Today, Marrakesch, that was once one of the capitals of the region, which gave its name to the country, Morocco, is an enclosed area with red walls (by royal decree) located in a flat area between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert. Originally it was a “ pit stop” in the Spice Route” when Africa was a major commercial provider; the city’s core, is the “Jamaa- el Fna Plaza, that is the unique and extraordinary nerve center of the city. There you will find artisans, metal smiths, food traders, souvenir stands, snake charmers, trained monkeys, storytellers, and the “fast food” sellers with typical food and natural juices. As soon as sunset happens, it becomes a beehive of people, along with a cacophony of sounds, crisscrossed by the faithful on the way to evening prayers, the women religiously covered and the young showing off in modern and revealing outfits; it is an amalgam of the past and the future.  Rightfully, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Upon arrival, we were met at the airport by car and driver sent by our hotel, the Villa des Orangers (of the  Relais et Chateaux group) who whisked us on the short  20 minute drive to the Quartier Bahia, a veritable oasis, across the street from the Royal Palace and within walking distance of other meritorious landmarks, Including the Jemaa-el Fna   Medina.

Villa des Orangers ( Relais et Chateaux) www.villadesorangers.com

The door of the hotel is guarded by a tall, Darth Vader man in a black cape; he was just missing the light saber. Inside, we were greeted by an exotic and relaxing aroma wafting from several incense pots.

The staff showed us to a garden shaded by olive trees where we were treated to a delicious lunch. (our reservation, “ demi-pension”, included breakfast and lunch) During our stay we looked forward to these “ a la carte” savory meals, to unwind, after a morning-spent sightseeing.

Koutubia Mosque mosaic ceilings

 

Minaret

After lunch we strolled to the Koutubia Mosque and its towering Minaret, (253 feet high it is visible from 18 miles) floodlit at night it becomes a beacon from which the Muezzin call for evening prayers. In the 12th century it became the model for the bell tower (the “Giralda”) of the Seville Cathedral, in Spain. We walked back through main square, and took some photographs of the trained monkeys perched on my grandson.

Also within a 5 minute walk of the hotel, is El Badi Palace originally a 16th century palace that is now a sandstone ruin policed by huge nesting storks. A short distance from El Badi is Bahia Palace, a building and a set of gardens, built in the late 19th century, intended to be the greatest palace of its time. The name means “brilliance”. It was meant to capture the essence of the Islamic and Moroccan style, with a 2-acre garden and rooms opening onto courtyards, some which have beautiful carved cedar ceilings.

The Saadian Tombs also nearby is a 16th century burial ground.  Another favorite place was the Secret Garden with exotic plants with and an ancient irrigation system, as well as a tower where you have a fantastic panorama of the Medina.

Finally the “ Majorelle Gardens”; one of the most visited sites in Morocco. It took French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) forty years of passion and dedication to create this enchanting garden in the heart of the “Ochre City”.; leisurely walk along shady lanes, in the midst of trees and exotic plants of dreamy origin; walk past burbling streams and pools filled with water lilies and lotus flowers; the path turns unexpectedly, revealing a building with Moorish charm, with a hint of Art Deco, painted in astonishingly vibrant primary colors, glowing with an intense blue the artist perceived in the Atlas Mountains, sheltered from time by high  walls.

In 1980, Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent, bought an adjoining villa, which they re-named, Villa Oasis, and undertook the restoration of the garden in order to “make the Jardin Majorelle become the most beautiful garden – by respecting the vision of Jacques Majorelle.”

Automatic irrigation systems were installed; new plant species have been added since 1999, increasing the total number from 135 to 300. A team of 20 gardeners once again began working to maintain the garden, its ponds and fountains the painter’s studio has been transformed into a museum open to the public. After St. Laurent’s demise, it has been donated to the city, for the delight of all.

Visit early in the morning, before tour groups come in.

              Nesting Storks                                            Medina                                              Secret Garden

Jardin Majorelle                                                                 El Badi Palace

Restaurants: All the restaurants we went to accepted credit cards, and all except Nomad served alcohol.

Nomad – 1 Derb Aarjane in the Medina

www.nomadmarrakech.com

One of the highlights of the trip was going to this restaurant. Our hotel reserved a TUKTUK which is a Vespa-like motorcycle with a canopy and seating for 3-4 people in the back. It was the only way to get there since it was in the middle of the Medina, and a taxi would not be able to maneuver the narrow streets full of vendors and people. It is a local favorite for modern Morrocan cuisine, with an outdoor setting.

TukTuk

Grand Café de la Poste – Avenue Imam Malik

www.grandcafedelaposte.restaurant

French colonial atmosphere with French cuisine.

Al Fassia Aguedal – 9 bis, Touristique de Aguedal, Km. 2 route de l’Ourika

www.alfassia.com

There are two of these restaurants, one in Gueliz and the one we went to in Aguedal. All the wait staff are women, and very welcoming and friendly.  When the hotel manager at the Villa, Pascal Beherec, heard we had reservations to eat there, he said they were famous for their lamb shoulder but that they run out of them very quickly in the evening. So he suggested he would call ahead and reserve an order for us. What a delicious feast, thank you Pascal.

Dar Moha – 81 Rue Dar el Bacha

www.darmoha.ma

Modern Morrocan gastronomy known for the pastille, sweet pigeon pie.

We hired a guide to take us deep into the Medina. He of course took us to several places to buy souvenirs but we resisted, except at the Herboriste where we purchased several of his oils and extracts. 

Herboriste du Paradis – Place Ben Youssef #93

www.herboriste-du-paradis.com