MOROCCO : 10 TIPS FOR DIRTY FEET AND A HAPPY HEART
Stepping off the plane onto the hot tarmac of Marrakech for the first time, brings with it plenty of internal musings. 'Holy Shit, look at the INSANE tiles in the security area of the airport'. 'Do I need to cover my shoulders now?'. 'Why is this dude grabbing my luggage?'. 'Do I say hello in Spanish, Arabic, French?'.
Sliding into an old school Mercedes taxi (swoon) and making your way into the Medina (old city), amidst the mountains of spices, the plethora of colours, the bountiful aromas of the souqs, the clinking of the donkeys hooves, your worries begin to melt away.
It is as though you have found yourself in a time warp. Everything is done by hand in Morocco. By true artisans. Wandering around the maze of the souqs you find the most whimsical little nooks of craftsmanship. Leather workers, wood turners, fabric dyers, silver jewellers. Budding businessmen eager to get you to uncover the story of their world.
Since that day I first stepped off the plane in Marrakech, alone, some 4 years ago, I have travelled back five more times, each of which I have fallen more in love with the offerings of this vast country. I adore Marrakech. The juxtaposition of old and new. The incredible architecture and interior design. The humility of honouring tradition and respecting native customs by dressing modestly and with bohemian class. Feeling like Talitha Getty every time I find a new rooftop on which to wear a beautiful dress, boots and adorn myself with jewels and a scarf to marvel at the horizon as the sun sets.
It would be remiss of me not to suggest you start your mornings with freshly squeezed grapefruit or orange juice from Jemaa El Fna. Hot Tip - make sure they squeeze it in front of you if you don't want 5 tablespoons of sugar in there.
The best thing about Marrakech, is discovering the magic of it yourself. In the interest of those of you who like to plan your trips a little more than my 'no rhyme or reason' self, here are my;
TOP 10 INSIDER TIPS FOR MARRAKEC
1. LEARN A FEW BASIC PHRASES : Most people you meet will have a basic understanding of English, and ultimately converse with you that way. However, the vast majority of people speak French or Arabic, so it pays to learn a few phrases of either just to be polite. I like to mix my languages up just to keep them on their toes, by starting with French, 'Bonjour' (Hello) and ending with Arabic, 'Shukran' (Thank You).
2. RESPECT TRADITION : We all know that bad ass girl who throws caution to the wind and rocks around in denim cut offs and a midriff where it isn't appropriate. I, myself, like to honour the local custom and cover up as a sign of respect. I don maxi dresses from SPELL, or pants and a light weight shirt. Always with a scarf, just in case. Some people will tell you it isn't necessary, but I assure you your Moroccan experience will be far kinder if you do. At best, just make sure you cover your shoulders and most of your legs.
3. WHEN SEARCHING FOR WHERE TO DINE, LOOK UP : I recommend eating in Jamaa El Fna (in the centre of the Medina) at least a few times. The place where musicians, medicine men, snake charmers and story tellers converge on the mystical city square in the most enchanting way. It is a prolifically RAD experience. My tip is to watch which stall all the locals eat at, and beeline it that way. The Moroccan Soup and some Aubergine (which should set you back about $2) are a must to start your meal. For the other nights of dining during your Marrakech jaunt, LOOK UP! Try every single rooftop terrace that has a restaurant while you are there. I try a new one every time I visit, and not only do you get the best views of the sunset and city, the food is to die for.
4. SAY YES TO THAT MINT TEA FEST (“WHISKY MAROCAIN”) : Trust me, you want to. Because, LIFE! If it appears some what creepy to you that the old man who just sold you a lantern, with the brightest smile in the world, is offering a seat on his moroccan cushions whilst preparing you some incredibly sweet mint tea, girl it aint! This is their custom and they are so proud of it. Not only will you feel like you have once again stepped back in time, but you will connect with another human, whose life is incredibly different to yours. Listen. Ask questions. Get to know someone outside of your circle. Understand the story!
5. HAGGLE YOUR ASS OFF : The initial price you are given when shopping deep within the Souqs, is sure to be absolutely astronomical. It is designed for you to haggle. Work for that bag, that rug, that ceramic Tagine pot you know you will never use but that is sure to look BITCHIN' in your Kitchen. I can guarantee whatever price they have given you, quarter it and start from there. If they don't come down to what you can afford, walk away. If they really aren't making any money off what you're offering they won't chase you.
6. VISIT JARDIN MAJORELLE : Yves Saint Laurent, who bought and restored the gardens in 1980, would say he was able to find an unlimited source of inspiration in the Jardin Majorelle, and that he dreamt many times about its unique colours. It is one of the most beautiful sanctuary's in Marrakech boasting the most exuberant colours, cactus and ceramics.
7. WHEN SEARCHING FOR PLACES TO STAY, WORK WITHIN YOUR BUDGET : The first time I came to Marrakech, a friend recommended I stay at Equity Point Hostel. I would rename it to ON POINT Hostel. I have met some of my favourite people in the world here. It is a converted Riad and is one of the most stunning hostels I have ever seen. If you want a private room, they are INSANE! Blue marble loft anyone (post on this coming soon). It has a plethora of rooftop terraces and even has a BAR which is hard to find in a dry country. For the mid range scale I would recommend any of the Riad's in the Medina or AirBnB, and if you are just swimming in cash (because who isn't #amiright) then El Fenn and La Mamounia are the places to be!
8. VISIT A HAMMAM (BATHHOUSE). Whether You choose a public Hammam (where the locals visit weekly - men and women bathe separately of course) or a 'luxury' Hammam, this is something not to be missed in Morocco. Make friends with the locals (or your hotel) and let them lead you to a Hammam of their choice. Essentially you will have warm water unexpectedly hurled at your body and face to wash you down, and then beautiful black clay treatments lathered all over your paper-pantie-covered self. They will scrub you within in inch of your life and then you are treated to a beautiful massage. The Hammams are designed like a kiln and are heated from the outside in - they are SPECTACULAR.
9. DON'T STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE. JUMP! Trust your instincts in a country you don't know, but also make sure you aren't being TOO safe. Like, home before 10pm for a good night sleep safe. Because, again, LIFE. If you are invited into a local home for a traditional Tagine, I have just two words for you; DO! IT! One of the best nights I have EVER had in Marrakech was in a carpet shop, after hours, eating Tagine with our hands, whilst smoking grape Sheesha listening to Arabic radio and stories of our hosts Berber upbringing. Get away from what makes you feel safe and comfortable. Best case scenario, it will change your life.
10. JOURNEY TO THE SAHARA : After a few days you will need to escape the hustle and bustle of Marrakech. Spending a night or two camping in Berber tents at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, and journeying there on camels, will be one of the most insane experiences of your life. Be prepared though, it is a 10 hour drive to get there followed by a 2 hour camel ride. You can book this through your accommodation in Marrakech, or most locals will have a brother, cousin, uncle who operates the tours and can point you in the right direction. Full post on this coming soon.