Marrakech: Glorious Sensory Overload

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Coming from quiet and pristine Geneva, Marrakesh is nothing short of sensory overload: Giant hunks of raw meat hanging from market rafters, men charming snakes sprawled out on the ground in front of you, stalls overflowing with lamps, spices and slippers, children chasing soccer balls through the narrow cobblestone streets, the intermingled smells of freshly-squeezed orange juice and roasting meat, roosters crowing, cats meowing, men pulling carts, donkeys pulling carts, cars pulling carts and oh, the motorbikes, constantly zipping through the alleyways and dodging pedestrians full speed ahead. You won’t get much of a feel for this from my photos — I only dared to walk around with my camera out on the calmer streets — but Marrakesh is quite the vibrant living city. We spent our two days downtown mesmerized by the color and chaos.Guillaume and I arrived late on the afternoon of Good Friday and — after finally reaching the front of the massive airport security line to get our passports stamped for entry — found the driver from our riad waiting to take us downtown. We had a traditional Moroccan tagine dinner in the courtyard (below) and went to bed shortly afterward, eager for some rest after a long travel day.

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The next morning we had breakfast at the riad and spent the day sightseeing and getting lost in the hectic streets of the medina. We saw the ruins of the clearly once-magnificent El Badii palace and waited in line for a half-hour to see the Saadien tombs, which absolutely blew us away with their amazing detail. Lunch that afternoon was at Atay Cafe, which had the best vegetable couscous and rooftop view of our entire trip. Later, we had dinner on the quiet terrace of Naranj, which was Gui’s favorite meal in Marrakech. He had this fantastic ground lamb and eggplant plate, while I enjoyed the lentil and pomegranate dish enormously.

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We woke up early the following morning to visit the Jardin Majorelle and its trademark bright blue villa that used to be owned by Yves Saint Laurent. We were quite surprised to find a line already snaking down the sidewalk just after its 8am opening time, but luckily still managed to have about 20 minutes of relative peace exploring the garden before the hoards of Chinese teenagers took over the grounds for extensive Instagram photoshoots. We also explored the garden of the larger villa next door where Yves lived with his partner, which was open to the public during the weekend of our visit.

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After an hour in the gardens, we returned to the riad for breakfast and then walked to Bahia palace. I had been disappointed to learn that the Ben Youssef Madrasa was closed for renovations, but the tiled Bahia masterpiece made this Moroccan design aficionado one happy lady. Don’t miss it! Afterward, we wandered through the endless souks and Gui tried his hand at haggling with mixed success. I think we got a decent deal on the lantern we purchased, but we may have gotten fleeced on the bag Gui bought me. The locals speak a mix of Arabic and French, so we had the French going for us, but our clear outsider status made the starting prices incredibly steep. We were told you can usually divide the asking price by at least three to come up with what you should be paying, but you will see some pretty incredulous reactions from shopkeepers if you dare to go that low.

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Shopping bags in hand, we had lunch at the lively Terrace des Epices (complete with a saxophone player that looked uncannily like Pitbull) before heading to Les Bains d’Orient for our first-ever hammam experience. I selected that particular hamman for its private facilities and fabulous reviews, and can confidently say that both Gui and I walked out the most zen either of us has ever been. I highly recommend the traditional black scrub followed by a massage, which I have been trying to get Gui to replicate ever since. We finished the evening with dinner on the terrace of the well-known Nomad restaurant where we watched an iridescent sunset over the satellite dish-studded rooftops. If you want a table outside, you should absolutely reserve ahead — The night we visited it was so crowded they did not appear to be taking any walk-ins.

I’ll leave it there for now and pick up next with our trip through the Atlas Mountains to the kasbahs. A bientôt!

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