Reaching an altitude of 2260 meters above the sea level, Tizi n’Tichka – part of the Moroccan National Route, N9 – is the highest major mountain pass of North Africa. Developed by the French Military, a fact noted in a large plaque, the Tizi n’Tichka route functions as the main direct linking Marrakech with Ouarzazate and exists as a spectacular piece of engineering.
The Tizi n’Tichka runs straight from Marrakesh across the Haouz Plain, before curving through the forest slopes above the Oued Ghdat valley and twisting past small villages and fields as it heads to Taddert, the last significant village on the north side of the pass.
Once the N9 national route of Tizi n’Tichka hits the the road offers stunning views at every turn: the Berbers call the Atlas range idraren draren, “The Mountains of Mountains”, and it is easy to see why. In the winter months, from November to March, snow can often fall on the pass, but it is warm all year round thanks to the strong Moroccan sun.
Ultimately, unless you are a Top Gear Presenter or a huge car enthusiast the Tizi n’Tichka route is perhaps not a destination in itself. However, if you are travelling between Marrakech and the Ouarzazate, or if you are stopping off at Telouet, Igherm, Aït Benhaddou, Agadir, the Kasbah Telouet or anywhere in between, you will undoubtedly use this route. All in all, the Tizi n’Tichka makes the long journeys across Morocco even more enjoyable!
Our luxury Riads act as the perfect base to explore the Marrakech medina, the Atlas Mountains and beyond; our experienced staff are on hand to organise any trips or excursions you wish to take.
Calligraphy, known as Khatt in Arabic, is very much part of the Arab identity. On your trip to Marrakech, you will see that it is all around you: on shop signs, newspapers, books and advertising. It has become a way of communicating through art. We met up with Nour-Eddine Boukheir, a traditionally trained calligrapher, who revealed some of the secrets of this historic artistic practice.
Nour-Eddine Boukheir explained that calligraphy is often still taught in the traditional way; there is a master and pupil relationship. The apprentice learns with the master, who is part of a long line of calligraphers that goes back many centuries. He went on to explain that you first of all have to learn how to write single letters in the major style of script, before you graduate to learning phrases and techniques of joining these letters together. With so much to learn about the use of colour, the type of paper and ink, the marrying of text with theme and the size of lettering, mastering the art of calligraphy becomes a life-long process of discovery and practice.
Although there exists a plethora of regional styles and modern examples, Arabic calligraphy divides down into two main styles – Kufic and Naskh. Kufic is the oldest form of the Arabic script and was developed around the end of the 7th century. Although there are no set rules of using the Kufic script, the style emphasizes rigid and angular strokes. Due to the lack of a singular domineering method, the scripts often vary greatly in different regions and countries, ranging from very square and rigid forms to flowery and decorative.
In contrast, the Naskh script is highly disciplined, with systematic rules and proportions for shaping the letters. Noticeably more cursive and elegant, the Naskh script is perhaps the most ubiquitous style and is used in Qur’ans, official decrees, and private correspondence.
On your trip to Marrakech it is possible to find many examples of beautiful calligraphy: from the carvings at Ben Yousef Medersa, to the inscribed artisanal products offered in the souls, we are sure you will fall in love with this ancient craft.
Marrakech’s new town, Gueliz, is home to some of Morocco’s best fine art schools and cutting-edge galleries. Hidden down a leafy road, facing Marrakech’s new Carre Eden Shopping Plaza, the David Bloch Gallery is perhaps one of the best examples of Marrakech’s rising contemporary art scene.
In the style of a New York loft, the David Bloch Gallery space is presented with a minimal and clean design and displays a wide range of contemporary art styles.
In recent exhibitions, the gallery space has exhibited sculpture from Steph Cop, photography from the world famous travel photographer Steve McCurry and a wide range of abstract and contemporary art. The art changes frequently and is always impressive, always cutting edge and, furthermore, the gallery is always free to visit!
The David Bloch Gallery is open daily from 10:30 to 13:30 and from 15:30 to 19:30, except Sunday and Monday morning.
