A vibrant, sensory overload, the souqs and riads of Morocco's capital captivate Audley specialist Clair Grayland.
Marrakesh is an intoxicating place to explore
Its labyrinthine souqs are a burst of colour; you'll find artisans and craftsmen selling everything from dried fruit and nuts and exotic embroidery to beautifully sculpted lanterns.
The focal point of the old city, within the medina walls, is Djemaa El Fna, an open square which comes alive at night with food stalls and street musicians. And throughout it all: hidden in the alleys of the souqs, nestling against the medina walls, next to palaces and tombs, markets and mosques — are the riads. Gorgeously decorated and typically centred around one or many courtyards, riads are the iconic accommodation of Morocco and are inimitably infused with the flavour and character of the country.
La Maison Arabe, cookery course (see no. 1 on map)
Cookery courses are offered by various riads throughout the city and are an excellent way for the amateur and professional alike to discover the pleasures of Moroccan cuisine. The workshops are led by a dada, a traditional Moroccan chef, while a translator provides detailed preparation and cooking instructions to allow you to prepare your dishes.
Majorelle Garden (see no. 2 on map)
Famously owned by French designer Yves Saint Laurent, whose artwork is displayed in a small museum within, the Majorelle botanical garden is a haven of shady avenues, exotic plants, Moorish buildings and vibrant blue and white colours. Set in two and a half acres of grounds within the city centre, the garden provides a peaceful respite for those wishing to escape the bustling streets of the medina for a while.
Souqs (see no. 3 on map)
The souqs are the heart of the medina of Marrakesh, a sprawling, intricate network of covered alleyways that teem with life. Each area specialises in a different trade, from leatherwork and beautiful metalwork to spices of all colours, heaped in impossibly tall cones and pervading rich, piquant smells. You will find almost anything in the souqs of Marrakesh, making it a fantastic place to explore and shop.
El Badi Palace (see no. 4 on map)
An enormous expanse of what are now ancient remnants make up the El Badi Palace, or 'The Incomparable' as its name translates to. Despite being in ruins you can still get a sense of the majesty and scale of the palace in its heyday; sunken gardens and large pools are located in the central courtyard, which make a wonderful sight when they are filled and lit during the summer folklore festival.
Djemaa El Fna (see no. 5 on map)
During the day, this vast central market square is filled with orange juice stalls, story tellers, water sellers in colourful, traditional costumes and snake charmers. The terraced cafés around the fringes of the square are perfectly located to sip tea and watch the carnival unfold beneath you. As evening falls, however, the square empties of the various entertainers and becomes infused with the evocative smells of hundreds of food stalls, their combined smoke creating a romantically hazy atmosphere.
Al Fassia (see no. 6 on map)
Owned and run by a friendly group of women, Al Fassia is where you'll find the best traditional cuisine in Marrakesh. The shoulder of lamb for two is to die for.
Grand Café de la Poste (see no. 7 on map)
Located in Gueliz, the modern and stylish district of Marrakesh, the Grand Café de la Poste used to be, as the name suggests, a post office. It has since transformed into an elegant restaurant serving excellent French cuisine with a Moroccan twist. The cocktails here are also fantastic.
Le Foundouk (see no. 8 on map)
Located in the heart of the medina, Le Foundouk is a former caravanserai — an inn with rooms set around a central courtyard. The restaurant has been renovated in a contemporary Moroccan style and serves delicious local dishes; we recommend a candlelit meal on the roof terrace for added panache.
Riad Ilayka (see no. 9 on map)
Riad Ilayka is a small, traditional riad, centrally located within the medina. Each of the rooms have been lovingly decorated in their own unique style. The roof terrace's small corner pool is the perfect place to cool off from the heat, or alternatively enjoy a refreshing mint tea in the cushioned turret area while taking in the Marrakesh skyline.
Riad Kniza (see no. 10 on map)
Built in the 18th century, Riad Kniza is a small, luxury 'Hotel de Charme' in the heart of Marrakesh's old medina. With eleven tastefully decorated rooms and suites built around three inner courtyards, it's an excellent base from which to explore the city. Riad Kniza offers a spa with hammam and a small pool, as well as two rooftop patios. For the cooler winter months, the lounges have magnificent fireplaces and comfortable traditional furniture.
Villa des Orangers (see no. 11 on map)
Formerly a judge's house, Villa des Orangers deservedly enjoys a reputation as Marrakesh's finest riad. Traditional tadelakt (smooth earthen construction) walls are complemented by dark wood furnishings, while in the courtyards, the fountains and orange trees provide an elegant, peaceful area where you can relax and enjoy the impeccable service.
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