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Uniquely Marrakech

Get Lost in the Medina
Uniquely Marrakech
There’s good reason Marrakech is Morocco’s most popular destination. Its vast blush pink medina enclosed within crenellated walls is a tapestry of souks, mosques, palaces, and artisans, all pulsing with the energy of a country that proudly carries ancient traditions into modern times. Most visible is the chic, artsy neighbourhoods of Gueliz and the palm-fringed avenues of Hivernage.
Photo courtesy of Moroccan National Tourist Office/www.visitmorocco.com
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    Get Lost in the Medina
    Get Lost in the Medina
    The winding lanes and alleys of Marrakech's medina seem designed to confuse the unwary visitor, but getting lost is part of the fun. Strike out from the central Djemaa el-Fna square to explore the many kissarias (covered markets) and funduqs (courtyard caravan rest houses). This is the best place for one-of-a-kind shopping at stores like Mustafa Blaoui (the city's very own Aladdin with better taste), Riad Yima (for original works and merchandising by artist Hassan Hajjaj) and contemporary carpet maestro Soufiane, as well as a cluster of bespoke fashion stores spinning out from around the Souk Cherifia. Its also where you'll find the ancient city's most iconic sights ranging from the Ben Youssef Medersa to the Maison de la Photographie nearby. The Kasbah district is home to the city’s royal legacy – don't miss the Bahia Palace, while the Mellah—the old Jewish quarter—still bears traces of its roots despite being primarily Muslim today. If you do get confused, there’s always someone happy to offer directions, and a café with mint tea is never far away.
    Photo courtesy of Moroccan National Tourist Office/www.visitmorocco.com
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    Mosques and <em>Medersas</em>
    Mosques and Medersas
    The beautiful 12th-century minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque is Marrakech’s iconic landmark, visible for miles around. But the call to prayer rings out from a number of other minarets across the city (look for the stork nests that adorn many of them). While non-Muslims are rarely allowed to enter Moroccan mosques, you can get a taste of their interior splendor by visiting one of the historic medersas (theological colleges). The most famous is the Ben Youssef Medersa, a masterpiece of Moroccan architecture with barely a square inch left undecorated.
    Photo by Isidoro Ruiz/age fotostock
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    Magnificent Imperial Palaces
    Magnificent Imperial Palaces
    Marrakech is one of Morocco’s four imperial cities, and its rulers made sure they left behind plenty of evidence of their grandeur. The most impressive of which is the 19th-century Bahia Palace, which was built for a grand vizier of the Moroccan sultan. It’s an excellent example of fine Moroccan arts, with its zellij mosaic floors, carved stucco plasterwork, and painted cedar ceilings. The mammoth 16th-century El-Badi Palace has fared less well over the centuries and is more of a magnificent ruin, with sunken gardens and a massive pool. Its former rulers are buried nearby in the opulent Saadian Tombs.
    Photo by Darrell Hartman
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    Colorful Museums
    Colorful Museums
    While the story of Marrakech is relived every day on the streets and in the medina, its museums allow you take stock of everything. The Musée de Marrakech is housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace, a fitting place to show off its rich collection of historical objects and contemporary Moroccan art. And nearby Musée Tiskiwin displays a more eclectic group of artifacts and crafts, showcasing the city's former role as a trading post for caravans coming from the Sahara. Fast forward to the 21st century and Marrakech museums have gone from being fascinating, if somewhat stuffy, to world-class with the opening of the the sublime YSL Museum in October 2017 and the official launch of the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) in February 2018.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    The Djemaa El-Fna at Night
    The Djemaa El-Fna at Night
    The Djemaa El-Fna is at the sacred, beating heart of Marrakech – a vast, public meeting place, cum entertainment venue, cum dining spot. Fringed by orange-juice sellers and traditional herbalists, it is at its most lively in the evening, when dozens of food stands fire up their grills, boil up cauldrons of oil and begin the serious business of feeding the masses. As the prickle of spice and smoke tickle your nose, lanterns illuminate the night, roving entertainers beat on drums, acrobats tumble through the air, and storytellers regale with their tales of Arabian nights. There is nowhere quite like it, and to miss the Djemaa El-Fna on your journey through the Red City would be to miss a glimpse into its very soul.
