A first-timer’s guide to Marrakesh, Morocco
Marrakech is undoubtedly one of the most mesmerising cities in the world, filled with sights, scents and colour. Work your way through its fascinating neighbourhoods, past its breathtaking architecture, sampling its culinary wonders and discovering its must-do attractions. Morocco’s fabled ‘Rose City’ is a mesmerising metropolis fringed by rolling desert, oasis-like palmeries and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.   Marrakech’s rich heritage dates back nearly a thousand years; what was once an old caravan town along the sub-Saharan trading routes flourished into one of the great cities of the Maghreb. Nowadays the blush-pink ramparts, soaring minarets and medieval-plan medina are a constant reminder of the imperial city’s storied past.   Artists, writers and musicians have long been seduced by Morocco’s ‘Jewel of the South’. Travellers find themselves entranced by the heady atmosphere, riot of colours and chaotic collision of Berber, Arabic and French cultures that lay the foundations of modern Marrakech. Design lovers will delight in the blend of ancient artistry and today’s thriving creative scene that makes up the very fabric of the city.   Iconic French fashion designer and former resident Yves Saint Laurent famously said, “A visit to Marrakech was a great shock to me. The city taught me colour”. Whilst the maze-like medina, with its tangle of alleyways and bustling souks might overwhelm the senses – one can just as easily find respite in the secret rose-scented gardens, the pools of palatial hotels and terrace cafes with sweeping views over rose-tinted rooftops, palm trees and Moorish architecture set against a bright blue sky.   So if you feel the allure of the exotic, chaotic and utterly enchanting Marrakech, here’s our guide to finding the magic among the mayhem. Getting there  Qatar Airways flies from Sydney, Melbourne or Perth to Marrakech via Doha and Casablanca. Best time to visit Avoid the scorching summer. Visit in spring (mid-March to May) when the roses are in bloom in Morocco, or enjoy a mild autumn (from September to November). Neighbourhoods The Medina This is the Marrakech conjured up in everyone’s imagination. Getting lost in the labyrinthine alleyways is all part of the experience. The 11th-century, UNESCO-listed old town is surrounded by 16 kilometres of rammed-earth walls. Once you venture inside one of the city’s grand gates it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. While the dusty, narrow backstreets are mostly for foot traffic, make way for pack-laden donkeys and buzzing motorcycles. [caption id="attachment_47539" align="alignleft" width="600"] Shopping for Berber rugs is a must in the souks.[/caption] The souks (markets) have barely changed in centuries. Souk Semmarine, the main artery that runs through the medina, is piled high with pottery, fabrics, carpets, leatherwork and antiques. As you delve deeper into the vibrant bazaar you’ll witness workmen noisily plying their trade in the blacksmith’s quarter, the dyers’ souk strung with richly coloured skeins of wool, stalls spilling over with leatherwork and handcrafted carpets as well as the Spice Square heavily perfumed with the scent of amber, musk and orange blossom.   You’ll probably hear the carnivalesque Djemaa el Fna before you see it (hint: follow the drumbeats and Gnawa music). It’s the pounding heart of the medina, brought to life at dusk as hundreds of makeshift stalls are spread across the historic square and locals gather for an evening out. Ville Nouvelle During the French protectorate in the 20th century, the ‘New Town’ was built adjacent to the medina. The wide boulevards lined with tangerine trees, European bistros and Art Deco buildings are in stark contrast to the old town.   The Gueliz district is the locale for high-end restaurants, expensive boutiques and numerous art galleries, whilst the upmarket Hivernage, on the western edge of the medina, is where you’ll find the ultra-luxe hotels such as La Mamounia and the Royal Mansour. Mellah The separate 15th-century quarter is where the Jewish community once resided. Remnants of its Jewish history are the Miaara Jewish Cemetery and a few remaining synagogues. Kasbah Bab Agnaou is one of the most impressive gateways into the old citadel. The medina’s southern district is known for its stately Saadian architecture and arty cafes. [caption id="attachment_47544" align="alignleft" width="600"] Locals gather in the medieval walled