1. The Henna Cafe
Mum and I knew we wanted to get some henna before we even arrived in Morocco so I did some research beforehand. If you do the same it will become immediately obvious that The Henna Cafe is the place to go.
In Jemaa El Fna (the big ol’ square) there are plenty of women offering henna at super low prices, which turn into much higher prices once they’ve finished. In fact, if you don’t keep your hands covered they don’t just offer, they insist, happily slapping it on as you walk past them and then demanding money. It’s not necessarily a bad place to go, you get to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the square while you’re having it done, but I can’t vouch for the quality or getting a reasonable price.
At The Henna Cafe however, you choose your design from a book with fixed prices and then the lovely and talented Fatima beautifully applies the design. Mum and I went for the same design in the end and paid 150 Moroccan dirhams each, which is the equivelant of just over £10, a more than reasonable amount. Especially considering The Henna Cafe does so much for the local community, including free classes in languages and arts. They also serve bloody lovely food, and as the only place we found that served falafel (and damn good falafel too) they get a huge thumbs up from us.
2. The Souks
If you know anything at all about the allure of Marrakech then it will surely be the souks. The vast maze of alleyways and covered snickets snaking through the centre of the Medina, lined with the bright colours and sharp aromas of spices, silks, ceramics, jewellery and everything else you can possibly imagine. Cats snake around your ankles and bodies bump against you endllessly. Calls bombard you from every direction of ‘Have a look at my shop, nice price!’, ‘Have a look! It’s cheap as chips!.’ or if you’re Jake (or any other excellently bearded fellow) then it’s the constant call of ‘Ali Baba! Look in my shop! Ali Baba!’.
As a local quite rightly commented to my Mum while we were there ‘The ways of the Medina are tricky.’ and he couldn’t be more right. The streets alone are impossible to navigate unless you have a few days under your belt, but the souks are even worse. As most of the shops sell very similar items, losing your way in a sea of painted bowls and leather bags is just a part of the experience. For me though, despite being tiring, it doesn’t ruin anything, it just adds to the excitement and adventure.
Haggling in the souks is an absolute must. The merchants will start with a ridiculously high price and it’s a game of cat and mouse as you battle to see who will give in first. If you have a price in mind but they’re not budging, walking out of the shop usually works wonders. They will generally call you back and begin to give in. Try not to be nervous of the process, they are confident because they do it every day, but if you persist, you can get something beautiful and unique for a really good price.
3. Ensemble Artisanal
On the other hand, when the souks all get to be way too much (and they will, no matter how much you enjoy them), head on over to the Ensemble Artisinal. It is a small shopping centre, behind walls but open to the glorious sun once you get inside, and it is a shoppers heaven after the mania of the souks. The shops there sell mainly the same things as in the souks, at slightly higher prices, but all prices are fixed and the merchants don’t harrass you which is a sweet relief. There is a cafe too where you can sit in the sun and enjoy some Moroccan mint tea.
We visited several museums while in Marrakech. There are three that stand out to me, and at only a few quid a pop you can’t go wrong.
Ben Youssef Madrasa, previously a residential school for students of Islam, is a beautiful Moorish building built around a grand courtyard. The museum is the building itself, there aren’t exhibitions to look at you just take a leisurely stroll through the corridors and along the balconies into hidden rooms and staircases. The sheer grandeur is enough to take your breath away, and despite the many tourists, there is a stillness and beauty in the strength of the towering, tiled walls that feels so peaceful you can relax and take a breather from the bustle beyond the walls.
Similarly, next door, is the Museum of Marrakech. Housed in the walls of the Dar Menebhi Palace, built at the end of the 19th century, the Museum has some history exhibits as well as being another breathtaking building.
The Maison de la Photographie is another lovely place to go. The building isn’t the draw with this one, although it is simple but lovely. You visit this place mainly for the amazing photographs. The photos were all taken between 1870 and 1950 and we couldn’t believe the quality! The museum feels like a walk through the history of Morocco and it’s people, you can see the city of Marrakech developing over the years. Images of Jemaa El Fna with only a few buildings and not a tourist in sight, a few carts and donkeys, but nothing compared to what you step back into when you leave the museum. Seeing the people of Marrakech being now, in contrast, so reliant on tourism makes you wonder whether our presence there is a blessing or a curse.
5. The Food!
The food in Marrakech is a foodies dream, more importantly a vegetarian foodies dream. I am no longer a vegetarian, but I was once, and I love to cook and eat. Mediterranean cuisine is a favourite of mine and in Morocco you get the mediterranean aspect fused with something else, something exotic. Meat is available widely, and we did eat it, but it was the vegetables, the chickpeas, the cous cous that was a real delight. If you can, find a cafe with a roof terrace, it isn’t hard, they’re everywhere, especially in Jemaa El Fna. Being able to see the hustle and bustle of the city, but being removed from it while enjoying a delicious tagine or bowl of olives is a real treat.
One place we particularly enjoyed and visited three times was Kui Zin. It’s north of Jemaa El Fna, on the other side of the souks. I don’t know if it has a roof terrace because the weather was less than desirable while we were there, and the last thing we wanted to do in the evenings was sit out in the cold and the rain, but the interior is lovely anyway. There is live music every night, the staff are really welcoming and the food is delicious and cheap to boot. I’d say it’s one not to miss!
Another recommendation is Souk Kafe, a bit more expensive but the food was delicious, especially the Harira (traditional Moroccan soup). Oh and if you do go and you get the chance, please feel free to steal the amazing painting at the top of the stairs for me. Ta.
Oh and if you want to make it super special, you could always get engaged while you’re there! That was quite nice 🙂