Nestled away in the middle Atlas Mountains, only a 45 minute drive from Marrakech lies the enchanting Ourika Valley.
When you think of skiing, perhaps Morocco isn’t one of the first countries that springs to mind. However as the snow builds in the winter months, Ski resorts higher up the peaks of the Atlas Mountains come alive as tourists flock to challenge themselves on the runs.
Yet it’s during summer months that the Ourika valley reveals its brightest colours. As the winter ice begins to thaw, the waterfalls of Ourika spring to life and become remarkable sites of natural wonder.
After arriving just a few days before in Marrakech, resident video blogger Jamie Horton and I quickly learnt that tourists and Marrakshi locals alike were flocking to the falls to bask in the beauty of the valley and of course to seek some respite from the intense Moroccan sun. So we left the red city to learn more.
The first stop on the excursion is the village of Setti Fatma. It lies in a picturesque location along the banks of the River Ourika and you will find restaurant’s and cafe’s scattered across the river banks. On your hike back down after visiting the waterfall this is the perfect spot to enjoy a light lunch. Many of the dinner tables are placed in shallow water, making for a wonderfully atmospheric meal that will leave you with cool toes!
As we begin our ascent, following the trails that lead up to the waterfalls we pass through a patchwork of souvenir shops and cafe restaurants. Nestled in the leafy greens of the mountains, we are interested to see that locals channel the icy waters of the waterfall using aqueducts to keep the cafe refreshments cool from the Moroccan sun.
After a short upwards hike, Jamie and I have reached the Setti Fatma waterfalls. Over bottles of Fanta lemon we look back down upon the way we have came and the views of the flatland surrounding the Atlas are truly spectacular.
The owner of the cafe next to the Setti Fatma waterfall introduces himself as Tarik and he informs me as the temperature in nearby Marrakech starts to build over the summer months, more and more Marrakshi locals seek respite in the cascades. Both Jamie and I are native to the country famed for it’s rain and bad weather and the slow realisation creeps over us that if local Moroccans can handle the 20 degree drop in temperature by holding themselves under the icy cascades of Setti Fatma, then so must we.
Both Jamie and I tried to maintain outwardly appearances of masculinity. I’d like to think we held that facade for at least a little while.
A journey to the Ourika valley is perfect for a one day excursion for those staying in Marrakech. The 45 minutes by car that it takes to reach the valley are spent on roads that wind around the stunning landscape of the Atlas mountains so the journey there is breathtaking in itself. Excursions can be booked hassle-free through our luxury Riad hotels, all of which are perfectly located in the heart of the Marrakech Medina.
During your visit to Morocco you will discover Marrakech’s central square (Jemaa al-Fnaa) to be a sensory overload of sight, taste and sound whether you visit at night or at day.
One stall that you might hear before you see however, are the various CD sellers that are scattered about Jemaa al-Fnaa. As well as selling a variety of local music that’s impossible to buy hard copies of in Europe, come night and day they will be setting the rhythm of the square, filling the air with the sounds of Gnawa and the Arab world.
After working with a team of international journalists and DJ’s on a radio station in Oslo, Norway I’ve become keen to find new and interesting sounds that don’t make it onto the airwaves in the British Isles.
So after approaching one of the stalls I was delighted when the stall owner, whose name was Jalid came over to tell me more about the types of music the stalls collect. Jalid informs me that the stall collects Western sounds as well as Arabic, Berber, Gnawa and traditional Arabic music from artist’s hailing from all over North Africa.
Jalid goes on to tell me that in the 5 years he has been working in Jemaa al-Fnaa he has developed a love for house music. So after a long week’s work Jalid and his friends exchange the timeless traditional characteristics of the Marrakech Medina for the bright lights and modern bustle of the new town of Guiliez, in search of discos and contemporary music.
During your stay in Marrakech, strike up conversation with one of the many music salesmen scattered through the city square, they will be delighted to hear you take an interest in the native sounds of North Africa. They will also be more than happy to recommend an artist for you and a CD from a local musician makes for an eye opening gift for a friend back home.
