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.
On the south-western side of the central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa you will discover a large post office (Poste Maroc).
Sending a postcard or letter is usually cheap, but in Morocco it is especially so. For less than 10 Dirham (around 70p) you can send a postcard to anywhere in Europe. The yellow post boxes are also found out of the front of the building; a top tip from us is that there is no international postbox, so no confusion.
Jemaa al-Fnaa is the beating heart of the Marrakech Medina and is but a 10 minute stroll from the newly opened luxury Riad Star.
Dried Moroccan fruits and dates in particular are not only key staples in Moroccan cuisine, they have a rich cultural and historical significance that goes back many thousands of years.
As early as 6,000 BC there is evidence to suggest that the date palm was cultivated and harvested in North Africa and the Middle East not only for its sweet and delicious fruit. As well as the nutritional benefits of the date palm, rope, lumber and other household items could be crafted from this important staple.
Within a religious context, the date palm carries significance in the holy Qur’aan and is particularly important in the religious month of Ramadan in the Muslim world. In this month of fasting, dates are often the first food to be eaten as the evenings fast is broken.
In the ancient square of Jemaa al-Fnaa you will discover an outstanding array of dates and dried fruits. As you explore the labyrinths which are the souk districts, there can be no better to keep yourself energised than by snacking on this sacred delicacy.
On my walk from the Riad Dar Habiba to the red city’s central square I pass this date salesmen almost every day. I buy a small bag of dates a few times a week for only a few Dirham’s and it provides a great opportunity for me to practice my Darija Arabic!
During your stay in Morocco, sampling some of these delicious fruits for yourself is something you cannot afford to miss!
A late night stroll through Marrakech’s central square, Jemaa al-Fnaa will lead you to encounter all kinds of the weird and the wonderful.
However particularly towards the Eastern side of Jemaa al-Fnaa you will discover many Marrakshi locals selling unusual trinkets.
Unlike the souvenirs you will find in the nearby postcard shops, for a few Dirhams you can have a craftsman fashion you a key-ring with a distinct purpose: to ward off the evil eye.
The evil eye is said to have the capability to affect anyone, however those of us who are deemed highly attractive need to take the most caution. As the risk of suffering from the ill-effects of the evil eye grow in proportion to ones beauty.
Sacred talismans such as those sold in the square of Jemaa al-Fnaa have been used by certain people in Moroccan culture for centuries to ward off the evil eye. And for a loved one back home a souvenir such as this makes for a gift that is absolutely unique to this corner of the world.
Jemaa al-Fnaa is an ancient space that is humming with interesting legends such as this one and is easily accessible via a 10 minute stroll from the luxury Riad Papillon.
On the Eastern side of Jemaa al-Fnaa you will find Aqua, a quaint Italian pizzeria in the heart of the Medina.
Depending on the length of your stay in the red city of Marrakech, you might discover that the intensely flavourful local tajine’s leave you longing for the more familiar tastes of home.
If this is the case Aqua restaurant is ideal. You will discover a range of pizza’s from 4 Formaggi to Americano, most priced at a reasonable 60 Dirhams (£4.52) and all using locally sourced ingredients which give this Italian cuisine an interesting North African twist.
Atop Aqua’s roof terrace you can look out and follow the square of Jemaa al-Fnaa coming to life as the sun sets over the red city whilst enjoying comforts closer to home. Aqua is conveniently situated in the heart of the Marrakech Medina and only a 10 minute walk from the Riad Cinnamon.
The 7 Saints is a cosy Café-Restaurant in the southern reaches of the central square of Marrakech, Jemaa al-Fnaa.
At the 7 Saints you will be able to find traditional Moroccan cuisine as well as good variety of European dishes such as panini’s and pizzas.
It’s easy to glance over the name, ‘7 Saints’ and not think anything of it, however the restaurant takes it’s title from 7 holy men who came to live in the red city in times long gone past. Under the Berber Almoravid dynasty, Marrakech became the capital of an Empire that spread through North Africa and into Spain.