There are a lot of things to do in Marrakech, but sometimes the hot Moroccan sun can take its toll. It is in these moments that even the most hardened traveller requires a café to relax, drink a refreshing drink and maybe even grab something to eat. Situated in Kasbah district, close to the entrance of the Saadian Tombs and the Bab Agnaou and Bab er Robb Medina gates, lies the Kasbak Café. The central location of this café, just a few minutes walk from Dar Habiba, makes it the perfect place to grab a cool beverage or something to drink whilst ticking off that tourist checklist.
Spread across 3 floors including an ample terrace, Kasbah café has a large menu of hot and cold drinks, snacks and meals and, our particular favorite, a wide range of delicious milkshakes made form real ice cream and milk. Delicious.
All around the world Morocco is famous for it’s carpets and many travellers land in Marrakech in search of a quality piece of authentic craftwork. But it is rare to find a carpet seller who sells quality products, at fixed prices, without the tourist-spiel. However, the El Wifak Carpet Cooperative, located in the Ensemble Artisanal in Marrakech’s Medina, is one such place.
Located just a five minute walk from the Koutoubia Mosque and Jemaa el-Fna, the Ensemble Artisanal is the antithesis of the Souks: the atmosphere is relaxed and the prices are fixed, so no haggling!! Whilst looking through the many shops at the Ensemble Artisanal, we stumbled across the El Wifak Carpet Cooperative and were welcomed by Mustapha Alaoui; who happily spent over half an hour with us talking about carpets, the cooperative and his life.
Mustapha told us that he used to work in the government’s department for Artisanal craftwork, checking the quality of carpets and grading them based on various criteria. It quickly became clear that this man had a strong passion for and a large knowledge of traditional Moroccan carpets; a passion and knowledge he was enthusiastic to share. He explained that, the historic isolation of rural communities meant that peoples of different areas developed very individual styles. He continued to explain that El Wifak sold three kinds of carpet: Berber ‘Kilim’ carpets, used for throws, rugs or hung on walls, Tapestry carpets, made from wool and Arabic carpets, also made from wool, which tended to be bigger in size. Where the ‘Kilim’ carpets were made in the Atlas Mountains in Berber villages, both the Tapestry and Arabic carpets are made by the El Wifak Cooperative.
El Wifak, Arabic for sharing equally or a group of people in agreement, consists of around 70 women who make the carpets sold in the shop. (Traditionally, in Morocco, women make carpets and pottery whilst Men make jewelry and metal utensils.) The most important this about the cooperative is that everyone profits from all these sales are shared equally and everyone benefits. So, if you are looking for a quality product from a reputable source, if you are looking for an ethically sourced souvenir, or even if you are just put off by haggling in the Souks then this is the place for you.
The Ensemble Artisanal and the El Wifak Cooperative is located at the start (or the end, depending which way round you walk) of the ‘Needle and Thread’ Medina Walk available for free MarrakechRiad app. If you would like to find out more about the free MarrakechRiad app, the ‘Woodworking’ walk or any of our other Medina walks then our Riad staff would be happy to help.
Once you have followed the small sign off Rue Mouassine, worked your way through the alleyways and knocked on the almost anonymous door to be let in, you are greeted with a warm welcome and an amazing interior.
Dar Cherifa can be found in one of the oldest Riads in Marrakech, dating back to the Saadian times. It has recently been lovingly restored by Abdelatif Ben Abdellah, one of the key figures behind the rejuvenation of the Medina. One thing that firsts strikes you about Dar Cherifa is the incredible use of space: there is a mix of bare untouched walls and original craftsmanship, with a unique centerpiece that hangs above the Riad before the blue Moroccan sky. Alongside some of the best Arabic architecture in Marrakech, the art itself is equally unique and is of a very high standard. Yet, unlike the larger contemporary galleries around the world, the fact that Dar Cherifa focuses on local talent makes it all the more unique.
Although the price of the artwork on display cost a fair bit more than your average postcard and probably won’t make it onto your souvenir list, the food and drink is very reasonably priced and we were given space, time and freedom to look round the gallery at our own leisure. Dar Cherifa is a space of culture that is accessible for everyone, well worth a visit.
