jardin Majorelle/the YSL Museum.

Where to eat: the highlights were Nomad (truly delicious modern Moroccan food with amazing vibes, highly recommend making a reservation), El Fenn (we went for lunch with a pre fixe menu and the food was great - really fresh Moroccan dishes), Terrasse des ├ępices (we went TWICE.  Once for lunch and for our last dinner - they have an "international" menu in case your heart desires a burger as a break from all the tajine like mine did), Pepe Nero (cute courtyard seating - we went for my bday dinner and they also had an "international" menu) and Le Foundouk (try to sit on the rooftop if you can - I think it would have elevated the meal for us).  I would have liked to try Le Jardin but we didn't make it.  

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to live vicariously through Preston's posts and continue to scheme my dream of owning my own riad in Morrocco...

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