Working as a travel presenter for the past 15 years has taken me all over the world, and I’ve been fortunate enough to experience incredible destinations. However, our schedules are structured, to the minute, there isn’t any time to create your adventure. Now when I travel for pleasure, I like to let my days unfold as they will and when it comes to accommodation I often just book the first night or two before leaving home, then once I have a feel for the place settle into where feels right.
I did just that recently in Marrakech, Morocco where there is a “Riad” (riad means garden, but it is applied to town houses built around a central garden and used to accommodate guests) around every corner. They are located within the walls of the medina inside the medieval city with maze-like alleys and thriving souks (market places). Every riad has its unique design and character, they are mostly all beautiful and offer a peaceful sanctuary in this crazy town. The riad I had booked online from home was lovely, but in a nearby lane way, I discovered one much more welcoming with a stunning roof top to hang out on, sun bake, eat your meals or just relax with a mint tea.
The design was something I’d only seen in magazines, but to the locals, it was an effortless typical Moroccan rooftop. I fell in love with my little home for the week, and to my joy, it was much cheaper than the first riad, often this happens when you book in person. The riad was called Dar Malak, and my beautiful and comfortable room came to an affordable 40 Euros a night including breakfast, which I took on the sun-drenched rooftop. Expect to pay anywhere from around $50 to $200 AUS for a quality riad depending on your room size.
I spent a week in Marrakech, and I found it the perfect amount of time. I managed to get an excellent feel for the place and got to know some locals who always gave me the best information on where to go and what to do, it always pays to ask the locals. I found a few favourite places to eat and enjoy a sunset cocktail. After a busy day of wondering the souks, exhausted from shopping and bartering my choice of location to hang out and have a mint tea and a bite to eat was the Cafe des Espices located at the Rahba Kedima Square or the Spice Market.
Made up of three levels, the best place to sit is up on the terrace over looking the colorful square, also a good spot to cast your eye on your next purchase, that's how I found my beautiful woven basket. The food is basic and cheap, ranging from a sandwich, salad or a tagine. They also do a delicious almond, date, avocado and honey smoothies. It was nice to rest at the cafe for a while, recharge then hit the souks again to get lost in the maze of shops. A quick freshen up back at the riad, then pop out for a sunset drink followed by dinner at Nomad, also located at the Spice Market right opposite Cafe des Espices. I became very fond of this particular square. It is small and sunny and full of ladies selling hand-woven baskets, knitted woolen caps, stuffed toys made of leather, spices and offering henna tattoo.
You can also shop for carpets on display here, from the more urban refined Arab rugs to the intriguing Berber carpets adorned with talismanic symbols and often tell a tribe’s story. With anything you buy in Marrakech, there is never a correct price, so it’s good to cut the asking price in half and then try from there. The enormous, busy, eclectic square you may have seen on the travel shows is Jemaa el Fna.
It has many stalls selling Moroccan souvenirs, food, rugs, hats; you name it! You’ll meet snakes and their charmers and become dizzy with the options of places to eat. The smells and sounds are intoxicating and the energy, electric!
Back at the Spice Market I find a comfortable seat at Nomad, again on the roof top, over looking Marrakech, extending out to the breathtaking Atlas Mountains. Nomad offers a modern twist on traditional Moroccan fare. The chicken tagine is to die for, tender and spiced to perfection. Before my meal I begin with a refreshing cucumber martini. Sipping on my drink while being drenched in the dusty pink sunset and listening to the call to prayer, is simply mesmerizing.
Nomad is one of the more expensive places to eat and drink in Marrakech. However, it should be experienced even if for a drink and nibbles.
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For an easy day excursion which you can walk to from the Medina check out Jardin Majorelle. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge bought the gardens and villa in 1980 making it their home. Yves Saint Laurent’s ashes are scattered in the rose garden and a memorial was built in his honor.
The exotic gardens with plants and flowers from all over the world create a sublime oasis; you’d be forgiven for forgetting you are in a busy city within the walls of the garden which French painter Jacques Majorelle dedicated 40 years creating. Within the striking blue villa is now a museum and a store with stunning Moroccan pieces. Admission is 70 Moroccan Dirham, around 10 Australian dollars, and is well worth it, especially if you are a fan of YSL.
Be weary of random locals coming up to you as you wonder around the intricate lane ways of the souks. They prey on tourists offering to point them in the right direction, starting out very friendly but often becoming quite aggressive once they give you information in demanding money. If you’ve followed them and let them lead you around you will need to provide them with something. Usually half of what they are asking.
Although now you can find modern restaurants that serve alcohol, remember that Morocco is a Muslim country and most food venues do not serve alcoholic beverages.
Laura Csortan is a travel host who presented for eight years on the Great Outdoors. She has also hosted Qantas destination Guides, Channel 9 Holidays for Sale and most recently presented a film for National Geographic riding a motorbike across Morocco. As a passionate traveller, Laura loves to share her favourite travel tips and adventures. Follow her on Instagram: lauracsortan or Twitter: @LauraCsortan
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.