Marrakech Guide: The Rose City Inspiration (avec les enfants)

Serene riad rooftop setting.

Serene riad rooftop setting.

Since as far back as I can remember, I’ve always liked to travel. My first flight was before my second birthday on a one-way ticket to Detroit with my mama. For me, travel and escape from the routine is a form of survival, a therapy that enlightens the senses. My solo travelers may be more in the past, for now, so now the logistics and organization offset spontaneous last minute flights and weekend getaways. However, something deep within me knew that it didn’t have to be overly complicated, we needed only the basics and the rest was enjoying the journey together and creating a unique experience. We went for it, a week before the holidays, we ignited the travel fire and lit the path to Marrakech, stepping off the European continent and landing on mystical and magical spot for a handful of days.

Highlights of the trip that may entice you to go:

Take the kids,they carry a distinct cuteness appeal: We found that despite non existent changing tables or high chairs in most establishments, hugs and love, affection were in abundance. The locals were infatuated with the kids, and treated them as though they were their own nephews or grandkids. Given the extrovert tendencies of the kids, there was a magnetic affect in each interaction from our accomodations, to random security gaurds to wait staff at dinner.

Riad life: A riad is a type of traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. You can only find these in the ‘Old Town’. For me it makes for a unique stay, contrasting from your usual hotel experience. When you entered the main garden and patio of our riad, you would find a robust orange tree, bearing large fruits, a few small turtles tucked into the corners of the patio, and in the center, a large cage with birds who sang sweetly. In addition, the rooftop was set up with large beds and sofas for lounging, views of the sunset and small pool, more for dipping toes and paddle, rather than a full fledged lap work out.

Yella Madam: I must say, I think I spoke more French in Marrakech than I do in Montpellier.  For you history buffs, the French conquest of Morocco took place in 1911 in the aftermath of the Agadir Crisis, when Moroccan forces besieged the French-occupied city of Fez. On 30 March 1912, Sultan Abdelhafid signed the Treaty of Fez, formally ceding Moroccan sovereignty to France, transforming Morocco into a protectorate of France. In the same year, after the First Moroccan Crisis and the Agadir Crisis, the Treaty of Fez was signed, Morocco was divided into French and Spanish protectorates. In 1956, after 44 years of French rule, Morocco regained independence from France, and shortly afterward regained most of the territories under Spanish control.  Nowadays, since the official language is Modern Standard Arabic, and most government and official business is carried out in French, all Moroccans  know either one or the other. At homes most will   speak Moroccan Arabic, or a Berber dialect.  Thanks to history, the kids were able to continue to eat pain au chocolat for breakfast. Although they may now live with a false impression that it is a universal global breakfast staple. Maybe it should be.

Tea time all the time: Beautifully designed pots of tea would magically appear on almost every occasion; arrival at the riad, a vendor selling you something in their shop, a visit to a Berber village. We had multiple cups (well actually small ornate tea glasses) on this trip where we took time to stop, pause and enjoy the tea offer, reflect a bit, warm our hands and clear our minds. Some people smoke cigarettes, for me the tea breaks were just the trick.

Tangine Cuisine: Marrakech has a vast offering of places to eat. As always, we tend to get a local recommendation. Most of the time we opted for a rooftop spot to take in the sunset. The service was always amicable, and of course catered to the kids. We may have over indulged on the tangine, the local food named after the triangular pyramid pot it is cooked in.

Natural Botox in a bottle: One afternoon we hired a private tour guide to show us through some parts of town as well as accompany us to the market. He was incredibly knowledgeable and was able to help us maneauvar market experience. The spice markets are famed in Marrakech and we definitely had interests in selecting some concoctions to take home. We ensure to visit a state-certified spot where we were given a mini-seminar, and thankfully no pressure to buy. Luckily for them we pounced on the natural Botox in a bottle, a variety of teas and spices and oils to enhance our beauty and our cuisine. We also picked up crystalized Eucycalypts, which I never knew existed. This potent product can be used in a hot bath, or add to your tea. The Aragon oil, that everyone flocks to purchase, is apparently all fake in town, so you must go to the outskirts to get quality oil. True or false? I don’t know, we ended up buying it from a women’s cooperative outside of the city.

YSL’s inspiration: A must-see spot, and I’d say saturated with tourists was Jardin Majorelle (and the Berber Museeum) and the Musee Yves St Laurent, that is next door. It is on every list as a must-see. Both were equally impressive; on one side a lush little garden with cactus, succalents from around the world thoughtfully placed along the pathsweaving in and out of the garden. The Museum was inspiring, even if you aren’t into luxary fashion, as it documented the creative and design journey of Yves and highlighting the inspriation he found while living and working in Marrakech. I did find myself dodging self-made Insta stars, model shots and photo protraits at virtually every turn in the garden, so that was slightly offputting. The museeum was more low key, less cameras, and offered a small cafe with some treats to break up your visit and helped you reflect and process everything that was vying for your eyes’ attention.

Main square buzz: Jemaa el-Fnaa is a square and market the main square of Marrakesh, used by locals and tourists. If you have limited time in Marrakech, I would park up in this square and watch life go by, because I think many of lessons are unraveled here. From dawn to dusk, the square transforms physically with hand pressed fresh juices offered in ethe morning, to monkey acrobats in the evening. The entertainment level in the evening encompasses dancing, storytellers, magicians galore. Slowly, one-by-one, the food stalls light up and set up their modest tables and stools to accommodate the dinner crowd.

Peaceful parks, stoic, snowy mountains and sand deserts: The bustle and hustle always has a certain appeal, but nothing beats a bit of nature. Especially with the young folks. We took a morning to stroll through Menara Gardin which is flowing with overgrown olive trees. It contrasted the exhuberant tourist spirit of the YSL museum. We also enlisted in a day trip which we found under the new AirBnB experiences option. We were guided on a camel tour and then a trek through the mountains. For the camel trek we were dressed in traditional outfits and mounted on the camels. We walked along an open space against a mountain backdrop and I honestly felt as I had transformed into another life in another land all together. The calm rhythm of the walk actually put the littlest one to sleep. It was an arduous hike, not what we had expected. It would have been less strenuous if the kids agreed to ride the donkey that was hired, but they declined the offer. It was worth it in the end, despite the soreness that lasted a few days after. 

 Before you go: Outfits, make sure you pack to cover up. Also brush up on your taxi negotiation skills, they will come in handy, as well as changing babies in the back of those taxis.

Marrakech had chaos, and had calm. I needed an escape from home. Amir in the Kite Runner quotes: “Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it.” For me Marrakesh saved the music. 

For inspiration for your trip to Marrakech check out my Pinterest board (top right in the icons bar).