Monday, 16 February 2015

3 days in Marrakech

Finally our long awaited trip to Marrakech had arrived. Flying out of Gatwick meant a 1.5 hour train trip to the airport, but it was warm and comfortable inside the train as the snow lightly fell outside. Most of our flights away have been under 2 hours, so this one being over 3 hours was long to us. Marrakech is located in the northwest corner of the African nation of Morocco and at the bottom of the Atlas mountains, and yet the Sahara desert is only a few hours away. A real mix of cultures from French to Arabic and African, our school knowledge of French being put to the test.

We stayed within the medina at a Riad, a traditional Moroccan house built around an interior courtyard and as we had arrived late into Marrakech, we opted to eat in the first night trying local cuisine and a lovely chicken tagine. Our lodging was just a few minutes walk from the main square - Jemaa El Fna. By day it was filled with stalls selling freshly squeezed orange juice (orange trees growing down the main street wherever you looked) and snake charmers aggravating the reptiles and enticing people to take a photo - only one! A second photo costs more!!! Monkeys dressed in dolls clothes and encouraged to 'go to passers by' for yet another costly photo experience. It was entertaining watching the innocent tourist think they could just take a quick snap then get chased and hounded to pay the price. More stalls selling silverware, ceramics, fabrics, herbs and spices, oils and lotions, beanies and fez of all colours as well as an assortment of entertainment.

Dinner at our Riad in Marrakech

                                              Place Jamaa El Fna - the main square just

                               An entrance into the medina - the old walled city in Marrakech

Walnuts, almonds, figs, peanuts - all locally grown

Cobras and Vipers captivating the tourists

Vendor selling his bread - very tasty too.

And then there is the Souk! A labyrinth of alleys where one is destined to get lost. Prices are set by bargaining between the buyer and the seller and all trying to entice you into their stall by offering the best price and the best quality.

          Alleyway after alleyway, stall after stall of amazing colours and sights .... and people.

and they just go on!

Anyone for olives? - shame we don't like them.

                                         The most amazing displays of lamps and lanterns

100% manual wood lathe - locals call it the Berber Black 'n' Decker! 
After a day of walking miles, it was nice to take a bottle of local Moroccan wine up to the terrace top of our Riad to sit and relax. We were only a few minutes walk away from the noise and hectic pace of the square and the Souk but it was so peaceful up on the roof. 
Waiting for the wine to arrive. Just nice to take the weight off our feet.

Our roof top view across Marrakech
One day we hired a driver to show us the local area surrounding Marrakech. Thankfully his English was very good so we had a running commentary throughout the day. It didn't take long to get out of the flat surrounding area of the city and we were soon heading up towards the snow capped Atlas mountains. We passed acres upon acres of olive groves and orange orchards, all flourishing and a major export for Morocco. With an endless water supply from the mountains, the peaks being covered in snow even through Summer, everything was so lovely and green and the soil looked very fertile We wound our way up through the Ourika valley to a point where we were stopping for lunch. This was the end  of the road for cars - all villages further on up the mountain could only be accessed by donkey or foot. We were introduced to a local guide who took us up a path of sorts, an unexpected mountain climb to the waterfalls and a great vista back down over our base. Nothing like some strenuous exercise to get the blood pumping in the cold mountain air. Back down and another delicious tagine for lunch.

A view looking up through the Ourika valley. Restaurant tables set up near the waters edge.

Waterfall stop on our walk

The snow capped Atlas mountains

That evening, we had booked ourselves into the Medina Spa for some pampering. First the steam to open the pores, then we lay on marble tables (cushioned) and drenched with buckets and buckets of warm water. This was followed by an all over body scrub with fragrant soap, washed off and then another scrub with rock clay mineral. While this worked its wonders, our feet were scrubbed and massaged. Drenched again with another few buckets of warm water, dried and then a 45mins body massage with fragrant oil. Moroccan tea to finish - the only part we didn't enjoy. The experience was amazing and we floated back to our Riad for sleep.

Our 3 days was at an end and after breakfast, time to bid farewell to our hosts and make our way back to London. Clear blue skies all the way and a great view as we left the African continent, across Spain, the tip of France, the islands of Jersey and Guernsey and into the UK.

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