Marrakech | Finding Hidden Beauty

After a few days in Marrakech we felt like we were getting into the swing of things.

Whilst we wanted to find our own things to do it’s quite hard with just a handful of days, so we’d finally managed to connect to enough wifi to add some crowd-sourced ideas to our to-do list so we set off on foot through the dusty (now dry) streets.

By heading away from the touristy, central medina we were able to grab snapshots of life behind-the-scenes. The real life of Marrakech within the old city walls. These are the bits you don’t read about on Trip Advisor. There’s not really a specific location to send you to, it’s just that feeling you get as you take in your surroundings, emerging yourself (as seamlessly as you can) in local life whilst the world goes by around you.

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My absolute favourite part was when we found ourselves in the middle of a local street market just outside one of the gates of the old city walls. There was a charming fruit and veg market with all the brilliant sounds that you would expect to accompany it – market vendors shouting out their prices, and laughing and chattering with friends, whilst at the same time mopeds and motorbikes swerved in and out of honking cars, shouting in a mixture of Arabic and French. I tried to soak it all up as best I could, knowing that this was one of the most raw, local versions of the city that I’d get to see. I loved it!

 

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About 10 minutes’ walk from the edge of the old town walls we found our first recommendation – the YSL botanical gardens, “Jardin Majorelle”. It was entirely walled, and with a 50DH (£4) entry fee per person, I was excited for what it must be like – going on the assumption that paying so much (in local terms) for a garden it must be very special. I imagined luscious trees, fresh grassy smells and the chatter of birds and other wildlife that would be such a contrast to the dusty city streets. How wrong could I be?!

Far from this magical escape that I expected, we found it was more like a zoo. Garish red concrete paths lead the way past rather tacky-looking pots. The bamboo was covered in graffiti and it lacked character that made it in no way an “escape from the outside world” that it’d been pitched as.

What’s more, when I travel, I enjoy being around locals rather than just trying to escape them for the ‘safety’ of other tourists. Both Holly and I were really disappointed and raced around to find the end.

(The photos actually make it look better than it was. Don’t be fooled, or at least manage your own expectations if you do go)

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As soon as we’d followed the path to the exit we made our excuses and slipped away into the sunshine (the one day of sunshine we got all week – had to make the most of it!)

Out here, free from green vegetation and gaudy rainbow coloured tubs we felt more relaxed. Our fave bit was when the call to prayer came on over the tannoy’s all across town. I used to find them annoying (when I was woken every hour throughout Ramadan in Indonesia a few years ago),  but now I like them – there’s a feeling of unity and bringing everyone together that I like! (Plus I can have a little hum. What cheers you up more than a hum?)

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On occasion, there is far more beauty in life and people than pretty buildings. This was very much the case in marrakech

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We continued as we’d started the day by soaking up the hustle and bustle of local activity.

 

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Now, everyone knows that a good story needs a strong beginning, an exciting middle and a great ending. Sometimes the middle bit is just a ‘filler’ between what happens at the beginning and what happens at the end. Not this time.

We found the most fantastic restaurant/café! The sign at the front boasted a roof terrace so up we went. And up. And up again. When we thought we’d reached the top, packed full of diners, we spotted more steps so up we crept because no one else seemed to be going that way, opening us out onto the most wonderfully sun-bathed terrace overlooking Marrakech. Oh it was just so beautiful!

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We had it all to ourselves, like a wonderful secret!

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The food was one of the best meals we’d had all trip and reasonably priced too, but that’s not why you should go. The real selling-point is its view of the rooftops AND the Atlas mountains, the sound of the ‘call to prayer’ ringing out around you, and the seclusion of having it to yourself to collect your thoughts in the otherwise manic city.

I’m trying to find out its name so will update that when I get it. In the meantime it’ll have to stay mine and Holly’s little secret, sorry!

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In the afternoon we took ourselves off for a massage to treat ourselves. There are loads of places to do this, but most were fully booked so we ended up in Les Bains De Azahara. I wasn’t impressed. I’d desperately wanted a very strong, deep-tissue massage so the lady behind the desk said that the Moroccan massage would be just this, with a glint in her eye that suggested she wasn’t lying! She did say that if it got too painful I could ask to swap to a more gentle massage so I really felt reassured that I was in for some heavy battering.

I don’t think this was meant to be a con, but it honestly felt more like I was being tickled than massaged! It was really quite bad! She was ok on my legs, but she literally just stroked my feet, and then barely put any weight into the pack part. If anyone has any advice for me about how to get them to really put some effort in I’d love to know, but in the meantime I wouldn’t recommend this particular massage joint.

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It must have gone on longer than we realised as we emerged into dark streets and decided it was time to take our rumbling stomachs off for some food.

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We decided that after such a nice day of being pretty much left to our own devices we’d brave the main square again and try out another food stall.  As it happens, the one from the previous night was still the busiest and we were keen to do it a more ‘local’ way having observed their eating habits the previous night. We sat at the same stall, but on a quieter bench tucked away at the back of the busy walkways. This time we knew to turn-away all extra bread and olives sent our way, and instead of the fancy meats just ordered the local delicacy of lentil soup, eaten straight out the bowl with bread rather than a spoon. As it was really cold in the evenings this turned out to be the perfect dinner.

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Because we knew what we were doing it was a far more pleasant experience and we were able to relax and soak it all up.

And, because I’d avoided scoffing down street food and snacks until now I also had space for their cinnamon and cardamon tea (actually too sickly for me, it turns out) and chocolate dough balls (a delight!) which ended the evening nicely.

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I was so glad that we’d managed to lose so much of our tourist-naivety as it allowed us to feel a little more at home and ever so slightly less touristy.  But, as part of this ‘real marrakech’ that we were so delighted at, we were also witnesses to a rather violent fight (I didn’t quite see how it started as I was busy buying a jalib, of course) as apparently someone (a local woman) tried to steal from another shop and it was all fighty and hitty. Very loud and a little scary! Then, whilst escaping from that drama someone spat at us. Not nice but we escaped unscathed and decided we were rather looking forward to part 2 of our trip. The beach break!

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