Finally, don’t be too shy to recommend some music from your own corner of the world to the salesmen themselves! Music is their passion and they will only thank you for it. Jemaa al-Fnaa is the beating heart of the red city of Marrakech and is only a 10 minute walk from the luxury Riad Star.
As the sun set’s over the central square of Marrakech, performers, magicians and musicians descend on Jemaa al-Fnaa to perform for the thriving crowds that circulate within the area. One group of musicians who call themselves the ‘Argan group’ have become particularly popular in the square for the atmosphere they create with their array of percussion instruments.
Hailing from different Berber villages scattered around the outskirts of the red city, the musicians meet with their instruments in the centre of Marrakech to captivate the crowds of the Medina.
The Argan Group’s style reflects that of which is typical in the Rif Valley (Berber: Arif Valley) in the very Northern reaches of Morocco.
Although it’s impossible to understand the flurry of Berber and Arabic singing that pierces the smoky air of the square, just watching the group of musicians keep the steady cadence of their music whilst sharing out glasses of Moroccan mint tea and ushering curious passersby closer into the circle is a truly remarkable sight.
I quickly learn that the only way to speak with Argan group and find out more about them is by accepting to dance with the members inside the circle! After learning to dance in the traditional Berber style I learn from a man whose name is Omar that the group have been playing together since 1998 and as well as street performances they are often asked to play at weddings and other special celebrations.
The central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa is only a 5 minute walk from the Riad Dar Habiba. As you discover the street performers of Marrakech don’t be surprised to be asked to dance along too! In this corner of the world it is often not often to simply sit alongside the musicians as the line between performer and spectator is often blurred!
Situated in the middle of Marrakech, the central square (Jemaa El Fnaa) truly can be described as the beating heart of the city and a day spent wandering through the groups of performers, artists and musicians can indeed be thirsty work.
So when you’re ready for refreshment there really is no other option than to try a glass of orange juice from one of the countless street vendors that take up shop daily within the square.
All the oranges are freshly picked, sourced locally and have a richer taste compared to what you might expect back in the United Kingdom. So for only 4 Dirham (30 pence) a glass this is my first port of call when the Moroccan heat gets too intense for me.
In the picture above is my vendor of choice, whose name is Abdel. His stall was the first one I encountered in the five minutes it takes me to walk from the Riad I’m staying in to the central square.
As it’s currently the month of Ramadan in the Muslim world last night he shared some of his chebakia (a Moroccan sesame cookie shaped into a flower) with me after I enjoyed a glass of his orange juice.
This level of hospitality is commonplace in Marrakech, even though though I’m sure he doesn’t remember my name!
For a period of five days, between 17th and 21st of June, Marrakech will be hosting a cultural event of music diversity. At the Folk Art Festival of Marrakech, one of the oldest events of such amplitude, you will see important Moroccan bands like Reggada, Ahwach, Ahidous, Dekka Elmarrakchia, Houara, Elguedra, Rakba, S’kel. The purpose of this festival is to celebrate the unification of the 16 regions that formed the kingdom beginning with 1960, the religious and rural way of living, through songs, dances and storytelling, with the participation of more than 400 artists.
Marrakech is the city chosen for this festival due to its good geographical position and the touristic attractions that formed its reputation, and the event will unfold in different places like El Badi Palace, Stade El Harti, the Menara Gardens and also another dozen stages.
If you are interested in the Moroccan culture and want to experience unique and unforgettable moments, you should consider staying in a Marrakech riad. These places are filled with history and culture, a true work of art of Moroccan craftsmen where tradition and modern touches combine beautifully.
The road from Marrakech to Orika Valley’s Setti Fatma is long, straight and stunning. What starts as a long snowcapped penciled horizon above the steering wheel slowly begins to engulf the whole front and side windscreens as you approach the colossal High Atlas Mountains.
A small village that is not too far from your Marrakech riad and not too touristy Setti Fatma has beautiful cafes alongside bags of character, charm and relaxation plus is the door to 7 mesmerizing waterfalls. Aside from these joyous cascades, the routes up to the waterfalls are littered with small but wonderfully bohemian cafes, built intricately into the mountainous banks of the many streams coming down from the mountains. Intriguing looking artisans of varying craft are spaced randomly along the paths, many using very basic tools to make their trade.