city[/caption] What to do Sip mint tea overlooking Djemaa el Fna Secure yourself a spot on the terrace of Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier as the sun begins to set. Order a pot of Moroccan mint tea (a sweet amber-coloured tea made with fresh mint and sugar) and sit back to watch the open-air theatre unfold in the famous square below. [caption id="attachment_47549" align="alignleft" width="600"] Tea is served at Riad Yasmine[/caption] There’s a dizzying spectacle of soothsayers, snake charmers, magicians, fire-eaters, drumbeat dancers, airborne acrobats and mischievous monkeys performing tricks. Cooking Moroccan cuisine Learn how to make a tasty tagine, as well as other local favourites at La Maison Arabe’s cooking school. The half-day workshops are run by the historic riad, which was the first in Marrakech to open a restaurant for foreigners and entertained notable guests such as Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Jackie Kennedy.   Your efforts will be rewarded at the end of class when you get to tuck into a feast of Moroccan flavours in the elegant dining room. The workshop costs around $88 per person. Hit up a Hammam A hammam (bathhouse) is a unique Moroccan cleansing and purifying ritual. For first timers, it’s advised to visit a hammam tailored to tourists. Splurge on a spa day at the splendid Royal Mansour, even if it’s just to see the other-worldly, white-laced interiors. Opt for the 75-minute signature treatment. [caption id="attachment_47547" align="alignleft" width="600"] The lush courtyard here is its crowning glory[/caption] Yves Saint Laurent Museum Marrakech’s headline-grabbing attraction opened its doors in 2017. The museum is dedicated to the life and work of celebrated French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. The building has a wow factor of its own – curvaceous lines, intricate lace-like brickwork, as well as an earthy terrazzo and terracotta facade. Berber Museum The small but fascinating museum located inside Jacques Majorelle’s former studio is a great introduction to Berber history and culture. The space exhibits over 600 Berber and North African objects collected by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé. La Maison de la Photographie The former fondouk (merchant warehouse) has been repurposed into a gallery for vintage photography. Beautifully curated exhibitions showcase Morocco through the nostalgic lens of the past. Café Clock Located deep within the Kasbah district Café Clock is as much a cultural hub as it is a cafe. Events include hikayat (traditional storytelling) evenings and Berber-style music and dancing. If you do stop by for lunch, order the legendary camel burger. Secret Garden The recently renovated Le Jardin Secret has opened its doors to the public. It’s a true sanctuary in the Moussaine district of the medina. Find shade beneath the elaborate pavilion, take a stroll through the palatial grounds and admire the gardens brimming with lavender and fruit trees – olive, pomegranate, fig and date to name a few. There’s an admission fee of about $7 for the gardens. Jardin Majorelle The botanical oasis dreamt up by French painter Jacques Majorelle is a must-visit for fashionistas as the iconic blue villa later became the home of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. The couple found inspiration in the dreamy setting, where whimsical grounds are bursting with vivid bougainvillea, bamboo pathways and lofty cacti. [caption id="attachment_47541" align="alignleft" width="600"] Inside the Jardin Majorelle, with its signature blue villa.[/caption] Beldi Country Club A charming hotel favoured by glamorous jet-setter types, Beldi Country Club is a mere 15 minutes away from the city centre on the outskirts of Marrakech. Here you’ll uncover an eco-chic paradise – a sprawling five-hectare retreat with swimming pools, ancient olive trees, rose gardens and a glorious greenhouse. Where to shop Travellers have no trouble parting with their dirhams in this city. After your first spin around the souks, you’re likely to have walked away with a Berber rug under your arm and a pair of butter-soft babouche (leather slippers) on your feet. Once you’ve exhausted the souks, here are some worthwhile retail alternatives. Leave room in your luggage. In fact, bring an empty suitcase! Souk Cherifa A hip galleria-style shopping spot with boutiques sandwiched among the traditional souks. The stores are located in Mouassine neighbourhood, a somewhat up-and-coming design