In this time of great prosperity and opulence, the red city became a cultural and religious magnet. Over time 7 Holy saints of Islam came to live and die within the ramparts of Marrakech. The significance of this is huge, if you were to ask Marrakshi locals which city they hail from in Darija Arabic, in passing some would reply, “from the 7 Saints” as opposed to Marrakech.
Intriguing local history aside, the 7 Saints is the ideal place to cool down and enjoy some refreshments after a day spent under the rays of the fierce Moroccan sun. Unlike many restaurants in the square the 7 Saints is equipped with mist sprays and excellent WiFi.
Ask a waiter for a café special, for only 10 Dirhams (£0.75) you will be presented with a rich, creamy and slightly sweet local coffee that makes the perfect partner to a Moroccan salad.
The 7 saints is a five minute stroll from the Riad Dar Habiba, a traditional Moroccan Riad converted into a luxury hotel, conveniently located directly in the heart of the Marrakech Medina.
If you speak to anyone who has visited Marrakech, you can be sure that they will mention the red city’s famous Souk District. Located in the very heart of the Medina, just north of Jemaa al-Fnaa and a five minute stroll from Riad Dar Habiba, Cinnamon, Papillon and Riad Star.
The souks of Marrakech are the largest you can find from all four corners of Morocco and it’s astonishing to think that for a thousand years the district has acted as a thriving central hub for trade and commerce without very little changing at all. Though allowances have been made for modern tastes, many of the traditional commodities can still easily be bought from the winding alleys of the Souks.
As you first walk into Souk Semmarine (the central channel of the district) the sensory overload of sight, smell and sound makes it difficult to focus on any one thing at once! As you come to your senses you will find yourself walking past stalls and shops specialising in pottery, pâtisseries, textiles, spices, carpets, jewellery and more. All of which are dimly lit under the covered boards that shield the alley from the intense Moroccan sun, giving Souk Semmarine a truly magical and mysterious feel.
As the night sun begins to set, the atmosphere in the red city’s central square, Jemaa al-Fnaa, begins to change, so does it in the souks. Indeed, in our opinion, early evening is the best time to visit both the Souks and the Jemaa al-Fnaa square. Look out for stalls specialising in Moroccan lamps, the craftsmanship that goes into designing the lamps is an art that is usually passed down through families, generation after generation. In the evening, the dim glow the lanterns emit light up the darkened corners of the Souks and it’s a common sight to see tourists and Marrakshi locals drawn into the lamps stalls like moths to a flame.
Trips to the Souk district will be one of the highlights of your adventure in Marrakech. They stay open from 9am to 9pm so it’s advisable to visit in the cool of the morning or as the sun starts to set if you are finding it hard to acclimatise to the high temperatures of Morocco. Finally, remember haggling is key! The art of haggling is integral to the culture of transactions that take place in the Souks and stall owners will be disappointed if you don’t try!
Opening Times: 9-10am til 7pm
The Almoravid Koubba is the oldest building in Marrakech, constructed in 1117 it’s the only remaining example of architecture from the Almoravid Berber dynasty of which remains in the red city.
In times long gone past the space that the Koubba occupies was used for washing before prayer. At the time a then revolutionary system of hydraulics and drainage networks meant that toilets, showers and faucets for drinking water were available to all those who prayed at the Almoravid Mosque that the Koubba was once attached to.
The interior of the Almoravid Koubba is lavishly decorated. Floral patterns and calligraphy that have been etched into the walls of the structure are still in remarkably pristine condition.
As you enter the prayer room, the original architects of the Koubba have left the following message along the ceiling:
“I was created for science and prayer, by the prince of the believers, descendant of the prophet, Abdallah, most glorious of all Caliphs. Pray for him when you enter the door, so that you may fulfill your highest hopes.”
The message makes reference to Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad and the inscription is the oldest physical example of the Mahgrebi form of cursive Arabic in the entirety of North Africa.
The Almoravid is but 40 metres away from the Ben Youssef Mosque, another fascinating cultural site and a highly convenient two minute stroll from the Riad Cinnamon.
As you stroll through the winding alleys of the Marrakech Medina you will see that the pathways are shared by pedestrians, mopeds, donkey-drawn carts and the Calèche.