    Photo by Karel Schoonejans
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    Sublime People-Watching
    Sublime People-Watching
    Pull up a seat in a café on any of the medina's little squares (it doesn't have to be the Djemma al Fna, the spice market (Place d'Epices) is smaller and no less entertaining), order a mint tea, and watch the parade of characters who come and go before you. Water-sellers wearing wide-brimmed hats adorned with red pom-poms carry goatskin vessels and clink brass cups to attract the thirsty. Berber women hawk fresh produce and entice visitors with intricate henna tattoos. Boys on scooters outmaneuver men on donkeys and handcarts piled high with goods. Young women in fashionable headscarves chat on cellphones, kebab vendors shout for customers, kids chase each other in and out of shadowy alleys, but perhaps the best sight of all is seeing onlookers looking on in bemused amazement.
    Photo by Karel Schoonejans
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    Street Theater and Cultural Events
    Street Theater and Cultural Events
    You don’t have to go far to see a show in Marrakech. The Djemaa El-Fna, noted for its "intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCO, is at the heart of the city's street entertainment scene. During the day, you can hear the droning pipes of snake charmers long before you see them. As the sun sets, they’re replaced by storytellers, acrobat troupes, and roving bands that play trance-like Gnawa music. An easier entry point into it all is to pass by Cafe Clock for one of numerous cultural events that take place in the evenings, ranging from live traditional music to authentic storytelling with translators. There are several large clubs in the Ville Nouvelle if you want to get your groove on. Touristy but no less beloved for that, Le Comptoir has been around forever, while Buddha Bar is the current favourites among residents. It's well worth coming during one of the festivals also. February 2018 saw the launch of 1-54, a contemporary art fair giving the bi-annual Marrakech Biennale a run for its money, while Oasis techno music festival in September is the new darling of Ibiza DJs finishing up the season. Don't pass up a chance to visit Africa's first gallery focus exclusively on contemporary photographers, Galeri 127.
    Photo courtesy of Gallery 127
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    Unwind in a Moroccan Garden
    Unwind in a Moroccan Garden
    Marrakech can sometimes feel like it's all hustle and bustle. When you need a bit of calm, escape to one of the city's green oases. While many larger riads offer serene courtyard gardens, seek out the Jardin Majorelle in the Ville Nouvelle for a taste of Eden. Formerly owned by Yves Saint Laurent, the botanical garden spans more than two acres and features palm trees, fountains, streams, and numerous bird species. At its heart is an art deco villa painted in cobalt blues and lemon yellows that pop in the sunlight. Even more spacious are the palm-fringed Menara Gardens on the outskirts of the city. A royal pavilion and a reflecting pool provide scenic views for picnics and late afternoon strolls. Further afield still, but an easy trip thanks to a shuttle bus that ferries folks to and fro from the Djemma al Fna, is the extraordinary Anima Gardens – and outdoor sculpture park surrounded by tropical plants on the road to Ourika.
    Photo courtesy of Moroccan National Tourist Office/www/visitmorocco.com
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    A Shopper’s Delight
    A Shopper’s Delight
    Marrakech has been a trade city for more than 1,000 years, and tourists are only the latest visitors to snag a bargain. Half the medina seems full of enchanting things to buy, with shopkeepers who try to reel you in to sample their wares. You'll encounter painted tajine dishes, countless Berber rugs, apothecaries offering herbal remedies, and handcrafted leatherwork in a dozen bright colors. Haggling for your prize is half the fun. Expect plenty of mock outrage from the shopkeeper as you counter his "best price," but then there will be smiles all around once you close the deal. But if you'd rather leave the bargaining to someone else, the city has a flourishing designer scene, especially in the Guéliz district, where you can find 33 Rue Majorelle, a concept store with a distinctly Parisian feel that curates finely crafted gifts, housewares, and clothing, all produced by Moroccan artisans. A little farther afield, the ateliers and desgin shops of the Sidi Ghanem neighborhood, once an industrial area, is worth extra bit of effort it will take to get there.
    Photo by Karel Schoonejans
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    Venture Outside Marrakech
    Venture Outside Marrakech
    Marrakech is ideally situated for quick trips that show the diversity of Morocco. An easy day trip from the city is the Ourika Valley, lovely for gentle strolling and lunch cooked over hot coals by gurgling mountain streams. To get to the snowy ridge of the High Atlas mountains, drive about two hours to the village of Imlil, which serves as the starting point for an overnight hike up Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. The coast is similarly easy to get to. A 2.5-hour drive will have you in the charming white-washed fishing port of Essaouira where you can spend your days strolling on the beach, admiring its various galleries stuffed with the works of local Naif artists and feasting on seafood. Or, drive a further half hour to the virgin beaches and surf scene of Sidi Kaouki, where you'll find there's blessedly little to do but watch the Atlantic crashing to shore.
    Photo by Martin Moxter/age fotostock