Magical Marrakech, take a spare suitcase!

One of many beautiful Moroccan archways. At the guesthouse, Dar Lanyina, Marrakech. 

One of many beautiful Moroccan archways. At the guesthouse, Dar Lanyina, Marrakech. 

If you've been keeping an eye on me on Instagram lately you'll know that I have just spent ten days in Marrakech in Morocco, celebrating my birthday on a yoga retreat (!), shopping and, unfortunately, getting really poorly!  Those germ-infested 'planes, is all I can say.  

So.....I didn't do as much yoga as I would have liked, didn't shop as much as normal and didn't take many photographs. But I did have a wonderful time, in between the bouts of coughing, spending time with my friend Giulia from Rome, whom I haven't seen for nearly five years.

I won't dwell on the awesome yoga part of the holiday, that's for another blog. But I will share with you a few of our Marrakech highlights & top tips. I haven't visited this city for over 30 years (why?) but it's now a firm favourite short haul destination for me, for the shopping & eating, let alone the warm sunshine in the middle of winter.

The alley way to Maison Arabe.  One of the best areas to start exploring the Medina.

The alley way to Maison Arabe.  One of the best areas to start exploring the Medina.

First stop, for my actual birthday, was Maison Arabe, a gorgeous little five-star riad/hotel in the Medina where they serve really good coffee with delicious patisseries.  I was as fit as a fiddle that day! (BTW, in case you're wondering, as were we, a riad means an old Moroccan house or palace with interior courtyards Nowadays, they're beautiful boutique hotels & restaurants and so photogenic that I wanted to stay in every single one!)

A lovely start to my birthday, coffee at Maison Arabe, Marrakech, Morocco.

A lovely start to my birthday, coffee at Maison Arabe, Marrakech, Morocco.

Someone I met on the flight out recommended Cafe Arabe (no relation to Maison Arabe)  for dinner & a spectacular sunset from the roof terrace but we got there a tad too late to capture it. It was a buzzy place, the champagne went down well and the food was good. A great pit stop whilst shopping.

But for really spectacular food we took ourselves off to El Fenn for our last night.  Owned by Richard Branson's sister Vanessa, this is a very chic hotel with the most beautiful interior and fabulous food.  It's not in the prettiest part of the Medina but is well worth a visit for a meal or cocktails especially if the roof terrace is open. (BTW the "expensive" places are still reasonable compared to places like Ibiza: that meal cost us £20 each for a stunning main course and a glass of wine.)

The Medina is not just about boutique hotels & fab food, it's also the most amazing place to wander around (careful of the mad moped drivers everywhere) soaking up the atmosphere and wondering what's around every corner. The pink walls, colourful doors & courtyards are a photographer's dream, as is the street life. But the locals don't like their picture being taken so you need to ask politely, pay or do it sneakily!

I love the above photo because Giulia and I met up with one of our yoga buddies, a pregnant Rosie. I decided that "the elderly and the pregnant" have a lot in common and worth a blog one day, Getting tired after walking lots, needing to rest & wee often, and requiring really comfortable shoes!

And talking of shoes........I have wanted some red suede shoes for a while and got these beauties handmade in 24 hours for 35 Euros!  How cool is that? Here's the son's Instagram account if you want to find them.  And send them my love!

Clothes-wise, I didn't go mad because I just didn't feel well enough half the time and we were staying a 30-minute drive out of Marrakech.  But Le Jardin was one of my favourite places in the Medina because it's got a very pretty outside restaurant for coffee and/or food and a fabulous boutique called Norya Ayron full of designer kaftans and jumpsuits for not silly money.  I will share a photo of the kaftan I bought when I'm wearing it in India.  Talk about coals to Newcastle!

Le Jardin, Marrakech.

Le Jardin, Marrakech.

The other shop I loved was Max & Jan, where I bought a pink fluffy gilet to die for.  Will post a photo soonest.  There were many, many others, especially in the New Town, of Gueliz that I just didn't have time to visit, including 33, Rue Majorelle.  Anywhere near the YSL Gardens, apparently, is just choc full of independent boutiques.  (I need to go back to all the afore-mentioned as soon as possible!) I didn't find any affordable vintage though.

Most tourists head for the souks in Marrakech, especially around the Main Square.  We both avoided that area because of memories of snakes, hassle, and pickpockets (a girl on my flight home had her bag snatched by a biker).  Where we wandered, and where I will stay next time, was the Medina area near places like Cafe Arabe.  Much less hassle and more peaceful and quiet, mostly. 

There were stalls & mini souks everywhere in this area offering leather goods, (be careful of the handbags & pouffes, they look gorgeous but are mostly made of camel leather and stink!) kaftans, soaps, argan oil, antiques and bric-a-brac for the house. You name it, they sell it. This is where we really got into our stride bartering & bargaining for these gorgeous little candles (great Xmas pressies) and hand soap containers. 

Love these candles and soap containers from Marrakech.

Love these candles and soap containers from Marrakech.

So that is my very brief, whirl-wind intro to Marrakech.  Such a special place and so warm and sunny during the day at the end of November that this is going straight to the top of my list for a long weekend destination when I am suffering from the lack of sunshine in the UK in the middle of winter. 

Meanwhile,  please let me know if you love Marrakech, or have any top tips or other places I must visit next time. And, if you've never been before and fancy going, here are just a few Top Tips from my short visit. 

See you soon, x

TOP TIPS

Stay right in the medina.  We were half an hour out of town which meant a hair-raising & expensive journey in and out of Marrakech.  However, the guest house we stayed in was also very cheap at 60 Euros for a Deluxe gorgeous villa/room and is a great alternative if you need a hammam, peace and quiet a swimming pool to sit by and unwind after the noise and pollution of Marrakech. It was a great place to be unwell!

Bargain all the time, unless it's a smart boutique.

Avoid the main square, unless you've never been there before. Watch your handbag and don't take photos or they will demand money, aggressively one of our yoga buddies told me. Better to be in one of the cafes above the square and use a zoom lens!

Go in the spring or autumn.  We were there at the end of November and it was gorgeous. Warm in the sun during the day and cool at night.  Leather jacket cool, at most, in town.  Cooler in the country. 

Brush up on your French. Everyone speaks it and it comes in really handy.

Take cash for shopping at souks etc. and change it there.  I took £200 cash and changed it at one of the Bureau de Changes (a posh name for a very local experience in the Medina!) really easily.  Hotels change cash as well.  Cheaper than using ATMs and all the rates are the same.

Take a spare suitcase! A soft, squidgy holdall is so going in my case next time. This place is a shopper's paradise, especially if you're doing up a house and want amazing textiles, rugs, lampshades etc. Although how you get them home I cannot begin to help you with!

Leave enough time to visit the Atlas Mountains or a Berber village. A few of the yoga lot went on day trips and saw the most amazing scenery.  We were staying in a Berber village on the yoga retreat and I just loved feeling so remote on the edge of the Sahara. (Apart from the starving stray dogs which really upset me. We fed them every day.)