A keen photographer friend recently asked me for tips for a long weekend in Marrakech. I am a keen photographer – you can see some examples of my work on this blog – and I came up with this 4-day itinerary for him.
With direct flights from many European hubs, a long weekend in Marrakech is very do-able. Although a day trip down to Essaouira or out into the Ourika Valley or Atlas Mountains would be possible and Spring is a great time to see the fruit tree blossom in the mountains, I don’t think it’s worth it when there is so much to do in the city. Save all that for when a longer stay is possible!
My top tips for keen photographers would be:
- On the terrace at Riad Shaden (© Shona Lines)
Riad-owner, Shona Lines, is a civil servant from Scotland who is already on her second guest house in Marrakech. In an authentic Moroccan neighbourhood of the medina, Riad Shaden offers a tranquil oasis from which to plan your exploration of the city and of Morocco. Riad Shaden’s lovely staff are happy to help you – they are the friendliest and most helpful in town. Shona is offering all maroc-o-phile readers a complementary dinner when they book at Riad Shaden*, so don’t forget to mention you saw her interview here!
MoP: Shona, what first brought you to Morocco and why?
I first visited Morocco over 25 years ago, and completely fell in love with it. I returned many times over the years –travelling extensively around the whole of Morocco, but always being drawn back to Marrakech, until I finally took the plunge and bought my first riad in 2007.
MoP: You’ve been a maroc-o-phile for many years, then. What is it that keeps drawing you back?
I love so many things about Morocco but I especially love the people, and we have a lot of Moroccan friends, who have welcomed us into their families. I have always avoided the ex-pats, as to me the whole point of being in Morocco is about having Moroccan friends.
maroc-o-phile at the Marrakech Film Festival
As I have now been living in Morocco full-time for three months, I was keen to attend the 12th Marrakech International Film Festival (30 Nov-8 Dec), in particular to see a selection of Moroccan movies, both in the competition and in the other categories. I wasn’t alone: all the Moroccan films were sell-outs, not only in the prestigious first screenings at the Palais des Congres, but also for the re-runs in the Cinema Colisée.
Malak (in the Coup de Coeur section of the festival) is the story of a teenage Moroccan girl who falls pregnant and her attempts to find a solution to her situation. That’s the plotline, but Malak is really a film about the marginalised in society; about the diversity of modern Moroccan society and the taboos that people face when they depart from socially acceptable behaviour.
crowds await celebs on the red carpet
On 16 May 2003, 12 suicide bombers detonated bombs in 5 sites in Casablanca, killing themselves and 33 others and injuring more than 100 others. They were the most lethal terrorist attacks in Morocco’s history. Last night, I attended the first showing of Nabil Ayouch’s Horses of God – about the Casablanca bombings – to a Moroccan general public.
vegetable couscous at Al Fassia
A common saying in Morocco is that the best cuisine is prepared in the home. Although Westerners may baulk at fish for sale on the quayside displayed in a pallet without any ice, or meat hanging in the open air at a butcher’s stall, Moroccans know that the best way to prepare food is when it is fresh and that cooking it a high heat for longer periods kills bacteria. If you buy, cook and eat your protein on the day it was caught or killed, you don’t need to refrigerate it for long periods as we are accustomed to in the West. (And just as well, as sardines don’t leave the ocean with a sell-by date!)
Although Essaouira has an airport, it is presently not well served. (Ryanair flies to Marseilles; Transavia and Royal Air Maroc to Parisian airports. Easyjet starts a service to London Luton on 1 May 2015). As a result, many visitors to Essaouira fly in to either Marrakech and Agadir, which are well served by an ever-expanding range of budget and charter airlines. Your choice will depend on which airlines serve your local airport and what you want from a holiday. Essaouira is equidistant from Marrakech and Agadir, although at around 3 hours, the journey to/from Agadir takes a bit longer.
Presuming you may spend a night or two in the city where you land, I would personally recommend spending some time on arrival in a riad (renovated townhouse B&B) in the medina of Marrakech for culture, history, shopping and fine dining followed by 2-3 days in Essaouira for chilling out by the beach, eating fresh fish and admiring the beautiful sunsets after the big city experience. It is also a great centre for watersports and golf, if you feel the need for physical activity! That kind of two-centre trip is ideal for a week’s break. If you were coming to Morocco for longer, you might consider a more varied itinerary and/or flying in to one airport and out of the other.
By contrast, Agadir is a seaside resort on the Atlantic Coast with many family-oriented all-inclusive hotels and nightclubs for young (and not-so-young) Moroccans and tourists to let their hair down! Essaouira, on the other hand, is full of quirky guesthouses and is dominated by independent hotels to suit every budget.
If you would like to book a transfer from any Moroccan airport to Essaouira, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
following the guide…
One of the most exciting aspects of a trip to Marrakech is rooting through the souks for an elusive bargain. However, it can also be one of the most daunting as the labyrinthine alleyways start to all look the same and the road you thought would lead you back to the main square (Place Jmaa el Fna) turns into a dead end.
There are signs, maps and guides, but my advice would be to just lose yourself in the markets and follow these simple tips to stay on the right track (and keep your sanity!)
Here are some ideas: http://www.maroc-o-phile.com/moroccan-musings/11-rockin-maroc
My top tips: don’t get in a taxi without first agreeing either that the driver will use the meter (compteur) or a price for your journey; if a kid tells you the road ahead is closed, he’s probably lying in order to get some money from you to ‘guide’ you round another way (a good hint is that if there are people coming towards you, the road’s not closed) and try to book dinner at Pepenero. Most of all relax and enjoy all the sights, sounds, smells and shopping!!
the souks in Marrakech
I love the crafts and goods for sale in Morocco and I love a shopping mission to hunt down the perfect gift for friends and family. I have already written about the hunt for ma’quda to decorate towels as a present for my mum; buying spices; and my hunt for a handcrafted zellij mosaic (OK, that was a present for myself!).
The bargaining and haggling can be a bit daunting, but all you need to know are my top five tips to keep your wits (if not your cash) in the souk: