Why you should visit Marrakech?
The “North Star” of Marrakech is the Koutoubia Tower, because it stands at 77 meters above ground and can be seen from almost any point in the city. The tower was designed in the likeness of La Giralda in Seville and is an everlasting symbol of Marrakech. Erected by the Almohads at the end of the 11th century, it was named koutoub, which means books, because in the old days the Moroccan booksellers used to set up their stalls in the square where it is located. Unfortunately, the mosque is not open to non-Muslims, although it’s still a beautiful sight to behold from the outside.
Craft, art, and gastronomy sum up the exciting blend of ancient and modern that symbolizes Marrakech, and makes for an enticing offer for all guests who come to visit. The 14th century Ben Youssef Medrassa is one of the most dazzling examples of Moorish architecture in the world. Peruse the photos at the Maison de la Photographie, which documents Moroccan life from 1870–1950 and are spread over three floors of a 17th Century Saadian townhouse. Buy yourself an authentic souvenir as you go carpet hunting in astonishing showrooms, or simply meander through the bustling and tangled streets of Marrakech. The eternal muse of artists is constantly reinventing itself in a perfect balance between tradition and modernity.
What to Do & See
1. Jemaa El-Fna square is a large open-air theater where snake charmers, monkey trainers, and Gnaoua dancers and Berber musicians gather to perform. These grand shows transport you back to the days of minstrels and baladins. To admire this whirlwind of colors, smells, and sounds, the terrace of the Grand Balcon at Café Glacier is the ideal spot, as a bird’s eye view and tranquility are both guaranteed.
2. Yves-Saint-Laurent Museum: It’s hard not to notice this contemporary building in the center of the city. After all, Marrakech was one of Yves Saint Laurent’s biggest muses. “Marrakech taught me color,” said the famous fashion designer, before adding, “Before Marrakech, everything was black.”
The museum is a fabulous homage to YSL and contains more than 10,000 pieces of clothing, accessories, and sketches, as well as a café and bookstore for further research.
3. Le Jardin Secret: Shhh… Can you keep a secret? If so, come visit and find yourself in one of the largest and most ancient riads of inside Marrakech’s medina. Of an extraordinary cultural value, the garden is a fantastic representation of Moroccan landscaping and Arabic architecture. A café, a shop, and an exhibition space await inside. Welcome to an oasis of peace in the middle of the bustling medina.
4. Shopping: Marrakech is the ultimate shopping destination in Morocco and is bound to be a dreamy experience if you know where to go. From curated concept shops to “by appointment only” boutiques or handmade goods in the traditional markets, Marrakech is a treasure trove of artifacts. You can find lamps, glassware, rugs, and antiques from all over North Africa to chic boutiques sourcing some of Marrakech’s most modern and trendy creations.
5. Fancy an exotic adventure? Head out of town and to the Atlas Mountains, where you can experience bartering in the weekly Berber markets, exploring ancient salt mines, hiking winding mountain trails, or for the most adventurous, taking a balloon ride over the mountains. For those who are still hungry for adventure, a visit to Ouzoud, the highest waterfalls in North Africa, and the Berber villages in Ourika Valley await.
6. While on the way to the Atlas Mountains, fans of flora and fauna will love the two following stops. Anima Garden, by André Heller, showcases an impressive 2-hectare landscape while the opulent Café Paul Bowles welcomes you with juices, teas, and pastries at the roof top terrace to awake your five senses. Just a few kilometers further down the road, the Jardin Bioaromatique Ourika makes for a perfect stop to break up a longer trip and enjoy a lunch in the garden.
7. Marrakech is a popular hub for African art, with Marrakech Biennale pioneered a movement from 2004 that has inspired the establishment of several world-class museums and galleries since then, such as the Musée d’Art Contemporain Africain Al Maaden (MACAAL) and more recently DaDa, an experimental art space on the Jemaa el-Fna. In 2018 a new-called 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, arrived at the scene. It quickly became the leading international art fair dedicated to promoting contemporary art from a diverse set of African perspectives and just closed its third edition in February 2020.
8. The latest museum to open its doors is Musée de l’Art Culinaire Marocain set in a beautiful 17th century building next to the Bahia Palace. The museum unveils the history and elaboration of dishes and ingredients that are present in Moroccan cuisine such as pastillas, tagines and couscous, where Jewish, Berber, European and Mediterranean influences blend together.
Going back all the way to the 11th century and at the crossroads of Berber, Arab-Andalusian, and Saharan cultures, the Almoravid capital occupies a special place in Morocco. You’ll never get tired of coming back.
