A winter​ escape to Marrakech | Travel

Morocco is a country within the region of North West of Africa, which translates into 3.5 hours flight from London. I know very little of Morocco but am always intrigued by its unique architecture and beautiful souks lining up the streets. Marrakech is one of the four former imperial cities in Morocco, which carries the most economic significance due to tourism. It is quite a popular winter destination, with weather varies from 20C at daytime and could drop to 3C, night time. I am normally a rather avid planner, but not for this trip. I did not research a single thing except for safety matters and currency notes. It will be our first trip to Africa and we are going to wing it 😅😅😅

DAY 1

Once arrived in Marrakech, we changed our EUROS to DIRHAM at the airport. One must insist on acquiring one’s transaction receipt because they may give you excuses not to but without it, you’re not able to convert your money back to your currency, should you need it. Later, we finally found our taxi driver who drove us to the old medina, where we are going to stay for the next 5 nights.

View from within the taxi once we entered the old medina. I can already smell chaos.

The taxi driver stopped us at a small square and from there on, he led us by foot through small alleys to god-knows-where. All you can do at this point is to have some faith 🙏🏽. Low and behold, he opened a tiny but heavy metal door, where one needs to stoop in order to get through. From a dark carpeted corner, we were greeted by this view. I always knew I wanted the ‘Riad’ or ‘traditional mansion’ experience in Marrakech but to be actually standing here and looking up at the high carved ceilings, lined by orange trees made my heart flutter a little. I quickly realized one thing: my Instagram feed is going to be bustling! 🤣🤣🤣Like many other riads, Riad Karmela has many small properties, acquired over time. We were placed in Riad Caroline for our first two nights and I chose to stay on the top floor with our very own patio. Receiving area at Riad Caroline, all for ourselves. Can we take a moment to appreciate these doors? Seriously, aesthetic on point! 

We reserved our dinner with the hotel but it wasn’t ready until 8pm so we decided to walk around a bit. The first place we visited was the spice market (place des éspices) which was a 5-minute walk from our riad. I did not single-handedly photoshop all these colors. They were there to prey an insta-whore like me but I gladfully fell for it!🤗 Moroccan carpets, soaking in the color of sunset. I don’t know what spices you are selling but I know, I want them all. We were starving at this point (8pm), having woken up at 6am for the journey. The food was okay (just about), considering we paid €25pp. Blehh 😒 We just wanted to crawl to a warm bed after a nice hot shower and call it a night.

DAY 2

The only place I know I wanted to visit was Majorelle Garden. But we were so tired and decided to sleep in instead. We had to drag ourselves out from the bed, right before the breakfast was over. The continental breakfast spread was of nothing spectacular but much more than what we would have at home. The oranges, dates, and strawberries are in season and were so sweet -I devoured them as if I haven’t eaten for days. Also, you know, that’s what you do on any occasion termed ‘buffet’. But most importantly was the luxury of calmness and relaxation it brought us, especially the type of ‘calmness’ that you can capture and upload on Instagram. Mental note on how to decor my own future-mansion. Oh, about the acquisition of the actual mansion, I will let my legal companion or what we now socially termed ‘husband’ to figure that out. After our breakfast, we made our way to Jemaa El-Fna (the most well-known square in Africa) to hail a taxi to Majorelle Garden. It was not like that glamorous scene of Jessica Parker in her Jimmy Choo’s heel in the ‘Sex and The City’ tv series. Instead, it was like throwing a dart blindfolded -figuring out which taxi carries the smallest risk of dropping you in a random shady place for €2. As you would have guessed, we did arrive at the real ‘Majorelle Garden’. Truthfully, I was never happier to see Korean tourists with their selfie sticks. The bold choice of colors in Majorelle Garden. So for some back-up stories, Majorelle Garden or Jardin Majorelle was built by a French orientalist painter (Jacques Majorelle) in 1931 but fell into abandonment in 1962, following his death. It was private property but saved by Pierre Berge and Yves Saint Laurent in 1980 from mainstream development. It is now donated to their non-profit foundation and opens for the public.  A selfie needs to fulfill 3 main goals: 1. All heads remained intact 2. He looks good 3. You look better.  The ‘I-am-too-lazy-to-pose-but-I’m-somehow-naturally-perfect’ kinda look. But we all know that this is like the 100th take 🙄