district within the medina. [caption id="attachment_47542" align="alignleft" width="600"] Exploring the souks of the medina is a quintessential Marrakech experience[/caption] Chabi Chic It won’t surprise you to know that two very stylish Parisian women are behind this contemporary store in the heart of the medina; it sells pottery, tableware, decorative objects and fashion accessories. Mustapha Blaoui This long-standing emporium is a treasure trove of beautiful Moroccan pieces; from intricate lamps, quality carpets to larger furniture. La Maison ArtC A high-end boutique in Gueliz run by Israeli designer Artsi Ifrah who lives and works in Marrakech making one-of-a-kind pieces from vintage fabrics. Historical sites El Badi Palace Visit the scattered ruins of a Saadian sultan’s 16th-century palace. The grand scale of the complex hints at El Badi Palace’s former glory, meanwhile beauty can still be found in the shimmering pools and sunken gardens. [caption id="attachment_47543" align="alignleft" width="600"] The ruins of 16-century El Badi Palace[/caption] The Saadian Tombs Said to be the only remains of the Saadian dynasty that ruled over Marrakech during the golden age of 1524–1659. Impressively laid with Carrara marble and decorative plasterwork, the extravagantly embellished tombs were long forgotten until they were rediscovered in 1917. Romantic spots A riad is a centuries-old Moroccan mansion transformed into a guesthouse, typically with an interior courtyard. Marrakech is the mecca of Morocco’s hip riad scene, with hundreds of atmospheric and often very affordable lodgings in the heart of the ancient medina. Hidden behind nondescript doors, many riads vaunt lush gardens, idyllic pools and sun-soaked rooftop terraces. [caption id="attachment_47545" align="alignleft" width="600"] Riad Yasmine’s photogenic plunge pool[/caption] El Fenn This eye-catching riad is luxuriously outfitted by Vanessa Branson (sister of Richard Branson) and Howell James. El Fenn remains a perennial favourite for aesthetes as each corner of this exquisite guesthouse pops with jewel-like colours and contemporary art. L’Hôtel Marrakech The passion project of British designer Jasper Conran, where guests sleep in luxe salons, each with a four-poster bed. The swoon-worthy interiors recall the glamour of the 1930s and boast Conran’s own personal collection of antiques. Dar Kawa Talented Belgian tastemaker and textile designer Valérie Barkowski transformed her Marrakech residence (formerly a 17th-century townhouse) into an intimate guesthouse. A sophisticated monochrome palette of black and smoky-grey is set against a bright, white backdrop. Riad Yasmine If you don’t mind sharing the sun loungers with a few posing Instagram influencers, taking a dip in this picture-perfect plunge pool is one of the perks of staying at Riad Yasmine. Riad Secret Jardin As the name suggests this is a peaceful haven, cleverly concealed behind heavy cedar doors. It’s owned and run by former French fashion duo Cyrielle and Julien, and while the saffron-yellow tadelakt (plastered) walls, stucco arches and filigree balustrades all impress, it’s the lush courtyard that makes it truly special. [caption id="attachment_47546" align="alignleft" width="600"] On the roof at the peaceful haven of Riad Secret Jardin[/caption] Riad Mena & Beyond This six-room riad is a design-enthusiast’s dream, with individually bedecked rooms that combine mid-century minimalism with Moroccan style. Plus, it has Philippe Starck-designed bathrooms, a heated outdoor pool and a bougainvillea-draped courtyard. [caption id="attachment_47540" align="alignleft" width="600"] Tranquil spots are easy to find at Riad Mena & Beyond[/caption] Where to see architecture  Ben Youssef Madrasa This 14th-century masterpiece was once the largest Qur’anic school in North Africa. It remains one of the finest examples of Arabic architecture in Marrakech. Koutoubia Mosque While non-Muslims are not allowed to enter mosques in Morocco, you can admire the towering minaret from across the city and listen as the muezzin’s call to prayer echoes throughout the walls of the medina. [caption id="attachment_47538" align="alignleft" width="600"] The towering Koutoubia Mosque[/caption] La Bahia Palace The opulent 19th-century palace was once home to the harem of notorious vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed, with sumptuous rooms for his four wives and 24 concubines. Exceptional examples of Moroccan craftsmanship can be admired in the details here.
