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Experiencing Authentic Marrakech

Marrakech isn’t the biggest city in Morocco, but it’s one of the most complex. Here’s how to see it like a local.

Experiencing Authentic Marrakech

Marrakech, Morocco.

Photo by Michael Hansen

This itinerary is part of Travel Tales, a series of life-changing adventures on afar.com. Read more stories of transformative trips and inspired itineraries on the Travel Tales home page.

Marrakech serves up a dizzying array of sights, sounds, and smells: Spice markets, carpet dealers, and colorful crafts converge in the narrow alleyways of its medina—the city’s original walled settlement. Navigating this 11th-century maze is, of course, central to the experience of visiting, but exploring the other parts of this multi-faceted city as well rounds out the richness.

AnaYela, Marrakech, Morocco

AnaYela, Marrakech, Morocco

City Meandering

It’s hard to find a more authentic—and exceptional—place to stay than the AnaYela. A member of Design Hotels, this 300-year-old palace sits behind an unmarked wooden door and has been transformed into an opulent hotel with just five rooms. The restoration relied solely on traditional Moroccan craftsmanship, such as a renowned calligrapher hammering the building’s story in silver on the doors, while all furniture was handmade by Moroccan artisans.

Then dive into the medina. Dark coffee, sweet treats, ceramic lamps, rugs: Seemingly everything is for sale as you peruse the souks. Don’t miss the stunning Islamic design of Ben Youssef Medersa, a Koranic school founded in the 14th century and now a museum. And visit Rahba Lakdima, or Spice Traders Square, with its colorful array of exotic herbs and spices.

Have lunch in Café des Épices, a medina institution and a great place to meet locals. Enjoy a sandwich and finish with a nous nous, which is like a Moroccan cappuccino.

It’s just a few minutes’ drive to UNESCO-designated Jardin Menara, created in the mid-12th century. Popular with picnicking Moroccan families in the afternoons, the open-air gardens make for a welcome change from the crowded medina; wander among the olive groves, orange orchards, and cypresses.

Finish the day at the famous night market on the Djemaa el Fna. Watch acrobats, snake charmers, and belly dancers. Pick up some grilled lamb with cumin or sardines fried in chermoula from the vendors and sit down at a table with locals to enjoy it.

Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Study the Atlas

Today you’ll take a day trip out to discover the Atlas Mountains, passing hamlets, villages, and farmers’ fields, with scenic views at every turn. You’ll also get to know the residents by visiting Berber adobe settlements, having lunch at a Berber house, or visiting a Berber women’s cooperative to see the process of extracting Argan oil.

Pass tranquil Takerkoust Lake and catch the sunset over the Agafay Desert. The day will speed by in a rainbow of colors, from red clay to green forest, and even the white of snow-capped peaks.

Enjoy Some Down Time, Moroccan-Style

Today you’ll experience traditional Moroccan bathing by visiting a hammam—still an important part of Moroccan life. You have the option of inexpensive public hammams, gorgeously designed hammams in luxury hotels, or private hammams like Les Bains de Marrakech.

Relaxed, finish your adventure back at the AnaYela. Book the “Flying Carpet,” a small tower on the terrace with a panoramic view of the city; it’s the perfect setting for a private dinner, and a fitting finish to your Marrakech adventure.

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