‘Arsat’ is a term coined by the 19th century writer and Islamic scholar Hocine El Yamani, it’s meaning is to indicate the urban spaces which were cultivated and transformed into botanical gardens by the order of the kings of the Alaouite dynasty.
These gardens have held a key significance in Moroccan culture for many centuries, from acting as a space in which to debate local political matters to being a location in which families and friends can organise a N’zaha (a picnic ritual involving tanjia, tea and Marrakshi songs).
As the gardens sprung up in the times of the Alaouites, they took on the names of individuals of significance, such as Arsat Moulay, Arsat Salam, Arsat Ghandafi, Arsat Naciri, Arsat Louarzazi in the red city of Marrakech. Other times however, the gardens take on the names of particular fruits that grow amongst their leaves, such as Arset Zitoun (olives), Arsat Lhamed (lemon), Arsat Nkhel (palms) and Arsat Limoun (orange).
The notion of the Arsat can mean a variety of things for different people, but one unifying feature is that the gardens are a space of serenity and of harmony. Our luxury Riad Hotels are but a short walk from any one of the Arsat botanical gardens scattered across the red city of Marrakech.
Scattered throughout the Medina you will see the many mint salesmen going about their daily trade. Mint is an absolutely key staple in Moroccan society, used in marinades for a variety of dishes and of course in the traditional mint tea.
And the central hub of the red city is of course no exception to this. In the north-western area of Jemaa al-Fnaa on the tip of Rue de la Koutoubia you will discover a congregation of salesmen all specialising in the mint trade.
For around 50 Dirhams (£3.73) you can pick up a bag of dry Moroccan mint leaves to take back home with you. This is a commodity that’s truly unique to this corner of the world and there are a myriad of different culinary uses for this intensely flavoursome ingredient.
However after trying a couple of glasses of Moroccan mint tea for yourself, the only thing you’ll be wanting to do with it is to use it to make your own! Read our mint recipe here for all the relevant information.
Perched on the southern corner of Jemaa al-Fnaa, just off Rue Riad Zitoun Kdim you will find Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier.
Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier is one of two café-restaurants that due to their larger than average size have a distinct prominence within the central square of the red city. No matter where you are standing in Jemaa al-Fnaa, you will usually be able to see the decorated signs of Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier or the Hotel Restaurant Café du France (the second of the two establishments) through the jostling crowds of the square.
At Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier you will discover a selection of traditional Moroccan refreshments. During the day this venue is ideal for enjoying a glass of mint tea, which at 20 Dirhams (£1.49) isn’t the cheapest that’s on offer within the confines of Jemaa al-Fnaa. However the unique ambiance of this grand café-restaurant with it’s towering, high ceilings and original Moroccan design makes it more than worthwhile.
It is perhaps in the night that the Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier shows its most magnificent colours. If you traverse through the downstairs foyer of Le Grand Balcon and climb to the establishments roof you will discover a long, stretching terrace that is bustling with tourists and locals alike, taking photos of the food stalls being set up and generally absorbing the splendour of the square.
As the Marrakshi sun begins to set this is the ideal time to try a bottle of Hawai soft drink, at 15 Dirhams (£1.12) it again isn’t the cheapest drink you will find in the square. Yet atop the roof terrace there is nothing quite as refreshing as enjoying a bottle of it and observing newcomers to the red city watch in wonderment as the musicians, magicians and acrobats pour out into the ancient space of Jemaa al-Fnaa to perform for the passers by.
Le Grand Balcon leaves its doors open right through the late evening and is but walking distance from the luxury Riad Habiba.