5 Reasons To Visit Marrakech

A £50 return to magical-Marrakech was too tempting an offer to refuse. So in January I packed my bags for a chilled weekend of yoga, good food and culture, and here’s why you should do the same…

1. The Maze That Is The Medina

Despite being a short 3 hour flight from home (in my case, the UK), Marrakesh could not feel further away from my familiar: A pastel-washed labyrinth of markets, Mosques and mayhem. With recognizable landmarks far and few between within the walls of the city, enjoy getting lost where the hustle and bustle is incessant, the Mosque’s cry for prayer will enchant you and the treasures for sale in the Souq are irresistible for shopaholics and collectors alike.  Rooftop cafes are oasis’s from the chaos of the Medina, with breath-taking views of the Atlas Mountains, and late night strolls around El Falma could lead to a monkey or snake being plonked on your shoulders… it’s impossible not to be seduced by the shabby-opulence of deeply-traditional Morocco.

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2. The Food

As a life-long lover of North African spices and aroma, I was in my absolute element indulging in tagines, cous-cous platters and sweet-‘n’-sticky Baklava. The best of which being the food in the ‘locals market’ on the north-west side of the city, just beyond the walls of the Medina; serving the locals the finest sausages, stews and suppers at local prices. Not to mention the refreshing peppermint tea served at every opportunity –  make sure they go easy on the sugar though!

 

3. The Markets

Marrakesh seriously tested my self-restrain. The textiles are vibrant, the spices are aromatic, the leather is supple and the silver is cheap. Taking an empty suitcase comes highly-advised for fellow shopaholics, and my top tip is to haggle on just about everything – it’s all part of the fun!

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4. The Mountains

A short hour-long drive out of Marrakech will guide you to the dramatic, snow-capped Atlas mountains. It’s hard to believe the snow is real when looking from the scorchingly-hot, claustrophobic capital, but the rural landscapes of Berban Morocco is otherworldly. A day trip will set you back about £15 and is well-worth the trip.

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5. The People

There had never been a more controversial time to travel to a Muslim country than when I visited Morocco in January, following Trump’s travel ban. What I experienced couldn’t be further from the fear-mongering garbage the tabloids would have you believe: the Moroccan people are warm, hospitable and funny, not to mention eager for visitors to experience the magic their home offers. It was fascinating immersing myself in a totally different culture and observing the Moroccan people’s customs, one of which being the Hammam experience (which is well worth the read if you want to hear how I found myself naked with a bunch of lovely Muslim women throwing water on me)…

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Experiencing a local Hammam

 

Traditionally, a Hammam is a Middle-Eastern bathing chamber where people go to cleanse, bathe and exfoliate. Overtime this communal experience has become loved by tourists seeking an alternative spa experience during their stay in Morocco.

Inevitably the Hammam has evolved from the traditional (and rather basic) experience into something somewhat lavish to pander to the Western ideals of relaxation and well-being. Google ‘best hammams in Marrakech’ and you’ll be inundated by recommendations from Vogue, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor – all of which have cherry picked the finest and most luxurious Hammams in this city, costing anywhere upwards of £25.

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A Westernized Hammam – definitely more on the luxurious end of the scale!

If, like me, you’d prefer to experience the real deal then you need to scratch beneath the surface. There are hammam’s on virtually every street in Marrakech but you’ll need a local to point them out, blink and you’d miss them. I asked in my hostel where I might find a local hammam, and was surprised to learn it was literally round the corner, and further amused by the map I was drawn. “Go past the man selling meat opposite the tobacco shop, five paces past the man selling fish on the left-hand side and it’s the first door on the left”.  My friend in hostel wrote down exactly how much I should pay for the experience, a grand total of 60 Dirham/ £6 (and this was for the full body scrub, should you wish to go and wash yourself it’s a mere 10 Dirham/ £1).

