48 hours in Marrakesh
Morocco specialist Sarah recommends how to make the most of two days among the bustling souqs, vibrant medina and tasty food stalls of Marrakesh.
Day One, 8am
After waking up at Riad Kniza in the heart of the old medina, prepare for your day with a breakfast of Moroccan pastries, fresh fruit and mint tea on the rooftop terrace before heading off to explore the city.
From here, the heart of the ancient medina calls, so head out on foot to explore the medieval fondouks (inns used by visiting merchants) and architectural gems including the 16th-century Madrassa Ben Youssef and the Koubba Almoravide archeological site, as well as hidden artisan workshops. Here you’ll learn about the day-to-day life of local people by visiting a communal bakery.
You could end the morning with a visit to Majorelle Gardens, getting there before the sun hits its midday peak. These beautiful gardens were lovingly restored by renowned fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and provide a tranquil escape from the bustling streets in central Marrakesh.
Ask your driver to drop you back at Riad Kniza. From here, I'd recommend walking the short distance to the Terrasse des Épices for lunch. This restaurant is set on a large and airy rooftop terrace, offering a stunning panorama of the High Atlas Mountains and the Koutoubia Mosque. Try the beef tagine with figs, and if you still have room, the restaurant’s chocolate desserts are famous. If you fancy a lighter meal instead, you could try its sister property just around the corner, Café des Épices.
Tip 1: Wear closed-toe shoes as the medina streets are uneven, and make sure you watch out for the donkey carts as they rattle through the streets.
After a delicious meal, meander leisurely back through the souqs to Riad Kniza in the late afternoon. Here you can begin your tasting trail through Marrakesh with your guide, who will introduce you to the evocative tastes and smells of Moroccan cuisine, from kefta tagine to harira (rich tomato, lentil, chickpea and lamb soup).
Walk to Djemaa el Fna to experience the square coming to life for the evening as the city’s street food sellers begin to set up shop. I love taking in all the smells and colors of the spices and ingredients, from the famous fresh oranges and mint tea to olives, Moroccan pastries and grilled meats.
You’ll have plenty of opportunity to taste samples and watch local chefs at work as you learn more of Morocco’s culinary delights and soak up the atmosphere of the city at dusk. In my opinion, there’s no better way to end this tantalizing experience than by sharing your first impressions of the city over a delicious meal (if you've still got room for more food) and a cold drink at one of the many restaurants overlooking the stalls and hazy lights of Djemaa el Fna.
Tip 2: If you buy orange juice from a food stall in Djemaa el Fna make sure it's freshly squeezed in front of you and not diluted by tap water.
Summon up your last bit of energy and take a taxi from the medina to the Grand Café de la Poste to end the day with a few cocktails in this trendy colonial-style restaurant and bar. Then head back to the Riad Kniza for a well-earned sleep.
Day Two, 9am
After another big breakfast at the riad, you could head out to explore a different side of Marrakesh on a philanthropic tour. After being driven to one of the historical gates of the medina for a walk through the streets of the Laksour Quarter, you can visit the Al Kaoutar Women’s Centre. The centre helps those without any resources and who are in extreme poverty to learn a trade, such as how to make high quality products including embroidery and clothing. They are taught the skills needed to earn a living for themselves.
On the way out of the medina, I’d recommend visiting a more modern part of the city to spend time at the Amal Association, an organization which helps underprivileged single mothers overcome poverty and social stigma by providing them with counseling and vocational training to become professional cooks and pastry makers.
Many of the women who trained here used to be homeless, but have now found a job in one of the many riads in Marrakesh. You can enjoy a delicious lunch, cooked by the ladies of the association, and you’ll also have a chance to talk frankly with the director about life in Morocco.
Tip 3: If you're shopping, venture a bit further into the souqs as the closer you are to Djemaa el Fna, the more expensive everything will be.
After returning to the medina, spend the afternoon exploring the winding souqs and honing your haggling skills with the artisans and stall-owners of this captivating maze of alleyways. To escape the bustle of the streets head to Café Arabe on Rue Mouassine for a mint tea or a coffee overlooking the roofs of the medina. Close by is the excellent Museum of Photography, documenting the history of photography in Morocco as well as the country’s different geographical and cultural domains.
For dinner, you could take a taxi to my favorite restaurant Al Fassia, owned and run only by women and serving some of the best traditional meals in Marrakesh. The shoulder of lamb for two people is delicious.
If your stay in Marrakesh falls on a Thursday, take a taxi to the lively Café Clock, just south of the Saadian Tombs. Every Thursday evening, the cafe hosts a storytelling evening in both Arabic and English to promote Moroccan culture and traditions. This is a fantastic way to end your time in Marrakesh, amid a sociable atmosphere that embodies the country’s diversity.
Tip 4: If you are all souqed out, the Jewish Quarter is both highly attractive to explore and offers a fascinating insight into the city's history.
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