Picture this: sitting on a rooftop of a riad in the heart of the medina, straw lanterns swaying overhead in the cool desert breeze that only visits once the sun sets. The perforated lanterns cast shadows on the floor and on the faces of the diners as they eat their tagines and bastilla and sip on the dry local white wine, chilled to perfection. Suddenly you hear the call to prayer from the nearby mosque–a hauntingly beautiful voice echoes throughout the city and even though you don’t understand the words, you understand the emotion–the sacredness of it all. The prayers last throughout dinner; a soundtrack that is perfectly juxtaposed to the gloriously chaotic one in the souk during the day. This is Marrakech: a balance of fast and slow. And it’s a perfect destination for a long weekend from Lausanne.
- Book your first two-nights at El Fenn in the heart of the medina. Winner of the “Best Dressed Hotel” prize by the Smith Hotel Awards this gorgeous boutique hotel will not disappoint. Each room is unique and displays pieces of art from the owner Vanessa Branson’s (Sir Richard Branson’s sister) private collection. You won’t be able to find a better location to explore the city, but it also serves as an oasis from the hustle and bustle should you need it (and we think you will!).
- Book a guide to explore the Medina. We recommend Mustapha (who you can contact through El Fenn) whose sense of humor and 20+ years of experience as a guide is completely worth the 300 dirhams (roughly 30 CHF for 3-4 hours). The souk is a complicated maze that can be overwhelming for first-timers (or third-timers!)–Mustapha was able to take us to shops we wouldn’t have been able to find on our own, and also haggled for us a bit too. His historical anecdotes and existing relationships with shopkeepers were invaluable for us as we began our time in Marrakech.
- Have dinner out in the medina at least one of the nights. We went to a place called Nomad right in the center and ate on the roof. It was one of the best meals we’ve ever had (the most expensive item on the menu was around 12 CHF!) and the atmosphere and energy were incomparable.
- Book your last two nights at Beldi Country Club. An expansive and downright gorgeous property with surprisingly low rates. It’s only 10 minutes from the airport, but feels like you’re a million miles away from civilization (in a good way!). Multiple pools, courtyards, fountains, ponds, a mini-souk and boutique, and a beautiful outdoor dining area with phenomenal food, this is a must-do when in Marrakech. This is a perfect place to unwind and do nothing but sit by the pool, drink mojitos, and sample local cuisine and culture.
- Book a traditional hammam. Nothing like getting scrubbed down by other women while wearing a loin cloth! But in all seriousness, it was one of the best spa treatments we’ve ever had. Add in a one-hour massage (all for around 65 CHF) and it’s pure bliss.
- Worry too much about prices in the souk. Yes, they will always start the price high, and yes, they expect you to negotiate (in fact, it’s rude not to!), but ultimately if you’re arguing about 20 dirhams, swallow your pride and realize it’s only 2 francs and call it a day.
- Wear crop tops and short skirts. Of course they don’t expect you to wear the hijab if you’re not Muslim, but be respectful of the culture too! Aim to cover your shoulders and wear skirts or dresses that go to your knee. When you’re in the hotel, it’s fair game–wear what you wish.
- Go wandering around the medina after dark by yourself. Many of the vendors will “help” you find your way, but in reality they’ll lead you deeper into the labyrinth to a random spice shop hoping that they’ll be able to make a transaction. Most people are kind, but some can be pushy and won’t let you leave. It’s just not a good idea.
- Drink tap water. Always go with bottled water, even when brushing your teeth, and make sure the cap is sealed. Be aware of certain drinks that come with ice. In the hotel you’re most likely safe, but street vendors will have used tap water to make ice etc.