Photography weekend in Marrakech

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:

1. The souks and Place Jmaa El Fna

Marrakech medina

Catch the bright sunlight filtering through the bamboo shades over the souks. Photograph the brightly coloured pottery, babouches, caftans and crafts on the stalls. Capture the street performers and musicians on the square (be discrete or offer a modest tip). Contrast the oranges piled high on the juice stalls with the clear cobalt skies. And make sure that by sunset you are on a cafe terrace facing the Koutoubia mosque to watch the magic of the square unfold. Have a romantic dinner in the stunning surroundings of PepeNero – two riads combined into one, complete with fountain and pool.

2. Appreciate B&W images of Morocco and the Islamic rejection of the human subject

Spend a day visiting the Madrasa Ben Youssef and Marrakech Museum (joint ticket available) and the excellent Maison de la Photographie around the corner. Peek into the old founduks (basic accommodation for the merchants and traders of the camel trains of bygone eras – now often converted into artisan centres and hotels). Have lunch in the green tranquility of Le Jardin.

3. Rock the Kasbah – Marrakech’s up and coming district

Compare and contrast the Bahia Palace and the Badi Palace. The former has soft, feminine lines, stenciled doors and peaceful gardens. The latter is a crumbling shell with huge storks’ nests on its turrets and is the temporary home of MMP+, which will become the World’s biggest photo museum. Nearby are the Saadian tombs, featuring intricate mosaic work and the tombs of a dynasty. Stroll down to brand new Cafe Clock, deep in the Kasbah district for a coffee or a meal. Their camel burgers are legendary and the home-made ice cream is heavenly. On Thursdays they have young storytellers telling centuries’ old tales in English and on Sundays they have music.

Cafe Clock Marrakech4. Seek sanctuary from the souks at the Jardin Majorelle

Formerly owned by Yves Saint Laurent, the Majorelle Gardens are an oasis of calm and a feast for the senses. Pastel shades do not exist here. Majorelle blue is royal, the palms are lush and the plant pots are vibrant lemon, tangerine and turquoise. The Berber Museum is also excellent, featuring photos, costumes and an impressive jewellery collection. Lunch across the street at Kaowa – they do great DIY salads and cute mini-briouats (like teeny samosas). If you are in the Ville Nouvelle towards sunset, head to the rooftop bar at the Renaissance Hotel for 360 views. The service is inconsistent, but the views are impressive!

5. During March 2014, appreciate art in all its diversity at the Marrakech Biennale

The Biennale programme is vast and the venues many, but there are photography exhibits at Maison de la Photographie, Banque du Maroc and ESAV. When in the Ville Nouvelle, hunt down L’Blassa, which has been created by Moroccan Pop Artist, Hassan Hajjaj, for the Biennale as a hipster hang out cafe and exhibition space in an old Art Deco apartment block.  More details online. Hajjaj’s Riad Yima is open only to Biennale artists during the event, but is well worth a visit otherwise.

Where to stay?

Riad Shaden MarrakechA riad offers an authentic taste of Moroccan architecture and I always recommend Riad Shaden, run by Scottish maroc-o-phile Shona Lines. – it’s in a Moroccan neighborhood and you’ll get a good feel for the local way of life as you walk around (it’s 10-15 mins to the square from there). The staff will cater for your every need (including excursions, airport transfers and local tips) and their roof terrace is the perfect chill-out zone after a day on your feet. Mention you heard about them on maroc-o-phile and you’ll get a free dinner.

Do bear in mind that Moroccans generally don’t appreciate being photographed and some will use it as an opportunity to request payment. Iranian-born photographer, Abbas, found a novel way around this issue.

Where are your favourite photography locations in Marrakech? Do you have any suggestions to add?

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