Rabat Morocco Africa
City guide to Rabat, Morocco
Look past the Moroccan greats of Casablanca, Marrakesh and Fez to discover Morocco's capital Rabat, brim full of ancient treasures. Rabat is known for Old medina, the beautiful Kasbah, Souq shopping Rabat's Eat streets When dining in Rabat you should sample the best of both the Moroccan tradition and the French colonial influence.   A much-loved traditional restaurant can be found in the old medina. Dinarjat (+212 37 70 42 39) adds a little theatre to proceedings: you’ll be met at the medina gates by a man in traditional dress bearing a lantern who leads you through the labyrinth of old streets to the old wooden door of the restaurant. [caption id="attachment_31353" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Mosque in the old town of Rabat, Morocco.[/caption] Inside a 17th-century mansion you choose from a classic menu of lamb tagine, couscous and salads under vaulted ceilings.   For a taste of France, head to Le Grand Comptoir. Housed in a restored 1930s Art Deco building, it has that Casablanca romance; a place of martinis, jazz and rare steak. Out and about in Rabat If you only have a day or two in Rabat head straight for the 17th-century walled Medina, a rabbit warren of streets that carry that old North African sense of romance and adventure.   Dip in and out of the souqs and cafes and you could get lost, but not for long as you’ll eventually hit one of the ancient fortress walls.   Head north up the Rue des Consuls past grand old courtyards before leaving the Medina and entering another of Rabat’s treasures, the beautiful Kasbah les Oudaias, through the spectacular Bab Oudaia gate.   Relax in the Andalusian Gardens here and wander the narrow streets and blue-and-white walls of this 12th-century citadel that overlooks the Atlantic. Insider’s secret Summer heat getting too much? There's a lovely clean swimming beach right in the city. Retail reconnaissance Make your way to the 14th-century Grande Mosquée de Rabat Medina, which marks the start of Rue Souika, a thoroughfare of shops with the reed-covered Souq as-Sebbat at its eastern end.   Practise your bartering for Moroccan lamps, embroidered babouche slippers, jewellery and fabrics among baskets filled with bright spices and Turkish delight.   Don’t miss the bustling souqs in the neighbouring city of Salé, a short taxi hop over the bridge that crosses the Bou Regreg river.   Salé is known for its carpenters, who produce fine chairs, tables and trays. [caption id="attachment_31354" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Moroccan women and children having fun on a sunny day at the Kasbah des Oudaias beach in the city of Rabat, Africa.[/caption] Stop by one of the woodworking factories to pick up a gift. The ultimate experience Looking like some alien obelisk, the Hassan Tower forms a striking edifice on the banks of the Bou Regreg river.   The 44-metre high minaret, a slab of ornately carved red sandstone, is all that remains of Sultan Yacub al-Mansour’s effort to build the biggest mosque in the world, an attempt that was destroyed by earthquake in 1755.   Take a walk in the surrounding gardens and then catch a five-minute taxi to Rabat’s other must-see sight, the Chellah.   This medieval muslim necropolis was built on top of a Roman Fort. You’ll find the remains of a spectacular mosque here and the ancient ruins now play host to an annual jazz festival in September. Caffeine hits Avenue Mohammed V is a tree-lined boulevard with plenty of shady spots to sit and have a coffee.   Try La Comédie, which bakes its own pastries every day, and watch the world go by. Stay & play Affordable: The Repose has traditionally styled suites in a lovely old riad in Salé’s Medina.   Moderate: Riad Sidi Fatah is set in a traditional mansion in Rabat Medina.   Luxe: With its own hammam, wellness centre and pool, the Relais & Châteaux property Villa Diyafa is the ultimate way to indulge after a day in the hot, crowded souqs.