During the summer, these cafes are a hive of local Marrakechi people escaping the medina for some pacifying tranquility whilst engulfed in these imposing yet very inviting mountains. Visiting these café’s is a blissful experience and a great way to spend a relaxing sunny afternoon alongside the wild monkeys and chilled ambient staff while the more energetic group members clamber the rocky paths up to the water source.
For an excursion from Riad Cinnamon, Riad Papillon, or Dar Habiba the Riad staff will be able to arrange a transport at very reasonable prices. (around 800 dirhams for two people to have exclusive use of an air-conditioned car with driver).
Hiring a guide for around 30 dirhams per hour to take you up to the waterfalls is a very good way to discover, in-depth, this fantasia. The shortest waterfall is reachable within an hour and a half, the longest is a whole day trip.
For a short day trip from marrakech, Sitti Fatima’s cafes make for a great visit from this grand historical city and a year round must see.
One of the delights of Magical Marrakech is a traditional mint tea which is usually made from seven or more mint and herb varieties. What could be more refreshing as you relax in your Marrakech Riad.
The video above shows a young man called Mohamed who takes care of his family mint and herb stall in the Marrakech. We are delighted to support the local community in the Marrakech souks near to our Riad hotels. There is no better way to gain an appreciation of this ancient culture than to stay in the heart of the old town Medina.
Just minutes from our Marrakech Riads, the Jemaa al Fnaa square in Marrakech is famous for freshly squeezed orange juice.
Aziz has been supplying delivering oranges to the square for many years. Ably assisted by his team- Hamid and Ibrahim in his efforts to supply Fresh oranges grown in the Marrakech region destined to the quench the thirst of tourists in the heat of the Marrakech summer.
Recently opened cafe on located on Riad Larrouss street, one of the main north-south routes through the Marrakech old town.
A series of comfortable salons on various levels but what’s really special about this place is the panoramic roof terrace with 360 degree views around the medina and across to the Ben Youssef Mosque from which the Cafe takes its names.
Basic Moroccan fare, simply presented at reasonable prices. This tidy little restaurant is just a short walk from our Riad Cinnamon.
The City of Marrakech is now recycling paper, glass, plastics and cans.
If you are visiting Marrakech, for the ultimate Marrakchi experience stay in the old town Medina. Our Marrakech Riad hotels are sensitively breathing new life into an ancient community and offer a fantastic opportunity to experience this centuries old culture at first hand. Make your reservation today!
In the year 1912 the French government officially annexed the majority of the kingdom of Morocco via the treaty of Fes. This treaty was the culmination of creeping European influence over what was for a time one of the only non-European controlled parts of Africa at the time, it laid out in direct terms France and Spains control over the country of Morocco.
Marrakech found itself in the French part of Morocco, one of the primary things this meant of course that Marrakech developed a link with the French language that can still be seen today and indeed in the vast majority of Morocco as all signs are in both French and Arabic and the fact that a high number of individuals speak both Arabic and French in most of the service sector as well as in general, indeed the Moroccan dialect of Arabic has been said to be a mixture of Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish, reflecting Morocco’s rich heritage.
French colonial influence is not only seen in the language used by Moroccans but by the actual city of Marrakech itself, the primary example of this is the area of Gueliz which was built by the French and the name is thought to originate from a corruption of the French word eglise, meaning church. This was due to the fact that the French new town was based around the church and therefore the area was associated the locals used the building to refer to the area in general. This area in particular shows particular influences from French architecture with large boulevards and French style cafés, restaurants and bars.
Particular examples of a French style café in Gueliz is the Grande Café de poste and in the medina Café France. Both are old colonial buildings that as businesses have decided to retain the colonial aesthetic in order to attract customers and achieve a certain ambience. To summarise although Morocco became independent in 1956 the cultural heritage of French colonial rule is still very much evident from the fact that the language is still dominant to the fact that one can sit down in a Continental style café and have a café au lait. Consequently Marrakech has a very interesting mixture of ambience as one can in a 10 minute walk go from the archetype of North African towns that the Medina represents to European style boulevards and Cafés that would not look completely amiss in Spain or the South of France, in the shape of the area of Gueliz. This contributes to making Marrakech one of the most vibrant and interesting cities in the world.