Calèches are horse-drawn carriages of which can hold four to five people. Moroccans have been using Calèches as a means of quickly traversing the narrow streets of the red city long before the arrival of the modern day car as they prove themselves to be an adept as well as glamorous mode of transport.
Finding a Calèche is simple. You can either hail one as they gallop through the streets or head towards the western side of Jemaa al-Fnaa, Marrakech’s central square. If you look to the horizon it’s impossible to miss the minaret tower of the famous Koutoubia Mosque and the line of Calèches which queue night and day in its direction.
Upon first arriving to the red city of Marrakech, resident video blogger Jamie Horton and I learned that a Calèche ride was the perfect means of reaching the main attractions in Marrakech such as the Menara and Majorelle Gardens.
The Calèche drivers of the sqaure are only a 10 minute stroll from the Riad Papillon so we wove our way through the crowds of Jemaa al-Fnaa to put this theory to the test. Finding a Calèche who will take us takes a matter of seconds and after a few moments of haggling, grins and handshakes we meet our driver who introduces himself as Aziz.
As Jamie sets up his video camera equipment and my sister Holly reclines on the lavish back seats of the Calèche carriage, I quiz Aziz for more information about what he does for a living. Aziz informs me that he has been working as a Calèche driver in the red city for several years with his two horses, whose names are Badr and Ismail.
The open top carriage allows fantastic views as we trot at a steady pace through the streets of the red city and around the Medina ramparts. Going for a Calèche ride is a unique and memorable way of getting from a to b and for 100 Dirham’s for a single journey around the Medina (£7.55) is entirely affordable when split between a group.
Just a 20 minute walk or a 5 minute taxi ride from the Marrakesh Medina are the Majorelle Gardens (Le Jardin Majorelle). The garden’s were created as a project by the French artist Jacques Majorelle between the 1920’s and 30’s and have grown to become one of Marrakech’s most popular tourist attractions.
As I travel down to the garden’s I discover why it is that the gardens have continued to retain their reputation for being such an alluring destination here in Marrakech.
As I enter the gardens it seems difficult to believe that only half an hour ago I was wading through the bustling crowds of Jemaa El Fnaa square in the heart of the Medina. Inside the walls of the Majorelle gardens the atmosphere is completely tranquil and the complex arrangement of cacti and flora has left myself and other visitors quite speechless.
As well as a huge botanical collection (which I learn has been gathered from all four corners of the globe) one of the many other striking features of the Majorelle are the bold shades of blue, green and yellow which have been chosen to decorate this floral oasis. In fact the shade of blue in the image above has become so iconic that it’s now known universally as ‘Majorelle Blue’.
As a site that proudly showcases a mix of French and Moroccan artistic influence, it’s perhaps no surprise that the French designer Yves Saint-Laurent bought the gardens in the 1980’s and extensively renovated them after they fell into a deteriorated state some years before.
Saint-Laurent became so attached to the site that after his passing in 2008 his ashes were scattered in the gardens which led to a memorial and a museum being opened for the public in his memory.
The gardens are a short taxi ride from centre of the Medina and any of our Riads. For only 50 Dirhams (£3.87) entrance fee this is one of the attractions you can’t afford to miss during your stay in Marrakech. For lovers of art, nature and for those are just looking for an afternoon of tranquility, the Majorelle gardens have something to offer to all.
1st oct to 30th apr from 8h00 to 17h30
1st May to 30th Sept from 9h00 to 17h00
Hosted every year in the lavish courtyard of the El Badi Palace in the Marrakech Medina is the ‘National Festival of Popular Art’s’ (Festival National des Arts Populaires) in the centre of Marrakech. Being only a five minute walk from the Riad Dar Habiba I went down to the festival last night to discover more.
Before the festival has begun I walk through alcoves of the El Badi Palace with the guardian of Dar Habiba who has agreed to accompany me. A red Moroccan carpet guides our way through the 400 year old building and the festival planners have rigged up projectors so that the walls of the ancient palace are bathed in a golden glow.