Your ultimate guide to marvellous Marrakech
Colourful architecture, medieval souks, winding alleyways, snake charmers… Morocco’s most enchanting city is like something from a storybook. Words Megan Arkinstall
food culture Chefchaouen Morocco blue city god power
The treasures of Morocco’s ethereal blue gem
Morocco is a treasure trove to explore, but it pays to get off the beaten track to discover one of its most precious jewels, Chefchaouen. Hidden away in Morocco’s Rif Mountains is a sleepy, storybook town. Chefchaouen (pronounced shef-sha-wen) cascades down the rugged mountainside to nestle between the dramatic peaks.   But it’s not scenery, the rich cultural tapestry, the romance of a faraway place, or even the beguiling history of this walled city that first captivates those who visit. It’s the colour: an arresting, luminous palette of powdery blues. Travellers are instantly enchanted as they gaze upon the cobbled lanes, terracotta roofs, white facades brightened with splashes of brilliant blue paint, and intricately tiled doorways framed by bougainvillea.   If the ‘Blue City’ were a jewel, it would of course be a sapphire, that sparkles various shades depending on the light – from Majorelle to azure, and a harsh Arctic blue in the midday sun. It’s a fantastical sight to encounter as my partner and I round the final bend of a winding four-hour drive from Fez. I breathe in the crisp mountain air and feel a world away from the mayhem of the Imperial cities (Fez, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat) and the sweltering North African heat.   Set along what was once an old caravan route between Tangier and Fez, Chefchaouen (or Chaouen as it is sometimes called) is one of Morocco’s hidden gems. Many travellers overlook northern Morocco in favour of the well-worn tourist trail of the south: ‘the capital of cool’ Marrakech, beachy-chic Essaouira and the Sahara.   The steep, colourful labyrinth of alleyways is traversed by Berber tribespeople, Islamic locals, and dreadlocked hippies. The offbeat enclave has a slow pace that has held an allure for bohemians since the 1960s – and the haze of that era hangs in the air, as kif (cannabis) is still grown in the surrounding countryside. Getting there Arrange for an accredited private driver to Chefchaouen from Tangiers (two and a half hours) or Fez (four hours). Staying there There are more than 200 small hostels and boutique hotels. Book somewhere in the old medina, as the newer part of town is not as charming. Riad Cherifa This recently opened guesthouse's four suites and eight rooms all include eclectic furnishings and antiques. There’s a small pool, Hamman and rooftop terrace, and a simple breakfast is included. Eating there Restaurant Beldi bab Ssour This family-run restaurant is a challenge to find but it's worth the effort. The neighbourly atmosphere and full-flavoured fare means it’s likely you’ll become a ‘regular’ during your stay. Auberge Dardara Restaurant This hotel-restaurant is a short drive out of town, but remains a firm favourite for travellers looking for a memorable meal made from garden-fresh ingredients. The owner makes his own bread, olive oil and goat’s cheese. Try the speciality: a thick fava bean soup called bessara. Drinking there For Islamic religious reasons alcohol is hard to come by. To drink like the locals, head to a sidewalk cafe and order the ubiquitous sweet mint tea (the cornerstone of Moroccan hospitality). Handy language tips Due to the lasting effects of colonisation, Spanish is widely spoken. Locals also speak Arabic, Berber and French, but it’s easy to get by with English too. What to be aware of The Rif region is one of the world’s foremost cannabis producers. Touts typically target tourists but are best avoided. Although it’s readily available, smoking kif is illegal. You’ll soon master the art of a polite but firm 'no'. What to do Our taxi drops us off at Bab Souk, a gateway to the pedestrian-only maze of the medina. We venture inside, as if through a portal into the past; in a tradition that began over five hundred years ago, most of the gorgeous Andalusian architecture in the old town is painted in the characteristic colour. It is said that Jewish exiles from Spain blue-washed the buildings to reflect the cloudless Moroccan sky, serving as a reminder of God’s power. The resulting effect is one of the prettiest medinas in North Africa. [caption id="attachment_36891" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Blue upon blue upon blue (photo: Edwina Hart).