Recess went to Morocco! We spent the new year in Marrakesh last month, taking in the whirlwind of colors, sights, sounds, and smells that filled our senses and every pore of our being. Morocco has been a longtime destination on Marie's bucket list, and it didn't disappoint. We were deeply inspired by our experience, it was like a surreal, magical dream. Marie believes that Morocco should be on everyone's bucket list, and we want to share our adventure. We hope you enjoy our recommendations!
Everything together was magical. To be there and experience it feels like something from your dreams. It's a surreal feeling, to experience exactly what you imagined from your dreams, even though you had never previously been.
"All of the color and architecture is mesmerizing. As you walk through the narrow streets of the Souks to the sprawling palaces of the past, you are truly left feeling inspired. It should be on everyone's bucket list."
Marrakesh is made up of the old, medieval walled Medina and the "New City" outside of the medina walls- inside the Medina is where all the action is. Tall buildings in the city's signature faded red-pink hue are closely spaced, creating long, narrow, maze-like alleys that serve all modes of transport. Mopeds, people, donkeys, and large carts all share the narrow "pedestrian" spaces lined with shops, restaurants, and souks (markets) that spill out into the streets, hawking their wares. It is imperative to keep alert when walking in the medina- no instagramming and walking!
All roads in this inner labyrinth eventually lead to colorful Jemaa El Fna, the city's main square. It's a bustling marketplace and nighttime food court filled with salesmen, dancers, snake charmers, and performers, all vying for your attention (and wallet). The square is surrounded by multi-storied buildings housing tea cafes and restaurants at varying levels to catch the best view overlooking the hustle below and a gorgeous sunset.
JEMAA EL FNA
Life in the medina is as colorful and rich as you can get. The air is filled with a mixture of the scent of spices, gasoline, smoke, bread, donkeys, and a lot of dust. Sellers are aggressive in this tourist-driven area, but it's not to be missed. Despite knowing that the items they create and hawk are mainly tourist souvenirs, it is remarkable to see the artisans in their tiny workshop spaces adjacent to their booths, crafting their wares by hand.
Better than any mall: the souks carry an all-encompassing range of goods, and we were impressed by the vast quantity and endless variety of handcrafted goods that were available. Leather slippers, tassels, yarns, scarves, jewelry, woven rugs, baskets, metalworks, lamps, herbs, olives, breads, pigments, dried flowers, pottery, terra cotta, and animal hides all filled the narrow alleyways in every color of the rainbow.
Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
Google Map Link
LE JARDIN SECRET / SECRET GARDEN
OUR MEDINA RIAD
RESTAURANT PEPE NERO
GRAND CAFE DE LA POSTE
EL BADI PALACE
Marrakesh is rich with Moroccan Moorish architecture. The sheer volume of all the intricately decorated archways, carvings, cut-outs, and ceilings is insane. Nearly every inch of every building is covered in detailed work, from top to bottom. You have to look all around you, and it's constant stimulation of all the senses at once.
We opted to stay in a modest riad in the heart of the Medina, where we felt immersed in the bustle of the city. Waking up every morning in that setting (yes, that's considered modest!) set the tone for each day's inspirations, and we loved being in the center of it all. The majestic Le Grand Cafe De La Poste, a restaurant and cafe, is housed in what was once the post office. Pepe Nero, an amazing Marrakesh-style Italian restaurant, is in a traditional riad. All forms of past and present glory shine with painstaking maintenance and restoration.
Once you understand the aesthetic of Moroccan architecture, you can visit the El Badi Palace and picture what the bare brick walls must have looked like. Stripped of its splendor, the Palace was once constructed from the most expensive materials available, including gold, onyx, and marble, using all of the most beautiful techniques around.
Tea is a way of life!
Lamb Shank, CAFE ARABE
Duck Confit, LE GRAND CAFE DE LA POSTE
Lamb Tagine, Chicken Tagine, ZEITOUN CAFE
Carb Breakfast, OUR RIAD
OLIVE TASTINGS AT THE SOUKS
Tea is a way of life in Morocco. Moroccan mint tea is amply available and consumed throughout the day. Usually sweetened and skillfully poured into a small glass cup from up high, this aerated tea was often a tableside show.
Lamb was another dish that was also amply available. Moroccans do lamb well, and most restaurants had a roasted lamb and/or a lamb tagine on the menu. As lamb fans, we weren't disappointed. The lamb shoulder at Cafe Arabe was by far our favorite of the trip: fall-off-the-bone tender and full of flavor. Our other stand out dish of the trip was the duck confit at Le Grand Cafe De La Poste, outside of the medina. Rich and succulent- and of course, these were two places we were able to enjoy our dinner with a glass of wine....which may or may not have had an influence on what dishes we liked most!
Scenery, like alcohol, is another add-on that makes a dinner taste even better. Another great lamb shoulder was had while dining alfresco at sunset on the rooftop level of Zeitoun Cafe at Jemaa el-Fna, overlooking the square. It was a fabulous welcome to the city on our first night.
Italian food in Morocco was also great. It was a bit different; Italian with a light touch of Moroccan flair. One of Marie's favorite dishes was an amazing celery filled pasta from Pepe Nero, something we've never had before. Carbs were king. Platters of bread filled every table, and every morning we were greeted with a hearty wheat bread that was like an english muffin bursting with seeds and grains during breakfast at our riad. We were thankful to spend our days walking throughout the Medina, working off all of this food!
One of the most marvelous gardens we have EVER seen! There are over 300 varieties of plants from all over the world; we love how Yves Saint Laurent continued Jacques Majorelle's mission to showcase the different varietals and continued to grow his collection. It was so striking to see an entire building painted in that saturated, stunning Majorelle blue; that takes confidence and commitment. There are approximately 200 people working to maintain the property alone, of which there is always someone touching up that blue paint.
We love the contrast of the manicured, deliberate garden and the very natural and free flowing spirit it embraces. It is the epitome of nature and man-made beauty co-existing in the same space harmoniously.
It goes without saying that the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech was our other most favorite site in Morocco. It was so inspirational to stand in the house of love where such a brilliant man created his collections. You can't help but feel inspired.
Words & Photos by Marie Monsod & Ian Shepp