Morocco is located in the northwest corner of Africa, and its capital of Marrakech, has been historically nicknamed an “oasis in the desest”. When you land in Marrakech’s grand spanking new airport, you would likely agree. Its very grand, clean, uncrowded, with high ceilings, marble floors, and even a small courtyard with a chic French cafe. This notion evaporates quickly as you make your way to the chaos of the main square, or the Djemma el Fna.
The Djemma as I called it, is a large square in front of the city’s medina, which houses a bunch of food stands, shopping stalls, street performers, horse drawn carriages, snake charmers, and pushy tourist touts. On our first night when Carrie and I tried to grab a bite, we were assaulted by the food vendors, and eventually ended up eating lukewarm skewers. Be warned, the food vendors, and indeed some shopkeepers here are very, very aggressive. It can all become rather disheartening for the traveler that comes here to seek out their notion of what Morocco should be.
Enter, the riads. I had mentioned in my post about Budapest, that many apartment buildings are built with a shared central courtyard to create small sanctuaries from the outside. Riads are similar, but scaled down to the individual household. Imagine living in close knit quarters, where your home is literally touching or barely 2 meters away across your neighbours, but within your home, there is a courtyard to allow sunlight to light the family space. Now imagine this central courtyard being large enough to house fountains, or gardens. These are the hidden gems of Moroccan homes, where people can find a peaceful sanctuary from the noise and chaos just meters away, and trade that in for the sound of water flowing from a fountain, green spaces, and the scent of desert flora.
In Marrakech, a simple outing into the medina is a mental exercise. You need to have your wits about you, and at least look like you know what you are doing. Fail to do so, and you invite unwanted attention from locals trying to make a quick buck off a confused looking tourist. I often found myself tired after what shouldn’t have been a strenuous afternoon of walking and browsing because of this. Having visited a few riads and Marrakech’s spectacular gardens, I can truly say that these little oases within the hustle and bustle that is Marrakech are well worth your time. Sit back, open up a good book, and take it all in.
- Many of the hotels in the medina will be built in riad style, with a small open courtyard with natural sunlight in the center, often with plenty of seating areas. I was blown away by Equity Point Hostels‘ property which housed multiple beautiful sitting nooks and corners, as well as a pool.
- There are a couple gardens in town that are worth a visit. Within the medina, there is Le Jardin Secret, which offers two gardens done in Muslin/Arab style. This garden was restored from a delapedated and neglected state to the beautiful garden it is today. A short venture outside the medina takes you to the Jardin Majorelle, better know as the YSL Gardens. Bonus points for their beautiful cafe here.