Hustle and bustle of Marrakech

Bustling. Chaotic. Sensory overload. This is how I would describe Marrakech.

Sights

We had roughly 1.5 days in Marrakech so out of the all the famous sights, we only visited Palais BahiaBen Youssef Madrasa, and Jardin Majorelle – all of which were worthwhile purely from an aesthetics point of view.  Palais Bahia has very intricate wooden ceilings and Ben Youssef Madrasa has beautiful coloured tiles all around the courtyard.

Top left and right: It’s a rare moment to capture Ben Youssef Madrasa without many tourists.
Bottom left and right: If you saw an amateur photographer spending forever pointing her camera at the floor or ceiling of Palais Bahia, that was probably me.

We especially loved the Jardin Majorelle – its eye popping colours like cobalt blue and sunshine yellow, and the unique flowers and cacti, make postcard worthy photos.

Jardin Majorelle is also known as the YSL gardens because:

“In 1980, Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent acquired the Jardin Majorelle, saving it from real estate developers. Since then, the garden has been restored, and many new plants have been added… After the death of Yves Saint Laurent in 2008, Pierre Bergé donated the Jardin Majorelle to the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent… A memorial to the French fashion designer was built in the garden.”

We spent the rest of the time simply walking around the souks and absorbing the atmosphere. From the various blogs we read and friends we spoke with, we expected to be hassled quite a lot but it was less than I expected. It reminded me slightly of cities in Southeast Asia where market places and city centres also have a flurry of unrelated activities all vying for the attention and money of tourists. One thing which struck me was the variety of activities going on in Jemaa el Fna – among the snake charmers, monkey trainers and food stalls, we came upon a woman who was offering henna tattoo services while her baby slept in the pram next to her stool in the middle of arguably one of the noisiest squares in the world.

Shopping

Haggling in Marrakech is an unavoidable experience. We generally start at 50% of the price they offered and slowly settled on a price somewhere in the middle. We are probably not the best at bargaining but to give you an idea of how much we paid:

  • Scarf: 80 dirham
  • Leather belt: 90 dirham
  • Taxi ride from Jardin Majorelle to Palais Bahia: 45 dirham
  • Taxi ride from Jemma el Fna to Supratours bus station: 25  dirham

The key is not to feel like you’re offending the seller by starting at what seems like a ridiculously low price. Be prepared to walk away.

For a more pleasant shopping experience, we recommend Ensemble Artisanal where things are sold at fixed prices (supposedly). We still unintentionally managed to buy a wooden bowl at 100 dirham instead of 300 dirham – it helps that the person covering the shop owner didn’t seem to know the products very well.

We also enjoyed walking along Rue Riad Zitoun Jdid which connects with Jemaa el Fna. This street is not as busy compared to the souks and you will find some shops selling things more unique, e.g. tailor made tops and dresses which were very tempting.

Food and drinks

There were a lot of mint tea, tagine and couscous, and more tagine. Because we frequently eat vegetarian, we were tagine-d out pretty quickly as it was mostly the same vegetables.

We ate at a few restaurants which were priced above average for Marrakech (100+ dirham for mains). Dinner on the terrace at Nomad gave us a view over one of the squares. Dinner at Pepe Nero was quite romantic as the tables were set in the most beautiful courtyard.

You have to walk down dark alleyways for several minutes to reach Pepe Nero. Don’t feel deterred! Our verdict: romantic restaurant with decent food but not as authentic as the ones you would find in Italy.

There are loads of stalls in Jemma el-Fnaa selling fresh juice – you could get a glass of orange juice for 4 dirham (£0.32) and a mixed juice for 10 dirham (£0.80).

One thing that I did miss was good quality dark chocolate which was virtually non-existent.

Accommodation

We enjoyed staying at some beautiful, cosy and colour coordinated riads in Marrakech. As you walk into the rooms, you will see floors covered with Moroccan style carpets and walls decorated with things like carved wooden doors and mirrors made of camel bone and silver. All riads included massive and delicious breakfasts with items such as Moroccan pancakes which we thoroughly enjoyed on the terrace each sunny morning.

Top left: Riad Helen
Top right: Riad el Marah
Bottom: One of our many delicious breakfasts which were included within the room booking fee.

Money

Moroccan dirham is not a currency that is legally available outside the country so it’s useful to have some cash in Euro. We also recommend the Monzo card which doesn’t charge extra for taking dirham out of the ATM. It takes the time and stress out of budgeting, having too much cash, and exchanging any leftover cash.

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Split in September

Although this post is long overdue, Split was by far our favourite city in Croatia. It was bustling but not as crowded and touristy as Dubrovnik. It has a beautiful Old Town centred around the Diocletian’s Palace, a spacious promenade, lots of places for swimming, and equally tasty restaurants which provided more value for money compared to Dubrovnik and Hvar.

Split Old Town Croatia

We stayed in a studio which was a stone’s throw from the Old Town – it was nice to be able to walk everywhere. Our host recommended a wonderful cafe called Luka Ice Cream & Cakes which we went to everyday during the three days we were there. It was, hands down, the best place for ice cream on a hot summer day. There were many options for vegans as well.

To burn all the calories consumed, we would recommend the walk up the steep streets in Veli Varoš quarter to a hilltop cafe called Vidilica, where you can have a drink while watching the sun set over the entire city of Split. It looks just like in the movies, except we weren’t fortunate enough to get a table at that hour.

Vantage point Split

Hilltop cafe Vidilica

Hilltop cafe Vidilica

Nevertheless, we did eat at many other great places such as Uje Oil Bar (where you can dine next to the Old City walls and feel like you’re living in the medieval ages) and Galija for Mediterranean/Italian food.

From Split, we joined a local tour for a day trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s an impressive park with many terraced lakes, waterfalls and emerald green waters. We debated between renting a car and joining a tour but we were glad we joined the tour because the tour guide gave us an interesting lesson on the history of Croatia. Sights wise, we personally enjoyed the Vintgar Gorge in Slovenia more, possibly because it was less crowded and touristy. At several points along the route in the Plitvice Lakes National Park, tourists were walking so close together such that if you wanted to stop and take photos, you felt you were holding up others. Perhaps this was because early September was peak season?

plitvice-lakes-national-park

Price per person with Portal Travel Agency: €80

If you’re on a budget, time-strapped or want to get away from heavily touristic areas, we think you’ll enjoy Split more.