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That Moroccan Magic

Destinations
Writer
Jamal Raslan
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The souks and streets of Marrakesh await those who want to get lost in its ancient charm and beguiling beauty.

One of the busiest cities in North Africa, Marrakesh is a marvellous reminder of Morocco’s history and magic. It is a mixture of warm North African Berber culture and mystifying Andalusian allure in a breathtaking sub-Saharan setting.

The most important thing to do while exploring Marrakesh is experience its heritage. The city is rich with understated attractions, from the food to its people as well as places. It is subtle yet surprising, and spectacular altogether. From taking a walk on mazy streets around old citadels to sampling sumptuous offerings to shopping for souvenirs at souks, you will always discover something in Marrakesh.

Jemaa el-Fnaa Square; the main square in Marrakesh is more than 1000 years old
Jemaa el-Fnaa Square; the main square in Marrakesh is more than 1000 years old

Once you touch down, the first thing you should do upon arriving in Marrakesh is to get some food, and the best place to do that is at Jemaa el-Fnaa. Over 1000 years old, the main square in Marrakesh is located at the city’s medina (old city) quarter. It is the quintessential Marrakesh experience made up of people and stalls with one side lined by a souk while the other lined by hotels, gardens and cafe terraces. During the day, it is occupied by orange juice stalls, water sellers and snake charmers. As the afternoon arrives, Chleuh dancing boys, magicians, storytellers and peddlers take their places in the square before dozens of food stalls fill it up with sumptuous sights, sounds and smells as darkness falls.

Be mesmerised by snake charmers and exciting performances at Jemaa el-Fnaa
Be mesmerised by snake charmers and exciting performances at Jemaa el-Fnaa

A local delicacy that you should definitely give a go at Jemaa el-Fnaa is the amazing Moroccan lamb. Deliciously juicy, it is well-seasoned with spices and served with local bread. Another is the Tanjia - chunks of lamb meat seasoned with smen (Moroccan preserved butter) and preserved lemons boiled in a clay pot.

The local delicacies in Marrakesh; Tanjia and Bebouch (Moroccan snail soup)
The local delicacies in Marrakesh; Tanjia and Bebouch (Moroccan snail soup)

For a less heavy but equally warm meal, head over to one of the stalls selling bebouch - a Moroccan snail soup. You can also sample other local staples at Jemaa el-Fnaa such as the Moroccan Tangine and merguez sausages. To wash all these down, stop by any mint tea stalls for a helping of revitalizing tea or get some of the best fresh orange juices you’ll ever have.

The Jemaa el-Fnaa is also a great place from which to continue exploring Marrakesh. With countless winding streets and alleyways leading out of it into the surrounding areas, make it a leisurely morning, taking a walk here. In the Bab Doukkala area, there is a famous fava bean soup vendor who entertains his patrons and gives away free meals to those who can’t afford it. If you feel a little touristy, visit the cafes around the edge of the Jemaa el-Fnaa to sample some Khlea omelette while taking in the curious eyes and warm smiles of the Berber locals against a background of the rustic laidback charm of Marrakesh.

Some of the beautiful gardens that can be found in this city of gardens are Jardin Majorelle (L) and Menara Gardens (R)
Some of the beautiful gardens that can be found in this city of gardens are Jardin Majorelle (L) and Menara Gardens (R)

There are many more places to explore as the Jemaa el-Fnaa is not the city’s only attraction. It is also a city of gardens and palaces. One of its most famous gardens is the Jardin Majorelle, or Majorelle Garden, opened in 1947. Located at the Avenue Yacoub el Mansour, it was formerly the home of the landscape painter Jacques Majorelle before the late designer Yves Saint Laurent bought and restored the property. It features a stele erected in the designer’s memory and the Museum of Islamic Art, which is housed in a dark blue building. Meanwhile, the garden houses a large collection of plants from five continents including cacti, palms and bamboo. Other well-designed gardens worthy of a visit in Marrakech include the 100-year old Mamounia gardens, the famous Agdal Gardens, which is also the royal orchard, as well as the Menara Gardens, located at the gates of the Atlas mountains and features the magnificent snowy terrain as its backdrop.

Koutoubia Mosque is a popular landmark of Marrakesh
Koutoubia Mosque is a popular landmark of Marrakesh

Back within Marrakesh’s citadel walls, historic palaces and mosques abound, such as the El Badi Palace. A larger version of Alhambra’s Court of the Lions that was built in 1578, it is the site for the annual Marrakesh Folklore Festival. There is also the expansive Bahia Palace, which was intended to be the greatest palace of all time when it was built late in the 19th century. There is also the Koutoubia Mosque, one of the most prominent mosques in the country with its signature minaret becoming a popular landmark of Marrakesh, thus making it a must-visit, not just for that perfect #igtravel shot, but also to appreciate its 12th century architecture.

The beautiful Atlas mountains
The beautiful Atlas mountains

Marrakesh isn’t just about heritage. For lovers of nature and the outdoors, it is also an entry point to the gorgeously majestic Atlas mountains via the Ourika River valley. This mountain range is the only thing standing between the city and the Sahara desert, with the valley being a great hiking trail where the vista of the mountain’s snowy tops will accompany you all the way.

The meaning of Marrakesh’s name has been long debated. An 11th century manuscript says it means “country of the sons of Kush”. One possible Berber origin suggested that it means “the land of God”. Whatever it may be, one thing’s for certain - you will find more than just warmth or faith in Marrakesh. You will find wonder, and just maybe, yourself.

Fly to Marrakesh

If you're coming from KL International Airport (KLIA), Marrakesh is reachable via connecting flights by Malaysia Airlines, British Airways, and Qatar Airways which will most probably take up to 23 hours. Remember to make proper travel plans to ensure a smooth journey.

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