5 Things I Didn’t Know About Marrakech
Our travel writer just got back from a week exploring Morocco’s red city. Here are 5 things she didn’t expect…
1. October in Marrakech is HOT.
When I started packing for Marrakech, I was a bit worried about the weather. Google ‘Marrakech weather in October’ and lots of websites will tell you to expect temperatures from the low to mid-20s at this time of year. Not so when I went. The locals said the current temperature – it was between 27 and 30 degrees Celsius while I was there – is actually the norm and, because of said websites, lots of tourists come armed with huge cardigans and coats. Granted, it’s best to pack for all eventualities, but if you’re after a week of warm sunshine in the middle of October, you’re in with a very good chance.
2. Jemaa el-Fna actually does live up to the hype.
As a travel writer I’d read quite a bit about Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech’s main square, before I visited. Honestly? I didn’t think it’d live up to the image I’d built up in my head. But it does. And then some. If you only go once, go at night, when the square lights up with blankets of twinkling lanterns, and the constant sound of drumming puts you in a bit of a hippy-like trance. The main entrance is by Kouboutia Mosque. A leafy avenue leads from there to all the action, where horse-and-carriages are lined up ready to take tourists around the city. And right in the middle of the square you’ll find the best selection of street food. Perch on a picnic bench and tuck in to char-grilled skewers heavy with peppers and freshly-cooked chunks of meat.
3. You will get lost in the souks. Really.
I did. This huge network of alleyways spreads from the north of Jemaa el-Fna Square and hides thousands of open-fronted stores, each one dedicated to something in particular. There’s a souk that specialises in spices, another that majors in lanterns and carpets, and one full of silk dresses and belly-dancing outfits I would never ever wear back home but very nearly bought. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. Among my favourite take-homes were Hand of Fatima friendship bracelets (the locals say the symbol brings good luck), and a little silver Aladdin’s lamp which I did rub a few times – just in case.
4. Haggling is easier than you think.
I love haggling, so I was in my element in Marrakech. Play the game and the merchants will give you a ridiculously high price at first, but choose your (much lower) price, stick to it, and – if necessary – back away. Nine times out of ten they’ll take you up on it. I was asked for 225 Moroccan Dirham for an Aladdin’s lamp in most places (about £17). After haggling hard, I snapped mine up for 90, which is around £7. Occasionally you’ll come across a fixed price store inside the souks – they’re like proper Aladdin’s caves of gold jewellery and furniture straight out of Arabian Nights. I fell in love with a statue of a brass lion, but was told firmly that this would not be coming home with us.
5. Marrakech is a magnet for celebrities.
Turns out I’m way behind. Members-only lounge bars and luxury hotels have already drawn the Hollywood set to this part of the world. Everyone from Henry Holland to the cast of Made In Chelsea have enjoyed breaks here, and the likes of Madonna, Naomi Campbell and Leonardo DiCaprio have all been tempted by the area’s real estate. To party like an A-lister, head for Pacha on the outskirts of the city. In one room, the dancefloor is overlooked by optical lighting that gives the illusion of a starry sky. In another, you’ll be dancing beneath chandeliers that could have been shipped straight from the Harrods home collection.
Want to discover the Red City for yourself? Here’s where to stay…
Great for couples… Medina Gardens
This adults-only hotel is right on the edge of the city’s most famous square, and it’s cocooned by gardens, so it’s nice and private. Plus, it’s getting a top-to-toe refurbishment ready for summer 2014.