Travel - Marrakech, Morocco
Marrakech is a really interesting place to visit. Even in December, you can be lucky with the weather and have warm, sunny days and with the quality of light and the snow-capped Atlas mountains in the distance it can be very pleasant. (From the French) ...offering endless attractions that make light of joy and ecstasy of the senses...(?)
The central square Jemnaa-el-Fna has round the clock food stalls, snake charmers and musicians putting on a show. Just north of here is the souks area of covered markets - nothing I can describe will prepare you for this experience. It's wacky, in-your-face retail extravaganza, and, it has to be said, quite a lot of hassle. The bartering is endless, you may wish to take refuge in a nice cafe like Bouganvillea or the Cafe des Epices. You will probably give in and buy something you had no intention of buying - I certainly did!
It has been described as "A country collapsing under the weight of its own handicrafts". Once you have spent a day in the souks, you will understand why! My personal favourite are the Berber rugs or killims, which are all pretty much unique and works of art in their own way. I've seen some great examples of Islamic art in Spain (The Alhambra palace and the mosque at Cordoba are two highlights) but Marrakech seems to be full of outstanding art and architecture, from the older riads to the Dar Si Said pictured here, which is pretty amazing.
The constant begging and offers of guides can be a drag. Looking at it in a positive light, you can make a real difference to local poverty with a few dollars or euros, and you may return home wishing you'd done a bit more to help some of poorer Marrakechis. There is a lot of money in this town though - the property, riads and hotels make that obvious. Not least, the royal palaces. King Muhammed 6 is credited with an annual household expenditure 18 times greater (or more profligate) than our very own QE2 - now that's impressive! M6, you totally rock, dude!
In the interests of fairness, I'd like to warn you about the perils of Menara airport. It's all shiny and new - so why does everyone have to queue for 1.5 hours to have their passport looked at by some surly official? This was not a one-off. It's up to 1.25 hours when you get there, same when you leave. It is ridiculous. If they don't sort this out all the rest of the effort in attracting tourism is a total waste of time. Both times I've been through there it has been a nightmare.
Travel bargains are now available. Ryanair and Easyjet both offer budget fares to Marrakech from Bristol and Stansted.
Most hotels in Marrakech run trips out to the mountains, travelling in a minibus to places like Essaioura on the coast, which is really beautiful in a kind of Greek fishing village way. In fact, it's nice enough to spend your whole holiday there, watching the wild Atlantic surf. (From the French)... small white houses and its beautiful beaches and vast yourselves...???
One of the more famous visitors was one James Marshall Hendrix during the 1960s.It's the kind of strange holiday destination you don't forget.
Atlas mountains -The Ourika valley is terrific, and the cascades at Ouzoud are amazing, a huge waterfall system with a gorge and unforgettable views. You can also take longer excursions to the edge of the Sahara desert.
Hotels - I'd subtract a star if I were you, and also bear in mind that some hotel websites blantantly lie about their location! Mine claimed to be a few minutes from the city. Well, 30 minutes is what I made it! I think you have to accept that Marrakech is a strange and amazing place, but the lingua franca is not French or Moroccan, but bullshit!
Hotels -The food is OK, but nothing special. The French influence on patisseries was a good thing.
I think the Gueliz or new town area is a good base to book a hotel. Taxi fares are very cheap from there.
Marrakech - dar Si said
Museum of Marrakech - I didn't rate this much, though to be fair I didn't visit the Medersa. Cafe is overpriced. Very hard to find in the winding lanes, where you will be prey to all sorts of unwanted guides and advice. To be frank, it's pretty dull.
Dar Si Said - full of amazing tile work, wood carving. A fantastic mansion/museum that is one of the highlights of the city. A few dirhams will ensure you get to see all the best bits! And they are something else..a lot like the Alhambra in miniature.
Djemaa-el-fna - central square and strange festival experience. After dark it becomes very atmospheric - but it never seems dangerous in any way.
Koutoubia Mosque - a great building, probably fascinating, but off-limits to non- Muslims. The gardens are stunning, with the Atlas mountains as a backdrop.Once you recognise this building, visible from most of the city, it will really help in finding your way around. Another mecca for hustlers of all descriptions!
Jemnaa-el-fna at night, obviously
Dar Si Said interior, tile patterns in Musee Marrakech
Marrakech is easy to get to, with budget direct flights from Stansted and Bristol. I flew with Ryanair, and found a return for about £50, which was a tremendous bargain. Travel deals are easy to find, and book a hotel on the net. As usual, check the hotel location carefully, or you might end up miles from anywhere! As I did.
Other places to see in Morocco include Meknes, Fes, and Volubilis, which is an abandoned Roman town. I haven't been to any of these locations yet, but they look fascinating, and Fes is one of the best preserved medieval cities in the world. Maybe you could leave a comment if you've been there.