Marrakesh is known as the Red City, due to its splendid pinkish red buildings and palaces. The city is certainly Morocco’s most precious gem.
Morocco’s Arabic name, al-Magrib al-Aqsa, stands for “the extreme west”, referring to Morocco as the westernmost country in the Arab world. Morocco is only eight miles or 13 km away from Europe, across the Strait of Gibraltar, but feels a lifetime away. Marrakesh, whose name originates from the Berber words Mur n akush, meaning “land of god”, does at times feel blessed.
Steeped in history, mystery, and glamour, Marrakesh (or the French spelling Marrakech) is an oasis of magnificent palaces and rihads, sacred ruins, luxurious spas, challenging golf courses, and charming local souks (or handcraft markets).
Marrakesh was founded in 1062. It is broken up into two distinct areas – the Old City (referred to as the “Medina”) with its souks or market area, and the Modern City, containing a commercial quarter (Guéliz) and residential area (l’Hivernage). Marrakesh is quite liberal in comparison to its African and Middle Eastern neighbours, but it is still an Islamic, male-dominated city. As is the case anywhere in the world, it is important to travel wisely and mindfully.
Start your visit in this exotic and vibrant city that mixes the medieval and the modern (great hotels and restraints) with an adventure that begins in the air.
A fabulous hot air balloon ride at sunrise, which takes in the Atlas Mountains, is followed by a Berber breakfast and desert camel ride. This is a fine way to begin a trip to see Marrakesh from above and in its desert setting, and it will take your breath away, setting the context for moving on to a tour of the city itself.
Private tours with a hand-picked professional guide will take you from the most renowned of mosques, The Koutoubia, 69 metres high (225 feet), to the 12th century old Menara Gardens and then to the major, exquisite site of Islamic art, the Saadian Tombs.
A visit to the souks for unusual gifts completes your ‘tourist Marrakesh’ and it is time for more adventures. However, if markets are not your thing, Marrakesh is witnessing a rise in small, high-end local designer shops and all the luxury hotels have wonderful boutiques full of both modern and traditional products.
Surfing, or sand-boarding, in the desert is probably one of the most unusual activities to participate in around Marrakesh, but there are also overnight trips to Taghazout on the coast, where you can surf, in water this time, with a qualified instructor, sample authentic cuisine and stay overnight in a beach-side hotel.
You can also head for a swim in the pools of Paradise Valley and lunch at the Banana Fields for another interesting day excursion.
If you enjoy sheer luxury, this is THE opportunity to do something really unusual – the Moroccan hammam. The atmosphere puts you at ease as you enjoy massage, bathing, exfoliating, wraps, and Moroccan refreshments. This is a pampering of the body and soul. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else on the planet.
The Majorelle Gardens on the Rue Saint Laurent were acquired by the late great designer Yves St Laurant and his partner Pierre Berger in 1980 to pre-empt it being turned into a hotel. Often staying here themselves, they have maintained the charm of the original villa and its founder and artist Jacques Majorelle, also keeping the building’s vibrant cobalt blue shade, Majorelle Blue. Parts of the gardens are open to the public and inside, the only Berber museum in Marrakesh, celebrating Berber art, costume and culture, was established.
If you want your senses to be bombarded with colour, perfumes, vocal babble and eye candy, and activities that are found nowhere else, followed by restful moments in plentiful gardens and modern hotels, then Marrakesh is for you.