Food & Wine in Marrakech
In Marrakech, each bite will take you on a cultural journey. Let’s take a look at six of the most reputed specialties from Marrakech.
✧ FOODS NOT TO MISS
- Méchoui is a festive dish and is the quintessence of the culinary art in Marrakech. It’s a spit-roasted lamb or mutton simmering over the embers of a wood fire. A must during your culinary trip to Marrakech, the Méchoui is eaten with the fingers and is traditionally reserved for prestigious guests.
- Tanjia Marrakchia is a symbolic dish of the culture of Marrakech. It is prepared in a meticulous way and is consumed historically for certain occasions. Indeed, it was a dish prepared by men for men on Friday nights. Yet today everyone craves for it! Cooked in a terracotta jar which notably gave it its name (tanjia), it is madde of pieces of meat glazed with a marinade of salt, saffron, cumin, ras-el-hanout, a splash of water, a little garlic, olive oil, candied lemon and smen (represented by a pungent butter from the country). Then it is cooked overnight in hot ashes to be enjoyed the next day.
- Tajine: Taking its name from the utensil in which it is simmered, the tajine is one of the flagship dishes of Marrakech. It is a very adaptable dish that can be concocted with meat, vegetables, fish, dried fruits, fresh or candied, or even seeds. All the ingredients are left to simmer for several minutes along with spices such as cinnamon or saffron. It is possible to eat a tajine every single day, without ever repeating flavors!
- Amlou or “Berber Nutella” is a culinary preparation made from three ingredients: honey, almond and argan oil. It’s an absolute delight that’s begging to be bought home as a souvenir!
- Mloukhia – In Arabic, this word means royal or king’s dish. It’s also the name of the wild edible leaves from the Corchorus olitorius plant, a variety of jute, which is a very popular ingredient in Middle Eastern and African cuisines. In the times of the Fatimids, according to the historians, the dish was reserved exclusively for the Caliphs. The regional recipe served in Morocco is a stew of lamb and beef cooked in a sauce made from the previously dehydrated plant, which gives the dish a special taste. Simmered for long hours over low heat, M’loukhia can be sprinkled with orange zest, pomegranate, and other garnishes. Its dark green color sets it apart from other dishes.
- Refissa is a traditional Moroccan dish that’s rarely found on restaurant menus. That’s because it is traditionally served on special occasions, such as the birth of a baby, thanks to the health benefits that the ingredients offers a nursing mother . Using msemmen (Arab crêpes) as a base, the chef adds a broth of onions, ginger, coriander, saffron, ras-al-hanout, chicken, and the indispensable fenugreek plant which brings a unique flavor to the dish. Rfissa has remained a staple dish in Moroccan culture for centuries thanks to its deep roots in tradition.
✧ WINE REGIONS AROUND
Viticulture in Morocco spans more than a dozen wine regions — and that’s not even counting the rare blends and unique grape varieties! While we’d love to talk more about the wine in Morocco, te invite to check out our exclusive Moroccan Wine Regions guide for more information.
Where to stay in Marrakech?
Top: Villa des Orangers, Relais & Châteaux | Bottom: La Mamounia Marrakech
It almost seems like Marrakech has an endless abundance of beautiful hotels and otherworldly riads to recover from an intense day of exploration… Here are four excellent choices to get you started.
Surrounded by orange trees, roses, palms, and olive groves, La Mamounia is undoubtedly the crème of the crop in Marrakech’s luxury hotel market. Located on a former 12th centaury royal estate, this intoxicating and opulent hotel is a short walk to most major tourist sites. La Mamounia effortlessly plays up its oriental charm, offering elegant afternoon tea ceremonies on plush Ottoman pillows and ritualistic Turkish hammams.
If you prefer to go local and stay at a riad, then the Villa des Orangers is an oasis of calm in the middle of bustling Marrakech (literally – it’s between the Royal Palace and Jemaa El Fna Square). Each room is a canvas where antique Moroccan furnishings collide with modern touches to paint a beautiful picture of luxury. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor mint tea and dates by the rooftop pool, as it will surely be a favorite lasting memory of Morocco.
Another very special gem is Riad de Tarabel, a chic colonial-style mansion that combines lightness and elegance in its tree-lined patios, breezy terraces, and secret nooks at a few steps from Le Jardin Secret.
As its name suggests, guests at the Royal Mansour are treated like royals at this “medina within a medina.” The design of this luxury hotel incorporates the elements of an authentic medina: each of the 53 rooms are full-fledged riads that offer three floors of unique decorations and new experiences. In fact, the Royal Mansour is the only hotel in the world to offer this unique concept.