Postcard #100: Paris

Postcard #99: Siem Reap

Marrakesh Dreams

Just like the tales of Scheherazade from 1001 Nights, or Arabian Nights, our family had an enchanting journey to Marrakesh. We, well mainly myself, try to visit a new country each year and we were absolutely delighted we chose Morocco. It’s my 51st country and let me tell you that we were captivated by its people and its culture. From snake charmers and acrobats in the main square to ambrosial spices and colorful/handmade “babouches” in the market, Marrakesh was like a dream.

The old part of the city, the walled Médina, was like being transported back in time. There were no Starbucks nor Western clothing chains such as H&M and Zara. Instead, donkeys still transported goods to the market and traditional cafés and restaurants happily served guests. Taxis had no meters and bargaining was the name of the game. Horse-drawn carriages abound and was actually the best way to see the city, if not in the morning, in the late afternoon to sunset to avoid the heat, at least from May to September.

Like the terracotta-colored landscape (though with snow-covered mountains) surrounding Marrakesh, the city’s buildings were of the same color, brightened up by colorful artisanal tiles, the people’s clothing, especially footwear, and orange trees. Our five-year-old daughter absolutely enjoyed the Médina. She bought a traditional outfit, including headgear and shoes, in the market with her own money from her piggy bank (and some pocket money from our side) and wore it every single day. She loved pretending to be part of Scheherazade’s stories and everyone was quite pleased to see the little tourist dressed up in local attire, calling her either Princesse Jasmine, Fatima or la petite Berbère.

We felt very safe in Marakkesh and almost everyone we met were very friendly. As the majority of Moroccans are bilingual (French and Arabic), it helped we spoke a bit of French … making it easier to get around and bargain!

Snake charmers at Jamaa el Fna square

Donkeys still transport goods in and out of Marrakesh

Your neighborhood barber

Orange trees abound in the city

The main square Jamaa el Fna is bustling in the evening … in a very old world sort of way.

The MUSEUMS
Dar Si Said – ♥♥♥♥

Riad Zitoun Jdid, Marrakesh
* Visiting museums in the afternoons was a great way to avoid the 40C temperature. Due to lack of time, we were able to see only two. Though not as grand as other palaces, Dar Si Said had a lovely interior and a small, yet refreshing garden. Also known as the Museum of Moroccan Arts, it displayed jewellery, carpets, pottery and leatherwork from Marrakesh and the Atlas mountains.

Palais de la Bahia – ♥♥♥
5 Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid, Marrakesh 40000
* Just a few blocks away from the Dar Si Said museum, this palace was built in the 19th century for the personal use of Si Moussa, grand vizier of the sultan. It featured Islamic and Moroccan architecture, yet devoid of furnishings.

The SOUKS
Colorful and intricately decorated clothing and leather goods — especially shoes — woven baskets, terracotta pottery, argan oil and wonderful spices awaited us in the markets of Marrakesh. Prices were subjective so bargaining like a Berber was the only way to go. In the end, the price was what we felt comfortable (and happy) paying for. The merchants always tried to lure us inside their stalls in a friendly way, even explaining the craftsmanship behind their goods, unlike in other countries where they’re quite aggressive. We actually should have brought an empty suitcase or two as there were so many delightful items that we would have loved to bring home. For furniture and other large interior decor, of course they could always be shipped.

The HOTEL 
La Maison Arabe – ♥♥♥♥♥
1 Derb Assehbé, Bab Doukkala, Médina, Marrakesh
* What an amazing place! With top notch service and excellent food, we felt right at home at La Maison Arabe, just better as we didn’t need to clean up nor wash dishes. Apparently, this place started out as a Moroccan restaurant and expanded into a riad, not surprising that it prided itself with its gastronomic offerings, even cooking courses. We reserved the Sinbad suite for our family of three and were extremely pleased with the size and amenities. The separate living space was easily converted into a small bedroom for our five-year-old daughter who was ecstatic to have her own little nuke. As we arrived early in the morning and our suite was not yet ready, the staff even prepared a room for us to relax and freshen up.

Located inside the walled city of Marrakesh, the Médina, La Maison Arabe was only a 10-minute walk to the Jamaa el Fna square. Although in the scorching afternoon heat, we took a short taxi ride costing between €2.00 – €2.50, the price depended on how well one bargained. The riad was small enough for that personal touch yet big enough that we didn’t feel like we were staying in a friend’s house (and talk to everybody). Each space was exquisitely decorated and, best of all, different. There was a hammam, a spa and a pool. But if you want to get away from Marrakesh in the afternoon, it also has a private country club with a pool and a restaurant in the outskirts of the city. Just let the concierge know and they’ll arrange their free shuttle to bring you there.

Guests of La Maison Arabe were mainly on the older side or honeymooners, but there were also some families. Regardless, we had a wonderful stay and will definitely come back.

The inner patio with fresh roses in the fountain

Live Moroccan music by the poolside in the evenings

The Sinbad suite

The separate living space of the Sinbad suite converted into our daughter’s bedroom

The riad’s private country club in the outskirts of Marrakesh

The GASTRONOMY
Le Restaurant at La Maison Arabe – ♥♥♥♥♥

* Serving authentic Moroccan cuisine with live Moroccan music, we had the tasting menu and were absolutely delighted with all the dishes. As the portions were quite generous, we were stuffed! From various entrées of Moroccan salad platters to tajines and couscous, we were not disappointed. And for that true Moroccan experience, we topped it with a bottle of Moroccan red wine and, of course, tea.

Les Trois Saveurs at La Maison Arabe – ♥♥♥♥♥
* Moroccan and international dishes were served at Les Trois Saveurs, right by the poolside of the riad, also the same place for breakfast. This place offered a lovely and refreshing atmosphere, especially with the water flowing from the “fountains” of the pool and live Moroccan music on the side. The same with Le Restaurant, the servings were generous so it was actually not necessary to order appetizers, unless you’d want to share. Even the ice cream had three scoops so we simply had a ball each.

Until my next post … take care!
Save the bees, save the environment!

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