Mike’s personal top 10 things to visit in Marrakech

Welcome to Marrakech everyone. Here are my personal top 10 tips for your holiday:

10.  What I’m going to suggest first is this: make yourself mobile. Marrakech is actually not that small. It is a medieval wall city, but it would take you a good 40 minutes to walk across it. And there are a lot of very interesting things outside of the Medina. So in that context, I suggest hiring a bicycle, from somewhere like our friends at Pikala Bikes, or a Tuk-Tuk. Tuck- Tuck’s are tricycles, three wheeler motorbikes, which are operated by handicapped people here. Both by supporting Pikala and by hiring a tuck tuck, you’d be behaving very responsibly, helping the local community, but also just getting yourself mobile. So you can get out there and visit more of the palaces and gardens.

9. I’m a football supporter. I love watching my local team at home ( the famous Leicester City). Marrakech has a professional football club and there’s a wonderful modern stadium in Marrakesh, which is often used by the national team. It’s also been used for international tournaments. So the world club champions were crowned here twice. I think it’s just a great opportunity to get in touch with the local culture, go and watch a local game. Tickets can be bought from the club shop in the new town of Gueliz or our team at the riad can potentially help with that. It’s easy to look on the internet and check what the fixed schedule is and if it falls right for you, by all means, go and see a game.

8. Well, this is the first of my foodie oriented tip. Not going to conceal though, I do love the the food here. I love the cuisine, and it’s not by accident that we have a cookery school here and we’ve published a cookbook. So number eight tip is: during the Holy month of Ramadan, experience the breakfast meal at the end of the fast. You might be lucky enough to have the opportunity to be invited to do that with a family. You could do that in a restaurant; a lot of restaurants and cafes have a ftour  meal, or for a sort of blowout experience go to one of the top hotels, like Mamounia, Sofitel or one of the big international hotel brands. They have amazing buffets. It’s a great way of appreciating the culture and getting a wide variety of those specialist, sort of seasonal foods. A lot of them very sweet, a lot of them very rich which are not available at other times of the year. So typically you would break your fast with the soup which is quite a complete soup: it’s based on a sort of beef broth with vegetables and lentils and sometimes pasta, and that would be served with a date. And then there’s a particular sweet that comes with it called spakia, which is a baked sweet with honey and Sesame on it.  (Our Riad Cinnamon was the home of a very famous baker  who made, for a long time, the best spakia in Marrakech. And the oven itself was in the what’s now the Casablanca suite. And then it had a little shop around the corner on the Mouassine street).  And then perhaps a boiled egg, or there’d be lots of homemade yogurt, juices  and then onto a fish. And then ending up with sweets and desserts.

7.  Number seven is a street food. It’s a breakfast food and it’s called sfenj which is a local donut made with a dough, it’s deep fried in really hot fat. Yeah. It’s not a healthy food and they’re sold in little bunches tied together with a Palm leaf and typically would be dusted with some sugar  and sometimes cinnamon as well. And it’s just delicious with hot mint tea It’s a street food, and  you’ll  find it little shops, little boutiques especially in the morning, of course, because it’s a breakfast food here.

6. Number six is my favorite food stall in the square, in the main square. And it’s a gentleman called Mohammed El Krita, and he is doing the most amazing fried fish. It’s the closest thing  the Brits will get to fish and chips here.  But he’s doing calamari, he’s doing shrimp, he’s doing a whole variety of seafood, seasonal seafood. He would go and buy the whole catch from a fisherman. He’s supplying a variety of these deep fried fish and French fries, and then he does an aubergine dip with it. And he does a tomato based side that sits alongside it. It’s very easy to spot his stand because he isn’t trying to persuade anybody to sit there. He’s got the longest line in the whole of the food area of the main square. He’s actually stand number 14. Interestingly, like me, he’s a football supporter. So you won’t find him there on a day when there’s a big game. So if Moroccan national team is playing or Barcelona is playing or real Madrid, don’t go down to square and expect to find Mohammed El Krita there.