The limited instructions were amusingly accurate and lead me to hole in the wall, which gave no indication of the secret inside. To the untrained eye the “door” looked more like the entrance to a slightly dodgy, alley…

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My local Hammam – not quite on par as the one above I’m sure you’ll agree! Sadly no photos are taken inside, but I think the entrance paints a pretty good picture…

Two women wrapped in Hijabs sat inside the small, dimly lit chamber/reception. In my best French (the extent of which, I should add, could just about order me a croissant) and a lot of sign language, we managed to articulate that I wanted to come in and experience the Hammam. It was difficult to work out whether they were confused by my limited French or why the hell we wanted to come in at all. After a baffling exchange of money and quick game of shirades to explain what I wanted I parted with 10 dirham for the entrance fee, and 50 dirham for the body scrub. We were handed a squishy, newspaper-wrapped pouch containing our “savoire noir”, a sticky black paste locals use for cleaning with.

I was led into the first chamber with three other Moroccan women, one of which must have been a similar age to me, the others easily in their 50’s. I did as they did: strip. Dubiously removing layers as they did until we found ourselves in just our pants. It was a slightly strange experience seeing women who at all other times are so modestly covered suddenly in nothing by their pants: their dark, curly hair in tussles around their shoulders and their enviably curvaceous figures strutting around unphased by communal nudity. We were ushered out of the changing chamber, through a second chamber into a third where the air was dense with humidity and steam. There was certainly nothing glamorous or lavish about the chamber: in fact, if you had seen a photograph of me in that room without knowing we were in a hammam, you might have thought I’d been abducted and held hostage in some sort of dank prison.

The women filled four huge plastic buckets with warm water. Rather than delicately pouring the water over our skin, the buckets were chucked at me as if we were being punished. I couldn’t stop giggling, it was so hilariously ironic and utterly unsensual I couldn’t contain myself. The practice couldn’t have been further from the therapeutic experience the luxury spas promise, this said, this was exactly what I wanted to experience.

After the soap came the exfoliator. A rather unappealing coloured paste was scrubbed into my skin with a course mitt, leaving my skin feeling baby-soft and radiant. After a final rinse off we scuttled back through the various chambers to the changing room and put back on dearly missed clothes/ modesty.

If you’re travelling to Morocco, you really must try this authentic and bizarre experience. There was something really comforting and unifying about being in the buff around total strangers, especially the Moroccan women who are always covered from head to toe. You won’t find these places advertised on Trip Advisor, so make sure you ask in your riad where’s good to go!

Marrakech: My first experience in a Muslim country

I’m currently sitting on a rooftop terrace cafe in the heart of Marrakech’s Medina, with a fresh Moroccan mint tea warming my hands on this chilly evening; oil lanterns glowing around me and the chaos of the night markets hustling and bustling below…

It’s my first day in Morocco, first time in northern Africa and, most significantly, my first time in a predominantly Muslim country. There doesn’t seem to be more of a controversial or fitting time to immerse myself in the Muslim culture following President Trump’s bigoted and outrageous decision to persecute Muslims this week. Whilst I’m reluctant to share my political views on my travel blog, it’s important for me to share my positive experiences and encounters with a community who appear to be endlessly persecuted.

I fear that Donald Trump would gladly have us believe places like Morocco are treacherous breading grounds for extremists. So far, it couldn’t be further from the opposite. The Moroccan people I’ve encountered so far are welcoming, inquisitive, humorous and friendly people who are eager for visitors to learn about their fascinating traditions, try their exotic cuisine and learn about their customs.

I met an adorable woman this afternoon called Leyla. We sat opposite one other in a cafe: my brown hair hanging in curls, hers neatly disguised by her hijab. I struck up conversation, and before long we were talking about anything and everything – also discovering a mutual love for makeup. She guided me through the Souk to the heart of the Medina to show me her favorite cosmetic seller who sells natural spices, oils and pigments. She told me that men and women use amber and other natural incenses as perfumes as typical perfumes/ aftershaves contain alcohol which the Muslim community are not allowed to wear to the mosque. It was a fascinating afternoon , with no expectation or assumption that money was to be exchanged for her company.  It was just a brief encounter of two people from different worlds who had two hours to burn together.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 4 days have in store for me and look forward to sharing my adventures in this mad little city. Now, back to my tea…

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