A long list of highlights awaits delegates travelling to Marrakech
In the 19th and 20th Centuries, the mild winter climate of L’Hivernage attracted wealthy residents of Marrakech; in this area near the foot of the Atlas Mountains they passed the winter season in luxurious comfort. Today, elegant new buildings such as the Palais de Congrès, along with the old villas and palm-lined roads, contribute to its ‘gardens and glamour’ ambience. A casino, nightclubs and fine restaurants add to the appeal.
Charm of a different sort is just a short taxi ride away. The ancient souks and narrow alleys of old Marrakech, its maze-like ‘medina’, are a living relic of an important 14th-Century town. Embellished with new museums and incredible gardens, a visit to this quarter of the Red City is an experience to remember. But hire a guide. I don’t mean one of the street guides who are drawn to tourists like ants to a picnic (and who will guide you first to their uncle’s shop) but one recommended by your hotel or a reliable service like Tours by Locals. With a proper guide, you’ll avoid getting hopelessly lost in the old town, have friendly assistance with shopping and get back to your hotel or the conference centre on schedule.
What to see? Out of a fairly long list, five highlights:
The world-famous Jemaa el-Fnaa, the “square of trespassers”, has been the heart of the city for 950 years. Lively from dawn to long after dark, it’s at its peak around sunset when food sellers start setting up stalls. Populated by acrobats, musicians, dentists, snake charmers, storytellers and pickpockets, you will love it or hate it but you won’t be indifferent.
Exotic souks that begin at the edge of Jemaa el-Fnaa. Enjoy bargaining for souvenirs, from jewelled sandals to iguana skins. https://visitmarrakech.com/discover-marrakech/art-of-living/souks
Le Jardin Majorelle; a two-and-a-half-acre complex housing the Berber Museum, the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech and the Musée Yves Saint Laurent. Majorelle, with its fountains and collection of cacti, is open every day. Book online to avoid discouraging queues. www.jardinmajorelle.com/en
Maison de la Photographie is a small, interesting museum of street and portrait photographs, open daily from 9.30 to 19.00. http://www.maisondelaphotographie.ma/
Experience a Riad, a traditional Moroccan house built around a central courtyard with fountain or pool and a rooftop terrace. Many have been converted into memorable hotels. The list of the world’s top 25 Small Hotels 2019 included Riad le Clos des Arts (http://www.leclosdesarts.com) and Riad Kaiss (http://www.riadkaiss.com).
The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco
In 2008, UNESCO recognised Jemaa el-Fnaa as the first “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. Storytellers have been entertaining here since the city was founded in 1070. Fascinated by the elderly men who carry on a dying tradition Richard Hamilton, the radio and television journalist, was moved to preserve this ancient art. Tracking down the last of the traditional storytellers, he produced a collection of 36 of the folk tales and fables they tell, along with the backgrounds of the storytellers themselves. Readers of this book, though they may not understand Darija Arabic, the storyteller’s language, will have some understanding of the dynamics at play as they watch the storytellers at work on Jemaa el-Fna. By Richard Hamilton. Paperback and Kindle Editions from Amazon.
Morocco: A Culinary Journey…
A celebration of the wide range of exotic flavours and cooking styles of Morocco. Whether you have yet to meet these dishes and are curious, or have enjoyed them on a visit to Morocco and seek to replicate them in your own kitchen, this book will inspire you. Some 80 recipes including those with Berber influences or hints of Spain, from tagines to street food, from appetisers to desserts, it’s all here – complete with enticing photos of markets and street scenes. By Jeff Koehler. Available in hardcover and Kindle versions from Amazon.
Lords of the Atlas
The dramatic story of the rise and fall of the Glaoua clan, which ruled Morocco from 1893-1956, is traced in this acclaimed book. The story starts with Madini and T’hami El Glaoui – the sons of a Moroccan caïd and an Ethiopian concubine; they surged to power and enormous wealth at the end of the 19th Century, a time when the country was still trapped in a feudal past. Madini died in 1918, but his brother T’hami continued to enjoy a life of unimaginable splendour and unchallenged cruelty. His social circle included Winston Churchill, Colette and Charlie Chaplin, all of whom were T’hami’s guests in Marrakech. In 1953, T’hamil had his enemies’ heads impaled on his gates; only three years later, his rule collapsed. It’s an epic story played out against a background of Marrakech and the now-ruined castles of the High Atlas. The book is illustrated with fascinating photographs. By Galvin Maxwell. Paperback and Kindle Editions from Amazon.