As we take our seats I learn that over 300 Berber storytellers, dancers, acrobats and singers from all four corners of Morocco have descended on Marrakech for this five day long spectacle.
As each group takes to the stage the guardian of the Dar Habiba tells me that ‘each troupe tells a different tale’ which range from love and loss to nature and sustenance.
Indeed as Berber musicians from the Dadès valley fill the spotlight I learn that their song is about a husband and wife who are both beekeepers. As the song evolves into dance and grows in intensity I discover that the meaning behind the act is to convey the importance of unity within nature. Both man and wife rely on the bees, who in turn rely on the flowers and thus the cycle of nature continues.
Part of what makes National Festival of Popular Art’s such a special experience is that it is difficult even for the Marrakshi locals to understand the true meaning behind the acts. As
21 different dialects of the Berber tongue fill the air, much of the nights proceedings are shrouded in mystery.
For only 100 Dirhams ( 7.70£) this is a once in a lifetime performance that you simply cannot afford to miss during your stay in Marrakech. In only a few hours I was left speechless by a performance that was fully charged with the essence of Morocco and as the festival is nearing it’s 50th year Anniversary there is no question as to whether I will be coming back for it!
Conveniently located just opposite the open air food stalls of Jemaa al-Fnaa is ‘Snack la place’, a cosy restaurant that you will discover to be humming with tourists and locals alike, night and day.
Snack la place’s menu offers a delicious variety of flavoursome Moroccan dishes at very affordable prices. Try your taste buds by ordering a bowl of locally sourced Marakshi olives for 5 Dirham’s (£0.39), these make the perfect partner alongside a traditional meal of couscous and chicken will set you back 25 Dirhams (£1.93).
Snack la Place location in the very heart of Jemaa al-Fnaa makes it the ideal space to sit and observe the thriving open air food markets that come alive in the centre of Marrakech as the sun sets over the city. If you’re not yet feeling adventurous enough to throw yourself at the the food stalls, enjoy some light refreshments at Snack la Place and scout out one of the many open air stalls to try at a later date.
For those who haven’t tried the Moroccan dish, Tanjia, Snack La Place is an ideal restaurant to do so. Tanjia is a delicacy that’s specific to the red city of Marrakech, where pieces of lamb or chicken are marinaded in Moroccan spices and slowly cooked in an oval shaped pot. This process is often carried out over several hours above the scorching flames used to heat local Hammam’s and it awards this dish a remarkably flavoursome taste.
At Snack la Place this dish can be tried in average portions and at fantastic value, 25 Dirham’s (£1.93). After a five minute walk from the Riad Dar Habiba you will find yourself in the thick of Jemaa al-Fnaa, which acts as the beating heart of the red city of Marrakech and the central hub for anything from Moroccan cuisine to street performances.
As you unwind in one of the cafe’s or restaurants that are lined along the edges Jemaa al-Fnaa, don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of a group of local acrobats who often descend towards the South-Eastern corner of the square.
The troupe are an illustrious bunch and after vaulting and somersaulting their way through the square, they quickly disperse into the thriving crowds passing through Jemaa al-Fnaa.
So I ask a nearby local for more information surrounding the history of acrobatics in Marrakech. I’m told that that the practice of acrobatics is revered not only in the red city but across the entire nation of Morocco. Also if an acrobat show’s unbridled natural talent, it is often said the blood of H’amad Amous could run in his or her veins.
Amous, the local Marrakshi goes on to describe is was a leader of a famous clan of acrobats in a time gone past. People would say that salt flowed through the bones of H’amad Amous and his followers and this is what allowed them to bend and propel their bodies in impossible ways.
Although the legend of Amous is encompassed by both fiction and fact, a ten minute stroll from Riad Cinnamon through the renowned souk district will take you to the beating heart of the city, Jemaa al-Fnaa where the acrobat’s of Marrakech still practice their trade to this day.
During your visit to the red city of Marrakech, one thing you cannot afford to miss are the olive sellers of the central square. You will find them lined up in the Northern reaches of Jemaa al-Fnaa as the square and the famous Souk district connect with one another.
