Marrakesh is a study in contrasts – and be warned, it’s intoxicating. On the one hand your senses are assaulted by the tempo, noise levels, smells, and vibrant colours. And yet, there are places of total serenity; calm and quiet.
Having been described in 1971 by Beat Generation era composer and author, Paul Bowles, as the ‘most successful example of French town planning in Morocco’, whichever way you enter the city, it welcomes you with wide tree-lined avenues...mostly of oranges trees. These lead you to the new city which the French built alongside the old medina (walled city).
Traffic is fast and furious in the new city and this continues into the medina where the narrow laneways and low arches soon no longer permit vehicles. But they are replaced by mule-drawn carts, push bikes and seemingly thousands of small motorcycles – all revving and beeping to let you know they are coming.
To add to the medina’s cacophony, there’s nearly always music – modern; blaring from a speaker, or traditional; percussion, lute or voices singing. And then one of the five daily calls to prayer at the mosque will ring out over it all. Not to mention the noise that is simply part of an enclosed area teeming with people.
The colours are also marvellous in the souks, or shopping areas of the medina. The beautiful fabrics and potteries come in vibrant colours and are set off against handmade basins, platters and sinks of copper, right next to lines of mirrors.
The smells are of food, but not only cooked food – rows of spices, fresh coriander and parsley. Add to that the burning of incense and the smoke from food-cooking fires and you have a pungent mix.
This combination of stimulus to your eyes, ears and nose, and being pursued by stall vendors, does eventually take its toll and tourist guide books warn of ‘medina rage’ (think road rage).
When that time comes you can head off to one of the city’s many gardens. Jardin Majorelle is particularly serene. Created by artist, Jacques Majorelle from 1924 onwards, this unique garden showcases his collection of plants from five continents. It has further interest as in 1980 it was purchased by Yves St Laurent.
There is a memorial to the fashion designer in the garden and there are also many other gardens to explore.
Or you can head back to your accommodation. If it’s a riad in the medina, surprisingly once inside, you can no longer hear, see or smell the medina, even though you are still in it.
The riads, designed around a central courtyard, are a real oasis. Some have fountains, some have gardens, others have plunge pools in the courtyard. Rooms radiate out from the courtyard on multiple floors. Once you enter the riad’s doors, it’s suddenly as if you never experienced all the noise and hustle and bustle of the medina souks at all.
After putting your feet up for a while, you start thinking of heading back out there to do it all again.
And in the evening you can do it all and more! Djemaa el Fna is Marrakesh’s famous square which really comes alive at night. During the day it features orange juice sellers and a few other stalls and entertainers.
At night it’s alive with acrobats, snake charmers, musicians and row upon row of outdoor eateries offering everything from snails and soups to three course meals. If you found the medina busy in the day, the evening in the square can be quite a surreal experience.
The square was declared a Unesco Masterpiece of World Heritage in 2001.
Further reading: Finding the perfect Moroccan medina >>
This post was contributed by Birgit Schonafinger