5. I suggest as number five, particularly in the heat of the summer, it can be a great fun to get out of town: either up to the Atlas mountains, which due to altitude, things are a bit cooler or down to (my particular favorite) would be to go down to the coast at Essaouira, which is a lovely little fishing port.

It used to be four hours drive from Marrakech, but the roads have improved so much that it’s really very viable now to get down there and two, or perhaps two and a half with a stop at one of the cooperatives on the way to pick up some argan oil or just check out the countryside. Really, it’s a beautiful little fishing port. It’s got a tiny Medina, very atmospheric, lovely beach. You can windsurf there. You can ride a camel on the beach, if that’s your thing, eat some lovely grilled sardines fresh from the fishing boats and a fantastic contrast to Marrakesh. So yeah, if you were here for, I would say more than perhaps three days why not take an excursion,

There a variety of options to get to Essaouira. There are public buses, you can go on a tourist mini bus or the luxury way, which to be honest, I would recommend, is to get a private car and driver for the day. That way you can set off when you want, you can stop when and where you want along the way, and it’s not crazy expensive.

4. My number four is a secret; or actually not such a well kept secret. And that is the secret garden. The secret garden opened about three years ago. It is much smaller than the more famous Majorelle garden, which is outside town. It’s located in the heart of the Medina, in the Mouassine district, really close to  Riad Spice, Riad Cinnamon and Riad Papillon. It is just the most magical quiet space. And within it, there is a cafe.  The secret garden is featured heavily on international television programs, so we’ve had prominent gardeners there and it’s a really interesting restoration too. There are two sections to it. There’s a sort of herb garden and then there’s a traditional botanical garden . you would buy a ticket on the door on the day.

3. Number three destination is actually currently closed for renovation. It should be opening again soon. I’m not going to be ambitious enough to give you a specific date, but it’s been closed for two years. It’s an amazing place: Ben Youseff mosque is the second oldest mosque in the Medina. It’s huge. It has attached to it a Quranic school, which is just an unbelievable building. It’s got the most incredible intricate woodcarving, plaster carving and decoration.  Next to it is the oldest building in Marrakesh: The Koubba barouidine which was the wash room of the original Ben Youseff mosque. When the renovation is finished it will be opened again to public. And for students of Islamic architecture, that’s just the most incredible building. Also as part of that complex, there are underwater caves where water was stored and you’ve got the arrival of the irrigation channels that brought water from the Atlas mountains. And this was the foundation of the city really. Water was important particularly here in these desert climate. So all of that culture and all that history is incredible and it’s right on our doorstep. And we’re so excited to see the renovation when it’s all finished at Ben Youseff.

Of course, with that particular location as with everything else that we talk about within the Medina you will be able to find it on the free Marrakech travel guide app, which you can download from your relevant app stores. And if you are visiting Marrakesh, it is worth having that on your phone, mainly for the map, because Google maps isn’t quite as useful as it is back home when you’re in Marrakesh. So downloading that app, which works offline too, will really help you get around and find some of these amazing places

2. So number two is a jazz bar. It’s located in the famous old Mamounia hotel and it is called Churchill’s bar. Winston Churchill came to Marrakech to relax and also to paint. He used the Mamounia hotel. He painted the Atlas mountains from the balcony of his room. And there’s a jazz bar, which is named after Churchill that he used a lot, it’s a really atmospheric space. It’s fantastic. And the music in there is great too. So I definitely recommend the jazz bar, Churchill’s bar in the Mamounia hotel.

1. A very personal choice. My favorite place in Marrakech at the moment is a little restaurant which might be my favorite restaurant in the world. It’s very unassuming, it’s an Italian restaurant. It is run by an Italian family that have been living in Morocco for three generations. The owner, Eric, is just a lovely guy, the warmth of the welcome has gotta be at least as important as the quality of the food. He does fantastic pasta of course. He does fantastic Italian dishes. He also has an Asian side to his menu. It’s modest, it’s humble, it’s reasonably priced and it’s just a place where I find I can relax.