It’s important to note that Morocco is a country of regional delicacies. Between Essaouria and Agadir, Argan trees paint the landscape in a luscious green. This is where the nutty and intensely flavoured Argan oil originates from. The same notion applies to dried fruits and dates, these sacred Moroccan staples are at their most delicious when grown in the deep Saharan South, from the regions of Goulmima to Zagora and the Draa Valley.
Therefore, whereas you might have to travel a little way to sample the freshest portions of oils and dates, some of the finest Moroccan olives are at your doorstep. Hand-picked from the groves of the Atlas region, the olives that grow around Marrakech all four seasons and, as many Marrakshi locals would tell you, the olives that find their way to the market stalls of the red city are of some of the highest calibre in the country.
Olives are picked at various stages of ripening to determine their colour and subsequent flavour and texture. After this is complete the olives can be marinaded using a host of Moroccan herbs to create an array of different flavours. For around 5 Dirham’s (£0.39) you can purchase an entire bag of olives, so why not sample all the different olives on offer?
The central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa is but a 10 minute stroll from the Riad Papillon in the heart of the Marrakech Medina.
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.
El Waha Café Restaurant is located on the eastern side of the central square of Marrakech (Jemaa al-Fnaa), a convenient 5 minute stroll from Riad Dar Habiba but only a 10-15 minute walk from any of our other Riad’s.
El Waha offers a similar selection of traditional Moroccan dishes as other Café Restaurant’s in the area such as Taj’in Darna, what distinguishes El Waha however is it’s rooftop terrace which is one of the highest in Jemaa al-Fnaa.
After a short climb to the terrace you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of Jemaa al-Fnaa and the high Atlas mountains that surround the red city whilst enjoying a glass of Moroccan mint tea.
Another charming characteristic at El Waha is the option of being able to enjoy local cuisine and refreshments on a set of Moroccan sofas towards the back of the terrace. From this cosy corner you can still gaze over the bustling hub of the red city whilst enjoying a gentle breeze and some respite from the intense Moroccan sun.
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!
Taj’in Darna is a cafe/ restaurant located on the Eastern side of Marrakech’s central square. Serving a variety of traditional Moroccan dishes and refreshments it’s cosy rooftop terrace is the ideal space in which to stop and refresh your batteries after a day spent exploring the red city.
Due to the stunning panoramic views of Jemaa al-Fnaa from Taj’in Darna’s terrace you can expect to pay just a few more Dirham’s for a meal here compared with nearby snack bars such Snack Toubkal. A Moroccan chicken tajine is around 45 Dirham’s (£3.44) and a glass of sweet mint tea is 15 Dirham’s (£1.15).
As Taj’in Darna is located in the cities central square it is only a short walking distance from any of our hotel Riad’s. I often went there during the holy month of Ramadan to enjoy a salad with the seclusion that the Cafe’s terrace offers. If you are feeling adventurous, I would recommend that you try the range of Moroccan Pastilla’s that are on offer at the restaurant. Combing both salty and sweat this hand-cooked meat pie is baked and sprinkled with both sugar and cinnamon for a unique, delicious taste.
The ideal time to visit Taj’in Darna is as the sun starts to set across the red city. As you enjoy the rich and flavoursome dishes that Morocco has to offer you can look across the square of Jemaa al-Fnaa and watch it burst into life as musicians, storytellers and performers pour out onto the streets to prepare for the night ahead.
Lamp’s have held a hugely high value in Moroccan architecture and design for hundreds of years and are used in all four corners of Morocco to decorate shops, restaurants and houses. Hand-crafted Moroccan lamps come in all shapes and sizes and often take a painstakingly long time to complete.
In Jemaa al-Fnaa many lamp salesmen can easily be found among the street shops that line around the edges of the central square. Though these boutiques are nameless, there is one however which specialises in traditional Moroccan lamps which is nearly impossible to miss.
After a 10 minute walk from the Riad Star towards the centre of the red city, I spot the lamp boutique and immediately images of Aladdin’s cave are conjured in my mind. I have to stoop under the array of Moroccan lanterns hanging from the shop’s ceiling, all of which are designed using different patterns, sizes and materials.