After scrutinizing every corner for pictures, we finally exited the garden, feeling accomplished to have stretched every single dollar of the entrance fees. Again, on our way back, we had to hail a taxi on the road to Jemaa El-Fna. Taxis lined directly outside the attraction will be charging you 2.5 times more and we were taking none of it. By the time we have arrived in the market, Jemaa El-Fna has been warmed up by the heat so it was a pleasant walk around the square. This is Jemaa El-Fna during the daytime. Anybody is willing to take pictures with you for a small fee. So instead of taking the pictures of their faces, I took pictures of their back, which I found equally if not more, fascinating. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s free. This is what they eat on daily basis (the bread). I don’t know how much it costs or what it’s called but I know that it isn’t particularly hygienic, considering the amount of dirt that the vehicles hurled on its direction. Maybe they wash the bread or something, which I highly doubt. But I wasn’t exactly ready to bargain for a piece of bread especially when they served it during lunch all the time. There are many other dozen fruit stalls and none is particularly more special than others. I got my big cup of sweet mixed juice, for 20 dirhams (€2) and the owner didn’t hesitate to strike a pose with me. People will be calling you from left, right and center, to get you to buy their things but just nod with a courtesy smile and walk away. Even better, practice your Arabic and say ‘inshallah’ (which means if Allah wills it) -that will normally shut them up. For lunch, we walked across the street for some shawarma fix and the portion was so huge that I was still full when it’s time for dinner.

When the night comes, the square is buzzing with people, noise and lights. This is the circumstance where my husband gets dizzy and light-headed. Me, on the other hand, was charged with so much energy that I could burst.

Now before we hustle for dinner, quite literally, I squeezed in some night photography. Of course, no trip is complete without a pose with this mesmerizing lanterns of all shapes and colors. The shop owner was kind enough to allow me to pose in front of his shop without me buying anything from him, which I appreciate. Thankfully we got this picture nailed down on the 3rd attempt. So we decided to give dinner a try at the main square. It was chaotic and everybody was practically trailing you down and begged you to eat at their store. There were almost 30 different stores but they all sell the same shit: grilled meat and seafood. The food was okay, but the experience was something else. The hospitality varies, some more honest and transparent than others but there is no way you could make that judgment until you pay your bill. We certainly weren’t too impressed by the effort required just to have a peaceful meal but glad we gave it a try. Most importantly, we begin to understand their history, cultures, and struggles.

‘Never judges. You do not know what shoes God put her in.’

DAY 3

Our third day started with an abrupt knock on the door. We thought the cleaning lady came early but a man’s voice followed. He offered to move us to Karmela Princess, a sister riad, next to us. I understood immediately that it was an upgrade but Mr.husband declined 🙄. I went straight to the door and told the man that we’ll be ready in 10mins 😆

Riad Karmela Princess is much more modern and bigger than its sister riad. Every corner is tastefully decorated with vibrant furnishings. However, I started to believe that you can literally just throw any Moroccan pieces and they will all end up looking polished anyway. So, bottom line, you don’t even have to try that hard. This was my manager checking out our new room but I think he silently approved when he saw a couple of bathrobes and home-slippers 😅 Yes, he is easy to please like that 😄The rooftop has plenty of lounging area and sun deck. Nobody was there early in the morning so you could pull off your fake miss universe’s smile like nobody’s business -as demonstrated here 😝 We decided on the 11th hour to visit Marrakech Museum but it was late past 12pm. I could not bear another long queue so instead, we headed to Merstan Cafe for lunch! We both chose couscous with vegetables + meat, served in a tajine. And they were delicious!!😍 A compulsory wefie (but I cut his head off, here ) #shortharmsproblem 😭

After a satisfying lunch, we ditched the idea of going to the museum and went for a walk along Souk Semarine. Apparently it was ‘the place’ for shopping and of course, I went completely bizerk.

Beautiful lanterns lining Rue Semarine. My pictures don’t even do justice. Make sure you’re in ‘panning’ mode to do your rapid street photography. All these were taken with one attempt only. Try as much as possible to be respectful and tactful whenever you’re approaching any stores. The key is, to always smile. I ended up in a low-profile carpet shop with an unassuming entrance. I like the way the owner wasn’t trying too hard and very friendly throughout our tough negotiation. They weighed each of our carpets and wrapped them carefully to ensure they will fit into our luggage. I decided to take a picture to commemorate this successful transaction; from left to right: the least happy (cuz I just emptied his wallet), happy (cuz he managed to convince an idiot to buy his carpets) and the happiest (she could totally rip her mouth if she smiles any bigger).

In between that, we also got a couple of Moroccan leather’s ottoman and I felt like I have enough shopping done for the entire year. For sunset, we hang out at Cafe de France which is a common landmark for tourist, overlooking the ever so chaotic, Jemaa El-Fna.