[/caption] The picturesque streetscapes of Chefchaouen have become very fashionable of late. Comparable in beauty to the likes of Santorini, Jodhpur or Positano, social media ‘influencers’ have deemed Chefchaouen as infinitely Instagrammable.   Although Chefchaouen is welcoming to visitors today, it wasn’t always the case. The city was founded by Moulay Ali ben Rachid in 1471, built as a strategic base camp to launch attacks against the Portuguese stronghold in Ceuta. It soon became a refuge for Muslim and Jewish exiles from Spain fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. [caption id="attachment_36889" align="alignleft" width="1500"] The incredible palette of blue that typifies the streets of Chefchaouen (photo: Edwina Hart).[/caption] The increasingly isolationist city was closed to all foreigners until Spanish occupation in the 1920s. Only three westerners had managed to visit: a French explorer disguised as a rabbi, a British journalist, and an American missionary who met a grisly fate upon discovery. Although Morocco gained independence in 1956, Spanish is still widely spoken here.   A Berber boy meets us at Bab Souk to wheel our luggage over the cobblestones and guide us to the newly opened Riad Cherifa guesthouse, originally a traditional home with an interior courtyard or, in this case, a lofty atrium. Our afternoon is spent basking in the sunshine on the rooftop patio with a plate of sticky pastries and a glass of ‘Berber whisky’, an affectionate name for Moroccan tea, which is a supremely sweet, amber-coloured brew made from fragrant spearmint leaves. [caption id="attachment_36892" align="alignleft" width="667"] A patch of white breaks up the sea of blue (photo: Edwina Hart).[/caption] Wandering around the ‘Blue City’ feels like stepping back in time. There is a communal wood-fired oven where loaves of bread are prepared daily, farmers sell fresh produce at a weekly market, women in flowing Islamic veils walk children to school, townspeople wash laundry in a nearby waterfall and the mesmerising call to prayer vibrates within the ancient city walls. [caption id="attachment_36896" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Chaouen is an exercise in overstimulation of the senses (photo: Edwina Hart).[/caption] We work up an appetite traipsing through the spice-scented lanes, browsing a string of shopfronts and soaking up the atmosphere at alfresco cafes around Plaza Uta el-Hammam. As evening falls we dine at Restaurant Beldi Bab Ssour, which serves homespun fare in a rustic dining room. Our table is shared with a family who glance up from their meal with welcoming smiles before continuing a conversation in the Berber tongue.   The following day, I awake at first light to explore the surreal setting as the soft blanket of dawn amplifies the otherworldly atmosphere. I steal away from the riad and weave my way through the quiet, narrow lanes. It’s empty – save for a few stray cats and a glimpse of a man wearing a traditional hooded cloak (djellaba) before he disappears into the shadows. [caption id="attachment_36893" align="alignleft" width="667"] A typical tiled doorway (photo: Edwina Hart).[/caption] Chefchaouen is ethereal in the morning mist, the streets cast with an eerie hue before the warm tones of the sun begin to creep over the mountains. It is a scene that will leave me spellbound for a long time to come, and which, when combined with its other myriad allures, confirms Chefchaouen as a true gem.   Check out the 6 must do's when you're in Morocco's blue city: - 6 must-do’s in Morocco’s Blue City