I talk to the shop keeper, who introduces himself as Omar. He explain’s that he and a friend have been in the trade of collecting lamps in Marrakech for around 10 years. He goes on to explain to me that traditional Moroccan lamps are used in the interiors and exteriors of homes and that their unique design is important to many Moroccans.
I would recommend returning to the lamp shop after the sun sets. From then it is easier to get an understanding of the unique ambiance that the Moroccan lanterns create. As the flames dance within their casings the unique patterns of each lamp are illuminated on the surrounding walls, giving the boutique a stunning and truly mysterious feel.
The centre of Marrakech (Jemaa al-Fnaa) is not only the cultural hub of the red city, it’s also a thriving centre for cuisine. Here you will find restaurants, cafe’s and open air stalls to match any budget.
Tucked away on the Eastern side of Djemaa al-Fnaa as you enter the square from Rue Riad Zitoun Lakdim is ‘Snack Toubkal’.
Day and night, Snack Toubkal is a bustling eating spot for tourists and locals. As one of the waiters guides you to your seat don’t be surprised to overhear a melting pot of different languages conversing with one another whilst enjoying a range of traditional Moroccan dishes.
Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of Snack Toubkal is it’s incredibly cheap. A Moroccan salad (tomatoes, onions and parsley infused with a range of spices from fresh dill to Ras el Hanout) costs only 5 Dirhams (£0.38) and a home-cooked chicken or lamb tajine is 25 Dirhams (£1.91).
For this reason Snack Toubkal is the ideal location to try a variety of different dishes you might be unsure about in the higher budget restaurants. Go with a group of friends and mix and match each others dishes to discover what appeals most to your taste buds whilst recharging your batteries from a day spent in the Marrakshi souks.
Conveniently placed in the central square, Snack Toushkal is easy to locate and only a five to ten minute walk from any of our Riads hotels. If you visit the cafe during the day, I would highly recommend trying the classic Moroccan soup dish ‘Harira’. Full bodied and fragrantly seasoned with ginger, pepper and cinnamon, Harira is again a cheap and truly delicious dish that will make your trip in Morocco all the more special.
From the red city of Marrakech to the sleepy oasis of Essaouira, one thing you will not miss on your visit to Morocco is the intense presence of ‘Gnawa’ music. From single musicians to whole troops practice this art form and you will instantly be able to recognise Gnawa in the streets by the distinctive beat of iron rattles or ‘karkabas’.
There is in fact a world of mystery encompassing the exact origin of this revered and celebrated art form. Moroccans agree that it originally crept into the country from the southern reaches of the Sahara deserts however there is much dispute as to how and who originally brought this unique style of music into Morocco.
This Gnawa musicias name is Omar and ever day as I walk from the Riad Dar Habiba down Rue Riad Zitoun el Kdim he is sat just outside the central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa, filling in the air with the steady cadence of Gnawa music through his 3 stringed bass plucked lute, called a ‘hajhuj’.
Although it’s uncertain as to how Gnawa came to arrive in Morocco, what’s important is that it did and that it spread to the four corners of the country like wildfire. Gnawa is so embedded in Morocco that some with a keen ear for this art form can tell the origin of a musician by the slight variations in style and performance in the same was a varying Darija Arabic accent.
Gnawa music is perhaps one of the most remarkable and fascinating arts that I have come into contact with here in Morocco. When you discover Marrakech for yourself you will see how perfectly synchronised this unique sound is with the beat of the red city.
Served in a peppery broth called ‘babbouche’, the white snails of Morocco must be cooked slowly over a low heat using a balanced mixture of over 15 different spices. Babbouche is popular with the locals and you may be greeted with a smile (as I was) upon approaching a snail stall, as not many tourists pluck up the courage to try this wonderful dish.
Although you may be tempted to veer straight towards the open food stalls of Jemaa al-Fnaa, I would urge that you to make a quick stop and try a small bowl of babbouche. Although admittedly I was nervous at first, this dish soon won over my taste-buds and is one of the most intensely flavoursome delicacies I’ve had the pleasure of eating here in Marrakech.