Of course, we both had mint tea to complete the Moroccan experience. We didn’t stay for more than 30 minutes as it got rather chilly. On our way home, we stopped by this small street food store that consistently serves a queue of humans. We wanted to check out what the fuss was all about so decided to give it a try and it only costs €1!

Verdict: 6/10. I mean it is packed with stuff but lack of flavors and a tad bit dry. I think people just queue because it is cheap and good craic. I would rather pay more for any calories that are consuming my limited tummy space but I don’t regret the experience one bit!

DAY 4

We finally made it to the Marrakech Museum and were in awe of every structure that holds it in place. It allows the warm lights to penetrate through the high ceiling and reflects on the beautiful mosaic of Moroccan tiles lining on any surfaces the light could touch.

It was very serene and peaceful in the morning.

He is my Nobita!! Mine to me!! After last night’s dinner, I missed eating with a fork and knife already, so I found this place called Atay’s Cafe with a stunning rooftop view. Someone was so happy with the sight of real food! We love their couscous in a tajine so we practically ordered the same thing every single day! 🤗😍Of course, one must have their Moroccan mint tea! The light was so bright, you can’t even see my nose! In the afternoon, it can be quite warm above 20C but the heat from the sun is hot. So you can still get burned even if it’s winter here. Remember to apply and re-apply the sunscreen peeps!👩🏻‍⚕️

More pictures of colorful shops lining Rue Semarine. 

My eye candy. Imagine waking up in the morning and feast your eyes with these beautiful rugs hugging your ugly feet. And if you don’t have ugly feet, I don’t think we can be friends 🤷🏻‍♀️

DAY 5

This will be our last full day in Marrakech and suddenly I have a wave of #FOMO gushing through me. I looked at the map and realized we haven’t visited any of the palaces! I dragged my husband-manager 8am in the morning and the first in our itinerary was Palais Bahia (Bahia Palace).

Bahia Palace is the most celebrated palace in the nineteenth century, spread over 8 hectares of land. It has an area which is opened to the public and another more decadent spaces, only used for private events for the royal family. Every corner shows intricate craftmanship either on the cedar wood, glass, marbles etc. It opens onto several courtyards lined with orange, banana, and jasmine trees.

The first stained-glass window of the Maghreb. Perhaps, a possible courtyard in our imaginary mansion? 

A short stroll from Bahia palace is El Badi Palace. This is a ruined palace, built during the Saadian Dynasty on the 16th century. During its prime days, it was thought to have at least 360 rooms which were decorated with extremely expensive materials such as gold and onyx. A ruin of the palace’s stables and beyond them lies series of dungeons used as a state prison in the previous century. One could only imagine what it once was. Sadly, the fall of Saadian dynasty to its competitor resulted in its rapid decline. Most of all of its priced materials were stripped away to build another palace, belonged to the Alawite Dynasty (of the current Moroccan royal family).

Our last stretch of the day’s trip includes La Mamounia hotel. It is the best hotel in Africa for 2018 and once, was even considered the best in the world. It has fusions of all influences from Andalusia to Oriental. Everything is pristine and you’ll be greeted at every corner of the hotel. The staffs wear fancy capes and they are always smiling. I mean, what not to love, right?

The garden is certainly breathtaking. It was gifted to Prince Al Mamoun in the early 19th century as his wedding present. Later, it was opened to the public and since then has housed many grand events and graced by many politicians and celebrities alike. But I am here for these pillars. They are so famous that they have their own hashtag, ok. Last month, they even hold a fashion runway event here. Unfortunately, this area is not opened for tourist anymore. I was lucky enough to bump into an American who stayed here and kindly allow me to follow her. These were just a few shots before my camera decided to die and left me in agony. Koutoubia Mosque.

We were starving after all those visits and went to Cafe Guerrab for a grub 😅 The Pastille Poulet (which the hand-model graciously cut into half), was an absolute divine!! I could eat that for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Of course, one can never have enough pictures with the cozy Moroccan pillows lining the panoramic terrace. If I could steal them I would, seriously. But I will suffer a judgmental look from you-know-who for the rest of my life 🙄

Below are some other random pictures that I have posted on Instagram and some others which didn’t make it to any. I thought they deserved a special shout out in the end.

Marrakech is certainly a place not for the faint-hearted. It is not a fancy-type-vacation but I absolutely enjoyed my trip. I chose Marrakech because it is culturally unique and aesthetically stimulating. I think it is extremely important to see other parts of the world which is very different than yours to enrich your life experience. Try challenging yourself to see life from a different perspective every day. As always, I am always so inspired and humbled by our travel and I can’t wait for another, soon to come! Have a lovely weekend y’all!!

XXSophieVoon (Instagram @sophievoon)

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