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Destination Spotlight: Marrakesh

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Alina Polishuk

It’s a city that has almost everything on offer.

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Though it’s not the capital of Morocco (that would be Rabat), Marrakesh is one of the country’s biggest cultural hubs—and carries with it the energy of an evolving city. Dodging motorcycles in the medina (Old City) and hawkers in the main square goes hand-in-hand with exploring glittering palaces and indulging in spa treatments. It’s a city of many identities, which is why it has long attracted artists and writers looking for inspiration.  In a city that has almost everything on offer, here’s a glimpse of what you can experience.

What to do
Djemma el Fna, the central square of Marrakesh, becomes a hub of evening activity. Here, locals in search of entertainment walk alongside tourists in search of cheap eats. It’s worth witnessing the frenetic energy of the drum circles and storytellers, even if you’re not in the mood for street-stall grub. For a taste of old-world architecture, visit one of Marrakesh’s many historic sites. The Ali Ben Youssef Medersa is one of the largest historic Islamic colleges in the country. The turquoise-and-black tiled walls of the center patio are  fine examples of Arabic decoration. 

If an authentic Moroccan experience is what you desire, a cleansing trip to a hammam or a public bathhouse is a must. But if stripping down to your skivvies to let a stranger scrub your body free of dirt and dead skin isn’t your cup of tea, many riads and spas also offer more traveler-friendly experiences.

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What to taste
The national dish of Morocco is couscous, but the chalky boxed version found in the West is nowhere to be seen here. Instead, indulge in tagines full of this pillowy steamed pasta (yes—it’s a pasta!), adorned with slow-roasted veggies, braised meat, or caramelized onions and raisins. You'll find this dish everywhere, from the eager-to-please vendors of Djemma el Fna to the city’s most luxurious poolside tables.

That braised meat is also ubiquitous throughout the city. Named after the triangle shaped pots in which they’re cooked, traditional tagines include succulent, sweet beef and prunes or the briny and sharp chicken with preserved lemon. And any traveler to Morocco would be remiss to skip sweet mint tea. Escape the hustle of the souks in a nearby riad (traditional Moroccan courtyard)  for a calming cup of the stuff, served with a side of Old-World romanticism. 

Where to escape
If the dust and the bikes become too much, Marrakesh’s proximity to the Atlas Mountains means there are plenty of opportunities to get out of town for a day or two. Go on a guided trek through quiet Berber villages, or make an extended trip to the summit of Mount Toubkal

For many years and for many travelers, Marrakesh has been a gateway drug; one taste of the warm, dry air or glimpse of the ancient tiled walls, and it’s easy to want more of Morocco. Check out cities such as Essaouira, Fes, and Chefchaouen to continue exploring.

>>Next: Morocco, Through an Instagrammer’s Eyes

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