For winter sun with a taste of the exotic Morocco is pretty hard to beat. Think balmy days, snake charmers and souks, a memorable New Year’s Eve, lovely roof terraces and a couple of cute donkeys called Doris and Brian.
We’ve had some fairly disastrous trips at this time of year (including one infamous week in Cornwall we left early because the kids were SO grumpy) but this one ticked all the boxes. It was so lovely to escape the mad consumerism in fabulous Marrakech — the perfect antidote to shops and sales and rain.
We stayed at: Riad El Cadi, Marrakech Medina and Fawakay Villas, 20 minutes outside the city. Both bookable through iescape.com
Part 1: 3 nights in a Riad in the Medina
New Year’s Eve and our Riad
This is the labyrinthine approach to our Marrakech Riad. You get to this after navigating the henna tattooists, snake charmers and entertainers of the Jemaa el Fna and then forcing your way through a couple of narrow medieval alleys, along with lots of locals, tourists and, alarmingly, vehicles of all shapes and sizes honking to squeeze past. It’s beautiful, beguiling and bonkers.
Our night-time arrival in Marrakech was all chaos and confusion; mad passport queues at the airport, no sign of the prebooked taxi, a crazy walk through the Jemaa el Fna (being hustled by a stranger with a hand cart and lots of warnings to protect our bags) and through narrow alleys to a hotel I thought I’d only ever find again with the help of a trail of white pebbles, tired and hungry children, combined with the end of a bout of flu … I have to admit to a complete sense of adventure failure that first night. Thankfully, after a good night’s sleep and lovely sunny breakfast on the roof with the accompanying sound of the muezzin’s call to prayer, things seemed a lot brighter.
This orange seller was key to finding our Riad. If we passed him we’d gone too far … !
We weren’t sure of the exact plan for New Year’s Eve, and it did unfold very gradually, but champagne, oysters and musicians on the rooftop made for a delightful start to New Year’s Eve in our Riad on New Year’s Eve. 🍸🍾 Shame we didn’t quite make it to midnight (too sleepy… 💤)
The Medina meanderings and shopping in the souks
Marrakech medina is a noisy, chaotic, sometimes baffling feast for the senses, but it’s easy to find a quiet roof terrace or garden to drink sweet mint tea and watch the Marrakech world go by.
Snake charmers and snake refuseniks in the vibrant lunacy of Jemaa el Fna last week.
Marrakech Medina doesn’t seem to have changed much in the 17 years since we visited for our honeymoon, but there are definitely more motorised vehicles and less donkey carts like this one.
The souks are great fun to wander — and, although it’s very easy to get lost, there’s something calming about the shady coolness. I could have taken a million photos … and bought a million homewares. The Place D’Epices is a fave, with a couple of gorgeous cafes / restaurants (Cafe d’Epices and Nomad have roof terraces to die for). Who doesn’t love a bit of basketry? Probably a good job we had no space in our luggage — otherwise we’d be knee deep in gorgeous baskets, bowls and moroccan cushions by now. Already dreaming of a shopping trip back there…
The Kasbah district
Fresh meat in the Kasbah district. No frozen delivery lorries, just a man with a handful of fluttering birds.
I just couldn’t get enough of the many shapes, spaces and shadows of Marrakech. I THINK this was somewhere in the Kasbah district … (we got a bit lost… )
Marrakech. Full of Jedi Knights it is.
The Palais de Bahia
One of our Marrakech days we booked a guide to show us around. Abdul proved a keen photographer on our tour of the Palais de Bahia, a sumptuous collection of interconnected Riads and gardens, full of Italian marble mosaics and intricate carved and painted Lebanese cedar, built by the first minister for his family of 4 wives, 24 girlfriends and 21 children at the end of the 19th century. Bahia was the favourite young and very beautiful fourth wife, who was given her own Riad (all the other wives shared another, the girlfriends and children a third).
A coincidence of colours in the biggest Riad in the Bahia Palace, home to the 24 girlfriends and 21 children.
Part 2: 3 nights in a villa 20 minutes and a world away from Marrakech
Donkeys and gardens
And … relax. 20 minutes’ drive and a whole world away from Marrakech Medina, we arrived at this little piece of paradise. Such a lovely way to start 2018, with a (refreshing!) outdoor pool, friendly donkeys and a fabulous outdoor living room. We did very little here, except raid the honesty bar, play cards on the roof terrace, and french cricket on the lawn.
We all fell slightly in love with resident donkeys Doris and Norman who popped round for a visit / drink every now and then.
Another day, another gorgeous Moroccan roof terrace, another game of cards ❤️
A day trip into the Ourika valley
From Fawakay, we popped up into the Ourika valley to this pretty village. The colourful restaurants next to — and sometimes in the middle of — the river, approached by ramshackle footbridges, were so appealing we were slightly disappointed to be taken to a much more standard restaurant on the opposite side of the village.
This is the kids having mint tea, bread and honey in a traditional Berber dwelling, complete with cows, a donkey, chickens, rabbits and a sauna on the ground floor.
And finally, all those motorbikes!
As a Brit used to rules, rules and more rules, I will never get used to the sight of motorbikes carrying entire families, including small (helmetless) children who wouldn’t be seen near a motorbike in the UK, so I obsessively took a million photos like these.