Thousands of worshippers rose early today, Tuesday 29th of July, for the first day of Eid-el-Fitr to attend morning prayers. Eid, to use the shortened more common name, is a three-day festival that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. In Marrakech, the morning prayers on Eid happen all over the city in Mosques, communal spaces and, less frequently, at home. We were encouraged by local Marrakchis to come to watch the prayers that occurred in an area that runs alongside the Agdal garden, just beyond the Medina Ramparts, a short walk from Bab Agnaou and Bab er Rob. This required an early 6am start, but the experience was undoubtedly worth it. The Route d’Ourika – a wide, usually deserted road that leads to the expanse of land used for the morning prayers – was full of local Muslims, of all ages and backgrounds, a whole community coming together in celebration. The sight was truly heartwarming.
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Watching the morning prayers was a truly spectacular moment; the mid-prayer silence combined with the fresh morning air and low-lying sun to create an unforgettable sublime moment. Although all the locals warmly welcomed us, we decided to keep our distance from the actual event and observed the event from afar. Yet the whole event was truly magnificent, if you are luck enough to be in Marrakech during the next Eid celebrations, we strongly advise you to take this unique opportunity to observe Islam at such a significant time in the year. However, although we were told that everyone would be more than happy to take photos, it is important to be respectful and remember that this is a religious event.
Eid Mubarak everyone, hope you have a great few days!
The Babouche is a traditional slipper found throughout the Arab-Muslim world including Morocco and Marrakech. Usually made from leather and found in a variety of colours, the Babouche comes in various styles ranging from thick soled slippers, often worn by local Marrakchis both in the Medina and in the new town, and more thin soled slippers, designed for indoor wear. Both styles are available for sale throughout Marrakech from the Souks to the Artisane ensemble; however, although the Babouche is a very comfortable shoe and would make a great souvenir or gift, we suggest that maybe you choose sturdier footwear whilst walking around the Medina.
Although the Babouche can be found across the city, whilst following the ‘Leather’ Medina walk we found that there was a particular street in the Souks in which the slippers were especially prevalent. We found a row of shops selling the slippers alongside other leather footwear including flipflops and sandles. Indeed, there is a strange pattern in Marrakech where similar shops, often selling the same products, seem to congregate in the same area: take the juice stands the in the Jemaa el-Fna for example. For us, the congregation of similar shops in Marrakech is a bit of a mystery; but it does seem to provide the perfect metaphor for a society driven by communal living over individual profit, friendship over individual success.
Located just west of the Medina lies the Menara Gardens: a 12th Cent garden consisting of rows of olive groves, tall palm tree and beautiful flowers. These tall trees are occasionally accompanied by a modern addition to the park: the planes flying into the nearby Marrakech Menara Airport. However, far from being a disruptive distraction, these planes fly high above the gardens, merely acting as a reminder of the busy, bustling streets outside this oasis of peaceful serenity.
The centre-point of the Menera Gardens is a green tiled pavilion beside a large pool basin. This large expanse of water, supplied with water directly from the mountains, generates a microclimate that is noticeably cooler than the surrounding streets. We talked to some locals who told us that you can swim in the basin, but no-one ever does. This knowledge perhaps answers the mystery of the rows of benches that face the pool on the opposite side of the pavilion.
On a very clear day, if you are lucky, you can see the Atlas Mountains rising above the gardens. This, however, is not as common as the postcards would have you believe; but that is not to say that the Menara gardens still holds one of the city’s prettiest sights and, as it is just a short distance from the Medina, it is easy to see why the gardens are a popular local spot for picnics or romantic afternoons.
The Menara Gardens are open every day form 8.30am until nightfall and is perhaps best reached via a short taxi ride or a celeche trip. Entrance to the garden themselves is free, but there is a small 10dhs charge for access to the pavilion.
Whilst walking around Marrakech, it is impossible not to notice how many of the doors, window shutters and wooden tables are carefully adorned with exquisite carvings or intricately painted tessellated patterns. These humble items extend far beyond their functional use: the beautiful designs, that are so unique to the region, represent a certain respect for traditional design and artisanal techniques that is prevalent throughout society.
Where it is easy to find small stalls in the Souks inhabited by skilled workers making beautiful wooden item like small boxes or chess sets, items that are perfect for souvenirs, it is perhaps more difficult to find the workshops that make the larger items like the Riad doors, the carved wooden panelling and so on. Located a short walk form the Jemaa el-Fna square, just metres away from Dar Habiba we found Abdil’s workshop. Abdil, a quiet man of little words, invited us into his space to show us his work: we looked through a series of beautifully painted panels that he uses as samples to demonstrate his work to clients before he showed us a carved doorframe he was currently working on for a Riad renovation. He explained that he mainly works for local businesses, but he has in the past also worked for visitors to Marrakech who wanted to take home a unique item to furnish their house. Perhaps you will need more than the basic hand luggage allowance to take home such an item, but a custom-made piece of artisanal history would maybe be the greatest souvenir of all.