If you are planning a visit to Marrakech don’t miss the opportunity to stay in a Riad hotel in the vibrant old town, just minutes walk from the celebrated Jemma al Fnaa Square.
The Central area of the Marrakech Medina around the Ben Yussef Mosque is the ‘museum quarter’ with a great collection of museums and historic attractions.
The oldest building in Marrakech, the Almoravid Kouba is open to the public and features sone of the most remarkable architectural decoration in the whole of the islamic world.
The largest and most important museum in town is the Musee de Marrakech (Marrakech Museum) which houses a permanent collection of art as well as cultural artefacts including ancient carpets and Berber wedding jewellery.
Adjacent is the Ben Yussef Maddrassa an extraordinary and atmospheric building which was an active Koranic School until relatively recently. In our view this is the most interesting of all the historic monuments in Marrakech.
Then, in the same street, there is the Dar Bellarj foundation which is currently showcasing ‘perfumes of morocco’.
A couple of minutes to the North is the outstanding ‘Maison de la Photographie‘ which disays a collection of historic collection of photos giving a window into the history and traditions of he Berber tribes. There is also a video room with rare footage.
The most recent addition is the ‘Musee de l’art de vivre’ which brings alive some of he social history of Morocco, at the time of writing a fantastic of Kaftans is on display with explanations placing them in their historical and cultural context.
Our Riad Cinnamon is located right in the heart of the Museum District. The best of Marrakech is literally on your doorstep!
The Elite is a landmark Cafe on the Avenue Mohamed V in the new town of Guiliez not far from Marrakech Plaza.
A pleasant and dependable Cafe serving a basic breakfast and lunchtime standards like sandwiches and ice creams, the service is particularly good. You will enjoy the air conditioned interior in summer and the South facing exterior seating in the coolest winter months.
Marrakech is a fantastic place to celebrate a birthday. Kindly give our Riad staff a days notice and we will always be pleased to offer guests a complimentary birthday cake. These are normally simple and delicious sponges baked in the Riad kitchen.
The arabic word Rais usually means ships captain, the berber language has borrowed this word to describe the leader of a group, like this one, that play with the traditional Ribab instrument. Recorded live in the Jemma al Fnaa square Marrakech at the time of the Marrakech Film festival 2011, note the giant outdoor screen in the background.
There a many beautiful hotels and Apartments in Marrakech, as there are all over the world. The really unique opportunity when visiting the Red City is to experience a traditional Riad courtyard home.
Mostafa Elbahja is the self appointed NUMBER ONE Babbouch (snails) vendor in the Jemma al Fnaa square, in this film he explains in comical fashion the health benefits of eating his snails marinaded in spices like the cinnamon, ginger, cumin, rosemary and aniseed. Orange juice sellers provide the backdrop as Mostafa tells us how his snails are good for everything from diabetes to back pain!
The magical square is full of personality, and personalities! Reserve accommodation today to experience it at first hand.
Hassan the young wood turner works on a street corner near to the Ben Yussef Mosque in Central Marrakech just a few hundred yards from Riad Cinnmaon. His traditional North African lathe is powered by his right hand while his left hand and feet control his tools, this is in contrast to a European pole lathe which is foot powered.
The busy life of the street does not disturb his concentration as he turns a babies rattle in minutes. Hassan is always delighted to demonstrate for visitors, and a modest tip is of course welcome! Make your reservation today to experience the ancient medina in an authentic boutique hotel.
We wish you all a Happy Eid al Adha, November 7th 2011.
Eid al Adha, is celebrated on the 10th day of the last month of the lunar islamic calendar approximately 70 days after the end of ramadan.
We are proud to have funded and helped organise the start up of Henna Cafe a not for profit project ‘giving back’ to the welcoming Marrakech Community.