At only 5 Dirhams (£0.38) a bowl, this is an experience you can’t miss out on. Jemaa al-Fnaa is only a 10 minute walk from Riad Cinnamon, Papillon and Star and as the central cultural hub of activity in Marrakech it will be one of the highlights of your trip to Morocco.
Camels have played a important role for North Africans for thousands of years. In ancient times they were crucial as a mode of transport and this tradition continues today in more rural areas of Morocco.
The guardian of the Riad Dar Habiba tells me that throughout Morocco these majestic beasts are universally respected. A camels hair can be made into an incense and this is used to treat nosebleeds, it’s hide is often tanned and used to make prayer mats. Some Moroccans also believe that a camel is the only sentient being that is able to see the Djinn, spiritual creatures mentioned in the Qu’ran that exist alongside humans and angels.
Of course the other uses for camels are their meat and their milk. Although I have not yet tried camel meat, I have been assured that like it’s milk it has a delicious and unique taste that’s quite difficult to compare to anything else.
Camel meat can be found in the Marrakech Medina, however milk is perhaps more widely available. Whilst visiting a supermarket on Rue Dar Daou just five minutes walk from the Riad Dar Habiba, I am intrigued to try this staple that is otherwise nearly impossible to find back home in the UK.
What many had assured me turned out to be entirely true. Although there are certainly similar characteristics to cattle milk, there is a completely unique and actually quite sweet aftertaste that is very difficult to compare to anything I have tried before. At only 13 Dirhams (£1) for half a litre I can say that I have made this rare and pleasurable staple a normal part of my diet!
As the holy fasting month of Ramadan draws to a close in the world of Islam, the red city of Marrakech comes alive as vibrant religious festivities for Eid go underway.
Eid celebrations are split into two parts, ‘Eid al-Fitr’ (festival of the breaking of the fast) which is followed by ‘Eid as-Adha’ (festival of sacrifice). There are some differences that mark the two unique occasions, Eid al-Fitr is also sometimes called ‘the sugar feast’ as traditionally women often come together to prepare a collection of sweet, delicious delicacies of which the family can enjoy as a whole.
Eis as-Adha on the other hand is a four day long festival which some households choose to celebrate with the slaughtering of a sheep or a cow. The spirit of charity and love runs sincerely through both of these religious occasions as family gatherings take place in homes and on the streets of the red city. Food is evenly distributed between family, friends and those less fortunate and many attend special prayer rituals throughout the Mosque’s of Marrakech.
During this enchanting time of the year, do not be surprised if the electric atmosphere of Marrakech comes directly to your door! The local boys of Rue Derb Jdid, next to the Riad Dar Habiba spend the afternoons of Eid making music together and passers by stop to absorb the scene as the sound of drums and singing fills the night air.
As the Islamic calender is lunar, the exact time of the celebrations change every year. However many Marrakshi would advise that you try and plan your trip to coincide with this ancient festival. Especially towards the evenings as families and friends pour onto the streets, the atmosphere from the new-town of Guiliez through to the heart of the Marrakech Medina makes this time a truly remarkable event to be a part of.
Just a five minute stroll from the Riad Cinnamon and the Riad Star is the Cafe Arabe. Nicely situated in a sleepy neighborhood just north of the renowned souk district, Cafe Arabe offers traditional Moroccan cuisine in a modern and sophisticated environment.
I have been to the Cafe Arabe a few times now during my stay in Marrakech but I always find myself returning. The atmosphere inside the cafe/ restaurant is relaxed and welcoming and an hour spent here makes a refreshing contrast to the hustle and bustle of the souks.
On the menu are a variety of traditional Moroccan dishes, including salads and tajines. Cafe Arabe also offer a fantastic selection of alcoholic beverages, ranging from fresh fruit cocktails to a selection of Moroccan wines.
Whether it’s to enjoy dinner or simply to relax and have a drink whilst the cool Moroccan breeze washes over you from the terrace, there certainly is something on offer for everyone at the Cafe Arabe.