Abdil’s shop is located just off the ‘Woodworking’ Medina Walk on the free MarrakechRiad app; but it is well worth the detour, especially if you are interested in bringing home a special memory of Morocco. If you would like to find out more about the free MarrakechRiad app, the ‘Woodworking’ walk or any of our other Medina walks then our Riad staff would be happy to help.
Lying at the northern point of the world famous Souks, hidden down a small alleyway off the main Souk passageways, it is possible to find a row of Iron workshops inhabited by local Marrakchis. Although this spot remains uncharted on the majority of tourist maps and guides, if you download our MarrakechRiad app and follow the ‘Iron and Clay’ Medina walk it is easy to navigate towards this secret corner of Marrakech.
Whilst exploring this area we spoke to Hakim, a local iron worker who invited us into his small workshop to show us the beautiful iron gate he was making. Hakim was reluctant to have his photograph taken (a common occurrence in Marrakech). Indeed, at this point in the Iron and Clay walk, it is important to remember that you are venturing into someone’s place of work; but it is this rare intimacy that makes this small section of the Souk so special: it is possible to glimpse the wonders of Marrakech beyond the tourist gaze as the iron designs that so popular across all of Marrakech and a remain a prominent feature in all of our Riads, are constructed in front of your eyes.
This area of the Souks are just a 5 minutes walk from Riad Cinnamon and Riad Star at the heart of the Medina. If you would like to find out more about the free MarrakechRiad app, the ‘Iron and Clay’ walk or any of our other Medina walks then our Riad staff would be happy to help.
Nestled in the heart of Gueliz you can find the first Church to be built in Marrakech, The Saint Martyrs Church (L’Eglise des Saints Martyrs). As seen in the photo above, The Saint Martyrs Church is located opposite an equally stunning Mosque on Rue el Iman Ali . The face to face, almost symmetrical configuration of these two places of worship is often seen by local Marrakchis as a symbol of inter-religous tolerance in modern Morocco.
This catholic church was built under the French protectorate in 1928; some historians claim that this church inspired the name of Marrakech’s new town, Gueliz. However, this is often disputed by others who claim that the origin of the word comes from the sandstone found in nearby quarries.
If you are visiting Marrakech and would like to attend a mass at the The Saint Martyrs Church, there is a mass every weekday at 6.30pm and a 10.30am mass and a 6.30pm vigil on Sundays. Our Riad staff would be more than happy to phone ahead to check these times are correct.
Bab Er-Robb, which translates as ‘Lord’s Gate’, was used for controlling spirits; nowadays it functions as the main entrance into the Medina. Whereas Bab Er-Robb is perhaps not as visually stunning as it’s close neighbor, Bab Agnaou, it is possible to find a beautiful rose garden and comfortable shady benches less than 10 metres from the gate, along the ramparts.
As the most southern of Marrakech’s 19 gates, the Bab Er-Robb often functions as passageway to the roads that lead out of Marrakech; indeed, less than 200m away from the gate itself you can find the Grand Taxis who offer affordable travel to the Atlas Mountains or to the coastal town of Essaouira. If you are looking to take a Grand Taxi on a day trip or on a long excursion, our Riad staff will be able to give you guidance.
While it’s nearby neighbor Bab er-Robb acts as the official entrance to the city, Bab Agnaou functions as the main entrance to the Kasbah which is the site of the El Badi Palace, the Saadian Tombs and the El Mansouria (the kasbah mosque). Bab Aganou is perhaps the most unique of Marrakech’s nineteen gates and it’s original function, as a royal entrance, is perhaps the reason for this. The corner-pieces are decorated with floral decorations extending around a shell is simply exquisite and this ornamentation is framed by three panels and on these panels is an inscription from the Quran.
Built in the 12th century in the time of the Almohad dynasty, Bab Aganou was originally built in blue-grey stone from Gueliz. Nowadays it has become nearly as red as the ramparts that surround it, thanks to the desert sand brought by the wind.