The Cafe is located not far from Riad Papillon near the Dar El Bashash taxi rank. It serves an inexpensive range of drinks and snacks with a menu including some Moroccan specialities which visitors to Marrakech do not normally get the chance to experience. Try the ‘Khlear’ lamb sandwich, great value at just 50 dirhams. There are also (subject to availability) traditional cakes baked by local women in their homes, delicious with mint tea!
In addition, Henna Cafe offers two pattern books of traditional Henna tattoos using pure henna with no additives. Simple designs at 50 or 100 Dirhams are available immediately. Sophisticated designs at 400 Dirhams plus are by appointment at the Cafe allowing access to some of the top wedding henna artists in Marrakech.
The Henna Cafe Project is not for profit, we hope to be able to fund education and development projects as well as a soup kitchen. There are already free English, German and French language classes running at Henna Cafe with more than 80 people benefitting. Basic literacy classes in arabic are planned to start shortly. Below are some of the first English students pictured as they arrive for a lesson in the ground floor room of the Henna Cafe.
We are grateful to our guests at our Riad hotels who have been wonderfully supportive recommending us to family and friends. With so few rooms at each Riad we have, more often than we would have liked, had to explain that we were fully booked for returning guests preferred dates. It seems our Marrakech Riads are not such a well kept secret as they used to be.
It was not easy finding for the right Riad to ‘join the family’ a painstaking process since, as one of our Moroccan friends puts it, ‘you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince!’ Eventually, after years of searching we were thrilled to find a beautiful light spacious Riad in the Central Medina with delightful features including intricately carved plaster decoration and Cedar woodwork in an Art Deco style. We instinctively loved the blend of European and Moroccan architecture and it was impossible to miss a quality of craftsmanship the full significance of which was only to become clear later. Of course the house needed more than a little TLC after years of neglect but there was no doubt about it we had found a STAR so the day we got the keys we lost no time registering the name Riad Star with the Marrakech authorities.
Our central medina district is full of history. Guests at Riad Cinnamon enjoy the luxury of staying only a few hundred metres from three of the most important monuments in Marrakech, the Almoravid Kouba (believed to be the oldest building in the Medina), the Koranic School or Medersa attached to the Ben Yussef Mosque and the Marrakech Museum.
The history of the Museum is fascinating, built as a Palace in classic Andalusian style (the history of North Africa and Southern Spain being inextricably intertwined) it was only recently restored as a museum which opened in 1997. In fact the Palace complex extended further to the north than the current museum and included what are now a number of elegant independent dwellings accessed from Derb Alilich our newly discovered Riad Star being one of them.
Meeting our new neighbours was a delight, they were kind enough to show us inside their homes, atmospheric Riad courtyards with elegant proportions and suites of rooms decorated with zellige of Fez tiles under cedar wood ceilings. It was talking to a neighbour that we made an amazing discovery. ‘Did you know that a big star used to live in your house?’ Our new friend, born in the street but now retired explained that in the 1940’s when Pachah Thami El Glaoui was at the hight of his powers the Palace that is now the museum belonged to the Pachah’s family and the renowned Josephine Baker lived in the Palace complex. Miss Baker’s life story is truly remarkable, she rose rapidly from humble beginnings in St Louis, Missouri to superstardom in Paris in the 1920’s and 30’s becoming a French national and distinguishing herself in the French Resistance as well as the American civil rights movement. Fame and status notwithstanding it is for her human warmth that Josephine is remembered in Derb Alilich. The following short film dating from many years later in 1974 gives a glimpse of possibly why.
The Koutoubia mosque was built in the 12th century under the Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur to be the crowning glory of his North African based empire, it is indeed today still the largest mosque to be found in Marrakech today. The structure stands 69 metres tall towering over the surrounding city, an impressive structure by any account. However it was during the period of imperialism under the French that it was decreed that no structure in the rest of marrakech was permitted to be taller than the Koutoubia, thereby sealing the Mosque’s place in Marrakech’s architectural history. The name of the Koutoubia derives from the Arabic for library as the mosque used to be surrounded by sellers of religious manuscripts thereby gaining the mosque literary connotations that led to it being quasi designated a library. Although the actual mosque itself does not permit non-muslims to enter a non-muslim can still observe the majesty of the mosque from the outside of the Building.
