Founded nearly a thousand years ago, Marrakech is an enchanting whirlwind of labyrinthine alleyways, ancient culture, rose-coloured buildings, eclectic stalls and baking sun. From piles of fragrant spices to butchers preparing their cuts, in the medina you’ll see it all.
It’s an enthralling and exciting place to be, but it’s also hot, dusty and noisy. Indeed, the change of pace can feel a tad overwhelming at times. So, how do you have an immersive adventure while also reaping the rewards of a relaxing holiday?
Having just returned from my second visit to Marrakech, I’m more in love with this magical city than ever. I first visited in late spring, so this time round the quieter streets and cooler temperatures of winter were a revelation. Here are a few of my top tips.
Deciding where to stay
Of course, I’m always going to advocate booking an i-escape boutique hotel – they’re personal, beautiful and carefully selected for the warm welcome they provide. But in a city like Marrakech, this above-and-beyond approach is especially valuable.
On my most recent trip, I visited a selection of our medina-based boutique riads. Cosy Riad Ariha and calming Riad Chi-Chi are sister properties; both feature on-trend white and dove-grey interiors that are perfect for unwinding. Nearby Riad Capaldi is striking and romantic, with a handy central location and a stunning rooftop terrace.
All are set amid winding medieval streets, where getting lost is easily done. Luckily, each has a caring team of staff who will talk you through a map of the area when you arrive (and come and retrieve you if you get lost). They’re always just a phone call away, providing welcome peace of mind during an afternoon’s adventure in the souks. And, with rooms starting from around £70 per night, they make great-value city bases.
If staying in the centre doesn’t appeal, there’s nowhere more bucolic than Hotel by Beldi. This beautiful country club is just 10 minutes outside the city. With four pools, 15,000 rose bushes and a handful of restaurants, it’s truly a rural haven and incredibly peaceful. Best of all, everything you see is made on-site or locally, so you’re surrounded by authentic Moroccan craftsmanship and style.
Planning your arrival
This is a super-simple but super-effective little tip. If you’re staying in the pedestrianised medina, book an airport transfer through your riad. Don’t take a taxi in the hope of finding your accommodation on your own – you might save a couple of quid, but the confusion and hassle will be ten-fold. The medina streets are tricky to navigate, and attempting to haggle over a taxi rarely results in a discount.
Instead, taking a transfer will see you walked to your riad door and sipping mint tea within the hour. Many people come to Marrakech for a long weekend, so it’s a terrible waste to spend the first few hours getting lost, stressed and grumpy. Take the transfer.
Considering your itinerary
We adored exploring the bustling souks, haggling for textiles, people-watching, and observing skilled craftsmen at work. That said, despite visiting in the quiet month of January, we still found the medina overbearing at times. To help keep a sense of calm, we always made time to chill – that’s what holidays are for, after all.
Most of our afternoons were spent taking lazy lunches in rooftop cafes, which make wonderful retreats from the hectic streets below. My favourites were La Terrace des Epices (amazing food and lots of shady seating) and Café des Epices (great-value and super-chilled), both of which have captivating views over the city. We also enjoyed soaking up the awe-inspiring architecture of the Marrakech Museum and strolling through the fountained oasis of the Jardin Marjorelle. Had we had more time, we would have also visited the Medersa Ben Youssef and the Maison de la Photographie. If you need some serious pampering, you could also book a traditional hammam experience – many riads and hotels offer them in-house.
Finally, as dusk falls, don’t dismiss the idea of a night in. Some of our favourite suppers were enjoyed in the courtyards of our riads. By flickering candlelight and beneath starry skies, we feasted on delicious home-cooked tagines and authentic Moroccan pastilla, before relaxing beside a crackling fire in our room. Marrakech in winter is cool, calm and wonderfully atmospheric. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!