The Bab Agnaou also marks the finishing point of our ‘Woodworking’ Medina walk available for free on our Marrakech Riad app. If you would like to find out more about the Woodworking walk or any of other Medina walks then our Riad staff would be more than happy to help.
During Ramadan, every night after the sun has set and their fast has been broken, many Muslims go to the mosque for extra prayers called Salat Atarawih. When night falls in Marrakech, many local people quickly descend on the Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech’s largest and oldest mosque, in an effort to find a place to pray inside for the Salat Atarawih prayers. Unfortunately, despite Koutoubia’s impressive size, there is not enough space inside to fit everyone who wants to pray. Therefore, during Ramadan, large speaker systems are installed so crowds of people can pray outside.
These people praying outside need prayer carpets as they have often not prepared for this eventuality. Therefore it is not uncommon to find a few sellers setting up a small stall near to Koutoubia selling carpets. The mass prayer outside Koutoubia during ramadan is a site to behold; even if you are not Muslim, or even if you are not religious, the coming together of a community is truly heartwarming and the silence that falls over the crowd when the prayer begins provides a stunning moment of peace in an otherwise bustling and vibrant city.
Commissioned by Ali Ben Yousef back in 1126, the ramparts that surround Marrakech’s old town have become the symbol of the red city. Standing at 8-10m high they once provided protection for the inhabitants of Marrakech and, until the early 20th century, the 10 gates that give access to the Medina (Marrakech’s old town) were locked every night. Today, the ramparts are a lot more welcoming. You will find that they are often lined with neat hedgerows, rose gardens and benches; indeed they have become a popular meeting and resting place for many locals.
You may notice that the walls themselves are marked with numerous holes. Where you could be fooled into believing that these holes were formed by canon blasts or birds looking for somewhere to nest, they are actually used to place scaffolding for restoration. Of course the ramparts have been extensively restored since their conception; indeed the reconstruction is a continual process as the pisé-cement walls, made of the red earth of the Haouz plains, gradually crumble.
To discover the ramparts you can take a caléche (a hourse drawn cart), for a four-hour ride including walking breaks at points of interest.
The Hamsa symbol, also known as the hand of fatima, can be found all across the Arabic and North African world and you will repeatedly see the amulet throughout your stay in Morrocco. Most Moroccans believe that the Hamsa, or Khomisa as it is known locally, acts as a form of protection from evil, whilst others see it as a sign of good luck. The Khomisa finds it’s origins in the form of a salutation; that is when someone raises their hand to say hello to a friend. It is often said that when one raises their hand in a welcoming gesture it also functions as a kind of protection from his eyes and that is why there is an eye in the middle of every Khmisa.
Elegant jewelry and other exquisite items bearing the Khomisa can be found from stalls around the Jemaa al-Fna and the Artiste Ensamble so you can bring home a piece of Moroccan good luck and protection back home. Alternatively, why not head to Henna Cafe and ask for a Henna Khomisa so that you can wear this beautiful symbol throughout your stay?
The Koutoubia Mosque is the most visited monument in Marrakech. Standing at an impressive 77 meters tall, the mosque’s magnificent minaret tower dominates the city’s skyline providing a useful landmark to tourists and locals alike. However, perhaps one of the best perspectives of the minaret is from the Koutobia Gardens. As you enter the garden through the main gate, your eye is guided across a large fountain and along a wide path towards the minaret as it extends into the rich Moroccan sky. The effect is truly enchanting.
The Koutoubia Gardens, also known as Lalla Hassna Park, can be found right next to Jemaa el-Fna, at the heart of the Medina and within a short walking distance from all of our Riads. The park itself spreads across two hectares and provides a pleasant green paradise of immaculately trimmed rose bushes, perfectly symmetrical walkways and plenty of shade-covered benches; it is easy to see why it is a favourite resting spot for many local Marrakchi people. At the centre of the park is a Koubba (a white dome) which is the tomb of Lalla Zohra, a daughter of a liberated slave. Legend tells that she was a women during the day, but transformed into a dove at night to escape from the unwanted affections of her old master. From this, she knew all the secrets of Marrakech. Yassine, a local resting in the Koutoubia Gardens, told us that many Moroccan’s still believe this story to be true and some even name their children after her in dedication.