The prayer hall within the mosque is one of the largest of its kind and has the capacity to house up to 25,00 people at any one time. Adjacent to the mosque are archaeological remains of the original mosque which it is believed was rebuilt to correct its orientation to Mecca. These remains are accessible to visitors and can be seen through glazed protective cases. The fabulous Rose gardens adjacent to the Mosque are an oasis of calm in the city used by locals and tourists alike, a must for any Marrakech holiday.
Stay in one of our luxury Marrakech Riads, the perfect base to explore the ancient red city.
The wonderful quality of light in Marrakech is famous, but don’t overlook the pleasure of sitting out under the Marrakech Moon.
The image here is the first moon after the holy month of ramadan 2011. Our Riads in Marrakech provide the perfect base for your holiday adventure.
Here at Riads Cinnamon and Papillon we buy as much as possible of our food from local suppliers. We shop daily visiting our regular stall and shop owners. Their personal relationships directly back to the farmer mean that we know where our food has been right from the minute that it has been picked till the moment it lands on your table. We take great pride in the fact that we endeavour to support local businesses and individuals who not only help us to provide our guests and staff fantastic fresh food but help contribute to the local economy.
This photo shows Hassan our supplier of the majority of our fruit and veg and Yassine the guardian of Riad Papillon placing an order with him. Hassan has been working in his shop for over 10 years now since he took it over from his father. He has been supplying Riad Papillon since we opened in 2009. Early each morning he goes to the outskirts of the city where he and other traders purchase fruit and vegetables from farmers based around Marrakech. So why not book a room with one of our riads today, safe in the knowledge that you’ll not only be spending an amazing time in an amazing place but also helping local people.
The Saadian tombs in Marrakech’s medina are the resting place of the former royal dynasty of Morocco, built in the 16th century by Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur they were lost for many years only to be rediscovered by archaeologists in 1917. Since then they have become an integral part of any culture or history fans visit to Marrakech. The tombs themselves are a collection of archways and small buildings housing the caskets of former rulers from the Saadi dynasty, this dynasty was so opulent and rich that they were in fact known as the golden Saadis, it is perhaps then no surprise that their tombs show such wonderful artwork and craftsmanship. There are thought to be around 60 of the members of the dynasty buried in the tombs and after their rediscovery the tombs underwent a renovation by Beaux-arts service, therefore what the visitor views is more recent renovation than 500 year old tomb, however this allows for the tombs to be both very aesthetically pleasing as well as having a great historical significance. Marrakech was indeed the capital of the Saadian sultanate and it is therefore unsurprising that their tombs should be located here, although Marrakesh is no longer the capital of Morocco one certainly gets a view on the historic importance of this city by visiting the tombs and a comprehension of their place in Morocco’s heritage.
The most famous room of the tombs is the 12 columned chamber and it is in this room that the grave of the Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur is believed to be buried. The tombs are very cheap to enter with a regular adult costing less than £1, this and the tombs proximity to the square Jemaa el Fna mean that for any true culture or history fan the tombs are a must. Our Riads are situated in the heart of the Medina, a mere 5 minute walk from Jemaa el Fna and 10 minutes from the tombs, allowing a great starting point to explore the medina from, as well as providing top class service and quality. Book a room now and you too can become a satisfied customer and sample the delights of our Riads and Marrakech.
Opening times: Wednesday to Monday from 8h00 to 11h45 and from 14h30 to 17h45
Before you travel to Marrakech check out our new online store! When you make purchases in the store Amazon pay an introduction fee of at least five percent. Marrakech Riad donate all these commissions to Moroccan charities and development projects particularly those helping women and children.
Brush up on your arabic with a bargain phrase book, pay special attention to the numbers and you may overhear something that saves you money in the Souks!
Prepare for you trip by selecting the guide book to meet your needs or grab a copy of the outstanding Rough Guide map of the medina.