The park is free and open to the public at all times, even during the evening and night when the gardens and the mosque are spectacularly transformed using subtle and effective lighting. We suggest you try to visit the Koutoubia Gardens both during the day and after nightfall so that you can truly understand the magic of such a wonderful place.
About 30 kilometres to the South of the red city of Marrakech in the direction of Lalla Takerkoust lake, a small festival takes place in memory of the saint Moulay Abdellah Ben Hussain. This festival is called the Tamaslouht Musem (festival) and Tbourida (fantasia) and it occurs on the last week of January.
On the first day or Tamaslouht, occurs the Tbourida, or fantasia. This is where the various clans of Marrakech have the opportunity to compete against each other using Berber horses, which are known throughout Morocco for their strength and beauty.
The competition determines the strength of the relationship between rider and horse, and the coordination skills of a score of riders representing a clan. The riders leader, called a Cheikh or Kaid is responsible for organising the clan into a circular ring (called a Serba) and instructing them to watch carefully for his signal once the competition begins.
When the competition is in full effect, the riders must be ready at a moments notice to recognise the Kaid’s secret signal, so that they can rally their horses shoot the gunpowder they use (called Baroud) into the air in complete unison.
Both rider and horse don the colours and style of their respective tribes, and where in centuries past these competitions were engaged with only by men, in modern times women too are allowed to try their hand.
After the first day of Tbourida draws to a close, festival goers then join the Musem, involving children’s games and circus acrobatics. Another important feature that plays into effect over the course of the four days is the trance-like music of Gnawa and Issawa, which is played ritually throughout the Musem. This music is intended to incite a spiritual and calming atmosphere, whereupon festival goers can invoke the blessing of the saint Moulay Abdellah Ben Hussain.
The Tamaslouht Musem and Tbourida festival, and many others like it are commonplace in the ancient city of Marrakech. Explore the red city today in one of our luxury Riad Hotels.
On the south side of the main square there is a concentration of banks most of which have ATM machines. One of the best known is the French owned Societe Generale on the main Bab Agnou shopping street. Alternatively walk in the direction of the Koutoubia mosque to the adjacent Rue Moulay Ismail
A long established family business this is the largest and best carpet shop in Marrakech located opposite the Ben Yussef fountain behind the Ben Yussef Mosque.
Shopping here is a pleasant and relaxing experience. You will be stunned at the Aladinns cave behind this modest front door. Most carpets are labelled with a price (turn over the corner to see the ticket). Our App users benefit from a 10% discount on presentation of the rewards page.
Larger items can be shipped anywhere in the world.
Enjoy one of the best tasting menus in Marrakech in a relaxed atmosphere either in the spacious dining room or at a table by the pool.
Try the cous cous which is among the best in Morocco.
Among the traders in central medina district near the Sidi Abdelaziz shrine you will find English expat Jo from Essex and her wonderful boutique Rock the Casbah.
Bags scarves bracelets postcards and a variety of distinctive souvenirs. Look out for the donkey!
Some of the most amusing and remarkable characters in the Medina are the Taureg traders who offer tinkets and jewelry as well as art and antiquities.
One of our favourites is the charming Abdou (to the right) who will always offer a mint tea and smile, whether or not you buy from the shop on Riad Zitoun street.
Undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in Marrakech. Located inside English owned Riad mk in the L’Ksour district of the Medina. A fusion of Moroccan and modern french cuisine, five course tasting menu at 650 Dirhams. Chef Omar visits each table at the end of the evening which is a nice touch.
Il lomoni, or to give its full title, il giardino dei limoni, the lemon garden was newly opened in 2013. Classic Italian with the attentive owners usually on the premises. The bohemian atmosphere is set with a Bob Dylan poster in the lobby and continues throughout.
Simple high quality food well presented and reasonably priced. Try the ravioli limoni with a light lemon sauce. Desserts are also a speciality
Fabulous, Italian owned and run and without doubt one of the top restaurants in Marrakech. Set in a spacious and beautifully designed Riad courtyard, perfect for any special occasion.
Gourmet food and outstanding service are the hallmarks of this restaurant. Not surprisingly classic Italian dishes feature heavily on the menu, there are also Moroccan favourites and seasonal specials.